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The Foundations of Industrialism

Charles Comte, Charles Dunoyer and Liberal Thought in France


Robert Leroux

From its beginnings, the doctrine of industrialism has inspired writers of varying persuasions. Saint-Simon is often closely associated with it, however, he represents only the socialist variant of the doctrine. By contrast, the variant that relates to liberalism has been virtually overlooked. Jean-Baptiste Say, Benjamin Constant and Joseph Droz, for example, provided crucial elements that would eventually lead two friends, Charles Comte (1782–1837) and Charles Dunoyer (1786–1862), to define industrialism in a more complete manner that was in fact radically opposed in many aspects to the notions of Saint-Simon. This shows that the term «industrialism» has many meanings. Mechanization, the production of wealth, the age of trades and specialization, the notion that progress is unstoppable, the question of liberty and individualism – these are the main themes that we find in the writings of the liberal proponents of industrialism. For Charles Comte and Charles Dunoyer, industrialism was a kind of philosophy of history, the purpose of which was to identify the tortuous stages through which the idea of liberty had developed. In doing this, as Robert Leroux explains, they shared a conviction, or perhaps a concern, based on clear historical evidence, that liberty is a fragile thing, and that its victory will never be final.
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Chapter 3. The Foundations of Political Economy in France


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For some time after the middle of the 1820s, Charles Comte and Charles Dunoyer removed themselves from the debates and disputes that had marked the previous decade. The Censeur européen had disappeared after a brief life, thereby putting an effective end to their fruitful collaboration. Yet while these two friends then took separate roads, they continued to share the same vision of knowledge and of liberty, as their respective works make clear. In fact, they were more than ever convinced that liberty could only be defended through the development of authentically scientific knowledge. Hence the furious energy they put into studying and defining political economy as a means of uniting action and theory.

Once again, they were inspired by the works of Jean-Baptiste Say and, to a lesser extent, of Destutt de Tracy. The following paragraphs recall the core ideas of these two writers.

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