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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 4. Charles Dunoyer and the Stages of Liberty


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Charles Dunoyer’s first major work, L’industrie et la morale considérées dans leurs rapports avec la liberté, was devoted to industry and morals and their relationship with liberty. The main features of his doctrinal position are set out there systematically. The contents of the book are based essentially on the lectures he gave at the Athénée in 1825. Dunoyer wants, he says, to defend a scientific approach that represents continuity with Jean-Baptiste Say. For him, liberty has passed through different stages in the course of history. Yet he does not see the idea of liberty as having evolved in a straight line, for it has experienced moments of retreat or stagnation as well as of progress.

At the outset, Dunoyer spells out his methodological stance. He tries to show why political economy must be defined as a true science.1 As he explains it, all the sciences deal directly or indirectly with society—economics teaches ← 75 | 76 → us how wealth is created, moral science reveals the consequences of actions, and so on. But political science deals most especially with society: it is, at least as conceived by Dunoyer, a kind of sociology without the name. We need only recall the questions he raises to convince ourselves on this point: “What is the general way of life and in this mode of existence what kinds of arrangement and action are most...

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