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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 5. The Revolution of 1848


← 108 | 109 →



From 1830 to 1848, the social and political situation in France changed considerably, and after years of relative calm, chaos returned. In the eyes of many liberals of varying allegiance, the main cause could be attributed to political and social centralization, which intensified spectacularly following the events of February 1848. That centralization sparked fears that socialist ideas would triumph. Liberals were seized with pessimism and anxiety. The economist Charles Coquelin noted this in an article published in the Journal des économistes. “We are sliding down a slippery slope to ruin. The torrent of false doctrines is sweeping us along and the abyss yawns before us. Yes, the regulatory mindset is triumphant: it has achieved supreme power, under the name of the organization of work. Liberty pales before it. This sacred liberty, so highly vaunted just a month ago, the name of which still shines forth in gold letters on the flags of the Republic, is now just a word. All our wealth, our industry and our labors will now collapse or disappear with it. All will be lost if we are not vigilant—the public finances and private fortunes, the resources of today and the hopes of tomorrow.”1 Yet this alarmist tone was not unique to the economists: it was a central feature of the views of Guizot and Tocqueville. As ← 109 | 110 → for Dunoyer, he gave free rein to his fury in a polemical essay...

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