Theory and Society

, Volume 41, Issue 6, pp 557–579 | Cite as

Virtue and the material culture of the nineteenth century: the debate over the mass marketplace in France in the aftermath of the 1848 revolution



This article treats the intellectual problem of revolution, agency, and the advent of liberal democracy from the standpoint of mid-nineteenth century France in the aftermath of the 1848 revolutions. After a discussion of the theoretical and historiographical problem—in particular the relevance for this period in history of science studies—the article discusses the views of former Saint-Simonian and political economist, Michel Chevalier, eventually turning to the debate over the free market of goods and labor between the early French socialist Louis Blanc and Chevalier in Chevalier’s new role of liberal free trade activist who trumpeted the ideology of the mass marketplace. Chevalier’s engagement of the social question turned on a distinctively moral, ideological, and, ultimately, technocratic defense of the free market—this free market utopianism became both starker and more ideologically refined as a result of Chevalier’s engagement with Blanc, especially in regard to worker-education. Both referred to the new mass marketplace of cheap, retail goods created by the rapid advance of mass transport, modern logistics, as le bon marché. French political economists went so far as to invoke a new way of life: la vie a bon marché (literally, “life on the cheap”). This notion of work and life was opposed by Blanc on the grounds of fraternal social solidarity. Finally, and potently, the moral virtues of the free market were conceived by Chevalier as a direct answer to social revolution, a means for affording social stability.


Revolution Mass marketplace Engineering Free trade Chevalier 



The author would like to thank the anonymous readers as well as the Editors of Theory & Society for their substantial suggestions for the improvement of this article.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HistoryCalifornia State UniversityHaywardUSA

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