A European Debate about Colbert

  • Florian Schui


Chapter 2 focussed mainly on the relation of Voltaire’s larger perspective on industry with the specific and often minute experiences in Paris and during his stay in Prussia. This chapter will adopt a different perspective. It will place Voltaire’s views on industry in the context of a European debate about the legacy of Jean Baptiste Colbert. Many contemporaries did not share Voltaire’s admiration for the minister and his policies were the subject of controversial debate throughout the eighteenth century. This debate about Colbert involved many French authors but it also extended across Europe. Adam Smith — after having read Voltaire’s praise of Colbert in the Age of Louis XIV — did not only criticise the minister’s policies for the promotion of industry himself, but he also pointed out that ‘the most intelligent men in France’ were severely criticising ‘Mr. Colbert’.1 Voltaire’s support for the minister thus raises the question of why the most celebrated European poet of the eighteenth century defended the legacy of the most prominent administrator of the seventeenth century.


Eighteenth Century Personal Interest Individual Interest Spontaneous Order Early Debate 
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© Florian Schui 2005

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  • Florian Schui

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