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A Political Campaign for Industry

  • Florian Schui

Abstract

While Voltaire was debating Jean Baptiste Colbert’s policies for the promotion of industry, he was no less concerned about the ways in which the ministers of his time should contribute to the further development of industry. Debates about industry were in the eighteenth century — just as in later periods — often directly linked to projects of political and economic reform. Voltaire and many of his contemporaries were engaged in political campaigns to change specific institutions which they saw as obstacles to industry. One of the most prominent campaigns of this kind was Voltaire’s campaign against serfdom in France and Russia during the late 1760s and 1770s. The campaign against serfdom was closely associated to the reform projects of Anne Robert Jacques Turgot’s ministry from 1774 to 1776. Voltaire and Turgot both wanted to change the feudal rules which governed many aspects of economic and social interaction. The abolition of obsolete feudal rules was seen by Turgot and Voltaire as a precondition for the further development of industry. They argued that the institutional order and the legal condition of the individual had to be adapted to facilitate the further growth of industry. Voltaire saw in the rules of serfdom a particularly oppressive institution which posed a strong obstacle to the development of industry.

Keywords

Political Campaign Early Debate Reform Project Individual Industry Strong Obstacle 
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Notes

  1. 3.
    Anne Soprani, ‘Florian, Philippe Antoine de Claris, marquis de’, in André Magnan et al., eds, Inventaire Voltaire (Paris, 1995), pp. 555–6. Jean-Pierre de Claris, marquis de Florian, ‘Voltaire et le serf du Jura’, in Collection des œuvres de M. de Florian (5 vols, Neuchâtel, 1789), IV, pp. 277–84. The academy proposed the topic ‘abolition de la servitude dans les domaines du roi’ on this occasion. The prize was not awarded until 1782 because of the unsatisfactory entries in the competition. Jean-Pierre de Claris, marquis de Florian, ‘Avantpropos’, in Collection des oeuvres de M. de Florian, IV, p. 273.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Marcel Marion, Dictionnaire des institutions de la France aux XVIIe et XVIIIe sièdes (Paris, 1923), p. 509. Voltaire, ‘Nouvelle requête au roi en son conseil’ (1770), in M, XXVIII, p. 369.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    J. Mackrell, The attack on ‘feudalism’ in eighteenth-centtury France (London, 1973), p. 2.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    The question, as given in the Gazette de France in January 1767, was: ‘Est-il plus avantageux & plus utile au bien public que le Paysan possède des terres en propre, ou seulement des biens mobiliers? & jusqu’où doit s’étendre le droit du Paysan sur cette propriété afin qu’il en résulte le plus grand avantage pour le bien public?’ Cited in V.A. Somov, ‘Volter na konkurse volnogo ekonomicheskogo obschestva (dve rukopisi, prislannye iz Shveytsarii v 1767g)’ (Voltaire at the competition of the free economic society (two manuscripts sent from Switzerland in 1767)’), in anonymous, ed., Russko-Frantsuzkie kulturnye svyazi v epokhu Prosvescheniya (Russo-French cultural relations in the epoch of the enlightenment) (Moscow, 2001), 37–99, p. 40. The article is in Russian, and Voltaire’s texts are reproduced in French and Latin. I am grateful to V.A. Somov who made the article available to me and to Nikolay Belkov who translated the Russian parts of the text for me. ‘L’industrie’, ‘les arts’, ‘pour son amusement’. Jacob Friedrich Bielfeld to Frederick II, king of Prussia, 22 Aug. 1760, Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin-Dahlem (GStA PK), I HA, Rep. 96, Nr. 36 T, p. 41. Edited in M, X, pp. 119–31. The complex relationship of Catherine, Frederick, Voltaire has been discussed in a recent study by Claus Scharf, Katharina II, Deutschland und die Deutschen (Mainz, 1995), p. 423.Google Scholar
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    Emma Rothschild, Economic sentiments (Cambridge, MA., 2001), p. 22.Google Scholar
  6. 38.
    Edgar Faure, La disgrâce de Turgot (Paris, 1961), p. 442.Google Scholar

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© Florian Schui 2005

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  • Florian Schui

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