The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Mirabeau, Victor Riquetti, Marquis de (1715–1789)

  • Peter Groenewegen
Reference work entry


Born at Perthuis, Provence, the eldest son of an aristocratic family, Mirabeau was educated by the Jesuits. He entered the army at an early age but spent much of his youth in Paris and the Versailles court in search of personal preferment. In 1737 he inherited his father’s title and estate. This made possible his marriage in 1743 to Mlle de Vassan, a misalliance which produced both their famous revolutionary son, Honoré Gabriel, and prolonged lawsuits about marital property after their formal separation in 1757. Mirabeau moved to Paris in 1746, where from 1765 he held his famous salon, an activity far more successful than his management of farms and family. Long-felt literary ambitions combined with a spirit critical of government produced his first published book on provincial administration (Mirabeau 1750). In January 1757 (see Weulersse 1910, p. 20) he published the book which made him famous, gave him the title ‘Friend of Mankind’, put him into contact with Quesnay and converted him to Physiocracy. This well-documented conversion was followed by a large number of works in which Mirabeau either collaborated with or was heavily guided by Quesnay. The more important included new editions of L’Ami des Hommes (Mirabeau 1758, 1760a), a work on taxation (Mirabeau 1760b) which earned him imprisonment and brief exile from Paris for its criticism of tax farming, and the more substantial Philosophie rurale (Mirabeau 1763), later successfully abridged (Mirabeau 1767). Quesnay collaborated very substantially in preparing this last major work, contributing the final chapter with further explanations and manipulations of his Tableau économique analysis. His collaboration with Quesnay implied that Mirabeau sacrificed ‘his originality, became a sectarian, and with remarkable self-abnegation, a semi-religious faith, an enthusiasm almost mystic, … entered upon his apostleship’ (Fling 1908, p. 106). Mirabeau’s pre-Quesnay ‘originality’ can, however, be doubted. As Higgs (1931, p. 387) noted, he initially proposed to base L’Ami des Hommes on Cantillon’s Essai. When that was published in 1755, Mirabeau’s book developed into something more independent but was still heavily indebted to Cantillon’s work. With the decline of Physiocracy in the 1770s Mirabeau’s reputation waned as well. He remained in the public eye through his stormy family battles, especially his attempts to imprison his unruly son by lettre de cachet. He died at Argenteuil on the last day of the ancien régime, 13 July 1789.

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Groenewegen
    • 1
  1. 1.