Friday, October 25, 2013


AM | @HDI1780

"... to trample on the rules of justice" — James Madison

Very busy, so just a quick post on James Madison. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Madison took inspiration from Mably and Raynal-Diderot when he wrote some of the key articles of that "Bible of Republicanism" called the Federalist Papers [see] (*). I know I should be more methodical about this, but my most significant trouvailles are generally the result of a succession of 'micro-discoveries' that eventually add up to something more substantial.

* * *

So here's another such micro-discovery — in No. 10, Madison takes another key phrase from Diderot in Histoire des deux Indes: "... there is, perhaps, no legislative act in which greater opportunity and temptation are given to a predominant party to trample on the rules of justice". To trample on the rules of justice! This looks a lot like Diderot's "lorsqu'on foule aux pieds la justice" (HDI 1780, xiii.54). Diderot took these lines from Sophocles' Ajax and added them back to Raynal's analysis of credit conditions in French colonies [see].

It was a stroke of genius. And it enabled another genius, James Madison, to embellish his own masterpiece.

(*) See Bernard Bailyn. To Begin the World Anew. The Genius and Ambiguities of the American Founders. New York:  Knopt, 2003, chapter 4. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


AM | @HDI1780

"This whole chapter of Bernier deserves every Man's reading" — Cato's Letters

As readers of this blog know, I am a great fan of François Bernier (1625-1688). Voyages de François Bernier. Contenant la Description des Etats du Grand Mogol de l'Hindoustan, du Royaume de Cachemire, &c (Amsterdam, 1699) is a key source of top-Enlightenment thinkers like Montesquieu, Raynal-Diderot, Adam Smith and Volney. Voltaire and David Hume were also familiar with his works [1]. As for Karl Marx, he used to spend hours reading Bernier in the British Museum, enjoying every line of the Voyages [2].

I plan to transcribe Bernier's fantastic "Lettre à Monseigneur Colbert sur l'Hindoustan" in its entirety for the enjoyment of readers of this blog. And there will be further posts on his ideas. But there was another notorious contemporary traveller, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier (1605-1689), a gem merchant who was sometimes mistaken for Bernier [3]. This is apparent in Vol. II of the 1723 edition of Cato's Letters, which mentions "the great and judicious traveller Monsieur Tavernier" (p. 143). But it was Bernier, not Tavernier! The mistake was corrected in the 1755 edition.

* * *

In the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith quotes both travellers. François Bernier, says Smith, is one of the few reliable sources on the policies applied by "several governments of Asia" (WN, V.1.3). Our knowledge of China and Asia is distorded by works that "have generally been drawn up by weak and wondering travellers; frequently by stupid and lying missionaries". But Bernier is a "faithful witness ... less disposed to the marvellous". Writing on the demand for precious stones (WN, I.11.2), Smith goes on to quote Jean-Baptiste Tavernier:

When Tavernier, a jeweller, visited the diamond mines of Golconda and Visiapour, he was informed that the sovereign of the country, for whose benefit they were wrought, had ordered all of them to be shut up, except those which yield the largest and finest stones. The others, it seems, were to the proprietor not worth the working.

In his short entry "Sur le Tien et le Mien" —Bernier's most famous phrase, which shows up in Book XI of Histoire des deux Indes—, Antoine-Angélique Chomel acknowledges the two authors/travellers. He argues that they shared a similar worldview. Shaken by the appalling mix of despotism and poverty that they saw in the East, both men strongly argued for moderate government and for the protection of property rights:

Le fameux Tavernier ayant vendu les pierreries qu'il avoit apporté des Indes, témoigna devant le Roi qu'il avoit dessein d'acheter une Seigneurerie en Suisse; & ce prince lui ayant demandé d'où venoit qu'il n'en achetoit point une dans son Royaume, Tavernier qui n'avoit aucune politesse répondit: c'est que je veux que ma Seigneurerie soit à moi [4].

[1] Hume read Bernier's article "Nouvelle Division de la Terre", published anonymously in Journal des sçavans in 1684 [see].

[2] Karl Marx to Friedrich Engels, 6 June 1853: "Die Sachen von alten Bernier sind wirklich sehr schön. Man freut sich ordentlich einmal wieder etwas von einem alten nüchternen, klaren Franzosen zu lesen der überall den Nagel auf dem Kopf trifft sans avoir l'air de s'en apercevoir". Marx Engels Gesaumtausgabe. Briefwechsel September 1852 bis August 1853. Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1987 [voir].

[3] Jean-Baptiste Tavernier. Les Six Voyages de Jean-Baptiste Tavernier en Turquie, en Perse et aux Indes. Paris : Gervais Clouzier, 1676.

[4] Antoine-Angélique Chomel. Les Nuits parisiennes à l'imitation des Nuits attiques d'Aulu-Gelle, I. Paris : Lacombe, 1769, pp. 90-91.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


AM | @HDI1780

"... without tumult and faction ..." — David Hume

Search engines allow us to better understand what Condorcet called "révolutions du langage" in the Eighteenth century [see]. As it turns out, hundreds of turns of phrase, expressions and words circulated widely among writers. To the extent that we can trace their origins, they provide interesting clues to the reading (and writing) habits of some of the most important authors. Mariano Moreno refers to Thomas Jefferson in the following terms: "Oigamos á M. Jefferson ... este juicioso escritor" (Gazeta de Buenos-Ayres, November 28, 1810).

This is taken from Raynal, as he mentions Montesquieu: « Aucun des auditeurs ne soupçonna les véritables vues d’un écrivain si judicieux ...» (HDI 1780, xiv.22). The Frenchman, in turn, derived the expression from David Hume: "Arrian, a very grave, judicious writer ..." ("Of the rise and progress of the arts and sciences", 1742, note 38). Hume also inspired James Madison: "It had been observed by judicious writers ..." (Debates in the Federal Convention, 1787). Did Hume take it from John Locke? Quite possibly: "We are mightily beholding to judicious writers of all ages..." [see]. And so on.

* * *

Some of these expressions were quite irrelevant. But that was not always the case. The phrase secrecy and dispatch played a major role in the 1787-88 American constitutional debates; it "travelled" from translations of Polybius to Encyclopédie, and from there to Jean-Louis de Lolme's The Constitution of England, before "landing" in John Adams' pamphlet "Thoughts on Government" and in the 1780 edition of Histoire des deux Indes (1, 2, 3). The best authors knew their Greek and Roman sources well. They read each other's books. They were aware of the importance of éloquence to a degree that we find difficult to understand in 2013.

Another fascinanting expression is without tumult. Its importance derives from the fact that it describes the political culture of republicanism. Political power must be transferred peacefully without tumult in order for republicanism to thrive. This happened in the United States with the election of 1800 — but it was a close call. The French would not manage to achieve such a result for decades, to say nothing of the South Americans ...

Here's a tentative "history" of that phrase. My take-away: there was no such thing as a purely Italian, French, German, English, American or Spanish political culture. It was mostly an Atlantic political culture, with strong roots in the classical world.

- Livy: "... ita pedites equitibus cum leui armatura ante aciem hosti oppositis sine tumultu abducti ...", Book XLIV.33 [see].

- Plutarch (Amyot's translation) : « ... avec si peu de maulx, et sans tumulte, trouble, ne sedition quelconque ...», Vie des hommes illustres [see].

- Niccolò Machiavelli: "... gli venivano senza tumulto e senza violenza ...", Discorsi, I [see].

- James Harrington: "... the Jews could not dispute with the Christians without Tumult", Oceana, 1656, p. 338 [see].

- Histoire Universelle « ... un pareil changement ne pouvoit se faire sans tumulte ...», Histoire des Lacédémoniens. Amsterdam, 1743, p. 674 [see].

 - David Hume: "... a republican government ... steady and uniform, without tumult and faction" ("Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth", 1752)

- Baron d'Holbach : « ... & pour se faire entendre sans tumulte ...», REPRÉSENTANS, (Droit politiq. hist. mod.). See also: « Comme la société, surtout quand elle est nombreuse, ne pourrait que très-difficilement s'assembler, & sans tumulte faire connoitre ses intentions, elle est obligée de choisir des citoyens à qui elle accorde sa confiance ...», Système de la nature,  i.9. Londres, 1781, p. 221; « ... sans tumulte, elle [la Société] réprimeroit alors des Chefs devenus injustes ...», Politique naturelle, ou discours sur les vrais principes du gouvernement, I.ii.19, Londres, 1773, p. 114.

- Cesare Beccaria: "... un judizio non tumultuario ed interessato, ma stabile e regolare ...", Dei delitti e delle pene, 1764 [see].

- George Washington: "... a Constitutional door is open for amendments and may be adopted in a peaceable maner without tumult or disorder". Washington to Charles Carter, 14 December 1787 [see].

- Condorcet: « ... des élections libres, sans tumulte, dont la forme soit sagement combinée. », Sur les assemblé
es provinciales, 1788 [see].

- Friedrich Schiller: "Er fehlte darinn sehr, daß er das Volk nicht durch Repräsentanten sondern in Person entscheiden ließ, welches wegen der starken Menschenmenge nicht ohne Verwirrung und Tumult und wegen der überlegenen Anzahl der unbemittelten Bürger nicht immer ohne Bestechung abgehen konnte", Die Gesetzgebung des Lykurgus und Solon, 1789 [see] (*).

- John Adams: "... the pleasure of exchanging Presidents without tumult ...", to Abigail, 9 March 1797 [see].

- Mariano Moreno: "...el espectáculo de un pueblo que elige sin tumultos ...", Gazeta de Buenos-Ayres, June 1810.

(*) This idea comes straight from d'Holbach! See Ulrich Rommelfanger (1987): "Der Verdienst, in bemerkenswert klaren und knappen Sätzen den Zweck des Repräsentativsystems umirssen zu haben, kommt im 18. Jahrhundert Baron d'Holbach zu".

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


AM | @HDI1780

« Les questions d’économie politique veulent être long-tems agitées » — Diderot

[1] Femmes & Lumières. Les Classiques Garnier publient Le Genre des Lumières de Florence Lotterie. Je viens de voir le livre à LA CENTRAL, à Barcelone (*). De la présentation de l'éditeur : « Au xviiie siècle, la figure insistante de la "femme philosophe" s'articule à un imaginaire ambivalent de la différence des sexes, entre hantise d'une confusion délétère et quête d'un modèle d'harmonie. La femme travestit-elle la philosophie? Les Lumières ont-elles un genre? ». Je n'ai pas lu le livre, mais je ne vois aucune référence à Raynal, dont la réfléxion sur la condition féminine dans les deux Indes inspirera pourtant quelques pages mémorables de ... Thomas Jefferson [voir].

(*) Florence Lotterie. Le Genre des Lumières - Femme et philosophe au XVIIIe siècle. Paris : Classique Garnier, 2013 [voir] [table des matières].

[2] Founders. Every two years or so, Joseph Ellis publishes a book on the American Founders, and 2013 is no exception (*). It's always a pleasure to read his books: he writes so well that you'd think Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and George Washington are sitting right next to you. My only problem is that his démarche is "too American" for my taste. Mr. Ellis seems to believe that the Founders' ideas are devoid of any influence from Europe. That is just plain wrong. In fact, the key themes of Federalist No. 10 come from Madison's close reading of Mably and Histoire des deux Indes [see]. One could extend that argument to many of Jefferson's opinions, and even to Washington's leadership style.

(*) Joseph J. Ellis. Revolutionary Summer. The Birth of American Independence. New York: Knopf, 2013 [see] [VIDEO].

[3] The Dark Side. The purpose of this book, according to author John V. Fleming, is to show that the Enlightenment had its distinctly darker side (*). From the editors: "In The Dark Side of the Enlightenment, John V. Fleming shows how the impulses of the European Enlightenment—generally associated with great strides in the liberation of human thought from superstition and traditional religion—were challenged by tenacious religious ideas or channeled into the “darker” pursuits of the esoteric and the occult. His engaging topics include the stubborn survival of the miraculous, the Enlightenment roles of Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry, and the widespread pursuit of magic and alchemy".

(*) John V. Fleming. The Dark Side of the Enlightenment. Wizards, Alchemists, and Spiritual Seekers in the Age of Reason. New York: W.W. Norton, 2013 [see] [author's web page].

[4] Economie politique. À LA CENTRAL de Barcelone, encore une fois, j'ai vu cet intéressant ouvrage sur l'économie politique au XVIIIe siècle (*). On y trouve des articles en français, anglais, espagnol et italien. Magnifique ! De la présentation de l'éditeur : « Cet ouvrage propose d'analyser le rôle que joua cette nouvelle science qu'est l'économie politique dans la création et le développement de la sphère publique. C'est en effet l'économie politique qui fut le domaine privilégié et la voie de diffusion des idées politiques et sociales les plus novatrices d'une période qui, aujourd'hui encore, est considérée comme ayant modelé les fondements de la société moderne ».

(*) Jesús Astigarraga & Javier Usoz (eds.) L'Économie politique et la sphère publique dans le débat des Lumières. Collection de la Casa de Velázquez no 135, 2013 [voir].

Thursday, October 3, 2013


AM | @HDI1780

"Un despote ne doit pas obtenir du crédit" — Diderot

In his large-scale revision of Book XIX, written for the 1780 edition of Histoire des deux Indes, Denis Diderot delivers a masterful blow to "realists". The trouble with realists, he argues between the lines of his carefully crafted paragraphs on Russia, is the paradox at the heart of the notion of équilibre. The story goes like this. Realists like to play balance-of-power games — but only in the international arena. Domestically, most of them behave like despots; they are completely unwilling to see their power checked by independent judges, a free press, or a popular assembly.

Therein lies the problem.

* * *

Diderot adheres to what I have dubbed the "institutional theory of credit markets" developed over a number of decades by Bernier, Trenchard and Gordon, Montesquieu, Galiani, Raynal and himself. The theory postulates a radical incompatibility between despotic government and the availability of credit. Sooner or later, authoritarian rulers run out of resources. They are thus in no position to play large-scale balance-of-power games over the long-run. The high cost of capital is the Achilles'heel of despotic/realist rulers!

Thus Diderot sends a clear message to Catherine II of Russia à propos her latest measures in the field of finance:

Il fut créé durant la dernière guerre une caisse de dépôt à l’usage de tous les membres de l’empire, même des esclaves. Par cette idée d’une politique saine & profonde, le gouvernement eut des fonds dont on avoit un besoin pressant, & il mit autant qu’il étoit possible les serfs à l’abri des vexations de leurs tyrans. Il est dans la nature des choses que la confiance accordée à ce papier-monnoie s’altère & tombe.

Un despote ne doit pas obtenir du crédit; & si quelques événemens singuliers lui en ont procuré, c’est une nécessité que les événemens qui suivent le lui fassent perdre. Telles sont les difficultés qui nous ont paru s’opposer à la civilisation de l’empire Russe. Si Catherine II parvient à les surmonter, nous aurons fait de son courage & de son génie le plus magnifique éloge, & peut-être la meilleure des apologies, si elle succomboit dans ce grand projet (HDI 1780, xix.2, p. 52).

Un despote ne doit pas obtenir du crédit! Magnificent! This idea lies at the very heart of the liberal critique of realism. It is still largely unsurpassed in terms of analytical depth (*).

(*) This is precisely what happened to Charles de Gaulle, a fascinating figure in terms of realism. When the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia in August 1968, an unprecedented panic took hold of French financial markets. It was this crisis, more than mai 68, that eventually led to the Général's downfall. (Unlike the independent Bundesbank, Banque de France was heavily influenced by de Gaulle). See Agustin Mackinlay: "Charles de Gaulle and the 'Deconstruction' of the Dollar", Roosevelt Study Center Prize, 2005 [available as an e-book at Amazon's Kindle Store]. See also this post on modern-day Russia.