T. E. Cliffe (Thomas Edward Cliffe) Leslie.

Essays in political economy online

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qu'il fonctionne, j'ai appris a le moins redouter. J'ai ete
surtout frappe de cette coincidence que du moment ou il a ete
institue, le socialisme a commence a decliner. C'est sous I'empire
du suffrage restreint que les utopies socialistes se sont developpees
et ont pris de grandes proportions. Je ne puis m'empecher
d attribuer au suffrage universel une action quelconque sur ce
changement. On comprend qu'en effet les faiseurs de systemes
subversifs se forment une arme du suffrage universel pour
seduire les ignorants. Si Ton ne met pas nos theories en
pratique, peuvent-ils dire, c'est que le pouvoir est entre les mains
d'une minorite iuteressee a les etouffer. Ce langage perd
beaucoup de sa force apparente avec le suffrage universel.
Depuis que tout le monde vote, pourquoi les bases de la societe
n'ont-elles pas change ? Les classes les plus nombreuses sont
devenues les plus puissantes; pourquoit n'ont-elles rien fait?
C'est qu'apparemment il n'y a rien a faire. Le socialisme est
mis au pied du mur ; des qu'on le serre de pres il s'evanouit.'

Leonce de Lavergne. 121

"We took long drives about Bourboule, but Lavergne could
■with difficulty walk a hundred yards, leaning on two supporters.
One morning he complained of fatigue, and said he should not
attempt to walk that day. ' You would be less tired to-day,
sir, if you had walked more yesterday,' said his valet — to whom
in that respect he was no hero — ' and you will be more tired
to-morrow if you don't walk to-day.' In fact, Lavergne was
capable of any exertion that his bodily powers permitted for a
public object, but was not easily persuaded to take irksome
exercise only for the sake of health. Before dinner I found him
seated on a bench in front of the hotel, where I had left him at
eleven o'clock. ' The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak,'
he observed, alluding to his servant's advice. He liked to be
told all that one saw and did, and a little incident connected
with my departure interested him considerably. As the diligence
from Clermont-Ferrand to Bourboule started at an inconvenient
hour, I had hired a carriage, and Lavergne suggested that I
might find someone at Mont Dore, another watering-place a
few miles distant, disposed to join me in a carriage back — an
arrangement which was easily effected. But to get to Mont
Dore in the customary carriage and pair was a matter of ten
francs, besides a pourboire ; so I stipulated for a voiture a tin
cheval for six francs, for that part of the journey. After some
parley I was promised a petite voiture a cJiassc. When this
arrangement was reported to Lavergne, he said it was as hard
to change the customs of a French watering-place as to reform
the English land laws. Were an English visitor seen in a
voiture d un cheval it might become the mode, which was not
for the interest of the dealers. So he imagined something
would happen to prevent the jiJi'i'/Ye voiture a chasse from
conveying me to Mont Dore. The following morning, at the
appointed time, a carriage and pair came to the door. The very
man who had struck the bargain with me was on the box, and
explained simply that he thought a two-horsed carriage would
be ' plus convenable a monsieur.' Lavergne held up two fingers
significantly from a window as I di'ove by. The day before I
left Boui'boule, he remarked evidently with a practical purpose,

122 Leonce de Lavergne.

that the scrupulous honesty which the innkeeper at Gueret had
displayed could hardly be expected at a hotel in a fashionable-
watering-place, but it was a duty which every visitor owed tO'
others to object to any overcharge — a duty often neglected
from false shame.

In the following year (1875) M. de Lavergne was elected by
the Assemblee Nationale an irremovable member of the new
Senate, and for three years, in spite of bodily helplessness and
much suffering, continued to take a part in public affairs. Be-
fore his own end came he lost his beloved wife, and during his
last months he was afflicted with a nervous disorder which, he
wrote to me, left him no rest day or night. ' II fait des sauts,'
said his servant, describing this tormenting affection. At length
one of the noblest hearts in France ceased to beat. Leonce de
Lavergne became only a name, but one which neither France
nor England ought to let die. The present French Constitu-
tion was in part his work ; but he has left another, and perhaps
a more lasting monument, in his work as an author.

M. de Lavergne's chief literary productions are undoubtedly
his books on the rural economy of England and France. The-
main problem in respect of the former was to account for the
superior productiveness of English agriculture ; and he applied
to it what is now called the historical method. It does not
appear that he thought of applying a novel method ; but his
sagacity led him to investigate every subject inductively — that
is to say, in connexion with history and surrounding conditions.
The superiority of England had not always existed. In the
reigns of Henry IV. of France and James I. of England, France
was foremost in agriculture, as in other arts. But after the
middle of the seventeenth century England steadily advanced
under free institutions, while France retrograded under monarch-
ical tyranny and misgovernment until its peasantry sank into
the destitution and misery described by La Bruyere and
D'Argenson. Investigating further the causes at work on the
side of England in his own age, Lavergne laid chief stress upon
three : first, the love of country life felt by the opulent classes,
leading to the application of wealth and enterprise to the

Leonce de Lavergne. 123

improvement of the soil, wliile in France the love of the
pleasures and excitement of cities caused a constant drain on
the country ; secondly, the free and orderly spirit of the English
people and of their institutions, and the consequent exemption
of the island from both military despotism and violent revolu-
tions ; thirdly, the immense market for agricultural produce
afforded by the development of English manufactures and
commerce. Lavergne wrote his ' Essai sur I'Economie Rurale
de I'Angleterre,' as Tacitus wrote the ' Germania,' faithful in
description of Teutonic manners and institutions, but with a
political and social moral in view, and one eye always on his
own country. He took for his motto the maxim of Montesquieu,
' Les pays ne sont pas cultives en raison de leur fertilite, mais
en raison de leur liberte.' The Imj^erialist party in France
claimed for the Second Empire the credit of all the prosperity
due to science, steam, Calif ornian and Australian gold, and the
general progress of the age. The zealous advocate of constitu-
tional and parliamentary government, on the other hand, was
disinclined to admit that France had made any real advance
under the false splendour of a profligate and corrupting
despotism. Hence Lavergne looked at the rural economy of
England with somewhat partial eyes. He ignored, or at least
left in the background, the fact that English institutions and
history had developed a love of rural life and agriculture among
only a small minority of the nation. A fui-ther reflection, which
should not be omitted, is that since Lavergne's famous essay
was written a critical juncture has been reached, at which the
influence of the expansion of the British market for agricultural
produce on British agriculture cannot be clearly foreseen.
Lavergne looked chiefly to one side of the market, the side of
demand ; while the other side, that of supply, is now foremost
in importance. The question at present is, whether British
agriculture can compete in the British market itself with the
foreign supply. This, Lavergne would, indeed, have said, is a
question which concerns landlords rather than farmers, ' Pourvu
que la rente baisse en proportion de la baisse des prix, lo culti-

124 Leonce de Lavergne.

vateur proprement dit est a peu pres desinteresse.'* Yet the
final result may be not altogether in harmony with Lavergne's
views. His historical and inductive method of investigation
will, however, always remain proof against criticism. In the
application of this method he was entirely original. The
French statesmen and economists of his age knew nothing of
their great countryman, Auguste Comte ; and Lavergne was as
unacquainted with G-erman political economy as with the positive
philosophy. The only German economist, indeed, whose name
was known twenty years ago in either England or France,
Professor Rau, had followed the old paths, and thrown no new
light on the method of economic science.

Lavergne's work on the rural economy of France is in like
manner an elaborate application of the inductive, historical
method. At a time when economists were accustomed to speak
of every country in the lump, and to occupy themselves with
generalities and abstractions — such as the wages fund, the
average rate of wages, the equality of profits — Lavergne de-
scribed the actual economy of France in terms before which
these crude formulas crumble to pieces. Instead, for example,
of ' generalizing the facts of wages,' he showed that the
differences in local rates in France were so great that ' the
differences resulting from differences of social position were
nothing in comparison with those resulting from inequalities of
wages.' If the average consumption of meat per head in Paris
was ten times as great in Paris as in La Creuse, it was not
because Paris had some thousand rich inhabitants, while La
Creuse had only a sprinkling of country gentlemen of small
fortune, but because a working-man could earn on an average
ten times as much in the capital as in a remote rural department.!
* Under an apparent uniformity,' Lavergne says, at the outset
of his treatise, ' France is nothing less than an epitome of
Europe and almost of the world. Shall we speak first of
climate ? Nothing can be less alike than the Departement du

* Essai sur I'Econ. Eur. de I'AngJeterre, 4th ed., p. 199.
t Econ. Eur. de la France, 4me ed., p. 411.

Leonce de Lavergne. 125

Nord, whicli forms one extremity of this vast territory, and the
Departement du Var, which forms the opposite extremity.
Shall we speak of geological constitution ? The mountains of
the east, the centre, and the south, widely differing from each
other, of limestone, granite, and volcanic formation respectively,
have nothing in common with the plains at their feet, and
which present in turn innumerahle diversities. Shall we study
moral and political facts ? Every province has its history,
which has powerfully acted on its economic development ; and
since they became subject to the same laws, these laws have
had a special influence over each. Do we come to systems of
husbandry ? We find at once every cultivation, every system
of working the soil, all degrees in the scale from the extremest
poverty to the greatest rural riches. One department is fifty
times richer than another department — one canton a hundred
times richer than another canton.'*

' Mon illustre maitre,' the title given to Leonce de Lavergne
by a French official under the Second Empire, is one which
every careful student of his works on rural economy ought to
feel disposed to accord. The illustrious master of rural economy
was also a statesman of first-rate capacity, an accomplished man
of letters, a charming member of society, and all this under
difficulties and sufferings tasking heroic fortitude to the utter-

* Ecoii. Eur. de la France, 4me ed., pp. 59, 60.



The readers who would concern themselves much about the
political economy of a foreign country, in order simply to know
what doctrines on the subject are taught in its text-books and
colleges, are probably few. But when the inquiry is found to
include one into the influence of physical geography, history,
institutions, moral and religious ideas on economic theory, the
curiosity of a class may be excited whose interest in the con-
troversies of economists on their own account is but faint. A
wider claim to attention will be established, should it appear
that we are engaged in the study not merely of a chapter in the
intellectual history of the United States, but of one which
elucidates some of the causes determining the directions of the
mental energies of nations, their success or failure in various
branches of culture, and their fundamental ideas and methods
in philosophy. The investigation may likewise help to verify
some doctrines generally accepted in England as economic laws,
and to ascertain how far they possess the universality or inde-
pendence of time and place usually attributed to them, or need
to be conditioned and qualified, if not abandoned.

America — as for shortness we may sometimes call the United
States, though Canada and South America are not included in
the present inquiry — is the country above all others to which
we might naturally look for original and considerable contribu-
tions to the science of wealth through the inductive study of

* Fortnightly Eeview, October 1st, 1880.

Political Economy in the United States. 127

new facts. The diversity of some of tlie economic phenomena
of this new world from those of the old ; the unparalleled
rapidity of its material progress, and the novel conditions,
physical and political, under which it has taken place ; the
freedom from the limitations by which the populations of
European countries are restricted ; the absence of monarchy,
aristocracy, and the military element, and of the peculiar
direction which they give to production and distribution, seem
to open a most promising field of observation. Nor would it
seem unreasonable to expect that in a country the most im-
portant part of whose economic development has taken place
within living memory, some important discoveries might have
been reached with respect to the laws of social evolution under
which this gigantic growth has been attained. It will presently
be seen that American political economy does really exhibit
some distinctive features closely connected with the physical
character of the region in which it has taken shape, and with
the diversity of the material condition of its population from
that of any society of the Old World. Yet in America itself,
if we except a recent Californian writer, whose claims will be
examined, none but the disciples of Mr. Carey would pretend
that any considerable discoveries have been made in relation to
the natural laws of the production and distribution of wealth,
or that any great addition has been made to the stock of
economic knowledge. With exceptions and qualifications that
will be pointed out, American political economy is in the main
an importation from Europe, not an original development ; it
has made but slight inductive study of surrounding phenomena,
and follows, for the most part, the method of deduction from
general assumptions ; it has hardly attempted to investigate
the laws of evolution of which the present economic structure
and state of American society are the outcome. In 1876 the
* North American Review ' celebrated the centenary of the
Declaration of Independence by a number of excellent essays
on the progress of the American mind during the century in
several directions. In one of these, on ' Economic Science in
America, 1776-1876/ Mr. C. F. Dunbar, now Professor of

128 Political Economy in the United States.

Political Economy in Harvard College, while admitting the
value of some dissertations on special subjects, summed up the
history of American political economy for a hundred years in
the sentence that ' the United States had done nothing towards
developing the theory of political economy, notwithstanding
their vast and immediate interest in its practical application.'
The qualities displayed in Mr. Dunbar's own essay afford an
indication that, if his country has done little for the advance-
ment of his branch of philosophy, it has not been for want of
intellectual power, and the works of several of his countrymen
in the same field support the conclusion. It is worth notice
that practical jurisprudence has long engaged the American
intellect with success. Even Franklin seems never to have
mastered the elements of economic science ; but before the
Declaration of Independence, Edmund Burke had noticed the
bent of the colonists' mind towards the study of law. ' In no
country in the world,' he said, in 1775, ' is the law so general a
study. All who read — and most do read — endeavour to obtain
a smattering in that science.' Mr. John Stuart Mill, happening
to be asked in conversation by the present writer how he ac-
counted for the Grreeks doing nothing in jurisprudence when
the Romans did so much, answered that ' the question always
to be asked was how a people came to do anything ? Their
doing nothing was easily accounted for.' Like everything
Mr. Mill said, the remark was sagacious and instructive. Via
inertife, routine, the obstacles within and without every man to
original intellectual efforts and to their success, account for
much being left undone, even by nations possessed of the
highest faculties. Yet, in reference to the slight progress of
political economy in America, at least down to the last fifteen
years, we shall do well not to rest satisfied with the explanation
that no explanation is needed.

Mr. Perry, in a chapter in his ' Elements of Political
Economy,' on the history of the science, speaks of the circum-
stances of the United States as having been favourable from
the beginning to the cultivation of economic studies, alluding
to the resistance to restrictions on trade in which the Eevolution

Political Economy in the United States. 129

"began, the various experiments in currency, the discussions
excited by tariff after tariff, and the attention directed to the
new gold mines. Yet the reader will, we believe, incline to the
opposite conclusion, that, down at least to the close of the war
between the Northern and Southern States, the circumstances
of the country were unfavourable to the cultivation of economic
science. The most conspicuous of the causes that have with-
drawn the American mind from it may be classed under the
head of physical geography, including the natural resources of
the Continent, its facilities for internal commerce and migration,
and its separation, on the other hand, by two oceans from some
of the gravest troubles of the Old World. ' Give me,' said
Cousin in his ' Lectures on the History of Modern Philosophy,'
* the map of a country, its configuration, its chmate, its waters,
its winds, its natural productions, its botany, its zoology, all its
physical geography, and I pledge myself to tell you what will
be the man of that country, and what place that country will
occupy in history.' Had M. Cousin been given only the map
and physical geography of North America, it might have
puzzled him to say what would be the man of that continent —
whether a Eed Indian or a Yankee, as the red man pronounced
the French name of the Englishman ; and what place that
continent would occupy in history — whether a place such as
it occupied before the age of Columbus, or such as it occupies
now. Yet the element on which M. Cousin laid excessive
rhetorical emphasis has in reality acted with a potency needing
no exaggeration. An English writer, as prone to sweeping
generalization as M. Cousin, has referred to America in illus-
tration of a distinction between Europe as the quarter of the
globe in which man is stronger than nature, and the other
quarters in which man is overpowered and reduced to insig-
nificance by the forces of the external world. Mr. Buckle
seems, however, to have had in view only the troj)ical regions
of the New World, where nature, doubtless, is more exuberant,
and man less energetic and enterprising, than in its temjoerate
zone. In the latter, man's environment has exercised an in-
fluence of the highest importance in relation to the inquiry


130 Political Economy in the United States.

before us ; but it has done so, not by overpowering and crush-
ing, but by stimulating and developing his energies. It has
not, however, exercised his faculties equally in all directions.
One of the conditions governing throughout the world the
occupation and conquests of the human intellect is, that the
greater part of the mental power of every people is engaged in
the practical business of life, and only a small surplus is any-
where available for the cultivation of science and letters. But
two opposite kinds of physical environment tend to restrict, in
more than an ordinary degree, the higher ranges of intellectual
development. Extraordinary affluence and extraordinary bar-
renness of natural resources have one and the same tendency
to absorb in the pursuit of material welfare the energies of a
community. In Lapland and Greenland man's whole strength
has been engrossed in supplying his first animal wants. In
the United States his activity has been prodigious and many-
sided, yet the stock of intellectual power available for achieve-
ments of a high order has been small. Production, accumulation,
exchange, and consumption, have gone on upon the grandest
scale, but they have engaged philosophical observation upon a
comparatively insignificant scale.

M. de Tocqueville, in his inquiry into the movement of
American intellect, observes that he regards the people of the
United States as the part of the English people charged with
the mission of subduing a new world, while the rest of the
nation, possessing more leisure and less occupied with the
material cares of life, is able to devote itself to thought and the
development of the spiritual life of humanity. The observa-
•tion is applicable to political economy in common with other
branches of scientific and literary culture ; but there are cir-
cumstances that have had a special tendency to repress in-
tellectual effort and originality in the direction of economic
inquiry. The very causes that were adverted to at the outset,
as opening a new field for the economist to explore, have not
only tended, in fact, to turn the national mind in other direc-
tions, and absorbed it in the actual acquisition of wealth instead
of theorising about it, but have prevented the conditions which

Political Economy in the United States. 131

in Europe chiefly contributed to fasten attention on economic
subjects from arising. The problems relating to wealth that
have most urgently demanded solution in the Old World have
either never emerged or have assumed comparatively little im-
portance in America down to recent years. Without sickness,
•wounds, and pain, there would have been no physiology,
pathology, or science of medicine. It was the distressed con-
dition of Europe in the last century that gave birth to its
economic philosophy. Quesnay's motto was, Fanvres pai/srnis,
pauvre roymmie ; pauvre roymime, pauvt'e rot. Adam Smith
wrote in a better governed and more prosperous kingdom, and
after a generation of unusual plenty ; yet his inquiry into the
causes of the wealth of nations arose out of their general poverty
throughout history and in his own time. The fact that the
majority of the population of the whole world stood always on
the verge of destitution produced the doctrines of Malthus.
The free trade controversy in England grew out of dear bread,
depressed trade, low wages, and low profits ; and it gave political
economy most of its importance in English estimation during
the last generation. Had G-reat Britain been as large, as fertile,
and as underpeopled as the United States, Mr. Mill might have
made a fortune in a counting-house instead of a reputation as
a political economist. America owes doubtless in part to its
institutions its exemption from the necessity of attempting a
solution of the chief economic problems that have occujiied
philosophers in Europe. The great writer on American de-
mocracy, however, seems to go too far in attributing mainly
to it the passion for material welfare and the eagerness and
enterprise with which riches are sought in the United States.*

In the most democratic cantons of Switzerland life has been
for centuries calm and tranquil enough. It is to the immense
prizes that nature offers, rather than to the equality of the con-
ditions of the race, that the ardour of the competitors in tlie
United States is to be ascribed. If democratic institutions be
compared with monarchic or aristocratic, abundant proof will,

* De Tocqueville, De la DSinocratie en Amerique, iii. 208-11.

Online LibraryT. E. Cliffe (Thomas Edward Cliffe) LeslieEssays in political economy → online text (page 12 of 41)