on the Rue Saint-Lazare:
Conversations on Economic Laws
and Defense of Property (1849)

by Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912)

Translation by Roderick T. Long

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One must take care not to ascribe to physical laws those evils which are the just and inevitable penalty for violating what is commanded by these very laws, instituted to bring about the good.



RSL-Pref.1 Society, the economists of the eighteenth century taught, organises itself through natural laws; these laws have for their essence Justice and Utility. When they are ignored, society suffers; when they are fully respected, society enjoys maximum abundance, and justice reigns in the relations of men.
RSL-Pref.2 Today, are these providential laws respected or ignored? Do the sufferings of the masses have their origin in the economic laws that govern society, or in the obstacles that have been placed in the way of the beneficial action of these laws? Such is the question posed by recent events.
RSL-Pref.3 The socialist schools answer this question sometimes by denying that the economic world is, like the physical world, governed by natural laws, and sometimes by asserting that these laws are imperfect or wicked, and that the evils of society derive from their imperfections or their vices.
RSL-Pref.4 The more timid socialists conclude that these laws require modification; the bolder ones favour making a clean sweep of an Organisation evil at the root, and replacing it with a new Organisation.
RSL-Pref.5 The foundation on which the entire edifice of society rests is property; the socialists therefore endeavour to weaken or destroy the principle of property.
RSL-Pref.6 The conservatives defend property; but they defend it badly.
RSL-Pref.7 Let us see why.
RSL-Pref.8 Conservatives are naturally defenders of the status quo; they like things the way they are, and are terrified at the mere idea of changing them. Hence they avoid probing the depths of society, lest they be confronted with ills that would require some sort of reform in existing institutions.
RSL-Pref.9 In addition, they have no love for theories, and have little faith in principles. It is only under the duress of self-defense that they engage in discussions about property; it would seem that they fear to expose this sacred principle to the light. On the model of those ignorant and savage Christians who formerly proscribed heretics instead of refuting them, they invoke law rather than knowledge in order to put down the aberrations of socialism.

RSL-Pref.10 It seemed to me that the socialist heresy required a different refutation, and property a different defense.
RSL-Pref.11 Agreeing with all the economists in recognising property as the foundation of the natural organisation of society, I inquired whether the evil denounced by socialists – an evil that nobody could deny except through blindness or bad faith – I inquired whether or not this evil arises from property.
RSL-Pref.12 The result of my studies and inquiries has been that the ills of society, far from having their origin in the principle of property, derive on the contrary from the assaults that have been made, directly or indirectly, upon that principle.
RSL-Pref.13 Whence I conclude that the improvement of the lot of the labouring classes resides in the pure and simple emancipation of property.
RSL-Pref.14 How the principle of property serves as the foundation of the natural organisation of society; how this principle has not ceased to be limited or ignored; what evils flow from the deep wounds with which it has been riddled; how, finally, the emancipation of property will restore to society its natural organisation, an organisation essentially equitable and advantageous – such is the substance of these DIALOGUES.
RSL-Pref.15 The thesis which I undertake to uphold is not new; all the economists have defended property, and economics is nothing other than the demonstration of the natural laws which have property for their foundation. Quesnay, Turgot, Adam Smith, Malthus, Ricardo, J.-B. Say spent their lives observing and demonstrating these laws; their disciples, Messrs. MacCulloch, Senior, Wilson, Dunoyer, Michel Chevalier, Bastiat, Joseph Garnier, etc., ardently continued the same task. I have confined myself to following the trail they have blazed.
RSL-Pref.16 Some, perhaps, may consider that I have gone too far, and that my insistence on keeping to the straight path of principles has misled me into the abyss of chimeras and utopias; but no matter! I am profoundly convinced that economic truth lies hidden beneath these apparent chimeras and utopias; I am profoundly convinced that only the complete and absolute emancipation of property can save society, realising all the noble and generous hopes of the friends of justice and humanity.

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