Review (1888) of Gustave de Molinari’s
Economic Morality (1888)

by John Bates Clark (1847-1938)

La Morale économique. Par G. DE MOLINARI, correspondent de l’Institut, rédacteur en chef du Journal des Économistes. Guillaumin et Cie, Paris. – 8vo, 418 pp.

GM-EM.1 This book is closely related to the author’s earlier work, Les lois naturelles de l’économie politique. Besides being generally suggestive, it will render an especial service to anyone whose idea of the relation of ethics to economics leads them either to confound the two or to try to force them into an unnatural separation. The views advanced in this volume will, indeed, hardly be accepted by believers in non-utilitarian ethics; it is premises, however, rather than deductions, that will be the object of criticism. The work is Ricardian in its exactness and consistency, as well as in its economic tendency.
GM-EM.2 Ethics and economics are, according to M. de Molinari, alike in recognizing as their summum bonum the attainment, by humanity as a whole, of the maximum of gratification at the cost of a minimum of pain. Man’s organized efforts to attain this end constitute, practically, the sum total of social activities, and furnish the materials for ethics. Conflicts arise in the economic field; the individual is bound to subordinate his interests to those of his race. This is a general and permanent law; but the application of it varies with economic conditions. Rules of conduct change with advancing civilization. “At the origin of the species, competition had no other mode of operation than robbery and murder. Man lives at the cost of other species, and contends for his existence with them.” The failure of wild game to furnish food for increasing numbers of men leads tribes of savages to seek to expel each other from common hunting grounds, or, in cannibal fashion, to make wild game of each other. The extermination of the less capable individuals is, in such conditions, advantageous to humanity and therefore moral. This rule is abolished when men are organized into nations; robbery and murder are no longer useful, and are therefore no longer justifiable within national limits. The contest for survival is transferred to a higher plane; and now international wars may be useful and right. The establishment of sufficiently close bonds, commercial or otherwise, among the nations of the world will end the utility of wars, and thus reverse their moral quality.
GM-EM.3 The author keeps constantly in view the natural economic laws discussed in his former treatise. He examines the protective and repressive action of criminal law, religion, and public opinion, and the influence of the fine arts, of literature, of the theatre, and of the school. He makes an extended study of “the genesis of morals,” and of the crisis that has come in human relations in consequence of industrial and political progress. He incidentally puts in a clear light the action of the tariff wars in which European nations are now engaged. He shows the effect of extending the privilege of self-government to great populations that are not ready for it, and exhibits the ignoble quality of modern politics which resolve elections into quasi-economic contests for the possession of lucrative positions. These are only a few of the prominent points in the discussion of the general theme. The concluding part of the work is devoted to a study of “the new order” that is establishing itself by the merging of many nations in a general “economic state.” The volume contains appendices on “the results of the wars of the Revolution and the Empire,” and on “a plan for the establishment of a league of neutral powers.”

Political Science Quarterly 3, no. 4 (December 1888), pp. 705-6.

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