Review (1908) of Gustave de Molinari’s
Economics of History: A Theory of Evolution (1908)

by Langford Lovell Price (1862-1950)

Théorie de l’Évolution. By G. DE MOLINARI. (Paris: Félix Alcan, 1908. Crown 8vo. Pp. 257.)

GM-EH.1 In this little brochure the editor of the Journal des Économistes presents a summary review of historical development from primitive times to the present age. The standpoint from which the survey is conducted is “orthodox,” and we are not surprised to find that competition is given from the very outset special, if not exclusive, prominence as the prime agent of beneficent improvement, and that in the modern days in which we are now living, and in that approaching future to which M. de Molinari casts an apprehensive rather than a sanguine glance, monopoly and protection are set alongside of war as the unkindly forces whose perverse but potent influence he contemplates with unconcealed misgiving. For, by a striking contrast, his optimism on the past is not maintained when he directs his gaze to other times. And yet that robust belief, so characteristic of French economists of the straitest sect, in the efficacy of unrestricted freedom in the economic sphere, does not suffice to palliate or hide some ugly incidents accompanying the progress wrought in previous ages. The justification of slavery as a habitual feature of early civilisation will be familiar to most historical students, but it may startle some, and it may not convince others, to find the invention of gunpowder put by the writer of this book on the same level as the discovery of the steam-engine in its effect upon the evolution of mankind. M. de Molinari is led by the nature of his subject and the limits of his space to attempt an “economic interpretation” of history alone, and his treatment is open to further criticism because even within the restricting boundaries thus prescribed it produces some impression of discursiveness and disproportion. For the objection may, we think, be raised that too much space has been devoted to primitive and earlier periods, and that when we arrive at later modern times we find a number of chapters dealing somewhat disconnectedly with particular epochs, and with special features, rather than presenting in orderly chronological succession a systematic survey of the main course and typical forms of development. Yet the author contrives to supply from time to time illuminating hints, and he has invested his story throughout with the attractive qualities of lucidity and point. These, indeed, we expect from the practised pen of a veteran writer who on many previous occasions has enriched French economic literature with the work of an industrious and accomplished mind.

Economic Journal 18, no. 71 (September 1908), p. 451.

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