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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/9069/a-few-new-books/

A Few New Books

December 8, 2008 by

A frustration that dates way back in my own mind is the relative lack of resources on the economic thought of the late-scholastics. There is Chafuen’s Faith and Liberty, which is indispensable. And Rothbard’s own History of Economic of Thought provides the most extensive discussion of the topic yet to appear in print (and it is only in print from the Mises Institute after massive pain and suffering in dealing with the original publisher which refuses to bend on its own monopolistic claim to own the text). But what has been missing so far are detailed accounts of individual thinkers.

So I was thrilled to bump into John Laures’s The Political Economy of Juan de Mariana. It appeared in 1928 at a time when few cared at all about these Spanish thinkers and their economic contributions. The Mises Institute has republished the book as an important contribution to our understanding.

Laures is best at dealing with Marian’s monetary and banking thought. He correctly presents Mariana’s anti-inflationist views, and clearly he sympathizes with them. These chapters on this topic make the entire book worth it.

On the other hand, the author is shocked and alarmed by Marian’s view toward tyrannicide and particularly outraged at Mariana’s opinion that a tyrant can be justly and morally overthrown by the actions of a single individual. Laures goes to great lengths to show that Mariana’s views were not shared by Church officials or his colleagues. His protests in fact are quite intense, which is interesting since it was true in Mariana’s time as well. He did prison time for his writings on the topic. The assassination of Henry IV of France was pinned on him even though the event happened 12 years after Marian’s book appeared.

Laures also exaggerates the passage in Mariana that could be interpreted to favor a welfare ethic and redistribution. What struck me as I read these passages is the illegitimacy of importing a handful of statements from the 1500s into the modern context of the administrative state that was unknown in Mariana’s time. Mariana was no New Dealer.

Still, even with the faults of the study, it is extremely valuable for its depth and for its uniqueness. I like how the book zeros in on a particular thinker and explores the full range of his thought, providing a depth of perspective unavailable anywhere else.

Next is the amazing treatise by Antonie Louis Claude Destutt Tracy (1754-1836) : Treatise on Political Economy .What else do you need to know except that Thomas Jefferson himself arranged for its publication and actually edited the translation? This is an exact reprint of the 1817 edition. Jefferson was a huge fan. Essentially it was Tracy who taught Jefferson the details of economic logic.

Why haven’t we heard much about this man? He was an aristocrat who got on Napoleon’s bad side. Napoleon called his followers “ideologues,” and why? Because it was Tracy who coined the term “ideology” to refer to the science of ideas. He was more radical and more open with his views than Say — aristocrats tend to be that way. So he was shuffled aside as politically dangerous. His works had a higher circulation in the United States than in France.

Until last week, this treatise was impossible to find. A special thanks to a reader who drove us bonkers with daily emails until we finally got it in print. You should thank him too. Sometimes it is the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.

Finally, there is the rare and unusual Treatise on Currency and Banking by Condy Raguet. Now, banking scholars who know the 19th century recognize that name immediately. Sadly, he has largely been forgotten by nearly everyone else.

He lived from 1784 to 1842, and was a famed anti-inflationist: a passionate opponent of paper money and a defender of sound money and free banking, in addition to being an advocate of free markets and free trade. He provides not only excellent commentary on his times but also the right theory of the effects of credit expansion. He shows what a bank in a free market is and what it should not be, and has a keen sense of knowing precisely what the bankers are up to in favoring greater protections when they are providing “liquidity” to industry. In many ways, he was the Rothbard of his times, and his book links very closely with what we need to hear today.

It’s true that the Raguet book will never been a bestseller. But for those who care to come to know the thought of great monetary and banking theorists of the past, this reprint of the 1840 edition is invaluable. The MIses Institute is very pleased to make it available again.

{ 1 comment }

Alexander S. Peak December 9, 2008 at 2:58 am

From page 32 of Radicals for Capitalism (2007):

“That distinction [between society and state] was the key libertarian insight of these nineteenth-century French radical liberals. As economist Destutt de Tracy, one of the inspirational figures centered around the publication Le censeur européen, put it, ‘Society is purely and solely a continual series of exchanges…an exchange is a transaction in which the two contracting parties both gain.…It is this unnumberable crowd of small particular advantage, unceasingly arising, which composes the general good, and which produces at length the wonders of a perfected society.’”

That was the first I had heard of Destutt de Tracy.

I took a look at the Mises.org .pdf of A Treatise on Political Economy the other day, and I recall wondering what exactly it meant by “Translation dited.” Did Jefferson not publish the text fully, did he cut parts out? If so, it’s a shame we can’t get a copy of the full, unedited text. Or, does it merely mean Jefferson was involved in the translation? Or perhaps “edited” is supposed to imply that he took various other works of Tracy’s and included them along with the Treatise, which would explain what all that other stuff is.

It’s highly unfortunate that Jefferson did not include a table of contents. The layout comes across as very disorderly without it.

As usual, beautiful front covers on each book.

Yours,
Alex Peak

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