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(Published in French in 1837, translated to English in 1880)



Political Economy more ancient than supposed. — The Greeks and Romans
had theirs. — Its resemblance to that of our time. — The differences between
them. — Successive modifications of the science. — General view of the subject.
A NOBLE spectacle and one well worthy of meditation,
is that of the attempts made in the different ages of the
world, to ameliorate the physical and moral condition of
man. Each century brings its tribute of fanaticism to
this grand cause, which counts nations and kings among
its martyrs. Never does humanity rest : one experiment
immediately succeeds another, and we advance through
revolutions toward unknown destinies.
If we carefully study the history of the past, we perceive
that this movement is of remote origin, that it has
impelled our fathers and that it is bearing us and our children
along with it. Sometimes nations appear to obey
it blindly, as when Europe was invaded by the barbarians ;
more frequently they yield to it with a confused sense of
the eternal laws which direct it. This accounts for the
innumerable experiments of governments, which experiments,
however, seem constantly to gravitate around a
few immutable principles, such as personal security and
respect for property.
  The history of political economy can, then, be only a
summary of the experiments which have been made among
civilized nations to improve the lot of mankind. The ancients
were not so much inferior to the moderns in that respect
as many writers suppose ; and it is quite wrong to
attribute to economic science, as people generally do, an
origin as recent as the second half of the eighteenth century.
Who does not know of the institutions of Sparta and
of Athens, and the magnificent works of Roman administration?
We could hardly pass over in silence the economy
of those times, especially since there we find the
origin of almost all the institutions which govern us and
of the systems which divide us. There was certainly in
the laws of Lykurgus more Saint-Simonism than people
think, and the quarrels of patricians and plebeians
were no more fierce in Paris in the period of terror, than
they were at Rome during the proscriptions of Sylla.
The resemblance is still more striking between the insurrection
of the workmen of Lyons and the withdrawal of
the Roman people to the Sacred Hill.* How many times
since Menenius Agrippa, has there been occasion to relate
to a mutinous populace the famous apologue of the st
omach and the members !
By excluding from the history of political economy ev
erything connected with the ancients, modern economists
have voluntarily deprived themselves of a fruitful
source of observations and comparisons. They have rejected
two thousand years of experiments tried with the
greatest boldness, on a vast scale, by the most ingenious
and most civilized people of antiquity; they have failed
to comprehend history, which has carefully gathered up
the least traces of these very experiments which we are
to-day again making, too often with less ability and less
necessity than the Greeks and Romans. This bias of the
economists is due to the fact that the ancients left no
special work summing up their views on economic science;
but if these views were not stated in a book, they
are found in their institutions, in their monuments, in
their jurisprudence. The relays of horses, established
from Rome to York, the especial pains taken by the
Romans for the maintenance of highways and aqueducts,
strongly attest their comprehension of the principal necessities
of civilization. The legislation of the Greek
colonies was better than that of the Spanish colonies of
South America.
Sparta, Athens, and Rome, had their political economy,
as France and England have theirs. Usury, excessive
imposts, tariffs, exorbitant charges for collecting the revenues,
insufficient wages, and pauperism, afflicted the
old communities as well as the new, and our ancestors
made no fewer efforts than we to get rid of these
scourges. One would be strangely mistaken to suppose
that they never reflected on the difficulties in accomplishing
the reforms of which they felt the need. Every page
of their history presents us proof to the contrary, and
we doubt not that the great insurrection of slaves under
Spartacus made the economists of the time pass very
bad nights. If historians have not acquainted us with
their anxiety, it is because at Rome no one dared speak
of that secret pest which was undermining the republic
and which made the blush mount to the face of its greatest
citizens. Later, when the emperors decided to distribute
food to the inhabitants of the eternal city, were
they not practicing political economy as the monks do
in Spain at the doors of their monasteries? Is there
much difference between the maxims of the Athenians
who prohibited the exportation of figs and those of the
French who lately prohibited that of silk and rags? All
that one can say is, that the Greeks did not find, as we
do, authors to support these absurdities by sophisms
but that does not give us the right to despise them.
When we study attentively the financial legislation of
the Greeks and Romans, we can but recognize that the
most weighty questions of political economy had at all
times the attention of these nations. It suffices to see
with what solicitude they guarded their international relations,
the civil status of foreigners, the nature and
effects of taxes, the encouragements to be given to
agriculture, and the direction of navigation. I shall have
occasion in the course of this work to cite irrefutable
proofs of their perfect apprehension of these matters.
There was nothing, even to the most complicated phenomena
of the division of labor, which escaped their investigation ;
and we find in the second book of the Republic
of Plato an analysis which would do honor to the
most learned disciple of Adam Smith. Xenophon's Economics,
hitherto insufficiently studied, contain observations
of great clearness : and we know no better definition
of money than that which Aristotle has given us in
the first book of his Politics.*

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