Preface to Gustave de Molinari's 'The Production of Security'
by Murray N. Rothbard
in 1977 by the Center for Libertarian Studies.
Never has laissez-faire
thought been as dominant as it was among French economists, beginning
with J.B. Say in the early nineteenth century, down through Say's
more advanced followers Charles Comte and Charles Dunoyer and to
the early years of the twentieth century. For nearly a century,
the laissez-faire economists controlled the professional
economic society, the Societe d'Economie Politique and its journal,
the Journal des Economistes, as well as numerous other journals
and university posts. And yet, few of these economists were translated
into English, and virtually none are known to English or American
scholars the sole exception being Frédéric
Bastiat, not the most profound of the group. The entire illustrious
group remains unstudied and unsung.
The most "extreme"
and consistent, as well as the longest-lived and most prolific of
the French laissez-faire economists was the Belgian-born
Gustave de Molinari (18191912), who edited the Journal
des Economistes for several decades. The initial article of
the young Molinari, here translated for the first time as "The
Production of Security," was the first presentation anywhere
in human history of what is now called "anarcho-capitalism"
or "free market anarchism." Molinari did not use the terminology,
and probably would have balked at the name. In contrast to all previous
individualistic and near-anarchistic thinkers, such as La Boétie,
Hodgskin or the young Fichte, Molinari did not base the brunt of
his argument on a moral opposition to the State. While an ardent
individualist, Molinari grounded his argument on free-market, laissez-faire
economics, and proceeded logically to ask the question: If
the free market can and should supply all other goods and
services, why not also the services of protection?
same year, 1849, Molinari expanded his radically new theory into
a book, Les Soirées de la Rue Saint-Lazare, a series
of fictional dialogues between three people: the Conservative (advocate
of high tariffs and state monopoly privileges), the Socialist, and
the Economist (himself). The final dialogue elaborated further on
his theory of free-market protective services. Four decades later,
in his Les Lois Naturelles de l'Economie Politique (1887),
Molinari was still a firm believer in privately competitive police
companies, public works companies, and defense companies. Unfortunately,
in his only work to be translated into English, La Societé
Future (The Society of Tomorrow, New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons,
1904), Molinari had partially retreated to an advocacy of a single
monopoly private defense and protection company, rather than allowing
It is instructive
to note the storm of contention that Molinari's article and his
Soirées brought about in the laissez-faire stalwarts
of French economics. A meeting of the Societe d'Economie Politique
in 1849 was devoted to Molinari's daring new book, the Soirées.
Charles Coquelin opined that justice needs a "supreme authority,"
and that no competition in any area can exist without the supreme
authority of the State. In a similarly unsupported and a priori
fulmination, Frédéric Bastiat declared that justice and security
can only be guaranteed by force, and that force can only be the
attribute of a "supreme power," the State. Neither commentator
bothered to engage in a critique of Molinari's arguments.
Charles Dunoyer did so, complaining that Molinari had been carried
away by the "illusions of logic," and maintaining that
"competition between governmental companies is chimerical,
because it leads to violent battles." Dunoyer, instead, chose
to rely on the "competition" of political parties within
representative government hardly a satisfactory libertarian
solution to the problem of social conflict! He also opined that
it was most prudent to leave force in the hands of the State, "where
civilization has put it" this is from one of the great
founders of the conquest theory of the State! Unfortunately, this
critical issue was barely treated in the meeting, since the discussion
largely centered on Dunoyer's and the other economists' criticizing
Molinari for going too far in attacking all uses of eminent domain
by the State. (See Journal des Economistes, XXIV (Oct. 15, 1849),
With this publication
of Professor McCulloch's translation of Molinari's original article,
let us hope that Molinari will now come to the attention of scholars
Production of Security" by Gustave de Molinari.
© 2006 Ludwig von Mises Institute
All rights reserved.