Public Debt, Inequality, and the Intellectual Origins of the French Revolution
Madame de Pompadour's comment, 'Apres moi, le deluge' (after me, the deluge), has looked like a callous if accurate prophecy of the political cataclysms in 1789. But decades before the Bastille fell, French writers had used the phrase to describe a different kind of selfish recklessness. This book examines these fears and the responses to them.
Ever since the French Revolution, Madame de Pompadour's comment, 'Apres moi, le deluge' (after me, the deluge), has looked like a callous if accurate prophecy of the political cataclysms that began in 1789. But decades before the Bastille fell, French writers had used the phrase to describe a different kind of selfish recklessness - not toward the flood of revolution but, rather, toward the flood of public debt. In "Before the Deluge", Michael Sonenscher examines these fears and the responses to them, and the result is nothing less than a new way of thinking about the intellectual origins of the French Revolution. In this nightmare vision of the future, many pre-revolutionary observers predicted that the pressures generated by modern war finance would set off a chain of debt defaults that would either destroy established political orders or cause a sudden lurch into despotic rule. Nor was it clear that constitutional government could keep this possibility at bay. Constitutional government might make public credit more secure, but public credit might undermine constitutional government itself.; "Before the Deluge" examines how this predicament gave rise to a widespread eighteenth-century interest in figuring out how to establish and maintain representative governments able to realize the promise of public credit while avoiding its peril. By doing so, the book throws new light on a neglected aspect of modern political thought and on the French Revolution.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ix INTRODUCTION 1 Chapter 1: Facing the Future 22 Three Descriptions of the French Revolution 22 The Terror and Its Causes 34 Balanced Government and the English Constitution 41 England's Future in a French Context 52 Sieyes and His Contemporaries 67 True Monarchy, or the Idea of a Modern Republic 75 Chapter 2: Montesquieu and the Idea of Monarchy 95 The Troglodytes and the Morality of Monarchy 95 Law's System, the Abbe de Saint-Pierre, and the Grand Design 108 From The Persian Letters to The Spirit of Laws 121 The Inheritance of Property and the Inheritance of Thrones 131 The Problem of Sovereignty and the Nature of Monarchy 149 Jansenism 153 Fenelon and His Legacy 159 Trade, the System of Ranks, and the Alternative to Public Credit 166 Chapter 3: Morality and Politics in a Divided World 173 Montesquieu's Legacy 173 Francois Veron de Forbonnais and the Limits of Trade 179 Physiocracy, or The Natural and Essential Order of Political Societies 189 From Friendship to Mankind to Political Economy 199 Rousseau and Physiocracy 222 Rousseau and Mably 239 Chapter 4: Industry and Representative Government 254 Agriculture, Industry, and Inequality 254 Helvetius 266 Turgot 281 Chastellux 290 Jacques Necker and Burke's Paradox 302 Joseph Fauchet and Pierre-Paul Gudin de la Brenellerie 311 Pierre-Louis Roederer 322 Jean-Baptiste Say 334 CONCLUSION 349 BIBLIOGRAPHY 373 INDEX 403