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OEconomia (2012), 2012:103-106 NecPlus
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Book Review

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Jacoud Gilles (ed.), Political Economy and Industrialism. Banks in Saint-Simonian Economic Thought London and New-York: Routledge, 2010, 224 pages, ISBN 978-0415482660

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Ragip Egea1

a1 Université de Strasbourg
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Saint-Simon and the intellectual movement that grew out of his work represent one of the greatest intellectual phenomena in the 19th century European history of ideas. One can assert without any exaggeration that the totality of the revolutionary attitudes that spread throughout the century carried on deep and abiding influences of the Saint-Simonian thought, and particularly the Saint-Simonian conception of history. In a sense, the latter is the source of the modern idea of progress. Political Economy and Industrialism. Banks in Saint-Simonian Economic Thought, edited by Gilles Jacoud, immerses us in the debates amongst Saint-Simonian disciples in this period. The term “industrialism” as it appears in the title of this important and useful book corresponds in the Saint-Simonian terminology to the last stage of human history where individuals, actually becoming adults, eventually learn to leave off “the government of men” and concentrate exclusively on “the management of things” (administration des choses). Kant had conceptualized this emancipation of man from “minority” to “majority” in 1784 in his marvelous short text What is Enlightenment? (Kant, 1784). In this sense, one may consider that industrialism—and together the concrete, practical, socioeconomic qualities attached to it—echoes this Kantian concept of emancipation. It represents the ultimate organization of society according to the necessities of the impressive activity of production of modern times carried out by workers, that is, by all of the forces contributing to the social utility. The leitmotiv of the necessity to substitute the real workers of the nation (artists, scientists, manufacturers, entrepreneurs, laborers, merchants, etc) for the idle class of rentiers—a principle which runs throughout the miscellany of texts by Saint-Simon’s disciples presented in this book—means essentially that, under the rule of “industrialism”, individuals are recognized as citizens exclusively in their quality of producers or creators. The “Saint-Simonian moment in economics”—as Bellet and Causse (2008, quoted by Jacoud, 1) call suggestively this historical phenomenon—fully expresses the spirit of this passionate intellectual movement in the 19th century, whose hallmark is the will to rehabilitate work and workers in socioeconomic and philosophical debates.

The texts brought together by Gilles Jacoud in this volume focus essentially on the relations between the concept of industrialism and the institution of banks, which experienced a sensitive development in the first quarter of the 19th century. In fact, the enthusiastic and zealous disciples of Saint-Simon inherited the ideas of their Master concerning the necessity of a scientific and rational organization of the new world under the name of industrialism and they believed that the new institution of banks with its hierarchical structure aiming at the maximum promotion of the productive capacities of the nation, could constitute a concrete, practical and efficient frame to achieve this goal. In an enlightening introduction (1-29) and in the useful Chronological Table (153-165) and Biographical Notice (166-203) at the end of the book, Jacoud describes in detail the historical context in which Saint-Simonism was born and developed: the circumstances and the power relations that opposed the members of the community during the transformation of the latter into a genuine church after the death of Saint-Simon (1825), the personalities of the protagonists, the intense activity of publications (journals, newspapers, books) carried out between 1825 and 1832 (the year of the break-up of the community), the secret meetings where the Doctrine of the Master was presented, the difficulties and the conflicts that the group had with the police because of its subversive revolutionary ideas.

One must underline that the disciples of Saint-Simon were very cultured young persons and most of them graduated from the prestigious French grandes écoles of the time, such as École Polytechnique. Moreover some members of this elite held top responsibilities in banks. In other words, the disciples of Saint-Simon harbored much more concrete and practical contacts with the economic world and socioeconomic realities than did their Master. Their interest in the bank institution must be appreciated in light of this particularity. The material conditions of possibility of industrialism were their main concern and subject of inquiry.

Jacoud’s volume provides the reader with a very opportune selection and careful translation into English of 18 texts written by Enfantin, Bazard, Carnot, Duveyrier, Fournel, Decourdemanche, Pereire and Rodrigues. The reader shall get from it a striking idea of the intensity and the profusion of the intellectual life led by the Saint-Simonian group. All these young revolutionaries were strongly driven by an unshakeable conviction that the world was on the threshold of a complete regeneration and that the development of productive forces marked the dawn of a radically new age: The conditions for a rational administration of the world were now fulfilled. But the effectiveness of such an administration depended on the capacity of the organizers to reach the relevant information concerning the real needs of the nation. The network of banks over all the entire national territory would ensure, Saint-Simonians believed, this precious information. More exactly, the bank system solved, in their eyes, two fundamental problems of modern times: the problem of information and the problem of coordination. It is well known that Hayek considered the Saint-Simonian movement as the prototype of “constructivist rationalism”. The unconditional attachment of Saint-Simon’s disciples to the concept of “organization” (the pet aversion of the Hayekian conception of the world) and the great coordinating role the central or “general” bank played in their approach could explain Hayek’s appreciation. According to the theoretician of the “spontaneous order”, because of the huge distance that separates it from the seat of concrete needs—i.e. individual economic agents—such a powerfully centralized institution cannot gather but exclusively “aggregate”, hence impoverished knowledge about society. From the point of view of the theory of the “spontaneous order” a society needs a radically different sort of knowledge, which can be described as “minor” knowledge, or as “knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place” (Hayek, [1945] 1980, 80), to succeed in development and prosperity. But on close examination we observe that Saint-Simonians were never indifferent to the importance of this second type of knowledge, on the contrary. The secondary or “special” banks, thanks to their proximity to the real seat of needs—the needs that derive from the “particular circumstances of time and place”—are considered by Saint-Simonians as being perfectly able to collect relevant information in order to allocate rationally and efficiently the material and human resources of the nation. The organization of society is supposed to arise on the basis of the information of these special banks. Undoubtedly, returning to the original texts is always an occasion for unexpected discoveries that allow us to go beyond the too synthetic judgments.


Kant, Immanuel. 1784. Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung? (An Answer to the question: What is Enlightenment?), URL:

Bellet, Michel, and Lise, Causse. 2008. Un moment saint-simonien en économie politique. URL:

Hayek, Friedrich A. von. [1945] 1980. The Use of Knowledge in Society. In Individualism and Economic Order. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. [Google Scholar]