Money, Banks and Finance in Economic Thought

Samuel Pufendorf's Political Economy and the French Enlightenment

Sæther Arild, Agder Academy of Sciences and Letters

Samuel Pufendorf’s (1632-94) integrated theory of natural law, included ethics, jurisprudence, government and political economy. It is outlined in Elementorum Jurisprudentiae Universalis from 1660, De Jure Naturae et Gentium from 1672, and an abridged version meant for students De Officio Hominis et Civis from 1672. His doctrines of political economy embrace theories of human behaviour, private property and the four stages, value and money, foundation of states and council decisions and finally division of state powers and principles of taxation. Pufendorf’s natural law were dispersed across Europe and North America and contributed to the beginning of the Enlightenment, characterized by belief in progress and the use of reason. John Locke (1632-1704) used the Elementorum Jurisprudentiae Universalis when he prepared his lectured on ‘The Law of Nature’ at Oxford in the early 1660’s. Locke was central to the spread of natural law and political economy. The French philosophers of the Enlightenment were all in debt to Pufendorf. The moralist Pierre Nicole (1625-1714), the legal philosopher Jean Domat (1625-96), and the magistrate Pierre Le Pesant de Boisguilbert (1646-1714) were familiar with Pufendorf’s works and used them when they wrote. The translator of Pufendorf’s works into French, Jean Barbeyrac (1674-1744), had a very important role in the diffusion of natural law in France and across Europe. For some years Barbeyrac and Locke corresponded. The great philosopher of the Enlightenment, Charles-Louis Montesquieu (1689-1755), used, according to several authors, Pufendorf’s works when he wrote his discourses and De l’Esprit des lois.. Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui (1694-1748), was by many called a plagiarist of Pufendorf’s works. His treatise Principes du droit naturel was translated into six languages and published in more than sixty editions. The foremost political thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78), published many discourses and treatises. His main work, Du Contrat Sociale from 1762 became one of the most influential works of political philosophy. In his works he gives only a few references to the natural law philosophers. However, there can be no doubt that he used Pufendorf’s works extensively and particularly when he treats themes of political economy. Denis Diderot (1713-84) the chief editor of the Encyclopédie was also an admirer of Pufendorf and he used De Jure Naturae et Gentium comprehensively in his work. In many of his articles, he just copies Pufendorf. A group of French intellectuals, who first claimed the name Économiste, but later called themselves Physiocrats spoke out against the deplorable economic conditions in France. For all Physiocrats, was political economy the science of applied natural law.


Keywords: History of Economic Thought, Natural Law, Politcal Economy, French Enlightenment