Markets, Productivity, and Happiness in a Historical Perspective

A Fin-de-siècle Conception of Security, Wealth, and Happiness: Edmondo De Amicis, Sakızlı Ohannes, and Ahmed Midhat

Özgür Mustafa Erdem, Dokuz Eylül University
Özveren Eyüp, Middle East Technical University (Retired)
Kaya Alp Yücel, Ege University

Edmondo de Amicis (1846-1908), the Italian novelist, jounalist and poet, best known for his internationally popular Cuore; Ahmed Midhat Effendi (1844-1912), the Ottoman novelist, journalist, publisher and autodidact intellectual who wrote about different subjects including political economy; and Sakızlı Ohannes Pasha (1836-1912), a scholar who taught at Mekteb-i Mülkiye (School of Political Science) and a bureaucrat who served in the highest positions of the Empire produced their best works during the second half of the 19th century. Had Ahmet Midhat Effendi not been in exile in Rhodes because of the discontent that his articles created in higher circles, their paths could have crossed in İstanbul in 1874 when De Amicis visited the imperial capital. At the time Sakızlı Ohannes was employed as a consultant in the Ministry of Trade. The outcome of De Amicis’s visit was his well-known Constantinople published three years later in 1877. De Amicis was certainly not a political economist, but Sakızlı Ohannes taught political economy courses in Mekteb-i Mülkiye and wrote a political economy book Mebâdi-i İlm-i Servet-i Milel (Principles of the Science of Wealth of Nations- 1881) which became an influential text in the Ottoman liberal political economic thought of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Unlike Sakızlı Ohannes, Ahmed Midhat Effendi was a protectionist, and yet his views represented another influential vein in Ottoman economic thought. Ahmed Midhat Effendi and Sakızlı Ohannes Pasha were subjects of a multi-religious and multi-ethnic empire faced with an imminent threat of dissolution, and Edmondo De Amicis was the citizen of the newly unified Italy. Security was a natural concern for De Amicis, a career soldier who fought in the Third Independence War at age twenty. Neither Ahmed Midhat nor Sakızlı Ohannes were in the military, yet highly unstable state of affairs in the Empire put security, and happiness along with it, among their essential preoccupations. Furthermore, De Amicis and Ahmed Midhat’s literary works and Sakızlı Ohannes’ Mebâdi-i İlm-i Servet-i Milel include lessons of happiness as independent from material wealth. The purpose of this paper is to trace the conceptions of security and happiness in the works of these three characters. Such a pursuit will serve to disclose an alternative conceptualization of happiness to that of the purely utilitarian approach of mainstream economics of the late 19th century.


Keywords: Edmondo De Amicis, Sakızlı Ohannes Pasha, Ahmed Midhat Effendi, Kingdom of Italy, Ottoman Empire

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