Quote of the Day: Mably on America


While doing a bit of research on the French Enlightenment (my day job), I came across this quotation on America from the Abbe de Mably, the brother of Condillac and an important philosophe in his own right:

Whilst almost every European nation remains plunged in ignorance respecting the constitutive principles of society, and only regards the people who compose it as cattle upon a farm managed for the particular and exclusive benefit of the owner, we become at once astonished and instructed by the circumstance that your thirteen republics have, in the same moment, discovered the real dignity of man, and proceeded to draw from the sources of the most enlightened philosophy those humane principles on which they mean to build their forms of government.

Remarks Concerning the Government and Laws of the United States of America (letters to John Adams) (1785). Among the other accomplishments of this now-obscure philosophe, Mably proposed an early version of socialism in his 1776 book on legislation, and essentially predicted the course of the French revolution 30 years before it occurred, in his 1758 book Des droits et devoirs du citoyen (On the Rights and Duties of Citizens):   

Proceeding from a sober assessment of the balance of political forces in France in the wake of recent collisions between parlement and court, Mably . . . provides what is in effect a strategic recipe for the overthrow of French absolutism: parlementary resistance to the court is to be used as a lever to overturn the government, permitting a restored and reconstructed Estates General to assume full legislative authority within a modern constitutional monarchy. This 'script for a French revolution', as Keith Baker has termed it, of course proved to be a clairvoyant prediction of the actual course of events of 1787-9 — an astonishing performance from a supposedly 'utopian' writer.

J.K. Wright, Conversations with Phocion: The Political Thought of Mably, History of Political Thought, Vol. XIII, No. 3 (Autumn 1992), at 396.

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