Liberty, Peace, and Self-Interest Properly Understood
William F. Campbell
Professor Emeritus, Louisiana State University
The Philadelphia Society, Regional Meeting, Wilmington, Delaware, October 10, 1998
When I first conceived this idea of a Regional Meeting on The Humane Economy, I well remember that there were some raised eyebrows at the idea of an earlier draft which focussed the entire meeting on French economic liberalism. But even Thomas Jefferson, who loved the French liberal tradition, would have been surprised. He described "Delaware on a poise, as she has been since 1775, and will be till Anglomany with her yields to Americanism." (Jefferson's Works, Vol. XI, p. 68)
The topic was a natural one for both The Philadelphia Society and the meeting location in Wilmington, Delaware, home of the du Ponts. Let me explain some of these connections in a way that I hope will shed light on the papers by our speakers, Leonard Liggio and Bruce Frohnen.
What does the Philadelphia Society have to do with these themes? I hate to have to inform you that our Philadelphia Society was not the first in time. There were two predecessors which perhaps capture the poles or tensions which currently characterize our membership.
Benjamin Franklin was President of the "Philadelphia Society for the Abolition of Slavery & the relief of free negroes unlawfully held in Bondage." He wrote to Du Pont de Nemours in France, May 27, 1788, "We rejoice in finding a Gentleman of your Character & Influence disposed to aid us in the work in which we are engaged. We conceive no better method of effecting this can be adopted than by instituting Societies in your Country similar to ours " (Exhibit, p. 26)
Earlier du Pont had written to Franklin in October 1787 that he wanted to put his son "under the protection of a sage such as you." He wanted to "finish his education in your country since it is a country where they are actually occupied in examining with dignity and profoundly the nature and understanding of the rights and duties of men united in society." (Exhibit, p. 36; my translation)
Harry Jaffa, Charles Kesler, Larry Arnn, the Claremont Institute, and Jay Parker among others would be proud of this heritage. But who is this du Pont character? To keep him straight, this is Pierre Samuel du Pont (1739-1817), the father of the du Ponts who settle themselves in the Brandywine Valley. His legacy appeals to another wing of the Philadelphia Society, the classical liberal wing, which reflects the fact that our founder, Don Lipsett, was not only friends with Russell Kirk but also Milton Friedman.
Pierre du Pont was one of the great players in the French liberal economic tradition. Being a University of Virginia graduate, I am sensitive to the fact that Thomas Jefferson in 1800 requested du Pont to write a memorandum suggesting a curriculum for a proposed university in Virginia. Du Pont's contribution turned out to be over 90 pages and had the title, offensive to many here, "On National Education in the United States of America." Perhaps he thought he was writing to George Washington rather than Thomas Jefferson.
Both du Pont and Jefferson were close friends of Destutt de Tracy and J.B. Say (1767-1832). You will be hearing more about them from Leonard Liggio. They were in constant conflict with Napoleon. Both Destutt de Tracy and Jean Baptiste Say felt the brunt of Napoleon's attack on the ideologists. Say's ideas were repressed when he refused to change a chapter in his Trait dconomie politique; they prohibited the second edition and removed him from the tribunat.
The second part of Tracy's Institut was suppressed in 1803. He was also not allowed to publish his Commentaire sur l'esprit des lois written in 1806. It was for this reason that he appealed to Thomas Jefferson to come out with an English translation of it in 1806. It was not published in Paris until 1819. It was, of course, an attack not a defense of Montesquieu. Some thought the hand of Jefferson was so strong in this book that du Pont even thought of translating it back into French until he was dissuaded by Jefferson.
By 1819, Jefferson had also had translated and edited, Destutt de Tracy's Treatise on Political Economy (1818). In his introduction written from Monticello on October 25, 1818, he gets to the essence of rent seeking: "By diffusing sound principles of Political Economy, it will protect the public industry from the parasite institutions now consuming it, and lead us to that just and regular distribution of the public burthens from which we have sometimes strayed. It goes forth therefore with my hearty prayers, that while the Review of Montesquieu, by the same author, is made with us the elementary book of instruction in the principles of civil government, so the present work may be in the particular branch of Political Economy." (Treatise, foreword by Dorsey, p. I)
In other words we have the root of the transformation of the moralistic themes of Industry versus Idleness, into Industrialism versus Parasites. Here there is a paramount need for a concept of self-interest properly understood. A bourgeois culture is not identical with a consumer culture. Capitalism is not to be confused with materialism, however much the left wants to make that connection. I had originally hoped to have an accompanying artistic exhibition for this conference consisting of a collection of prints including Hogarth "Industry versus Idleness" and print versions of the prodigal son. The prints and books were to be accompanied by John Gay's music, The Beggar's Opera, and Stravinsky's Rake's Progress, also based on a Hogarth series of prints.
In the First Part, Tracy also makes clear that "society consists only in a continual succession of Exchanges, and exchange is a transaction of such a nature that both contracting parties always gain by it. (This observation will hereafter throw great light on the nature and effects of commerce.)" (pp. xvi-xvii)
The word production is defined in a way to satisfy the most rigorous Austrian: According to Tracy, "We create nothing. We operate only changes of form and of place. To produce is to give to things an utility which they had not before. All labour from which utility results is productive." (p. xvii)
Furthermore, in the "Prospectus" (author unidentified) to Destutt de Tracy's Treatise on Political Economy (1818), translated and edited by Thomas Jefferson, there is a wonderful summary passage which incorporates Dupont de Nemours into the larger French liberal tradition: "Political Economy, in modern times, assumed the form of a regular science, first in the hands of the political sect in France, called the Economists. They made it a branch only of a comprehensive system, on the nature order of Societies. Quesnia (sic) first, Gournay, Le Trosne, Turgot, & Dupont de Nemours, the enlightened, philanthropic, and venerable citizen now of the United States, led the way in these developements, and gave to our enquiries the direction they have since observed." (p. iii)
Turgot, the hero of Murray Rothbard's massive two volume history of economic thought, cannot be left out of the du Pont story. When he lived in France he was Turgot's secretary or aide and helped him write the famous Edict in support of free import and export of grain-that early adventure in bold free trade which cost Turgot his job in 1776.
Turgot was also godfather to Du Pont de Nemours' children. He was the one responsible for the E.I. du Pont name. The E stands for Eleuthere and the I for Irenee. These are the Greek words for liberty and peace. From the latter we derive our word, irenic. The pacific hopes of libertarian economics are here writ large.
Unfortunately E.I. du Pont was not always true to his Turgot legacy and indulged in paternalistic protectionism. The Petition of the Brandywine Valley Manufacturers, the Society for the Promotion of American Manufactures, The American Watchman, etc. all would have warmed the cockles of Pat Buchanan's heart.
Relevant to the debates on Roepke and his relationship to Pat Buchanan, there was another "Philadelphia Society for the Promotion of Domestic Industry" whose principal spokesman was Mathew Carey (1760-1839). He sent copies of his pamphlet for protectionism to both E.I. du Pont and Victor du Pont in September 1819 in order to form more societies to promote protectionism among the Brandywine manufacturers. (Exhibit, pp. 43-44)
Du Pont's connection with Alexander Hamilton is characteristic of the conflict between Jefferson and Hamilton. According to the DAB, "Alexander Hamilton sought to be of assistance in the founding of the business by securing favor for it from the Delaware legislature." (p. 527)
Thomas Jefferson also wrote a letter to his Secretary of War, Henry Dearborn, on July 19, 1803: "I inclose you a letter from E.I. Dupont who has established a gunpowder manufactory at Wilmington. If the public can with advantage avail themselves of his improvements in that art, it would be to encourage improvement in one of the most essential manufactures. I should be the more gratified by it as it would gratify his father who has been a faithful & useful friend to this country. During my ministry in Paris he was at the head of the bureau of commerce, and I was constantly indebted to his zealous exertions for all the ameliorations of our commerce with that country which were obtained on the late occasion too of Louisiana, tho' he does not bring himself into view." (Exhibit, p. 48)
Around this same time Stephen Decatur's father enters the picture. For those of you who did not know the genius of our founder, Don Lipsett, it is necessary to explain that Don was fanatical about our great American naval hero, Stephen Decatur.
It is little known that Stephen Decatur's father was a manufacturer of powder at his mill in Frankford, now part of Philadelphia; he told E.I. du Pont in March 1804, that the wages for his employees $16-20 a month. (Exhibit, p. 48). This is probably an early example of oligopsony behavior.
Now Don Lipsett's love of Decatur went so far as to create a bogus organization called The Stephen Decatur Society. On the letterhead of The S.D.S. (the irony did not escape him) had the eagle displayed with the arrows in both talons. This was only one example of Don's love of eagles.
In one of Don's favorite movies, A Thousand Clowns, with Jason Robards and Barbara Harris, there is the memorable line, "You can't have too many eagles." This was certainly Don Lipsett's idea in his own home in North Adams, Michigan. Little did he know that it was also the idea of Louise Evelina du Pont who married Francis Crowninshield of Boston; when she came back to take over the du Pont House at Hagley, built originally by Eleuthère Irénée du Pont in 1802, she festooned the house with eagles.
Both Don and the du Ponts would have loved the fact that the powder label was entitled Eagle Gunpowder. (Exhibit, p. 53)
It was a shame that Don and I did not go to Hagley and see the du Pont house when we were in the Wilmington area together; we did go to Winterthur together, but the eagles were not in as much prominence as in the du Pont house at Hagley. Perhaps Louise du Pont's love of eagles came from the fact that her grandfather came over to this country on January 1, 1800 on the ship, The American Eagle.
One important historical fact is that Louise Oliver, Chairman of the Board of ISI, and a longtime friend of Don's, was related to the Crowninshields. Her name, Louise, came from Louise Evelina du Pont who was Eleuthère Irénée du Pont's great grandaughter.
Don's dedication to the memory of the Commodore Stephen Decatur once led him to take me to the cemetery at Bladensburg, Maryland, where Decatur was shot in a duel with the infamous James Barron. Ironically, E.I. du Pont actually wrote a little pamphlet called Villany Detected in 1812 against the competing gunpowder mill in nearby Bladensburg, Maryland, owned by Benjamin Stoddert, formerly Secretary of the Navy, who was trying to steal company techniques and employees. Decatur subsequently died in the Decatur House on Lafayette Square in Washington D.C. which was Don's favorite residence in Washington.
Don and the du Ponts would have been greatly disturbed today; go to Lafayette Square and examine the plaques on the charming buildings. You have an interesting sequence of the thought patterns of Al Gore when he finally becomes President.
First of all you have the Council on Environmental Quality. If this is too neutral, the next one is the President's Council on Sustainable Development. Moving from ecology to health and risk issues, we have the White House Office on National Aids Policy. Logically there should be another office on Foreign Aids Policy, but I did not see it. But meanwhile back at the ecological ranch, there is the awe-inspiring White House Climate Change Task Force. Now whether that is King Canute turning back the tides or Bill Clinton changing the intellectual and moral climate is uncertain. But one would like to know the marginal changes being advocated in that office or what they do on a day by day basis. More than likely they are boldly changing the thermostat in the building they occupy.
But my all time favorite is the White House Millenium Program. I well remember when Gordon Tullock used to chastise me at the University of Virginia for reading Eric Voegelin. But now we can begin to understand the meaning of Eric Voegelin's famous phrase, "Don't let them immanentize the eschaton."
I have tried to weave together some of the economic themes that tie together Du Pont, early French economic liberalism, and the Wilmington-Brandywine area. This is just the beginning and there are still many research papers and topics for the students to follow up on.
We are lucky today to have with us Leonard Liggio, formerly associated with the Institute of Humane Studies, still connected to George Mason University, and currently at the Atlas Economic Research Foundation. Leonard is a former President of the Philadelphia Society and a scholar on many, many topics including French Liberalism of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. If Erik Kuehnelt-Leddihn is the first world's living authority, then for many of us, Leonard is the second.
Now I would like to set the stage for introducing Bruce Frohnen. In a much briefer form than my earlier remarks, I would like to draw on the du Pont legacy to illuminate the concept of self-interest properly understood.
One good example is that in 1818 there was a major explosion which killed 40 employees. Without being required by either law or custom, he provided pensions, education, housing, and medical care for the victims' families. Self-interest improperly understood, i.e. equated with selfishness or egoism in de Tocqueville's terminology would say, why should he care?
He also refused to selll 125,000 pounds of gunpowder to the South Carolina Nullifiers in 1833 for $24,000 cash. On the surface this might be simply a stand on principle rather than profit, although the cynical economist might be able to weave a story of disguised self-interest.
The fact of the matter is that choices in this real world in which we live are almost always complicated mixtures of motives. Now economics does not predict that persons always choose the seemingly selfish or the monetary bottom line: people maximize their utilities which is consistent with Mother Teresa as Ivan Boesky. Peoples' motives are always complex and confused.
But Roepke and the Social Market economy would encourage the bourgeois businessman. Honor, decency, and gentlemanly behavior are to be encouraged, not just neutrally permitted by impersonal market forces.
It is important to note that Roepke constantly draws on de Tocqueville. In fact the Humane Economy mentions de Tocqueville, Kuehnelt-Leddihn and Russell Kirk in the same chapter. Roepke's quote from Tocqueville is chillingly topical, "Democracy encourages a taste for physical gratification; this taste, if it becomes excessive, soon disposes men to believe that all is matter only; and materialism, in its turn, hurries them on with mad impatience to these same delights; such is the fatal circle within which democratic nations are driven round." (p. 83)
I hope that I am not purloining possible quotes from Bruce Frohnen's talk. He is currently in the Office of U.S. Senator, Spencer Abraham from Michigan, and is the author of two excellent books. The first of which is particularly germane to his topic and our conference: Virtue and the Promise of Conservatism: The Legacy of Burke and Tocqueville (1992). His most recent book is The New Communitarians and the Crisis of Modern Liberalism (1992). The first book contains a chapter with the wonderfully ambiguous chapter title, on "Virtue Properly Understood: Tocqueville and the End of Self-Interest." He also argues that the best preserver of the Burkean-Tocquevillian conservatism is Russell Kirk and not Strauss, Voegelin, Novak, Oakeshott, and Kristol.
To illuminate us on the riches and confusion of the concept of self-interest properly and improperly
understood, I present to you, Bruce Frohnen.