A Treatise on Political Economy by Antonie Louis Claude Destutt de Tracy (1754-1836) is a foundational text of nineteenth-century, free-market economic thought and remains one of the classics of nineteenth-century French economic liberalism. Destutt de Tracy was one of the founders of the classical liberal republican group known as the Ideologues, which included Benjamin Constant, Jean-Baptiste Say, Marquis de Condorcet, and Madame de Stael.
In this volume, Destutt de Tracy provides one of the clearest statements of the economic principles of the Ideologues. Breaking with the physiocratic orthodoxy of the eighteenth century, Destutt de Tracy denies that land is the source of all productive labor and focuses his attention upon manufacturing and manufacturers as the producers of utility and, therefore, of value and of wealth. Placing the entrepreneur at the center of his view of economic activty, he argues against luxurious consumption of the idle rich and recommends a market economy with low taxation and minimum state intervention.
Destutt de Tracy sent the text of A Treatise on Political Economy to Thomas Jefferson in hopes of securing its translation in the United States. It was met with enthusiastic approval. Jefferson wrote to the publisher, "The merit of this work will, I hope, place it in the hands of every reader in our country."
Jeremy Jennings is Professor of Political Theory at Queen Mary, University of London.