Classical Theory Of Turgot Essay Research Paper

Classical Theory Of Turgot Essay, Research Paper Nancee Sociology 3000 M-W-F 12:20-1:18 Final Outline Classical Theory of Turgot I. Introduction A. Setting the scene-Turgot as Minister of Finance in France

Classical Theory Of Turgot Essay, Research Paper


Sociology 3000

M-W-F 12:20-1:18

Final Outline

Classical Theory of Turgot

I. Introduction

A. Setting the scene-Turgot as Minister of Finance in France

B. Who was Turgot? What was his biographical background? What year was he born?

II. Body

A. Turgot?s background

1. Society as a moving organism

2. Turgot as a classical liberal

3. Turgot abandoned his career in the church for civil service

B. Turgot?s Education

1. College Louis-le-Grand

2. College du Plessis

3. Seminary of Saint Sulpice

C. Turgot?s most famous writing

1. Reflexions sur la formation et la distribution des richesses

D. Turgot?s influences

1. Comte buys in to Turgot?s theory of society as a moving organism-connected in parts

2. Condorcet and Smith are influenced by Turgot

E. Turgot?s reform ideas

1. Turgot was a thinker and a theorist

2. Turgot loses his popularity

3. Turgot proposes taxation of landowners

4. Turgot?s finance revolution fails

F. Early Europe and Turgot

1. Inequality and corruption were in government and society

2. Social and economic inequalities

3. Advocates become vocal during the reign of Louis XVI

III. Conclusion

A. Turgot Retires

1. Opposition includes all privileged groups as well as the queen

2. Turgot refuses a pension and retires to a life of scientific, historical, and literary study

“Each individual is the only competent judge of the most advantageous use of his lands and of his labor.” -Turgot

It was 1774, and decades of expensive and ill-advised government ventures left the regime of Louis the XVI fiscally extended and swaying, once again, on the edge of bankruptcy. Thus was the situation when Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, the baron

de l’ Aulne, was appointed France’s Minister of Finance.

A.R.J. Turgot was born in Paris on May 10, 1727, to a distinguished Norman family which had served as important royal officials. The Turgot family had long been famous, but their early history is somewhat obscure. One story is they were of Scandinavian origin and another account is that the family was originally from Scotland. Either way he came from a well-to-do, upper class, white family. He died at the age of fifty-four years old, of gout, the family disease (Columbia Encyclopedia 1993).


Turgot wrote a number of works. He began with ?The Barmecides, a tragedy? and ends with ?On Luxury, political reflections?; and in between these are forty-eight others, including works on universal history, the origin of languages, love and marriage, political geography, natural theology, morality, economics, and many more (Meek 1973). Not many of Turgot?s writings were published during his lifetime. Most showed up in periodicals and letters.

?The whole human race, through alternate periods of

rest and unrest, of weal and woe, goes on advancing,

although at a slow pace, towards greater perfection.? -Turgot

Turgot?s idea that society proceeds naturally and successively was destined to be of great importance, not only for his own works but for the emergence and development of social science in the eighteenth century. It is possible that Turgot got some of these ideas from Montesquieu but it is Turgot who refined them. Turgot viewed society as a slow moving organism. Society moves and changes in an evolutionary pattern. It is like a biological organism. He also felt society moves from a simple form to a more complex form. An example of this would be farming for food to eventually industrialization of food. Each stage or part of society, Turgot felt, is connected to the next stage or part.

In Turgot?s famous Philosophical Review of the Successive Advances of the Human Mind, Turgot sets out to show how the doctrines of Christianity have helped to temper passions, to perfect governments, and to make men better and happier. Turgot was a Classical Liberal. He believed that liberty is a man’s highest political end, and that religious faith, a free-market economy, and limited government were essential. He believed mankind was heading towards great perfection. He was very concerned with the onward march of mankind (Andreski 1971).

Turgot was initially educated for a career in the Church. Turgot abandoned his career in the church for the Civil Service. He was expected to enter the clergy, but instead felt he was called to government service. He was appointed Administrator of Limoges and later, Secretary of State for the Navy. For a short time, he was also Controller of Finance to the King of France (Meek 1973).


Turgot was sent to school in Paris in the College Louis-le-Grand, and a rather nice story is told of him there. His pocket-money always seemed to disappear very rapidly, and after investigation it turned out that he spent it all helping the poorer day boys buy their books for classes, which they themselves could not afford. He later attended the College du Plessis, and eventually passed on to the Seminary of Saint Sulpice for his more theological training (Lodge 1931).

Turgot earned honors first at the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice, and then at the great theological faculty of the University of Paris, the Sorbonne. And although he had wide-ranging intellectual interests in history, theology, literature, sociology, and the natural sciences, he is now best known for his brief career in economics (Dakin 1965).


Turgot wrote on economic subjects, notably Reflexions sur la formation et la distribution des richesses. He advocated the free-trade and free-competition principles of Vincent de Gournay. In Limoges, then one of the poorest provinces of France, he applied some of his theories. He encouraged new agricultural methods, introduced new crops, developed industry, promoted local free trade, abolished compulsory labor for public work, built roads, instituted a modicum of public assistance, and removed some tax abuses (Dakin 1965).


Turgot believed society is a system of parts and each of these parts are connected to each other. Each stage or part sets the conditions for the next stage or part of society. Comte got his ideas of society moving in an evolutionary pattern from Turgot. Condorcet was influenced by Turgot?s work. He published Vie de M Turgot (1786) and Vie de Voltaire (1789). In these biographies he showed that he favored Turgot’s economic theories. Condorcet described Turgot?s view concerning the unbounded perfectibility of the human understanding snd the limitless progress of the sciences as ?one of the great principles of his philosophy,? which he ?never once abandoned? (Meek 1973). Also, Turgot?s Reflections … is frequently described as one of the most important general treatises on political economy written before Smith’s Wealth of Nations and there is little doubt that it was a major influence on Adam Smith (Lodge 1931).


Turgot was different than other economist of his time. He was more of a thinker and theorist. He was determined to change the system even though the new one might not be welcomed. He had some ideas I may not agree with, such as mankind always moving towards perfection, how do we know when we are moving the other direction, and who is the judge of what perfection is? He was concerned for the future, not for the immediate present. He was a writer as well as an administrator and he led a school of economic thinkers whose influences were to reappear in the following century. His merits were realized more fully in his death than when he was alive.

Although his reforms didn’t amount to much and encountered much local prejudice, he was acclaimed for them, particularly by the philosophes. In 1774 the comte de Maurepas made him comptroller general of finances in his cabinet. Turgot’s program-”No bankruptcy, no increase in taxes, no borrowing, but economy”-necessitated stringent reforms. He abolished some sinecures and monopolies, tried to improve the system of farming the taxes, drastically cut government expenses, and redeemed part of the public debt. His edict (1774) restoring free circulation of grain inside France antagonized the grain speculators and was unfortunately followed by a crop failure. Bread riots resulted and were suppressed. This caused Turgot to lose much of his popularity (Lodge 1931).

Turgot aroused the clergy by favoring toleration of the Protestants and provoked a storm of protest by his six edicts of Jan., 1776. The first four edicts were not of major importance. The fifth abolished guilds, thus ending restrictions on work and occupation. The sixth, the most important, struck at the nobles by eliminating the corv?e and proposing taxation of all landholders In his Reflections sur le formation et distri buoon des richesses (1726), he developed an analysis of the law of diminishing returns. Turgot’s free-market approach was firmly rooted in his theological education and flowed from his faith in God. He initiated reforms intended to deregulate agriculture and industry, encourage free trade and open borders, and establish fairer labor practices. He thought that eliminating such restrictions on the economy would usher in an era of such unprecedented prosperity that the regime’s fiscal problems would evaporate (Dakin 1965).

Turgot’s finance revolution failed. In spite of his political and economic liberalism, he ended up implementing his reforms too hastily and too harshly, which evoked cries of dissent from the aristocracy. He was advised to implement his reforms more slowly and carefully, but a sense of impending doom for both the regime and his own life-”In our family we die at fifty,” he had said-had spurred him on to reckless, and in some cases despotic, policy-making (Meek 1973). Turgot was dismissed by the king in 1776. His predictions were fulfilled; he died in 1781 at fifty-four years of age nearly on the eve of that most illiberal revolution that would consume the regime he tried so hard to rescue (Dakin 1965).


All the philosophes at that time had a roughly similar diagnosis of the political and social problems they faced in France; all shared in admiration for progressive England. But when it came to building a free society at home, there were disagreements. One prominent and early philosophe, Montesquieu, for instance, saw too-strong monarchy as the cause of France’s problems (Andreski 1971). Most philosophies disagreed strongly with Montesquieu, primarily because most of them were of the upper class and were not going to go against their own class of people.

Before the French Government was overthrown in 1789, inequality and corruption was the order of the day both in government and in society. The nobles and the clergy were the privileged. They were exempt from taxes, such as the Taille Tax. Most of the taxes at this time were paid by the Third Estate; a class that included peasants, artisans, merchants, and professional men. Even among these groups taxes were not equal. Much like it is today; most of the taxes are paid by the working-middle class (Dakin 1965).

There were social and economic inequalities as well as political ones in Turgot’s time. The peasant still had to pay the out of date feudal dues to the nobles and the king, who collected them with renewed vigor in the later part of the 18th century. Rabbits that killed the crops of peasants gardens and the pigeons that ate their grain were not allowed to be controlled because they were protected for the noble’s hunting expeditions. During the hunting expeditions the peasant’s fences would be trampled down and their crop would be trampled on and nothing would be done about it. And despite the fact the peasants had little money they were expected to pay dues to the church (Dakin 1965).

Before the revolution the French national treasury had been exhausted by the wars of Louis XIV, by his extravagance, and the extravagances of his successors. The 250 million dollars that it cost France to aid the Americans in their fight for independence was the last straw. The advocates of fiscal, social, and governmental reform became increasingly vocal during the reign of Louis XVI. In August 1774, Louis appointed a liberal comptroller general, the economist Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, baron de L’Aulne, who instituted a policy of strict economy in government

expenditures. Within two years, however, most of the reforms had been withdrawn and his dismissal forced by reactionary members of the nobility and clergy, supported by Queen Marie Antoinette (Columbia Encyclopedia 1993). Turgot’s successor, the financier and statesman Jacques Necker, similarly accomplished little before his downfall in 1781, also because of opposition from the reactionaries. The reckless court, led by the sprightly, extravagant, frivolous, Queen Marie Antoinette, would not listen to the word “economy.” Turgot and Necker were dismissed and other ministers took their place.


Opposition to him now included all privileged groups as well as the queen, Marie Antoinette, whose enmity he had incurred when he refused favors to her prot?g?s. Maurepas persuaded Louis XVI to ask Turgot’s resignation (May, 1776). Refusing the offer of a pension, Turgot retired to a life of scientific, historical, and literary study. He was succeeded by Jacques Necker, and his edicts were repealed (Columbia Encyclopedia 1993). Subsequent events vindicated Turgot’s conviction-expressed as early as 1750-that the only alternative to radical reform was still more radical revolution.

My thoughts about Turgot are this; I know many of Turgot?s ideas were backward but I think that is how we progress as people. We need to always be thinking and coming up with ideas. The ideas we came up with yesterday may look silly today but the ideas we come up with today may look silly tomorrow. We build on the ideas of others. Some people are born brilliant, like Turgot said, they are ?torches that shine with their own light? but there is also ?diamonds which brilliantly reflect a borrowed light.?


Andreski, S (1971). Herbert Spencer: Structure, function and evolution. New York: Charles Scribner?s Sons.

Columbia Encyclopedia computer file: Columbia University Press (5th ed.), [Internet]. (1993)


Dakin, D (1965). Turgot and the ancient regime in France. New York: Octagon Books.

Lodge, E (1931). Sully, Colbert, and Turgot: A chapter in French economic history. Port Washington: Kennikat Press.

Meek, R (1973). Turgot on progress, sociology, and economics. Cambridge at the University press.