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Performing physiocracy: Pierre Samuel Du Pont de Nemours and the limits of political engineering

By Martin Giraudeau


The story of Pierre Samuel Du Pont de Nemours has often been described as one of success. The man was a well-known statesman, economist and entrepreneur in late eighteenth-century France and his main legacy, the famous and still thriving Du Pont company, suggests a brilliant trajectory. The aim of this paper, however, is to analyze Du Pont's failure in performing the political and economic doctrine of which he was an active promoter all through his life: physiocracy. In all of his very diverse activities, be they scientific, political, or entrepreneurial, Du Pont indeed deliberately attempted to enact this original liberal doctrine. He tried, along with fellow physiocrats, to introduce freedom of trade and enterprise in Old Regime French minds and economic practices. Later, when emigrating to the United States, he devised a plan for a physiocratic colony. But none of these ventures was actually a success during Du Pont's lifetime: the performation of some of physiocracy's main propositions only came later, in a diffuse and partial way. We contend that this relative failure of performativity can be explained by Du Pont's specific type of agency: one relying mainly on political engineering, based on personal ties and reputations, as well as on a strict distinction between ends and means

Topics: HB Economic Theory, JC Political theory
Publisher: Routledge
Year: 2010
DOI identifier: 10.1080/17530350.2010.494125
OAI identifier:
Provided by: LSE Research Online

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