Since their appearance in the first third of the nineteenth century, the contributions of French utopian, romantic, or associationist socialists have been subjected to a three-pronged classical criticism. From Friedrich Engels to Friedrich Hayek to Joseph Schumpeter, these French authors have been variously accused of being unaware of the true texture of the political—antagonism and power; of having invented from fantasy the first timeless totalitarian architectures; or more simply, regarding economic and social analysis, of having been completely fanciful if not down-right eccentric. In this article I focus on a trio of French socialists—Louis Blanc, Constantin Pecqueur, and François Vidal—and defend another interpretation: I will attempt to demonstrate that in the 1840s, the primary aim of these socialistes fraternitaires was the provision of a set of coherent theoretical and practical answers to the question, What is a just society? Confronted with the evils of the society of their time and the shortcomings of both liberal and protectionist economic thinking, they considered that it was essential to act by formulating a complete model of social justice. This model would present prescriptive, normative, and evaluative provisions for the principles and institutions (as well as the behavior) of a just society. After they came to power following the 1848 revolution, they attempted to draw up a reform program for the period of transition in accordance with their model.

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