The aim of this article is to probe the connections between two key fields of knowledge of the French Enlightenment: political economy and natural history. It does so by analyzing the uses of reproduction, a term that eighteenth-century political economists imported from natural history. While historians of knowledge have demonstrated the crucial role played by political and economic concerns in the practices of naturalists, intent on improving their nation, the significance of natural history for the development of political economy has not been sufficiently analyzed. Studying side-by-side the works of the period’s most famous school of political economy, the physiocrats, and one of its most influential naturalists, the Comte de Buffon, the paper demonstrates that the physiocrats adopted not only the term from natural historians, but also the conceptual baggage that accompanied it. Buffon radically reconceptualized the reproduction of living beings as a process governed by natural laws and not divine intervention. As the paper argues, the physiocrats’ political-economic system was based on precisely such a conception of the natural laws of reproduction, which they extended from the world of the living to the entire economy of the nation.
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Research Article| November 10 2021
Elisabeth Wallmann; All Production Is Reproduction: Physiocracy and Natural History in Eighteenth-Century France. History of Political Economy 2021; doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00182702-9548330
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