‘Un impérialiste libéral’? Jean-Baptiste Say on colonies and the extra-european world

Plassart, Anna (2009). ‘Un impérialiste libéral’? Jean-Baptiste Say on colonies and the extra-european world. French Historical Studies, 32(2) pp. 223–250.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1215/00161071-2008-018

URL: http://fhs.dukejournals.org/content/32/2/223.full....

Abstract

Jean-Baptiste Say is remembered as the father of French economic liberalism and as the origin of a long line of French writers who opposed colonization on the basis of free-trade arguments. This article argues that because Say's commentators have primarily focused on his economic writings, they have misinterpreted his overall thought on colonies and on the extra-European world. Far from always defending the political independence of extra-European societies, Say put forward the same sort of argument in favor of European domination as his friend James Mill. By investigating Say's early writings and lesser-known texts, this article suggests that Say's colonial writings need to be reassessed in light of the specific intellectual and political context of the late eighteenth century. In doing so it also offers new insights into the intellectual origins of so-called French imperial liberalism.

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