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The Contribution of Labour

The issue of wealth, its production, circulation and consumption, becomes an increasingly vexed question towards the end of the 18th century. Critics of the social order increasingly came to see the aristocracy as a parasitic class, consuming the wealth of the nation and contributing nothing to its flourishing. Land was recognised as having value, but the mere ownership of land seemed a matter of convention, in contrast to the productivity that labour was able to contribute to land and raw materials. By the end of the century, the producing classes, 'les industriels' , and those involved in the production of useful knowledge, came increasingly to be differentiated from the class of the idle rich, for whom society could increasingly admit no room. This is also a discourse that women become involved in, principally Harriet Martineau and Frances Wright.

For class, please read the three texts below - Sieyes, Paine, and, most crucially, Fourier (they are less than c. 20 pages each!):

E Sieyes, What is the Third Estate (1789) -

Thomas Paine, Agrarian Justice (1797) -

Charles Fourier, (read from section III, 'Work and the Economy') Work and the Economy

For Martineau and Wright - see Mike Sanders (2001) From 'Political' to 'Human' Economy: The Visions
of Harriet Martineau and Frances Wright, Women: A Cultural Review, 12:2, 192-203, DOI:

If you're interested in this topic/revising it for the exam, you should also take a look at St Simon and Owen - I'll talk about them a bit in the lecture, but see also:

Henri St Simon, The Catechism of the Industrialists

Robert Owen, A New View of Society

Questions to consider

What are Fourier's main criticisms of political economy/commerce? How would his 'phalanx' be organised? What role does 'productive' labour play in his thought?

On what grounds does Sieyes criticise the first and second estates? How does he think the Estates General should be organised? Why?

What are Paine's ideas about ownership and property? What scheme is he proposing in this text and why?

Suggested Secondary Reading

Jonathan Beecher, Charles Fourier: The Visionary and His World (1986) - at HX704.F9 B34

Introduction by Michael Sonenscher in Political Writings: including the debate between Sieyes and Paine in 1791 - at JC179.S5323

William Sewell, Rhetoric of bourgeois revolution : the AbbéSieyes and what is the third estate (1995) - at JN2413.S49