Mercier de la Rivière, Pierre Paul

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Mercier de la Rivière, Pierre Paul (ca. 1720 - ca. 1793) : French Political Economist.

Mercier de la Rivière was a French administrator and economist who shared the physiocratic views of Quesnay, François. Son of a wealthy financier, Mercier de la Rivière acquired the charge of councillor to the Parlement of Paris in 1747 or 1749, a position he held until 1759. He subsequently became intendant of the French island of Martinique. Upon returning to France in 1764, he joined Quesnay’s inner circle, which included the Mirabeau, Victor Riquetti, Marquis de, Dupont de Nemours, La Trosne and the Abbé Baudeau.

Even though biographical information on Mercier de la Rivière is scarce, especially from the early part of his life, his views on economics are well known. A disciple of the physiocratic doctrine, Mercier de la Rivière elaborated in his works on the ideas of Quesnay and Mirabeau. Mercier de la Rivière’s treatise, L’ordre naturel et essentiel des sociétés politiques, considered by many to be the most comprehensive account of Physiocratic theories, received widespread attention upon its publication in 1767. Prepared under the supervision of Quesnay, this treatise discusses both the economic and political aspects of the physiocratic doctrine. It argues the importance of a unique and universal law of property that is based on the physical order of nature and which underlies all other laws. According to the author, it is this natural law that governs social order. Mercier de la Rivière examines how social order is achieved in practice through the establishment of three fundamental institutions: the law and magistrature, the sovereign and the institutions of public instruction. To illustrate the practical promotion of social order, Mercier de la Rivière outlines the political economy of wealth creation in society. Asserting beforehand that the sovereign is by definition co-owner of the fixed wealth of society, he elaborates a philosophy of legal enlightened despotism. It must be noted that his views on enlightened despotism were not entirely accepted by some members of the physiocratic school (notably Abeille, Dupont and Morellet). In spite of the fact that Mercier de la Rivière’s treatise was praised by many of his contemporaries, others, such as Galiani, Fernando and Mably, Gabriel Bonnot de, publicly criticized it. In 1768, Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet de ridiculed the proposed theory of taxation in his L’homme aux quarante écus. However, Golitsyn, the Russian ambassador to France, greatly admired Mercier de la Rivière’s work and counselled Catherine II, the Great to seek advice from the economist on how the system of government might be reformed. Mercier de la Rivière’s visit to Russia did not lead to any concrete reforms.

Although L’ordre naturel et essentiel des sociétés politiques remains Mercier de la Rivière’s chief claim to fame, he also engaged in other debates taking place in France. For example, he responded to Galiani’s dialogues criticizing the physiocratic stand on the grain trade dispute (1770), and later, at the request of the King of Sweden, he wrote De l’instruction publique (1775). In it Mercier de la Rivière formulates a system of national education, the aim of which is to encourage public responsiveness and to establish the humanitarian foundations of the ideal society.

Further Reading:

Mauro, Frédéric. “Mercier de la Rivière”, in David L. Sills, ed. International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, vol. 10, 1968, pp. 248-249.


Christina Ionescu

Mount Allison University, Canada.

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