Mirabeau, Victor Riquetti, Marquis de

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Mirabeau, Victor Riquetti, Marquis de (1715-1789), French economist

Victor Mirabeau is the author of several books on economic and political theory as well as an outspoken critic of his time. He was born in an aristocratic family settled in Provence and received his early education at a Jesuit college. Forced to follow in his father’s footsteps, Mirabeau entered the army at an early age. He spent much of his youth in Paris, trying without succeeding to obtain his own regiment. After his father’s death in 1737, he inherited the family’s estate. He devised vast schemes for improving his fortune but caused instead its rapid depletion. In 1743, he married Marie Geneviève de Vassan for her inheritance. One of their eleven children, Mirabeau, Honoré Gabriel Riquetti, Comte de, was later to become a revolutionary hero. The marriage ended bitterly by a formal separation in 1757. During the last twenty years of his life, the elder Mirabeau fought a long and scandalous lawsuit against his estranged wife and on numerous occasions used lettres de cachet to imprison his rebellious son.

Mirabeau became famous after the publication in 1756 of L’ami des hommes, ou traité de la population, his first contribution to economic thought, which created a sensation and became a best-seller of the ancien régime. In this work, Mirabeau draws attention to what he considers the most important economic problem in his time: the decay of agriculture. He also examines the evils destroying the foundations of society and presents a plan for social and economic reform. Read and admired throughout Europe, L’ami des hommes led to a meeting with the economist François Quesnay, who converted Mirabeau to the physiocratic doctrine. Mirabeau’s subsequent works are strongly influenced by Quesnay, François’s thought. During the 1760s and the early 1770s, the marquis became a leader of the physiocratic movement, working tirelessly to promulgate Quesnay’s economic system. In 1760, Mirabeau’s Théorie de l’impôt, a study of the theory of taxation from the physiocratic point of view and a critique of the existing system of tax-farming, shocked public opinion. Its author was imprisoned at Vincennes for eight days in December 1760, then exiled for two months at his country house of Bignon. In his Philosophie rurale, which appeared in 1763, Mirabeau expounded Quesnay’s complete physiocratic theory. From 1765, he held a famous Parisian salon which was the meeting place for the économistes.

From his private correspondence and published treatises, Mirabeau emerges not only as a physiocrat. He also appears as a representative of provincial noblemen who were subjected to feudal values and beliefs and as a thinker whose ideas were remarkably democratic. He was a prolific writer who left behind twenty volumes of writings.

Further Reading:

Henri Ripert, Le Marquis de Mirabeau (l'Ami des Hommes). Ses Théories politiques et économiques, 1901.

Christina Ionescu

Mount Allison University, Canada.