A Treatise on Political Economy, originally published in 1817, leads modern readers through a rigorously deductive account of human will, action, and economic behavior. As one of the foundational texts of free-market thought, this volume influenced nineteenth-century theories of economic activity and was a precursor to the Austrian school of economics. Its effect can be seen in Europe, where it influenced such notable writers as the novelist Stendhal and the historian Augustin Thierry, and in America, where it won the enthusiastic support of Thomas Jefferson.
The author, Antoine Louis Claude Destutt de Tracy, was one of the founders of the Ideologues, a classical republican group that included Jean-Baptiste Say. Although born into a wealthy Parisian aristocratic family, he was strongly infused with republican ideals, and when the Estates General met in 1789, he joined the Third Estate and renounced his title. Despite this, during the Reign of Terror he was imprisoned and narrowly escaped execution. During his imprisonment, Destutt de Tracy studied Condillac and was greatly influenced by his theory of empirical sensationism.
In this volume, Destutt de Tracy methodically extends this notion of subjective sensation as the basis of human will into the realms of economics and government policy. He defines economic ideas, such as value and utility, with reference to individual perception.
With bevity and precision, Destutt de Tracy uses these definitions to build a compelling defense of free-market policies. His explanation of property rights, clearly influenced by Say and John Locke, further supports his arguments for low taxes and minimal government intervention in the market.
Praised two centuries ago for its sound logic, clarity, and concision, A Treatise on Political Economy remains relevant both to scholars of economic and political history and to readers interested in classical liberalism. This edition contains the Thomas Jefferson translation of this important work.