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The Dissemination of Economic Ideas

The Dissemination of Economic Ideas

Edited by Heinz D. Kurz, Tamotsu Nishizawa and Keith Tribe

This highly illuminating book marks a significant stage in our growing understanding of how the development of national traditions of economic thought has been affected by both internal and external factors.

Chapter 2: The Ideal Statesman: The Influence of Richelieu on Davenant’s Political Thought

Seiichiro Ito

Subjects: economics and finance, economic psychology, history of economic thought


Seiichiro Ito 2.1 INTRODUCTION Although Charles Davenant was long described as a ‘country Tory’ or a ‘new Tory’ in the fields of political history and the history of political thought, he has mainly been discussed as a ‘neo-Machiavellian’ or a ‘civic humanist’ since the publication of J.G.A. Pocock’s Machiavellian Moment in 1975.1 Davenant did indeed quote and refer to Machiavelli on a wide range of topics, and in this literal sense he certainly may be considered a ‘Machiavellian’. What Davenant learned from Machiavelli, however, was not ‘civic virtue’ but rather ‘public virtue’; in other words, not the virtue of citizens, but rather that of rulers. The title of Davenant’s lengthy unpublished manuscript of 1696 (much of which was later published in pamphlets), Essay on Publick Virtue, clearly reflects this.2 For Davenant, virtue was wisdom, and wisdom was knowledge, and hence by ‘public virtue’ Davenant meant the knowledge required for statesmen to restore a disaster-stricken country such as his contemporary England. The central message of Davenant’s work is that a wise and able statesman (or a ‘legislator’, a term synonymous for Davenant with ‘statesman’), armed with ‘public virtue’, would be essential to England’s recovery. The particular challenge facing the leader whom Davenant describes is that of restoring English trade from the miserable state to which the long and profligate war with France had reduced it. The goal towards which the able statesman should lead is economic prosperity, and the means to this end is a sound fiscal policy – specifically a reduction...

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