When you first discover libertarianism, there are certain names that jump out. It’s important to learn from intellectual giants like Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard, but there are many unsung heroes that are also worth exploring. In this educational series, we hope to introduce students to such individuals. While not all of the figures profiled here explicitly identified as libertarian, they made great contributions to the cause of liberty that are worth acknowledging.
Who: Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912) was a Belgian-born laissez-faire economist and pioneer of market anarchism. While many of his writings remain untranslated from their original French, his impact on classical liberalism and libertarianism is nonetheless substantial.
Why he matters: Molinari was the first thinker to provide a positive argument against the state. Prior liberal anti-statists condemned governments as rights-violating and authoritarian, but offered no detailed alternative. It was not until Molinari proposed that the market was superior to the state as a provider of security services (police, national defense, etc) that political anarchism united with economic liberalism.
In “The Production of Security,” Molinari makes the case that the market, in the same way that it provides bread, ought to produce protection. Citing the classical economists of his time, he observes that “it is in the consumer’s best interest that labor and trade remain free” and that interests of the consumer “should always prevail over the interests of the producer.” From this, he arrives at the conclusion that security services should, “remain subject to the law of free competition.”
Molinari explains the many benefits of such competition in his work, but most important is the end of war. Warfare, according to him, is the consequence of state control of security production. If the state’s dominance over the people is dissolved, so too are the reasons for war to be waged against the people. The case for liberty then is ultimately the case for peace.
Known as a radical even among his contemporaries, Molinari has since become a founding father of libertarian anarchism. Murray Rothbard and subsequent “anarcho-capitalists” have noted his influence often, and many of Molinari’s original insights can be found in prominent libertarian work today.
If you only read one thing by Molinari: The Production of Security (1849)
Major Works (available in English):
Major Works (in French):
- Notions fondamentales d’Économie politique et programme économique (1891)
- Les Soirées de la Rue Saint-Lazare: Entretiens sur les lois économiques et défense de la propriété (1849)
- Online archive of French texts.
Learn more about Gustave de Molinari: