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Let us now analyze in detail the arguments put forth by Mises and De Tracy for a rationalist and catallactic view of society.

Both De Tracy and Mises have in fact been faithful to this principle in the construction of their theories. They began by delineating the object of their investigation and their approach, and continued by explaining the primary factors determining social evolution. Proceeding from these factors and from the social processes they engender, they reached a definition of society. As we have seen above, human reason allows us to perceive causality in nature and adjust it for the production of means to achieve our ends.

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But man does not—and cannot—survive isolated, simply in relation with nature. Thus, any social theory must focus on man seen originally as a social being. Man cannot exist thus. How should this social state be studied first and foremost? For both Mises and De Tracy, the ultimate reasons for social evolution are to be found in the economic sphere and thus the analysis of society must proceed from an economic point of view.

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First, Mises and De Tracy both refer to the rational ability of human beings to perceive the benefits of their association and cooperation. If men can rationally and consciously choose between two states of affairs, they are then able to understand the benefits of cooperation in relation to those of isolated production. In consequence, the recognition of the benefits of living in a society does not have anything to do with instincts or happenstance.

Whence do the benefits of cooperation arise? De Tracy agrees with Mises with regards to the factors that determine the superior productivity of labor under cooperation. Under these circumstances, what is society?

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I do not fear to announce it. Society is purely and solely a continual series of exchanges. It is never any thing [sic] else, in any epoch of its duration, from its commencement the most unformed, to its greatest perfection. And this is the greatest eulogy we can give to it, for exchange is an admirable transaction, in which the two contracting parties always both gain De Tracy, , p. The two authors also show that division of labor and specialization go, in time, through a process of intensification. In order to comprehend why man did not remain solitary Neither are we forced to assume that the isolated individuals or primitive hordes one day pledged themselves by a contract to establish social bonds.

The factor that brought about primitive society and daily works toward its progressive intensification is human action that is animated by the insight into the higher productivity of labor achieved under the division of labor Mises, , pp. The previous two sections have shown that according to Destutt de Tracy and Ludwig von Mises, society evolves through voluntary economic interactions between individuals, in which everybody rationally and purposefully strives for their own rightly understood interest.

The two rationalist and catallactic theories of social evolution, written years apart, can thus be briefly summarized in one central definition: society represents the complex inter-human relationships which result from the purposeful recognition of the mutual benefits of economic cooperation. In this view, division of labor and society are equivalent. Let us now discuss the global consequences of social cooperation and of the progressive intensification of social and economic bonds identified by the two authors.

Destutt de Tracy and Mises trace in their writings the gradual development of society from the smallest areas to a global dimension. As a logical consequence of this reasoning, international trade is to be simply understood as the international division of labor. By the same token, Mises makes a more general, theoretical point about the separation between theories of domestic and foreign trade.

The logical conclusion which follows from the fact that international exchange is the natural extension of local cooperation is that international trade is necessarily beneficial to all parties involved in transactions across national borders. The same amount of labor and of material factors of production yields a higher output.

Notwithstanding these benefits of social cooperation, both De Tracy and Mises acknowledge with regret that men have many times in history tried to hamper its development through numerous economic and military conflicts. These conflicts undermine the basic premise of social cooperation, i. At the same time, both Mises and De Tracy reveal that the progressive intensification of division of labor and international cooperation remain the surest ways to offset these anti-social initiatives. Autarkic economies can go to war against each other; the individual parts of a labor and trade community can do so, however only insofar as they are in a position to go back to autarky.

Government intervention remains, however, the one danger against which human society must fight from within, and to the effects of which it is nowadays more exposed than ever. As laissez-faire political economists, both De Tracy and Mises repeatedly caution readers against the perils of partial or total state control over market prices. Through either conspicuous or subtle means—such as price controls or alterations in the purchasing power of money respectively—governments make economic organization based on the division of labor more and more impracticable.

All trades are abandoned. Once it is lost, the society falls apart again.


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The death of a nation is social retrogression, the decline from the division of labour to self-sufficiency. The social organism disintegrates into the cells from which it began. As we have seen, the two authors share a praxeological foundation for their theories, i. Consequently, both Mises and Destutt de Tracy advanced a catallactic and rationalist view of social evolution, in which society is the outcome of purposeful human behavior, of the rational discovery of the benefits of association and cooperation.

For both authors, society was synonymous with division of labor and free economic exchange. This investigation should also be extended to reveal the yet undocumented influence of Destutt de Tracy on Misesian thought, as well as to assess the importance of social rationalism relative to other social theories.

Yet even without a documented historical and intellectual link between the works of Mises and Destutt de Tracy, the contributions of both authors retain their originality and uniqueness in a panoply of social theories that originate outside the teleological realm of human rationality and economic cooperation. Alciatore, Jules C. Baert, Patrick and Fillipe Careira da Silva. Social Theory in the Twentieth Century and Beyond.


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Auburn, Ala. Byrnes, Joseph F. Chevalier, Michel. Chisholm, Hugh. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Paris : Librairie Guillaumin. Courcelle-Seneuil, Jean-Gustave. Paris: Librairie Guillaumin. Dekens, Olivier.

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Destutt de Tracy. A Treatise on Political Economy. Paris: Bouguet et Levi. Republished by Institut Coppet. Faccarello, Gilbert. Forget, Evelyn L. Must redeem within 90 days. See full terms and conditions and this month's choices. Tell us what you like, so we can send you books you'll love. Sign up and get a free eBook! With Steven Lukes. Trade Paperback. Price may vary by retailer. Add to Cart Add to Cart.

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The Division of Labor in Society

Table of Contents Rave and Reviews. About The Book. About The Author. Emile Durkheim. Product Details.