Industry and Inclusion: Economic and Political Membership in French Liberal Thought
The concept of citizenship is ancient, but it remains a subject of ongoing debate and contestation. As the history of political exclusions reveals, fundamental claims to universality or human rights prove insufficient for extending the rights of citizenship. The issue is better framed in terms of qualities, capacities, and expectations: which capacities and activities do we and should we expect of those with whom we share a political community? On what basis should we allocate citizenship, and conversely, on what basis might we exclude certain persons from that category?This project turns to the French liberal tradition in the nineteenth century for insight into these questions. Specifically, I examine how expectations of economic capacity and commercial activity structured standards for political inclusion. French liberals tied the rights of citizenship to commercial values and economic activities – property ownership, market participation, and industriousness among them. Drawing on the writings of François Guizot, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Édouard Laboulaye, I argue that liberals offered a sociological view of citizenship. They saw economic participation as educative, as it could unite self-interested, atomized persons by granting them a clear stake in society and a common interest in preserving liberty. Economic activity integrated persons as members of the political community, and thus justified their legal status as citizens, or participants in the franchise. Ultimately, liberals presented a flexible, expanding vision of political capacité (capacity) in relation to economic participation, whereby the very definition of the citizen evolved alongside changing social and economic conditions.This project highlights the tension between the more inclusionary potential of liberal capacité and liberals’ failures in political practice, but challenges prevailing views that dismiss the entire tradition as merely opportunistic or intellectually incoherent. In addressing the relationship between informal, social membership and formal, legal inclusion, I argue that French liberal thought can speak to persistent questions surrounding the extension of citizenship in liberal democracies.
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