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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 October 2014

Department of Government, Harvard University E-mail:,
Department of Government, Harvard University E-mail:,


That Elie Halévy's The Growth of Philosophical Radicalism is a classic text of history and theory is a judgment repeated too often to be in doubt. But what makes it a classic? The most obvious sign—that it is widely recommended as a standard work in its field generations after its publication—raises the question of why and how a text becomes a leading work or “master” piece. Literary classics are sometimes said to fuse style, substance, and significance in a mysterious alchemy that continues to stimulate thought beyond the original context. Similarly, discussions of historical works that enlarge the imagination sometimes center on the literary qualities of these texts. Most famously, Hayden White dwells on their allegedly fruitful exploitation of a preexisting “linguistic protocol” such as tragedy or irony. White also notes, however, that a necessary condition for any work of history to resonate powerfully with its audience is that readers are subconsciously prepared to be moved by it.

Forum: Elie Halévy, French Liberalism, and the Politics of the Third Republic
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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1 Jones, H. S., Victorian Political Thought (New York, 2000)Google Scholar, 5, 20, for instance, proclaims La formation du radicalisme philosophique “a classic work” that “remains a sure guide” on Benthamism and Ricardian political economy. Melvin Richter, “Etude critique: Elie Halévy,” Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale (1997), 271–93, 279, does not hesitate to call it “a classic book” even as he surveys the many recent criticisms of it. It is, according to Thomas, William, “Recollections of A. J. P. Taylor,” Contemporary European History, 3 (1994), 6172CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 66, “a still unsurpassed classic.” Fontana, Biancamaria, Rethinking the Politics of Commercial Society: The Edinburgh Review 1802–1832 (Cambridge, 1985), 2CrossRefGoogle Scholar, notes that current historical research on the complex genesis and development of political economy is correcting the conclusions of “classical studies like Elie Halévy's The Growth of Philosophic Radicalism.” The book also still features in the training of graduate students in history. For example, see Mark Poster, “Field Preparation: European Intellectual History since 1800,” University of California, Irvine Libraries, Irvine, CA, at Only four works on liberalism during the period are included, one of which is La formation.

2 White, Hayden, Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe (Baltimore, 1973), 426Google Scholar. Although Halévy's prose is forceful and sometimes felicitous, his book does not seem an obvious fit for this literary interpretation. See Clive, John, Not by Fact Alone: Essays on the Writing and Reading of History (New York, 1989), 21–6Google Scholar, however, for an argument that Halévy's success stems from his mastery of a different narrative form: the novel of suspense. Halévy structures his histories, Clive argues, to provoke curiosity; he satisfies the reader only by providing the solution to a puzzle at the end.

3 White, Hayden, “The Historical Text as Literary Artifact,” in Richardson, Brian, ed., Narrative Dynamics: Essays on Time, Plot, Closure, and Frames (Columbus, OH, 2002), 191210, 195Google Scholar.

4 Ibid., 197.

5 Ibid., 194.

6 See the articles in this forum by Joel Revill, Ludovic Frobert, and Steven Vincent.

7 Halévy to Brunschvicg, Léon, 31 Aug. 1891, in Elie Halévy, Correspondance (1891–1937), ed. Guy-Loë, Henriette (Paris, 1996), 65Google Scholar.

8 See Joel Revill, “A Practical Turn: Elie Halévy's Embrace of Politics and History,” in this issue.

9 Elie Halévy to Florence Halévy, 28 Dec. 1906, in Correspondance, 382.

10 Elie Halévy to Florence Halévy, 28 Dec. 1906, in Correspondance, 382.

11 François Furet, “Préface,” in Correspondance, 29.

12 Halévy to Célestin Bouglé, 15 May 1898, in Halévy, Elie, La formation du radicalisme philosophique, ed. Canto-Sperber, Monique, 3 vols. (Paris, 1995), 3Google Scholar: 423. Note that Pierre Rosanvallon has made exactly the opposite claim about French politics in the nineteenth century, i.e. he has argued that its sharp polarities and conflicts make it a laboratory for studying the tendencies of modern democracy that are obscured in other national contexts. See Rosanvallon, Pierre, The Demands of Liberty: Civil Society in France Since the Revolution, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Cambridge, MA, 2007)Google Scholar.

13 Schatz, Albert, L’individualisme économique et social, ses origines, son évolution, ses formes contemporaines (Paris, 1907)Google Scholar. Based on a course on the history of economic doctrine at the University of Dijon, the book not only reconstructs the origins of classical economic liberalism beginning with Smith and Hume—Schatz also wrote a book on Hume's political economy—but also attempts a reconstruction of the links between economic and political liberalism in France with attention given to Constant, Dunoyer, Bastiat, Tocqueville, Humboldt and J. S. Mill (and their influence in France), Laboulaye, Prévost-Paradol, and Vacherot, among others. Although the Revue de métaphysique et de morale review of his book (March 1908) is unsigned, it is almost certainly by Halévy.

14 Revue de métaphysique et de morale (March 1908), 2.

15 Collini, Stefan, English Pasts: Essays in History and Culture (Oxford, 1999), 74Google Scholar.

16 The phrase is also Collini's. See ibid., 75.

17 Halévy to Celestin Bouglé, 16 Feb. 1900, in Correspondance, 276. After reading Stephen's three volumes, however, Halévy thought they were complementary rather than competing. See Halévy to Ludovic Halévy, 18 Nov. 1900, in Correspondance, 285. For the very kind letters Leslie Stephen wrote to Halévy on receiving the volumes of his book in 1901 and 1903 see Halévy, La formation du radicalisme philosophique, 3: 433–5.

18 Frobert, Ludovic, Elie Halévy : République et économie (Villeneuve d’Ascq, 2003), 22Google Scholar.

19 W. G. Pogson Smith, “Review of Books: The English Utilitarians by Leslie Stephen, La Formation du radicalisme philosophique by Halévy, Elie,” English Historical Review, 17 (1902), 385–91Google Scholar.

20 In 1929 Emery Neff decried the quarter-century interval between the publication of La formation and its first English translation “as discouraging evidence of the slowness of the international communication of ideas.” He also bemoaned the relative ignorance of such an important work on the part of “the intelligent public.” As this section of the essay hopes to show, it is unlikely that this latter complaint, at least, would have sounded credible to an Englishman; Neff was an American literary critic working at Columbia University. See Neff's review of The Growth of Philosophic Radicalism, trans. Morris, Mary, Journal of Philosophy, 26 (1929), 414–17, 414Google Scholar.

21 It is generally thought today that these late nineteenth-century commentators overestimated the homogeneity of the philosophic radicals, their importance, and their influence on policy, although this consensus was a powerful current of thought and feeling during the period. See, for example, Collini, English Pasts, 71–2.

22 “Our Library Table,” Athenaeum, 4107 (14 July 1906), 40–42, 41.

23 The Historical Association, Leaflet No. 18: “Recent British History” (London, 1910), 5.

24 Halévy, La formation du radicalisme philosophique, 1: 6. This translation is from Mary Morris, The Growth of Philosophic Radicalism (London, 1952), xvii–xviii. Citations of Halévy will reference both these editions. For such nonhistorical analyses see e.g. Birks, Thomas Rawson, Modern Utilitarianism (London, 1874)Google Scholar; Watts, Robert, Utilitarianism (Belfast, 1868)Google Scholar; Henry Sidgwick, The Methods of Ethics, 1st edn (London, 1874); Mill, J. S., Utilitarianism (London, 1863)Google Scholar; Sorley, W. R., On the Ethics of Naturalism (London, 1885)Google Scholar. This list is very far from exhaustive.

25 “The philosopher and the agitator will alike be considered . . . The intellectual state of man, his beliefs, speculations, and opinions, must, in any case, shape and direct the future of the race; they will always more or less determine great political events.” Kent, C. B. R., The English Radicals (London, 1899), 1Google Scholar.

26 The English Radicals appears to have left only the barest of traces on the historiography of English radicalism, despite the fact that Kent wrote for several magazines and reviews and published a history of the early Tory Party and a volume of collected essays on politics. Despite this output, Kent does not even receive an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. If (as seems most likely) Halévy knew of The English Radicals and yet judged it undeserving of mention in La formation, he would not have been alone in his low estimate of the book. Wallas wrote in The Speaker that Kent, despite demonstrating a wide range of reading, had “failed to make a good book.” Wallas, Graham, “Review of The English Radicals: An Historical Sketch,” The Speaker, 1 (21 Oct. 1899), 68–9Google Scholar.

27 For a description of the prominence of John Stuart Mill's legacy in this burst of turn-of-the-century historical interest, see chap. 8 of Collini, Stefan, Public Moralists: Political Thought and Intellectual Life in Britain, 1850–1930 (Oxford, 1993)Google Scholar.

28 Ball, Sidney, “Review of Books: La Formation du radicalisme philosophique. III,” English Historical Review, 21 (1906), 601–4, 601CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

29 Though Stephen's own political commitments do occasionally come through in The English Utilitarians, it would be inappropriate to describe this work, as Dicey's Law and Opinion has been described, as a “disguised political pamphlet”; Orth, John V., “On the Relation between the Rule of Law and Public Opinion. Review of The Rule of Law: Albert Venn Dicey, Victorian Jurist by Richard A. Cosgrove,” Michigan Law Review, 80 (1982), 753–64, 755CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

30 Stephen, The English Utilitarians, 3 vols. (London, 1900), 3: 29, 41, 59, 72. This particular claim met resistance from Stephen's contemporaries; see e.g. “Literature: The English Utilitarians,” Athenaeum, 3816 (15 Dec. 1900), 785–6; Pogson Smith, “Review of Books: The English Utilitarians,” 389.

31 Halévy, La formation du radicalisme philosophique, 1: 6; 3: 251; Morris translation, xvii, 514.

32 Halévy, “The English Utilitarians by Leslie Stephen,” Revue de métaphysique et de morale, 9 (1901), supplément de janvier, 9.

33 “My object has been . . . to trace genealogically the descent of the present-day Radicals, and to show the changes which the party has undergone in the course of evolution . . . I venture to believe that to grasp thoroughly the history of the extreme party of movement and progression during the last hundred and thirty years . . . is the best way to obtain a clear understanding of the origins of contemporary politics.” Kent, English Radicals, v–vi. For MacCunn on Bentham and Mill, see Six Radical Thinkers (London, 1907), 3–90.

34 Halévy, La formation du radicalisme philosophique, 3: 238; Morris translation, 504.

35 Ibid., 3: 251; Morris translation, 514.

36 Chase, Myrna, Elie Halévy: An Intellectual Biography (New York, 1980), 84, 81Google Scholar.

37 Sorley, “Review of La Formation du radicalisme philosophique,” Mind, 13 (1904), 268–73, 271; Sorley, A History of English Philosophy (New York, 1921), 221.

38 Ball, “Review of Books: La Formation du radicalisme philosophique,” 603.

39 Pogson Smith, “Review of Books: The English Utilitarians,” 385; Latta, R., “Book Reviews: The English Utilitarians by Leslie Stephen,” International Journal of Ethics, 12 (1902), 376–89, 376CrossRefGoogle Scholar. This characterization of the difference between Halévy and Stephen—the former philosophical, the latter biographical or personal—has certainly stuck: “it has been justly said that Leslie Stephen . . . spoke of utilitarians, while Halévy treated of utilitarianism.” Barker, Ernest, “Elie Halévy,” English Historical Review, 53 (1938), 7987, 86CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

40 “M. Leslie Stephen, qui est un grand biographe, possède l’art de donner l’impression de la vie collective par l’accumulation des récits biographiques.” Halévy, “The English Utilitarians by Leslie Stephen,” 8.

41 Sorley, W. R., “Critical Notices: The English Utilitarians by Leslie Stephen,” Mind, 10 (1901), 533–8, 536CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

42 Pogson Smith, “Review of Books: The English Utilitarians,” 389. See e.g. Stephen, The English Utilitarians, 1: 301; 2: 90, 266, 378; 3: 332, 374.

43 On the historical-mindedness of the Victorian social and political thought see, among others, Jones, Victorian Political Thought. On the evolutionary viewpoint of the period, the classic study is Burrow, J. W., Evolution and Society (Cambridge, 1966)Google Scholar.

44 Halévy, La formation du radicalisme philosophique, 3: 214–15; Morris translation, 486.

45 “Foreign Philosophical Works,” Athenaeum, 3922 (27 Dec. 1902), 852.

46 Ball, “Review of Books: La Formation du radicalisme philosophique,” 601; the Historical Association, Leaflet No. 18: “Recent British History,” 5.

47 See e.g. “The Philosopher as Statesman,” Saturday Review, 146 (24 Nov. 1928), 690; Janes, George Milton, “The Growth of Philosophic Radicalism by Elie Halévy, Mary Morris,” American Economic Review, 19 (1929), 428–30Google Scholar; Wright, H. W., “The Growth of Philosophic Radicalism by Elie Halévy, Mary Morris,” Philosophical Review, 39 (1930), 92–5CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

48 In an important review of the PUF edition of the La formation and the Halévy correspondence in 1997, Melvin Richter, “Etude critique: Elie Halévy”, 282–8, noted that there was no unanimity on Halévy's work among either contemporary historians of philosophical radicalism or among Bentham scholars: severe modern criticisms, especially of Halévy's account of Bentham's political development, coexisted with continued appreciation. Almost twenty years later, this judgment still stands. For a good recent discussion see de Champs, Emmanuelle, “Elie Halévy: Bentham et l’Angleterre”, in de Champs, Emmanuelle and Cléro, Jean-Pierre, eds., Bentham et la France (Oxford, 2009), 227–42Google Scholar.

49 Dupuy, Jean-Pierre, “Postface,” in Halévy, La formation du radicalisme philosophique, 1: 329–59, 332Google Scholar.

50 The editors decided that Halévy's work needed both contextualization for the French reader and updating, since contemporary utilitarianism is quite different from the historical doctrine dissected by Halévy. Hence, rather than having the work edited by a Bentham scholar, they decided to append an explanatory “postface” by a contemporary philosopher or economist to each volume.

51 This discussion of the fate of utilitarianism in nineteenth-century France draws on Welch's longer essay, “‘Anti-Benthamism’: Utilitarianism and the French Liberal Tradition,” in Geenens, Raf and Rosenblatt, Helena, eds., French Liberalism from Montesquieu to the Present Day (Cambridge, 2012), 134–51CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

52 Jaume, Lucien, L’individu effacé ou le paradoxe du liberalisme français (Paris, 1997), 40Google Scholar.

53 Dumont, Etienne, Traités de législation civile et pénale, précédés de Principes généraux de législation, et d’une Vue d’un corps complet de Droit: terminés par un Essai sur l’influence des Temps et des Lieux relativement aux Lois. Par. M. Jérémie Bentham, jurisconsulte anglois, publiés en français par Et. Dumont, de Genève, d’après les Manuscrits confiés par l’Auteur, 3 vols. (Paris, 1802)Google Scholar. On the influence of this work see Blamires, Cyprian, The French Revolution and the Creation of Benthamism (New York, 2008), 254CrossRefGoogle Scholar: Dumont “established Benthamism as a creed in the public mind and created its shape and form for posterity.” See also Lieberman, David, “From Bentham to Benthamism,” Historical Journal, 28 (1985), 210CrossRefGoogle Scholar. One of the aims of the Centre Bentham, engaged in a new translation of Bentham's works, is to distinguish the “esoteric” Bentham of the original manuscripts from Dumont's Bentham, a portrayal that contains many distortions, sometimes deliberate, sometimes inadvertent. See the essays in de Champs and Cléro, Bentham et la France, Part II, “Bentham et Dumont; les premières traductions françaises.”

54 For a discussion of the Idéologues as an indigenous form of French utilitarianism see Welch, Cheryl B., Liberty and Utility: The French Idéologues and the Transformation of Liberalism (New York, 1984)Google Scholar.

55 Germaine de Staël's critique appeared in De l’Allemagne (1810–13), one of the most important and widely read books in the postrevolutionary period. See De l’Allemagne, 5 vols. (Paris, 1959), 4: 283–317. Constant's discussions of Bentham appear in several texts written from 1806 through the 1820s. For a guide to these various texts see Gauchet's discussion in Benjamin Constant, Écrits politiques, ed Marcel Gauchet (Paris, 1997), 509.

56 Goblot, Jean-Jacques, La jeune France libérale: Le globe et son groupe littéraire 1824–1830 (Paris, 1995), 312Google Scholar.

57 Quoted in Gall, Philippe Le, “Economics,” in Columbia History of Twentieth-Century French Thought (New York, 2006), 188Google Scholar.

58 Dupuy, Jean-Pierre, “Postface,” in Halévy, La formation du radicalisme philosophique, 1: 199224Google Scholar.

59 While Halévy certainly can be read in the tradition of “British exceptionalism,” he resisted associating political and moral theories with notions of national character or race. See, for example, Halévy to Celestin Bouglé, 12 November 1896, in Halévy, Correspondance, 185.

60 Lalande, André, Vocabulaire technique et critique de la philosophie: Revu par MM. les membres et correspondants de la Société française de philosophie et publié, avec leurs corrections et observations, 8th edn (Paris, 1960), 1176Google Scholar. There follows a scholarly “remark” on the early uses of utilitaire from Halévy's La formation, almost certainly composed by Halévy. In this dictionary the entry for philosophical radicalism is a distillation from the conclusion to La formation, probably also written by Halévy.

61 Bouretz, Pierre, “Postface: Elie Halévy face aux ambivalences de la démocratie moderne: radicalisme et libéralisme,” in Halévy, La formation du radicalisme philosophique, 2: 289317Google Scholar.

62 Revue de métaphysique et de morale 12 (1904), 8–10. Albert Schatz offers a similar caveat in the “Avant-propos” to L’individualisme: “I only pray that the reader will have no fear of the title. It is so often said that individualism means egoism, the isolation of the individual obliged to suffer by himself and to distance himself from his fellows, that the reader is entitled to be prejudiced against the word.”

63 Revue philosophique de la France et de l’étranger 53 (1902), 651–9; 58 (1904), 212–15.

64 Cahen, Léon, “E. Halévy. La Formation du radicalisme philosophique: Tome III,” Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine, 7 (1905–6), 236–41Google Scholar. Cahen (1874–1944), almost an exact contemporary of Halévy, taught at the Lycées Condorcet et Fénelon. He published a book on Condorcet and the French Revolution in 1904 and a number of general works on the nineteenth century thereafter. His short L’Angleterre au XIXe siècle: Son évolution politique (Paris, 1924) includes in its bibliography the three volumes of Halévy's Histoire du peuple anglais that had appeared by then, but ignores La formation du radicalisme philosophique.

65 Philippe Mongin, “Postface: L’utilitarisme originel et le développement de la théorie économique,” in Halévy, La formation du radicalisme philosophique, 3: 369–94, 370–71, suggests that this reaction may be expected in the late twentieth century as well: “In the end, the characteristic that gives [the work] its particular historical tone, and that will doubtless disconcert the contemporary French reader, should he not be well acquainted with the sweeping changes that took place in Great Britain in the nineteenth century, is the sustained, even insistent, attention that it pays to seemingly haphazard social and political aspects of the utilitarian thesis.”

66 See for example, Frobert's argument that there is an impulse, observable in Halévy, Simiand, and Rist, to use a discussion of political economy to support a liberal republicanism alert to the need for social rights. He analogizes this view to the model of liberalism as non-domination proposed by Quentin Skinner and Philip Pettit. Ludovic Frobert, “Société industrielle plutôt que capitalisme: La réception française des débats allemands autour de 1900: Halévy, Elie, François Simiand, Charles Rist,” Raison Publique 10 (2009), 237–58Google Scholar.

67 Halévy, La formation du radicalisme philosophique, 1: 96; Morris translation, 76.