Compass of Society rethinks the French route to a conception of "commercial society" in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Henry C. Clark finds that the development of market liberalism, far from being a narrow and abstract ideological episode, was part of a broad-gauged attempt to address a number of perceived problems generic to Europe and particular to France during this period. In the end, he offers a neo-Tocquevillian account of a topic which Tocqueville himself notoriously underemphasized, namely the emergence of elements of a modern economy in eighteenth century France and the place this development had in explaining the failure of the Old Regime and the onset of the Revolution. Compass of Society will aid in understanding the conflicted French engagement with liberalism even up to the twenty-first century.
Henry C. Clark is a professor at Canisius College.
By the eighteenth century, Dutch and English writers were praising commerce, once derided as an ignoble activity, as the basis of a strong, free, and civic-minded community. In France, however, commercial values were difficult to reconcile with a heritage of hierarchical privilege, aristocratic prowess, and monarchical glory and control. In Compass of Society, Henry C. Clark shows how French thinkers wrestled with these competing values. The result is a fresh and illuminating perspective on the political and moral dimensions of commercial thought in the French Enlightenment and, more generally, on the values shaping the modern world.
Gail Bossenga, associate professor of history, William & Mary
Virginia Woolf tellingly observed, 'books have a way of influencing each other.' Focusing on France, particularly the 18th century, Clark illustrates this truth in his remarkable history of the concept of commerce. . . . The scholarship is extensive-Clark uses French national and provincial archives and libraries-and the arguments are compelling. Demonstrating that commerce had broad ramifications, Clark's 'compass' gives the Enlightenment 'party of liberty' an intriguing commercial cast. His description of old regime France as a 'low trust' society fractured by modernizing forces (absolutism and capitalism) is persuasive. He draws meaningful national comparisons, [and] marvelously captures the complexity of mistrust that stymied French reformers and revolutionaries well into the 19th century. . . . Highly recommended.
CHOICE - L. A. Rollo, York College of Pennsylvania
Clark has written an original and thoughtful analysis focused on the too-often-neglected economic emphasis of French thinkers of the Old Regime.
American Historical Review, December 2007
Clark's book is important in revealing the significance to the eighteenth century of the seventeenth-century legacy of controversy about commerce....Clark has made a major contribution to the subject area.
Storia Del Pensiero Economico, September 2008
Most historians today read early modern political economy as a contribution to wider debates about political, social, and moral order in European societies. In Compass of Society, Henry C. Clark makes a significant and valuable contribution to this literature.... The temporal scope of Clark's study is impressively broad.
H-France Review, April 2009, Vol 9 No 55 - John Shovlin
Compass of Society is an important and original contribution to the history of commerce, ideas and information in France.
Emma Rothschild, director, Centre for History and Economics, King's College, Cambridge
Henry Clark's Compass of Society spans chronologically from Louis XIII to the French Revolution, is frequently fascinating, and above all else learned and audacious.
Journal of Modern History, June 2009