Mercier de la Rivière Bibliography

L’Ordre naturel et essentiel des sociétés politiques 1767
A clarification of Quesnay’s views which drew international attention to physiocracy. Rivière became involved in a much publicized dispute with the abbé Galiani, known as ‘la bagarre’. Galiani, a critic of physiocracy who witnessed the Neapolitan famine of 1764, argued that no responsible person could advocate anything but the most cautious approach to the lifting of controls on grain prices.

In a letter about Rivière’s book, Rousseau wrote that the main problem in politics, which could be compared with the quadrature of the circle in geometry, was to find a form of government which would place the law above man.

“Just as Corsicans and Poles applied to Rousseau, Catherine of Russia, in consequence of her admiration for La Rivière’s book, summoned him to Russia to assist her in making laws. ‘Sir,’ said the czarina, ‘could you point out to me the best means for the good government of a state?’ ‘Madame, there is only one way, and that is being just; in other words, in keeping order and exacting obedience to the laws.’ ‘But on what base is it best to make the laws of an empire repose?’ ‘There is only one base, madame: the nature of things and of men.’ ‘Just so; but when you wish to give laws to a people, what are the rules which indicate most surely such laws as are most suitable?’ ‘To give or make laws, madame, is a task that God has left to none. Ah, who is the man that should think himself capable of dictating laws for beings that he does not know, or knows so ill? And by what right can he impose laws on beings whom God has never placed in his hands?’ ‘To what, then, do you reduce the science of government?’ ‘To studying carefully, recognising, and setting forth, the laws which God has graven so manifestly in the very organization of men, when he called them into existence. To wish to go any further would be a great misfortune and a most destructive undertaking.’ ‘Sir, I am very pleased to have heard what you have to say; I wish you good day.’ “ (Quoted in John Morley, Rousseau, vol II, 153)