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Abstract

This dissertation examines the entwinement of property, finance, and the state in post-revolutionary France, taking the Paris Stock Exchange as its primary object. It focuses on political discourse, theoretical and legal debates about the moral rightness and economic utility of financial phenomena such as public debts and futures contracts, and the legal travails of the Paris stockbrokers, who maintained a controversial state-granted monopoly on financial intermediation at the Exchange. These debates helped establish the conceptual and legal boundaries of property, which, as the repeated disputes over the Exchange show, were up for grabs. The French Revolution of 1789 ostensibly ushered out an age of legal privilege and ushered in an age of property; the story of the Paris Stock Exchange helps illuminate just why that age of property took the specifically capitalist shape it did. ,The first half of the nineteenth century was a formative period for the modern Paris Stock Exchange. Emerging out of the architecture of the Old Regime fiscal-military state, but making striking departures from that conceptual-institutional apparatus, creditors and debtors, stockbrokers and lawmakers, revolutionaries and reactionaries repeatedly sparred over the nature of public debts, financial speculation, and the post-revolutionary state, in an age where public debts were to be justified not to fund military adventure, but for public and private economic utility. The modern Exchange thus was legitimated according to different theoretical grounds than prior formations; my dissertation explores the contours and boundaries of these grounds, illuminating the path of French capitalism and the implantation of finance capital in a discursive context otherwise quite hostile to it. ,The persistent controversies over the Exchange represented repeated attempts to sort out what kinds of moral attitudes were appropriate to post-revolutionary society. What kinds of economic manipulation of property were just and fair, and how might valid limits be set by the proper authorities? Given the ambiguity at the heart of its legal definition, the permissible boundaries of property were left open to vigorous, sometimes acrimonious debate. What were the reciprocal duties and obligations state and citizen owed each other? Since the main tradeable security at the Exchange was formally a public debt owed by the government, then the way the government chose to handle that debt – whether to issue new debt or to write down a part of the existing debt, for instance – signified its evaluation of the normatively justifiable relations between sovereign and citizens. Likewise, individual speculation at the Exchange signified not just a desire for possible future gain, but also an index of civic faith, with the decision to buy or sell public debt functioning as both economic and political judgments. Government treatment of the debt, and civic attitudes towards it, thus carried moral valence, insofar as the debt was, literally, a bond between state and citizen. And what, finally, did the volatility of prices at the Exchange portend for the security of the social order? The Exchange, after all, was the site of dramatic price fluctuations, of fortunes won and lost in an instant. But if property in its purest form was thus proven to be so unpredictable, then it would seem that society was constructed on shifting grounds. This dissertation demonstrates that the debates over the Exchange were rooted in this conceptual ambiguity, with the brokers and their advocates employing the normative authority of property for a defense of finance capital. ,β€œThe true temple of modern religion,” according to nineteenth-century social critic Edmond Texier, was the Paris Stock Exchange, with the mores of the financial world seeming to permeate the whole of society. As this dissertation argues, moral rightness, economic utility, and legal justification were fused at the Exchange in the particularities of public debts, speculation, and finance capital. The path of the Exchange thus bore witness to the recalibration of the moral order in post-revolutionary society. Newly codified in law, private property was meant to coordinate social interactions, with the norms derived from property neatly guiding individual behavior. But no sooner was the supremacy of property proclaimed than was it challenged from within. For it was precisely the abstract and endlessly mutable nature of property at the Exchange that made it such a crucial financial center and such a persistent locus of controversy. Through the lens of the Paris Stock Exchange, this dissertation therefore creates an intellectual history of financial capitalism in nineteenth-century France.

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