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Title: Farm laborer
Original Title: Laboureur
Volume and Page: Vol. 9 (1765), p. 148
Author: Denis Diderot (biography)
Translator: Stephen J. Gendzier [Brandeis University]
Subject terms:
Rural economy
Original Version (ARTFL): Link
Source: Stephen J. Gendzier, ed., Denis Diderot’s The Encyclopedia: Selections (New York: Harper & Row, [1967]). Used with permission.

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Citation (MLA): Diderot, Denis. "Farm laborer." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Stephen J. Gendzier. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2009. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <>. Trans. of "Laboureur," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 9. Paris, 1765.
Citation (Chicago): Diderot, Denis. "Farm laborer." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Stephen J. Gendzier. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2009. (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Laboureur," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 9:148 (Paris, 1765).

Farm Laborer. He is not a common laborer, a hireling who rubs down the horse or oxen and drives a plow. People are simply unaware of his way of life and even more of what it should be, if they attribute anything crude, poor, or contemptuous about his social position. Misfortune would fall on the country if the farm laborer were a poor man; for this could only be true if the nation itself were poor, and a gradual decline would soon be felt with the most baneful of consequences.... (see Farm and Farmer, Political Economy).

Of all kinds of wealth, only the gifts of the land constantly reproduce themselves, because primary needs are always the same. Manufacturing only produces very little beyond the salaries of the men who are employed. Monetary transactions only produce fluctuations in a symbol that by itself has no real value. It is the earth alone that gives true wealth, whose yearly renewal assures the states of revenues that are fixed, independent of public opinion, visible, and that people cannot hide for their own needs. Now the gifts of the land are always proportionate to the available funds of the farm laborer , and depend also on the money spent to prepare the crops. Thus the relative wealth of farm laborers can be a rather accurate thermometer of the prosperity of a nation with a large territory.

The eyes of the government must, therefore, always be open to this class of interesting men. IF they are degraded, crushed, submitted to unreasonable and harsh demands, they will be afraid to pursue a sterile occupation without honor; they will place their funds in less useful enterprises; agriculture will languish, stripped of wealth, and its decline will throw the entire state to a considerable extent into poverty and weakness. But how can we assure the prosperity of the state by favoring agriculture? What kind of favors can we bestow on wealthy men to urge them to use their time and wealth in this pursuit? We can hope to accomplish this only by assuring the farm laborer that sale of his commodities will not be curtailed, that he will be given complete freedom in the cultivation of the land, finally that he will not be subject to an arbitrary tax levied on the funds necessary for the reproduction of agricultural products and values. IF it is true that advantageous cultivation of the land cannot be created without large funds, then complete freedom of exportation of commodities is a necessary condition, otherwise these funds will not be acquired. How, with the uncertainly of selling good, which is the consequence of export restriction, would farm laborers display the resources form their land? Grains have a basic and necessary price. See Grains. Where exportation is not free, farm laborers are reduced to fearing abundance and a surplus of commodities whose market value is lower than their expenses. Freedom of exportation assures, by the regularity of good prices, the certain reception of funds and net proceeds, which is the only motive that can stimulate new profits. Freedom in the cultivation of the land is not less indispensable for its prosperity; and restrictions in this regard are useless as well as harsh and ridiculous. You can force a farm laborer to sow wheat, but you cannot force him to prepare his land in a proper manner with fertilizers that are essential to the fruitful cultivation of wheat. Thus you risk the possibility of completely destroying the produce that might have been valuable; by imprudent and blind precautions you prepare a long time ahead the famine that you wanted to prevent.

Arbitrary taxation certainly tends to stop all the efforts of the farm laborer and prevent him from making any profit. It dries up, therefore, the source of the state's revenue and spreads distrust and fear; it crushes all the seeds of prosperity. It is not possible for arbitrary taxation not to be frequently excessive, but even if this were not the case, there is a radical defect in its very procedure, that of being imposed on funds necessary for cultivating the products of nature. Not only should taxes never be arbitrary, but they should ever be imposed directly on the farm laborer. States have moments of crisis where resources are indispensable and must be promptly delivered. Each citizen then owes to the state a contribution from his abundant possession. If taxes on the landed proprietor become excessive, they are merely taken out of some of his expenses that may be unproductive when considered separately. A great number of people suffer and groan, but a t least it is only temporary discomfort. But if the tax is imposed on the funds that are necessary for the work of the farm laborer, then it becomes an act of spoliation. The reproduction of agricultural products and values, hampered by a lack of funds, declines rather rapidly.

The state becomes prostrate, languishes over a long period of time, and often does not recapture that stoutness that is characteristic of strength. The opinion that the farm laborer only needs his arms to pursue his occupation is in part the origin of other errors on this subject. This destructive idea is only true in regard to some countries in which farming is degraded. The poorness of farm laborers allows almost no collection of taxes, nor any resources for the state. See Metayer. [1]


1. A sharecropper, one who cultivates land for a portion of its yield, receiving stock, tools, and seed form the landlord.