Gottfried Leibniz and the Cameralist Tradition (RTF Lecture with Nancy Spannaus)

While many victims of today’s education system are mis-educated into believing that the experiment known as the republic of the United States sprang ex nihilo into reality in 1776- driven by rebellious desires to avoid paying taxes, the truth is goes much deeper. As American System Now President Nancy Spannaus lays out in this lecture delivered to the Rising Tide Foundation, the only way one might understand the revolution in statecraft and political economy (as two sides of the same coin) which emerged into the world in 1776, is to go back at least 300 years prior to the heights of the Italian Golden Renaissance when a system that was then known as ‘cameralism’ emerged onto the scene.

Unlike feudal systems of government, law and economics then prevalent which resorted to practices of looting, and war in order to reap revenues, this new system was premised on a very different idea of value, and also human nature. Instead of presuming that human beings were brutes to be manipulated by an elite, the cameralists saw mankind as a species endowed with inalienable rights due to our having been made in the Image of the Creator. Through these rights and capabilities mankind had a duel power of Capax Dei (to act as instrument of the creator). This belief demanded that treasuries be devoted to the common good, infrastructure building, education, arts, science and manufactures instead of war and passive capital accumulation due to rents and exploitation of human cattle.

A shining example of this school that spread like fire across Italy, Germany and France (in the form of Dirigisme under the great finance Minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert) was a scientist named Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.

Nancy introduces Leibniz’s many battles with the forces of empire during his active creative life as a leading representative of the best of the renaissance traditions who made original discoveries not only in physics (infinitesimal calculus), linguistics, historiography, computing and also economics. Leibniz developed the first genuine systemized method of elevating cameralism and dirigism to new heights by his creation of a science of economy outlined especially in his work ‘Society and Economy’ (1671) and On the Establishment of a Society of Arts and Letters (1676). These works outlined a standard of liberating human labor by machine power driven by the creative powers of mental activity and required a unification of the arts and sciences in order to cultivate not merely “profit” but rather the ennoblement of the people within a harmony of interests.

These concepts and Leibniz’s political grand design created the precedent for the continued advance of this science of economy in the form of Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton’s American System.

Supplementary Material

Society and Economy (1671)

On the Establishment of a Society of Arts and Letters

Nancy’s 1977 book The Political Economy of the American Revolution can be purchased here:

Nancy’s new book Hamilton vs Wall Street can be purchased here:


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