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alain supiot

A World Market of Norms?

he struggles over employment laws that have rocked France and Germany over the past year have been largely defensive. Yet labour-law reform, in a positive sense, is an important issue which deserves to be addressed on its own terms: how might the law best adapt to objective changes in work practices brought about by new techniques? The model of wage labour that held sway during the industrial erain which a worker abdicates a degree of freedom in exchange for a certain amount of securityis no longer generally applicable today. Much recent scholarship has concurred that the question involves not simply the codication of the individual workers rights but rather the creation of professional conditions for people such that, over the long term, their capabilities and economic needs are sufciently assured to allow them to take initiatives and shoulder responsibilities.1 The key terms within this perspective are not jobs, subordination and social security, but work (understood in all its forms, not just as wage labour), professional skills and economic security. The labour-market reforms imposed in most European countries have instead remained locked inside the old model, and restricted themselves to worsening its terms for those on the bottom rung. Such policies proceed from the (false) assumption that existing labour legislation is the principal obstacle to full employment and should be dismantled to improve companies competitiveness. A consistent feature of the reforms carried out over the last thirty years has been their attack on the imsy safeguards to which the weakest still cling. Whether in the name of workfare, job-sharing or of exibilization, the common denominator has been the notion that certain statutory benets (full-time work, decent pay, protection new left review 39 may june 2006 109


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against dismissal) are to blame for the difculties experienced by certain sectors of the labour force in nding work. Given the more or less socialmarket temper of the times, this has meant either reducing benets, or else shifting part of their cost onto the state or social security. In continental Europe, the reversal of roles between the state, private enterprise and nance has been most apparent in employment law. Where once the state laid down the broad lines of a national economic policy which the big rms carried out, and which nanciers were expected to serve, today nancial objectives dictate the actions of companies, while the costs of the human sacrices involved are borne by the stateeither directly, by funding employment incentives, or indirectly, by having to deal with the consequences of poverty, violence and insecurity. As a result, protections are cut back where they are most necessary, while they continue to be heaped upon those at the top of the professional ladder. Regularly denounced, this double standard has only grown more pronounced, especially in terms of those collective rightsto unionization, to strike actionwhose effectiveness tends to be proportionate to job security; those who have most need of such rights are completely bereft of them.2 Employment law thus provides a perfect example of the Matthew Effect: For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance; but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.3 The Contrat Premire EmbaucheFirst Job Contractwhich the French government struggled to impose from January to April 2006 was almost a caricature of this approach. In the name of ghting youth unemployment, it allowed employers to sack young workers without any
1 See Alain Supiot, ed., Au-del de lemploi. Transformations du travail et devenir du droit du travail en Europe, Paris 1999; Bruno Trentin, La libert viene prima. La libert come posta in gioco nel conitto sociale, Rome 2004; Simon Deakin and Frank Wilkinson, The Law of the Labour Market: Industrialization, Employment and Legal Evolution, Oxford 2005; Mark Freedland, The Personal Employment Contract, Oxford 2003; Hartmut Kaelble and Gnter Schmid, eds, Das europische Sozial Modell. Auf dem Weg zum transnationalen Sozialstaat, Berlin 2004; Philip Alston, ed., Labour Rights as Human Rights, Oxford 2005. 2 See Supiot, Revisiter les droits daction collective, Droit Social, nos 78, 2001, p. 687ff. Who can seriously claim that the holder of a rst-time contract, which can be revoked at any time by her employer, enjoys a genuine right to strike? 3 Matthew, xiii.12. Long a reference point in social policy, the Matthew Effect has also been discussed within the sociology of science. See for example Robert Merton, The Matthew Effect in Science, Science, vol. 159, 1968, p. 56.

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explanation during their rst two years in the job. Dreamed up by a few economic advisers to the Prime Minister without even consulting the jurists of the Ministry of Employment, pushed through as a matter of urgency without any negotiations with the trade unions, or even any real parliamentary debate, the measure displayed virtually every defect that has marred French labour-law reform for the past quarter of a century. It was based on highly relative international comparisons, in which levels of youth unemployment are calculated just on the basis of those in the labour market, rather than the total number, including students (all else being equal, this method automatically raises levels in countries with a higher average length of education). It deployed a confused concept of age group, as a sociological categoryall those under 26 being lumped together, whether rich or poor, uneducated or graduates from some elite college. It offered a windfall to employers already seeking to make redundancies. It had the perverse effect of making it harder for those over 26 to get work. Finally, it did nothing to solve the real problem facing most young people, which is not nding workstatistics show that they remain unemployed for far less time than older cohortsbut nding stable work: turnover is much higher in this age range, and without established employment it is difcult to obtain credit or accommodation. In adding yet another aspect of job insecurity to what is already a long listinterim employment, short-term contracts, etcthe cpe might have been enacted almost unnoticed if it had not had the effect of juridically stigmatizing, so to speak, youth as a whole. As a result, it could be summarized as something very simple to understand although difcult for its backers to admit: the measure enshrined the right of employers to sack young workers without having to give a reason why. To a generation particularly sensitive about questions of respect, such a message symbolized the most unacceptable face of labour-market reform: that which, over and above the economic effects, aimed at the moral degradation of workers, at treating them as things.4 The dismantling of labour laws is presented as the unavoidable outcome of economic globalization. But the free circulation of capital and goods is
Consider the many versions of the acronym cpe that the young demonstrators against the measure emblazoned on their bandannas and T-shirts : Contrat Pour Esclaves [Contract for Slaves], Contrat Premire Embche [First Trap Contract], Contrat Prcarit Exclusion [Precariousness Exclusion Contract], Contrat Prdestin Echec [Predestined Failure Contract], Contrat Premire Exploitation [First Exploitation Contract], Contrat Poubelle Embauche [Dustbin Job Contract].


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not a fact decreed by nature. It is the product of political decisions, encoded in commercial law. Over the past twenty years, international trade agreements have increasingly erased the territorial limits formerly assigned to markets. In what follows, I will argue that this legal conguration of markets has an innitely greater impact upon employment than that of labour legislation. Discarding the juridical principles of the postwar period, national legislative models are today treated as so many products in competition with each other on the world market of norms. Devoid of any qualitative framework, this normative Darwinism locks both public policy and economic life into a self-referential downward spiral.

Deregulations costs
Contrary to the dogma of the labour-market deregulators, unemployment levels in any given country depend far more on the organization of international trade and on company law than on local labour legislation. The notion that a reform of the labour law will create jobs is an illusion: the complete abrogation of all regulatory norms applicable to wage labour would have scant impact on unemployment. Witness the situation of the self-employed, excluded from wage-labour regulations, but subject to those of international trade. A typical instance of self-employment is the food and agriculture sector, which switched almost overnight from the archaic pattern of peasant smallholdings to an ultramodern model, integrated within international production and distribution networks. A part of this sector lives off the Common Agricultural Policy (another neglected aspect of employment law), but other farm businesses receive no subsidy at all. This is the case, for example, with the battery-farming of poultry, which has been intensively developed since the early 1980s. The method is industrial (25 birds per square metre, massive reliance on antibiotics, etc), the product is tasteless, and the pollution is huge (ground-water poisoned by nitrates), but theapparentcosts are low. The system is organized into networks on the basis of bilateral contracts signed between the food giants that dominate the world market and the breeders whom they control, from one end of the production chain to the other. This is the sort of social paradise of which the advocates of labour deregulation dream: no minimum wage, no limit to the working day, no right to strike, no collective agreements. The evolution of such a sector offers a concrete example of the impact on employment were labour regulations to be completely abolished.

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The battery-chicken industry initially underwent a period of vertiginous growth, exporting within Europe and beyond; the number of poultry farmers rose accordingly. Before long, the food corporations moved into developing countries where costs were lower (Brazil, Thailand, China) and began to re-import products from there into Europe, thus exerting pressures for increased productivity and lower margins on the European breeders. In terms of jobs, however, the most destructive effects of the free circulation of frozen chickens were felt in Africa. Here, poultry markets had been shielded from excessive competition by the 1975 Lom Accords, signed between the eu and the acp countries (Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacic). Thus protected, a small cottage industry of quality poultry, sold live, had begun to ourish. These protections were removed in 2000 under the Cotonou Accords, in compliance with wto rules, opening the oodgates to the mass importation of frozen chicken pieces of the kind scorned by northern consumers (necks, wings, parsons nose).5 Sold for next to nothing and in poor sanitary conditions thanks to the rupturing of the cold chain, these imports were mere surplus prot for the multinationals, whose trade in choice cuts for the north yielded huge returns; but their effect was to wipe out the local industry. Ruined poultry farmers swelled the stream of African workers compelled to emigrate by the breakdown of local economies. In Europe, the avalanche of choice cuts of frozen chicken from Thailand or Brazil threw Breton poultry farming into crisis, as prot margins shrank and more jobs were lost. Predicated on the excessively low cost of transportitself a function of the deregulation of maritime labourthe globalization of the poultry circuit also increased the chance of a major health disaster, by globalizing the risk of avian u.6 Such exemplary enforcement of an international division of labour, based on the exploitation of local advantage, could take place thanks to the reforms to international trade rules pushed through after the implosion of Communism. Reversing the juridical principles established in the
Abrogation of the acp accords plunged many of these countries into crisis. Mauritius, for example, had built up relatively substantial textile and toy-making sectors, which fell victim to relocations to China. 6 Contrary to theories circulating in Western media, many scientists have traced the outbreak of bird u to this globalized poultry-farming system rather than to migration of wild birds. The ofcial thesis not only exculpates the agribusiness multinationals, but works to ensure their continued global supremacy by justifying the destruction without compensation of countless small producers in poor countries.


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postwar period, these have facilitated the development of a free-market dogmatism whose effects are as destructive to independent or informal workers as to salaried employees, in both North and South.

Legislative products
That unemployment does not depend on labour law but, on the contrary, such laws depend on the international division of labour, determined by international trade law, was recognized in the founding statements of the International Labour Organization, charged in 1919 with the protection of workers rights against the pressures of international competition. In 1944 the Philadelphia Declaration paid lip-service at least to the ideal of conciliating commercial and nancial regulations with economic security, afrming that all human beings have the right to pursue both their material well-being and their spiritual development in conditions of freedom and dignity, of economic security and equal opportunity; and that all national and international policies and measures, in particular those of an economic and nancial character, should be judged in this light and accepted only in so far as they may be held to promote and not to hinder the achievement of this fundamental objective. In recent years it has become a clich to point out that all consideration of such measures is made, rst and foremost, from the point of view of nance. Under contemporary norms, policies are accepted to the extent that they favour global competition between workers. Far from evaluating the impact of trade liberalization on economic security, the concern is always to evaluate the impact of such security on economic competitivenessitself no longer envisaged as a means but an end in itself, to which populations are expected to adapt.7 Such a topsy-turvy system assumes that the legal framework of commerce is sacrosanct, whilst that of workers rights is regarded as a variable, capable of adjustment in line with the requirements of the market. The International Labour Bureau has taken up the same refrain, seeking to legitimate international labour norms in terms of economic competition. In developing countries, employers must understand that a healthy diet helps to build a stronger workforce, and this in the long term will make their company or country
See Article 125 of the European Community Treaty (repeated in Article iii-203 of the draft Constitutional Treaty): Member States and the Community shall . . . work towards promoting a skilled, trained and adaptable workforce and labour markets responsive to economic change.

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more competitive, therefore more attractive to investors.8 Such a logic, of course, would eliminate any need to care for the old or the sick, who obviously represent a competitive handicap. In classical liberal theory, the market is an institutional mechanism for enabling competition, permitting the most efcient distribution of resources and material goods. It is neither an end in itself, nor a basic principle of social organization; it is inscribed within a rule of law that simultaneously instigates and restrains it. This conception has succumbed, over the last thirty years, to an anarcho-capitalism that sees the market as the Grundnorm of every national regulatory order; a metajuridical principle that must be imposed on every aspect of social life in every country, leading eventually to the withering-away of the state.9 In this view law (like religion, ideas or the arts) is just another product competing in a world market where natural selection will single out systems best adapted to commercial needs.10 Instead of free competition being founded on the law, law is to be founded upon free competition. This is the doctrine currently espoused by the World Bank. Its annual Doing Business reports provide a systematic evaluation of every feature of national legal systems that have a bearing on economic efciency. The constantly revised database thus produced is designed to furnish
Christopher Wanjek, Food at Work. Workplace solutions for malnutrition, obesity and chronic diseases, Geneva 2005. Similarly, the ilos 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, the rst such statement to which all signatory countries were obliged to consent, stressed that labour standards should not be used for protectionist trade purposes. 9 The best-known theorist of anarcho-capitalism is David Friedman (son of Milton), author of The Machinery of Freedom: Guide to a Radical Capitalism, New York 1973. A migrant from physics to law via economics, Friedman belongs to the Law and Economics school (see especially his Laws Order: What Economics has to do with Law and Why it Matters, Princeton 2000, and Law as a private Good, Economics and Philosophy 10, 1994, pp. 31927). See also, but coming from the school of natural law, Murray Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty, Atlantic Highlands, nj 1982. Whatever their doctrinal differences, all these libertarian tendencies are at one in their hatred of the state. 10 The numbers of converted former Maoists, 60s libertarians, etc, now to be found advancing this ideology (wrongly dubbed neoliberalism) in government and business circles, the media, corporate think-tanks and the European Commission should come as no surprise. Such ideologues at least remain faithful to the belief that the superstructures of law and culture should be totally determined by economic relations. The prc is the most grandiose example of the mutual embrace of historical materialism and the market.


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objective measures of the business regulations in the 155 countries covered, with special emphasis on any rigidities in their labour practices. Doing Business 2005 includes a chapter on Hiring and Firing Workers, which focuses on the obstacles to investment represented by the labour laws. Comparative tables indicate the restrictions on increasing or reducing the number of working hours, and the difculties and costs of hiring and ring.11 Difculties are understood to mean regulations, and costs to imply laws for workers protection. A rigidity of employment index penalizes countries that recognize too many workers rights: social insurance for part-time employees; excessive minimum wages ($20 a month is deemed too high for an African worker); a working week limited to under 66 hours; the requirement to give third parties (eg a union) notice of a dismissal; programmes to ght racial or sexual discrimination.12 These indicators are designed to allow the benchmarking of national regulatory orders and to evaluate the extent to which a countrys legislation encourages or discourages foreign investment. They are aimed as much at international investors, for whom they provide research into the most protable juridical environments, as at the states themselves, which are thereby drawn into a competition designed to increase such prots across the board. A market in legislative systems is now being organized on the basis of such objective measures, to ensure that those best suited to the demands of international investors survive, whilst the rest either adapt or disappear.13 Competition between rms under the aegis of nancial markets is no longer limited to the realm of the economy; it is now the organizing precept of the juridical sphere. Yet to elevate competition into the sole universal principle for regulating world affairs returns us to the impasse of twentieth-century totalitarianisms, whose common feature was precisely the subordination of the juridical order to supposed laws of competition between races or classes. That such a doctrine will engender nothing but unreason and violence may be deduced from one
See Here the Bank has borrowed a methodology developed by economists from Harvard and Yale: Juan Botero, Simeon Djankov, Rafael La Porta, Florencio Lopez-de-Silanes and Andrei Shleifer, The Regulation of Labour, Quarterly Journal of Economics, November 2004. 12 See the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions review of Doing Business 2005, and the Declaration of the Global Unions Federation to the annual meeting of the imf and World Bank, 2425 September 2005: 13 The World Banks preference is for common-law systems.

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of the few certainties yielded by the science of law: since selshness, greed and the struggle for existence are so unavoidably present in the world as it is, they need to be contained and channelled by a shared reference to the world as it ought to be. The distinction between sein and sollen has long been a target for those avatars of scientism that like to confound the difference between juridical rule and technical norms. Of course, struggles between classes, races or individuals exist as historical fact; but to make them the founding principle of the legal order is both to deny the possibility of such an order, and to programme a future of social conict.

Market idealism
Like the social Darwinism from which it issues, normative Darwinism is realist only in appearance, for it denies the very means for assessing whether it offers a true representation of the world or not. In order to arrive at a judgement about reality, one must be able to test it against a value system that is external to it; conversely, in order to question a value system, one must allow that it is not inherent in nature and so may be discussed and challenged. To treat such systems as products results in the distortion of the measuring instruments, and the ascription to ones preferred system of a scientic objectivity that it cannot possess. The indices chosen by the World Bank or European Union to measure the performance of national employment laws provide a caricature of selfoblivious normativity. Not only do they avoid the scrutiny of democratic debate, something still required for the drafting of parliamentary legislation, but the picture they offer of the employment situation merely
In a recent paper on its Action Plan, Better Lawmaking, the European Commission explains that the goal of the eus regulatory environment is to further European competitiveness. New legislative initiatives are now subject to an impact assessment, designed to make sure that they will indeed contribute to competitiveness (com [2005] 462). As Vice-President Gnter Verheugen explained, the Commission had begun to elaborate its own regulations for the new legislation and the assessment of costs ensuing. These meta-regulations (or, more aptly, cata-regulations) will be established in accordance with a methodology based upon the scientic analysis and knowledge brought to the impact assessments by a pool of external experts. A scientic regulatory lter is thus set to function in advance of parliamentary debates, sparing meps from having to consider any regulatory projects judged to undermine business competitiveness. The paper lists 68 proposed directives to be withdrawn on these grounds, including, for example, weekend bans for heavy-goods vehicles.


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reects the beliefs that govern its design.14 Unlike the classical statistical categories formulated by Qutelet and otherswhich, despite an unavoidable normative dimension, at least aimed to measure observable realitythe new indicators, conceived for benchmarking purposes, aim to measure the gap between reality and an implicit ideal: in the case of labour law, that of workforce adaptation to the requirements of nancial markets, enshrined as the highest arbiters of any assessment. Ironically, the World Bank indicators share something of the dogmatic approach of Soviet planning, and produce the same effects: slanting efforts towards the fullment of quantitative objectives, rather than concrete results, while concealing the true state of the economy and of society from a ruling elite disconnected from the lives of those it governs.15 The creation of the European Community originally aimed at the enlargement, not the elimination, of what was still referred to as the internal market. It drew upon the experience of industrialization, when every western state equipped itself with the juridical conditions for development by opening its borders only in so far as doing so enhanced the national economy. The common market implied competition between rms, but co-operation between states. This keystone of European construction was removed when member states and the Commission took up the project of a deregulated market, with the wholesale elimination of restrictions in any country or sector to the free circulation of capital and goods. Such an approach is bound to undermine solidarity between member states, creating competition between national legal systems particularly in the sphere of labour lawwithin the eu itself. There is already a glaring contradiction between the rules originating from the old common market project (aiming at the harmonization of member
In the age of the research assessment exercise, citation index, etc., it is salutary to recall Alexander Zinovievs lively satire of Soviet institutional life: In the end they got round to looking at scientic research. There was a special meeting, which formulated a directive to increase, to improve and to rectify. The following practical measures were adopted: (1) An increase in the number of Doctors of Science and Senior Research Workers; (2) An improvement in the quality of training of research workers, and in the scientic and theoretical level of theses; (3) An increase in the number of articles published on immediate scientic problems, and so on. No sooner said than done . . . within six months there was a hundred per cent increase in the number of research students and ninety-nine per cent in the number of doctors. The total volume of publications rose to a hundred million tons. No point in half measures. And soon Ibansk was stuffed to the seams with science. The Yawning Heights, London 1979, p. 558.

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states laws, especially in the social and environmental elds) and those stemming from the new global-market project (aiming at setting national legal systems in competition with each other).

The effects of competing normsand the actual deviation from the principle of free competition to which they leadare well illustrated in the practice of industrial relocation. When a company opts to establish itself in a foreign country to conquer a share of the market there, it nds itself in competition with other companies which are similarly subject to the social, scal and environmental conditions governing that market. If its business proves competitive, the companys investment will prot both its shareholders and, ideally, the local population. But whenas in the poultry examplea corporation moves its activities abroad in order to re-import foodstuffs produced in violation of the scal, social and environmental laws of the home country, it is no longer the products that are in competition but the normative systems. The well-known consequence is a race to the bottom in scal, social and environmental deregulation, since the rst beneciaries of relocation are abandoned as soon as other candidate countries lower their standards still further. The practice of relocating with the aim of re-importation, already widespread in household goods (textiles, furniture, etc), is likely to bring about the collapse of other sectors in the next few years. It is clear that countries like India and China have the capacity to manufacture high value-added goods on a vast scale; Western states, whose ageing populations represent under 15 per cent of the worlds workers, are faced with adjusting work and employment conditions to those of the other 85 per cent. In these circumstances, it is hard to see how the debate over unemployment can remain conned to issues of labour law, rather than questioning the juridical regime of international commerce. Again, issues of company law should be central to the discussion on reducing unemployment. The distribution of power within a company has a direct bearing on the outcome of any conict between short and long-term interests, or between those of the parties concerned (shareholders, management, employees, subcontractors, etc). Company law may grantas it did in the Netherlands until 2004greater powers of decision to investors who can prove their attachment to the longterm interests of a rm, while limiting the votes of those seeking only


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short-term gain.16 The distinction between entrepreneurial shareholders, committed to the continuing well-being of a company (and thus to its human potential) and speculative shareholders, chasing the highest possible immediate returns on capital, is of obvious relevance here; it was pertinently raised during the so-called locust debate of the 2005 German election campaign.17

Laws purpose
Money is like muck, observed Francis Bacon, not good except it be spread.18 The relentless downward pressure on costsprimarily labour costsfavours both the vertiginous concentration of nancial prots and the decoupling of productivity and earnings,19 pauperization of states (in a scal race to the bottom), a general reduction of social solidarity and the super-exploitation of natural resources. A rst move away from this would be to set the market back upon solid legal foundations, rather than continue to undermine them. A market is dened by limits set by law; these need to take into consideration the real conditions of life and work, with a view to their improvement. The free circulation of goods and capital is not an end in itself; its only value lies in the extent to which it contributes to a genuine improvement in the lives of men and women. It is the laws task to widen or restrict the scope of free trade, according to whether it enhances human development or robs people of their livelihoods and plunges them into poverty. This raises a pre-eminently political question: who makes the law? The task ahead recalls Saint-Simons famous parable of the bees and the hornets, in which the social scientist marvelled at the subjection of the party of producersthe industrious: workers, artists, entrepreneurs
See A. Jacobs, The Netherlands, International Encyclopaedia of Labour Law, The Hague and London 1998. 17 See Jean-Philippe Rob, Lentreprise et le droit, Paris 1999, p. 80ff; and Jean-Luc Grau, Lavenir du capitalisme, Paris 2005, p. 204ff. 18 Above all things, good policy is to be used, that the treasures and monies in a State be not gathered into few hands. For otherwise, a State may have a great stock, and yet starve. Bacon, Of Seditions and Troubles, in The Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral, Oxford 1999. 19 Since the early 1970s, per capita gnp in the us has grown by 75 per cent, whereas the average wage of male workers has gone (in equivalent dollars) from $15.24 in 1973 to $15.26 in 2004. Robert Reich, An Economy Raised on Pork, New York Times, 3 September 2005.

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to the unproductive ruling caste of the party of nobles: aristocracy, military, jurists. At stake is the subordination of the protagonists of the real economy to those of a symbolic one. This lends a certain contemporaneity to the fables conclusion: If I were to be asked what political wisdom the industrious lack, and which they need to attain their goals, I should answer: rst, the clear idea of the political system that will suit them; and then, nding a way to unite their efforts against the party of the nobles.20

C.-H. de Saint-Simon, Sur la querelle des abeilles et des frelons, in La physiologie sociale. uvres choisies, Paris 1965, p. 103.