Born on July 20, 1754, Antoine Louis Claude Destutt, comte de Tracy, French philosopher and economist. Perhaps best remembered for coining the term “ideology,” he didn’t mean by that term what scornful Napoleon and communist Karl Marx later turned it into — for Destutt de Tracy ideology meant “the science of ideas,” a unified approach to all knowledge, from epistemology to social theory.
Though his family had been enobled twice, he renounced the title and entered the 1789 Estates General conference as a member of the Third Estate. During the Reign of Terror, he was imprisoned, and would have been executed had not Robespierre got to the scaffold ahead of him.
Two of his books became popular in early 19th century America, his commentaries on Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws, and his Traité de la volonté, which Thomas Jefferson, the editor of the American edition, retitled A Treatise on Political Economy. Tracy’s economics was of a deductivist stripe, familiar to readers of later economists such as Nassau Senior and Ludwig von Mises.
Destutt de Tracy’s political philosophy was republican, and his preferred economic policy was laissez-faire.