History and Purpose of Projêt Fox









           Appearances can be deceiving. The thick scholarly garb in which Projêt Fox has been decked out makes it look like routine academic work by a university professor; in fact, it is au fond a highly polemical enterprise, informed by the author’s presentiment about the role of hereditary plutocracy in modern times. It is not that hereditary transmission of great wealth is flagitious per se, but that it no longer serves the common good. The model of the family-owned-and-operated company, for centuries the mainstay of the entire economy, may still have significance for small companies, but not for great corporate enterprises in our time, where proprietors are anonymous stock owners and managers are hired business administrators. A free enterprise economy will inevitably breed inequality of wealth, but inherited wealth is not earned wealth.

           Operating over successive generations, hereditary transmission of great wealth has the inevitable effect of limiting the chances of new great wealth in a given generation. A case can be made for growth proposition that, in our advanced technological era, the continued health of the free enterprise economy requires that every generation have as large a field of opportunity as it is possible to have–which is exactly what trans-generational preservation of old wealth militates against.

           The political circumstance of contemporary America was foremost in my gloomy thoughts about hereditary plutocracy, and its importance in the gestation of Projêt Fox is attested by the 160 books or articles on the United States listed in the bibliography (Welcome page, item 5). On the other hand, all of the published articles or professional lectures on Projêt Fox reproduced in this website (Welcome page, item 3) are devoted to France–and in the bibliography, correspondingly, the quantity of works in the French bibliography is many times larger than all others combined. Projêt Fox owes its existence, therefore, to the conjunction of civic-mindedness in respect to one country and expertise in the history of another one. This is not all that odd, for the menace of plutocracy is in principle equally great for France and the USA, and use of one’s professional talents is the most effective way to campaign against it.

           The reader of authorial “ruminations” on various aspects of Projêt Fox (Welcome page, item 4) will often suspect the operation of parti pris, and from what has just been said it should be clear just what has been the unvoiced premise of Projêt Fox. It is worth noting, however, that the published articles and professional lectures are devoted just as much to how customary law mandated the hereditary transmission of family wealth in France during the ancien régime (a good thing, sans doute), as they are to fraud by heirs at the time of estate succession in France nowadays (a bad thing, on dit). The continued vitality of the free enterprise system, it could be argued, almost requires that hereditary transmission of great wealth be curtailed.

           In Projêt Fox, this reversal in ways of treating great family fortunes is often dealt with in terms of paradigm shift. That is not surprising, for the research on Projêt Fox was done in the heyday of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn, an enormously popular work that invited application of paradigm theory to many fields of intellectual history other than science (and not less due, in my case, to the fact that Tom Kuhn was a personal friend.) One enduring value of paradigm theory is that it rejects teleological suppositions. Earlier ages cannot be disdained for lack of values that are commonplace today, if the preconditions of entertaining those values were only an anomaly, in those times, before becoming the rule they are now. In the case of Projêt Fox, separation of ownership from direction became the norm for large companies only in the twentieth century, wherefore the trans-generational preservation of great fortunes by inheritance not only has little significance for the operation of the economy but also restricts the range for growth of new fortunes in succeeding generations.






© Ralph E. Giesey 2008

Updated 5/13/09