Guillaume Thomas François Raynal

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Raynal, Guillaume Thomas François


Born Apr. 11, 1713, in Saint-Geniez, Aveyron; died Mar. 6, 1796, in Paris. French historian and sociologist; representative of the Enlightenment.

Raynal was educated at a Jesuit school. Renouncing the priesthood, he settled in Paris in 1747, where he pursued a literary career and contributed to Diderot’s Encyclopedia.

Raynal’s chief work, the Philosophical and Political History of the Institutions and Trade of the Europeans in the Two Indies (6 vols., 1770), sharply criticizes the feudal and absolutist system, the Catholic Church, and colonialism. Raynal showed great interest in the English and Dutch revolutions and wrote in support of the revolution in North America. In 1781 the French parlement ordered the history burned, and Raynal arrested. He fled abroad, visiting many countries, including Russia, and returning to France in 1787. Elected to the Estates General in 1789, Raynal refused his seat. During the Great French Revolution, he protested against the intensification of the revolutionary struggle and condemned the Jacobins.

As a philosopher, Raynal adhered to metaphysical materialism, although he proposed, in general terms, the idea that nature has a history that includes both gradual quantitative changes and revolutions. On the question of the source of knowledge, Raynal subscribed to sensationalism. His sociological theory is a kind of economic materialism. Raynal was one of the thinkers who “made the first attempts to give historiography a materialist basis” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 3, p. 27).

Transcending social atomism, or “Robinsonian singlehand edness,” Raynal made society, rather than the individual, the starting point of his analysis. Regarding man’s social condition as intrinsic, he rejected the contract theory of the origin of society and the state. He believed that the evolution of agriculture, industry, and trade gave rise to private property and inequality and perceived the general course of history as the struggle of heterogeneous groups of people for freedom and a more equitable distribution of wealth. He condemned war as an instrument of foreign policy and opposed racism. As an atheist, Raynal considered it his duty to expose the social implications of religion.

Raynal’s ideas influenced Saint-Simon’s philosophy of history, the view of history of the French Restoration historians, and the ideas of A. N. Radishchev.


Oeuvres, vols. 1–4, Geneva, 1784.
In Russian translation:
Filosofskaia i politicheskaia istoriia o zavedeniiakh i kommertsii evropeitsev ν obeikh Indiiakh, 2nd ed. St. Petersburg, 1834–35.


Starosel’skaia-Nikitina, O. Ocherki po istorii nauki i tekhniki perioda Frantsuzskoi burzhuaznoi revoliulsii 1789–1794 gg. Moscow-Leningrad, 1946.
Zel’manova, G. “Reinal’—kak istorik filosofii.” Voprosy filosofii, 1961, no. 5.
Lunet, B. Biographie de l’abbé Raynal. Rodez, 1866.
Morley, J. Diderot and the Encyclopaedists, vols. 1–2. London, 1886.
Feugere, A. Un Précurseur de la révolution l’abbé Reynal. Paris, 1922.
Feugere, A. Bibliographie critique de l’abbé Raynal. Paris, 1922.
Hervier, M. Les Écrivains français jugés par leurs contemporains, vol. 2. Paris [1931].


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.