Front Page Titles (by Subject) (1847) 76.: Letter to Richard Cobden - The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics
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(1847) 76.: Letter to Richard Cobden - Frédéric Bastiat, The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics 
The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics, translated from the French by Jane and Michel Willems, with an introduction by Jacques de Guenin and Jean-Claude Paul-Dejean. Annotations and Glossaries by Jacques de Guenin, Jean-Claude Paul-Dejean, and David M. Hart. Translation editor Dennis O’Keeffe (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2011).
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Letter to Richard Cobden
Paris, 10 January 1847
[vol. 1, p. 152]
My dear friend, I received your two letters written in Marseilles almost at the same time. I agree with your merely passing through this town, as God alone knows how a longer visit would have been interpreted. My friend, the obstacle that will be constructed against us by national prejudices is much more serious and will last for longer than you appear to believe. If the monopolists had whipped up anglophobia for the needs of the cause, this strategic maneuver could easily be countered. In any case, France would have discovered the trap in a very short time. But they are exploiting a sentiment that already existed, which has deep roots in people’s hearts, and—shall I tell you?—although mistaken and exaggerated, can be explained and justified. There is no doubt that the English oligarchy has borne down painfully upon Europe, and that its pendulum policy of sometimes supporting the despots in the north to repress freedom in the south and sometimes whipping up liberalism in the south to contain the despotism in the north, must have generated an inevitable reaction everywhere. You will tell me that you should never confuse peoples with their governments. That is fine for thinkers. But nations judge each other by the external action they carry out against each other. And then, I must admit, this distinction is a bit subtle. Peoples stand by their governments to a certain extent and let them act even if they do not actively help them. The constant policy of the British oligarchy has been to involve the nation in its intrigues and enterprises in order to generate in it a hostile feeling against the human race and thus keep it in a state of dependence. Now this general hostility is coming to the surface; it is a just punishment for past sins and it will survive long after these same sins disappear.
Thus the national sentiment of which the monopolists are making use is very real. In addition, it serves the parties admirably. The democrats, the republicans, and the opposition on the left all exploit it as best they can, some for making the king unpopular, others for overthrowing M. Guizot. You will agree that the monopolists have discovered in this a very dangerous power.
To outwit this maneuver, I had the idea of beginning by acknowledging the Machiavellianism and invasive policy of the British oligarchy and then saying, “Who has suffered more than the English people themselves?” revealing the sentiment of opposition that it has encountered in England from time immemorial and showing this sentiment resisting the war against American independence in 1773 [sic] and the war against the French Revolution in 1791. This sentiment was then repressed but not stifled; it still lives, it is growing and has become public opinion. This is what extracted Catholic emancipation, the extension of electoral suffrage, and the abolition of slavery from the oligarchy, and more recently, the destruction of monopolies. It will also extract the liberation of trade with the colonies. And on this subject, I will show that the liberation of trade will lead to political liberation. Therefore, invasive politics will have ceased to exist, since we do not give up invasions that have been achieved to run after new forms of invasion.
Following this, through translations of writings by you, Fox, and Thompson, I will show that the League is the mouthpiece and outward expression of the sentiment which harmonizes with that in Europe, etc., etc.; you can guess the rest. But I will need time and strength and I have neither. As I cannot write, this will be the text for the end of my next speech in the Montesquieu Hall. For the rest, I will not say anything I do not think.
How lucky you are to be under Italian skies! When will I also see the fields, the sea, and the mountains! O rus! Quando ego te aspiciam!177 And above all, when will I be in the midst of those who love me! You, yourself, have made sacrifices, but they were done in order to build the foundation of civilization. In all conscience, my friend, is the same selflessness expected of someone who can bring only a grain of sand to the monument? However, I needed to think of this before; now the sword has been drawn from its scabbard. It will never return. The monopoly or your friend will go to Père Lachaise178 before it does.
Letter to Félix Coudroy
Paris, 11 March 1847
[vol. 1, p. 76]
My dear Félix, your letter arrived just in time to remove the anxiety caused by your one of the previous day. However, I had the premonition that you would give me better news and my confidence was precisely based on my aunt’s somnolence, which caused you to worry, for on two occasions I was able to ascertain that it is rather a good sign where she is concerned. However, the constitution of our physical bodies is so strange that I was not very reassured by it. I was therefore waiting impatiently for your letter and unfortunately fate decreed that it was delayed for several hours today because of snow. I have it at last and am at peace. What a torment for us it is, my dear Félix, when uncertain circumstances combine with the state of uncertainty of our minds. Abandoning my poor aunt at this time when she is ill and without a relative at her side! That thought is frightful. On the other hand all the threads of our enterprise are in my hands: the journal,179 correspondence, and the accounts, and can I leave the whole structure to collapse? There was a committee meeting in which I spoke of my need to absent myself and was given to understand to what extent I was committed. However, a friend has offered to do the journal in my absence. This is a great help, but how many other obstacles remain! In the end, my aunt is feeling better. This will be a lesson to me and I will arrange to be able to take at least a few days, if I need to. For your part, my dear Félix, please keep me fully up to date.
Your white cottage beckons me. I admire and congratulate you for situating your castles in the air, where only you can attain them. Two adjoining sharecropping farms; a proper combination of fields, vineyards, pastures; a few cows; two patriarchal families of sharecroppers; two servants, who do not cost much in the country; proximity to the presbytery; and above all, your good sister and your books. There is really enough there to vary, fill, and sweeten your autumn days. Perhaps one day I also will have a cottage close to yours. Poor Félix! You think that I am pursuing fame. If it were my destiny, as you say, it would escape me here, where I am doing nothing worthwhile. I can feel a new dissertation on economic science in my head and it will never emerge! Farewell, it is perhaps already too late for the post.
Letter to Richard Cobden
Paris, 20 March 1847
[vol. 1, p. 155]
My dear friend, I was filled with anxiety and even surprised not to receive news of you. I asked myself, “Has the free-trade atmosphere in Italy made him forget our protectionist region?” I thought every day of writing to you, but where would I find you, where should I address my letters? At last, I have received yours of the 7th. After my pleasure at hearing that both you and Mrs. Cobden were in good health, I have another cause for satisfaction, that of knowing Italy to be so far advanced in the right doctrine. Thus, my poor France, so far in advance of other nations in many respects, is being left behind in political economy. My national pride should be suffering, but I will whisper low in your ear, my friend, that I have little patriotism of this sort and if my country is not the one shining the light, I at least want it to shine in other skies. Amica patria, sed magis amica veritas,180 and I say to peace, the happiness of mankind, and the brotherhood of nations, in the words of Lamartine to enthusiasm:
Come from the dusk or the dawn.
I am writing to you, my dear Cobden, two hours before my departure for Mugron, to which the serious illness of the old aunt, who has been like a mother to me since I had the misfortune in childhood of losing mine, is summoning me urgently. How will our journal fare during my absence? I do not know and yet my name will remain affixed to it! It is truly a difficult enterprise, as you cannot make the slightest mention of passing events without the risk of upsetting the political susceptibilities of one or another colleague. This assiduous care to avoid anything that might annoy the political parties (since all are represented in our association) deprives us of three-quarters of our strength. What immense good our journal might do if it contrasted the inanity and danger of current policy with the grandeur and security of free-trade policies! Before the journal was founded, I had a plan to publish a small book each month in the same mold as the Sophisms, in which I would have free rein. I really think it would have been more useful than the journal itself.
Our campaigning is not very active. We still need a man of action. When will he appear? I do not know. I should be that man, I am propelled forward by the unanimous confidence of my colleagues, but I cannot.181 My character is not suited to this and all the advice in the world cannot turn a reed into an oak. In the end, when the question will preoccupy people’s minds, I very much hope a Wilson will appear.
I am sending you the five or six latest issues of Le Libre échange. It is not very widely distributed, but I have been assured that it was not without some influence on a few of our leading men.182
It appears that this year our government will not dare to put forward a customs law that introduces significant changes into the current legislation. This is discouraging a few of our friends. As for me, I do not even want the current amendments. Down with the laws that precede the advance of public opinion! And I want not so much free trade itself as the spirit of free trade for my country. Free trade means a little more wealth; the spirit of free trade is a reform of the mind itself, that is to say, the source of all reform.
You tell me about Naples, Rome, Sardinia, and the Piedmont. But you say nothing about Tuscany. However, this region must be very curious to see. If you come across any good book on the state of this region, please try to send it to me. I would not be displeased to have a few of the oldest Italian economists, for example, Nicolò Donato, in my humble library. I think that, if fame were not somewhat capricious, Turgot and Adam Smith, while continuing to be acknowledged as great men, would lose their reputation as inventors.
Letter to Richard Cobden
Paris, 20 April 1847
[vol. 1, p. 157]
My dear friend, your letter of the 7th, written from Rome, found me at my post. I spent three weeks with a sick relative. I hoped that this journey would also restore me to health, but this has not been so. Influenza has degenerated into a stubborn cold and I am currently spitting blood.183 What astonishes and frightens me is to see how far a few drops of blood expelled from the lungs can weaken our poor bodily system, especially the head. I find it impossible to work and very probably I will be asking the council for a further leave of absence. I will take advantage of this to go to Lyons and Marseilles, to strengthen the links with our various associations, which are not as closely in agreement as I would wish.
I have no need to tell you how much I share your views on the political results of free trade. We are being accused within the democratic and socialist party of being devoted to the cult of material interests and of bringing everything down to questions of wealth. I must admit that when it concerns the masses I do not share this stoic disdain for wealth. This word does not mean having a few écus more; it means bread for those who are hungry, clothing for those who are cold, education, independence, and dignity. But after all, if the sole result of free trade were to increase public wealth I would not spend any more time on it than on any other matter relating to agriculture or industry. What I see above all in our campaigning is the opportunity to confront a few prejudices and to have a few just ideas penetrate the consciousness of the general public. This is an indirect benefit that outweighs the direct benefits of free trade a hundredfold, and if we are experiencing so many obstacles in spreading our economic argument, I believe that providence has put these obstacles in our path precisely so that the indirect benefits can be felt. If freedom were to be proclaimed tomorrow, the general public would remain in its present rut with regard to other considerations, but initially I am obliged to deal with these ancillary ideas with extreme caution so as not to upset our own colleagues. For this reason, I am concentrating my efforts on clarifying the economic problem. This will be the starting point for more advanced views. I only hope that God will allow me three or four years of strength and life! Sometimes I tell myself that if I worked alone and for my own account, I would not have to take such precautions and my career would have been more useful.
During the three weeks I was away, a few disagreements broke out within our associations. These concerned the difficult shade of meaning between revenue-raising duties and protectionist duties.184 A few of our colleagues have resigned, and it so happens that these are the most industrious. They wanted to set aside the question of raising revenue, even with respect to wheat. The majority wanted total exemption for subsistence products and raw materials. This is an initial cause of dissent. There is another relating to our finances, which are far from being adequate. This is the reason why I want to travel to the Midi, but I will not leave without warning you.
I knew about the Naples reform; M. Bursotti was good enough to send me some documents on this. I gave them to Garnier, my colleague, who has doubtless lost them since he has not returned them to me. If you have the opportunity to see M. Bursotti again, please convey my good wishes and regards to him. This also applies to MM Pettiti, Scialoja, etc.
You mention the state of our newspapers, but you probably do not know the extent and depth of the problem. The art of writing is so debased that a gang of young twenty-year-olds is dictating to the entire world through the press before they have themselves studied or learned anything. But this is not the worst. The leaders are all linked to politicians and any matter becomes a ministerial question in their hands. If only God allowed the problem to stop there! There is also venality, which knows no bounds. Prejudice, errors, and calumny are priced at so much a line. One person has sold himself to the Russians, another to protectionism, a third to the university, and yet another to the banks, etc. And we call ourselves civilized! I truly believe that at the very most we have a foothold in the path of civilization.
Will you allow me, my dear friend, to acknowledge with some reservations the accuracy of this axiom, “Trade is the exchange of the superfluous for the essential”? When two men, in order to carry out more work in the same time, agree to share the work, can it be said that one of the two or even neither of the two is making a superfluous contribution? Is the poor devil who works twelve hours a day to earn his bread making a superfluous contribution? Trade, in which I believe, is no more than the separation of occupations or the division of labor.
It would be desirable for the pope185 to make his views on economics known, even though he cannot carry them out. This would encourage part of the clergy in France, who are not very informed about our cause but who are not opposed to it either, to support us.
Letter to Richard Cobden
Paris, 5 July 1847
[vol. 1, p. 159]
My very dear friend, the details you tell me about Italy and the state of knowledge on economics in that country were of great interest to me. I received the precious collection186 which you were good enough to send me. Alas! When will I have the time to look at them? At least I will have them available for all my friends so that, one way or another, your generous intentions will not be fruitless.
You are good enough to ask after my health. I have an almost constant cold, and if this is the case in July, what will it be like in December? But what worries me the most is the state of my brain. I do not know what has happened to the ideas which it used to produce in such abundance in the past. Now I am running after them and I cannot catch them. This worries me. I feel, dear friend, that I ought to have remained outside the association and retained the freedom to go at my own pace, to write and speak when I wished and how I wished. Instead of this, I am bound by the most indissoluble bonds by my home circumstances, the journal, finance, administration, etc., etc., and the worst of it is that this is irremediable, given that all my colleagues are otherwise occupied and can barely give their minds to our affairs during the rare meetings we have.
My friend, the ignorance and indifference in this country with regard to political economy are well beyond anything I could have imagined. This is not a reason for becoming discouraged; on the contrary, it is a reason for us to sense the usefulness and even urgency of our efforts. But I have now understood one thing, which is that free trade is a goal that is too far ahead of us. It will be fortunate if we manage to remove a few obstacles from the path to it. The greatest of these obstacles is not the protectionist party but socialism, with its many ramifications.187 If monopolists were the only adversaries, they would not be able to handle the debate. However, socialism comes to their rescue. It accepts free trade in principle but postpones its implementation until the time when the world is organized in accordance with the design of Fourier or some other inventor of social order. And what is amazing is that, in order to prove that free trade would be harmful before that, they take up all the arguments put forward by monopolists, the balance of trade, the export of specie, the superiority of England, etc., etc.
This being so, you will answer that confronting the monopolists is to combat the socialists. No. Socialists have a theory of the oppressive nature of capital, which they use to explain the inequality of the condition and all the suffering of the poverty-stricken classes. They call upon the passions, sentiments, and even the best instincts of men. They attract young people, highlight the evil, and claim to have its remedy. This remedy consists of an artificial social order of their invention which will make all men equal and happy without their needing any enlightenment or virtue. Provided always that all socialists were in agreement on this social order, we might hope to shoot it down in people’s minds. But you will understand that, in this realm of ideas, and as soon as it is a question of molding a social order, each person forges his own design and each morning we are assailed by new inventions. We therefore have to combat a hydra which grows ten heads as soon as we cut off one.
The unfortunate thing is that this method is powerfully attractive to the young. They are shown suffering and through this their hearts are initially touched. Then they are told that anything can be cured through the use of a few artificial schemes, and in this way their imagination is brought into the campaign. How difficult it is for them subsequently to listen to you when you come forward to disillusion them by setting out the beautiful but severe laws of social economics and say to them: “To eradicate evil from this world (and just that part of evil over which human action has some power), the procedure takes longer; vice and ignorance have to be eradicated first.”
Being struck by the danger in the path along which the young were rushing headlong, I took the initiative of asking young people to listen to me. I gathered together students from the schools of law and medicine, i.e., the young men who, in a few years’ time, will be governing the world, or France at least. They listened to me with goodwill and friendliness but, as you will readily understand, without understanding me very well. No matter; since the experiment has been started I will continue it to the end. You know that I am still considering the plan of a small work entitled Economic Harmonies. This is the positive point of view, whereas the Sophisms are negative. To prepare the ground, I distributed the Sophisms to these young people. Each one received a copy. I hope that this will unblock their minds a little, and at the end of the holidays I plan to set out the harmonies methodically.
You will now understand, my friend, what store I set by my health! Oh, may God allow me at least one year more of strength!188 May He allow me to set out to my young fellow citizens what I consider to be the true social theory in the following twelve chapters: “Needs,” “Production,” “Property,” “Competition,” “Population,” “Liberty,” “Equality,” “Responsibility,” “Solidarity,” “Fraternity,” “Unity,” and “The Role of Public Opinion,” and I will place my life in His hands without regret, indeed with joy.189
Farewell, my friend. Please thank Mrs. Cobden for her good wishes; I send you both every good wish for your happiness.
Letter to Félix Coudroy.
Paris, August 1847
[vol. 1, p. 78]
. . . I am sending you the latest issue of the journal. You will see that I have taken the plunge with regard to the school of law. The breach has been made. If my health stands up to it I will certainly continue and, from next November, I will be giving a course to these young people, not on pure political economy but on social economics, using this phrase in the meaning we have given it, the “Harmony of Social Laws.” Something tells me that this course, intended for young people who have logical minds and warmth in their souls, will not be totally without use. I think that I will generate conviction, and following this I will at least indicate the correct sources to them. Finally, if God will allow me only one more year of strength, my time spent on earth will not have been in vain. Is it not better to have managed a journal and given a course to the young people in schools than to be a deputy?
Farewell, my dear Félix;