Front Page Titles (by Subject) 80.: Letter to Richard Cobden - The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics
Return to Title Page for The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
80.: 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).
About Liberty Fund:
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
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.
[186 ]Bastiat is referring to the fifty-volume collection Economisti classici italiani, which contained works by many authors, including Cesare Beccaria, 1738-94; Gaetano Filangieri, 1752-88; Ferdinando Galiani, 1728-87; and Pietro Verri, 1728-97.
[187 ]Socialism became an organized intellectual and political movement during the 1840s in France. It had a number of different schools of thought: the Fourrierists, the followers of the anarchist Proudhon, and the Saint-Simonians. They were a major target for the classical liberals, especially given their influence in the 1848 revolutions. See the long article, with accompanying bibliography, Reybaudin, “Socialistes, socialisme,” in vol. 2 of Dictionnaire de l’économie politique, pp. 629-41.
[188 ]Bastiat was aware that he did not have long to live and worried that he would not finish his book Economic Harmonies (he did not). He had in fact another two years and five months to live when he wrote this letter.
[189 ]The final structure of the book (unfinished after his death but edited by Paillottet) contained twenty-five chapters. A first volume was published during Bastiat’s lifetime, and it contained only ten chapters.