Front Page Titles (by Subject) 96.: 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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96.: 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
Mugron, 5 April 1848
[vol. 1, p. 171]
My dear friend, here I am, all alone. Why can I not bury myself here forever and work peacefully on the economic synthesis208 I have in my head and which will never leave it! For, unless there is a change in public opinion, I am going to be sent to Paris with the responsibility of the awe-inspiring mandate of a representative of the people. If I had health and strength, I would accept this mission with enthusiasm. But what can my weak voice and my sickly and nervous constitution do in the midst of the revolutionary whirlwind? How much wiser it would have been to devote my final days to examining in silence the great problem of society and what the future holds in store for it, especially since something tells me that I would have found the answer. Poor village, the humble dwelling of my fathers, I am about to bid you an eternal farewell; I am going to leave you with the foreboding that my name and life, lost in the midst of storms, will not have even the modest usefulness for which you prepared me!
My friend, I am too far from the theater of events to tell you about them. You will learn about them before I do, and at the time I am writing to you, it may be that the facts on which I might base my reasoning are past history. If the overthrown government had left us finances in good order, I would have total faith in the future of the Republic. Unfortunately the treasury has been destroyed and I know enough about the history of our first revolution to realize the influence of financial chaos on events. An urgent measure leads to an arbitrary one, and it is above all in this situation that fate exercises its power. At present, the people are behaving admirably, and you would be surprised to see how well universal suffrage is working right from the start. But what will happen when taxes, instead of decreasing, increase, when there is a shortage of jobs, and when bitter reality succeeds brilliant hopes? I had perceived a lifeline, on which it is true I scarcely placed much hope, since it presupposed wisdom and prudence in kings; this was the simultaneous disarmament of Europe. If this happened, finances would have been restructured everywhere, nations relieved and restored to order, industry would have developed, the number of jobs increased, and peoples would have waited calmly for the gradual development of administrative institutions. Monarchs, however, have preferred to stake their all or rather they were unable to assess present or future situations. They are pressing against a spring, without understanding that as their strength weakens that of the spring increases proportionately.
Imagine that they had disarmed everywhere and reduced taxes accordingly, and had, also, given to their nations institutions that are, moreover, not to be gainsaid. France, burdened with debt, would make haste to do likewise, only too happy to be able to found the Republic on the solid basis of a genuine relief of the burden on the people. Peace and progress would go hand in hand. However, the opposite has happened. People are arming everywhere, public expenditure (and taxes and hindrances) is increasing everywhere, when the taxes that exist are precisely what is causing revolutions. Will not all of this end in a terrible explosion?
What is wrong? Is justice so difficult to exercise and prudence so difficult to understand?
Since my arrival here, I have not seen an English newspaper. I do not know what is happening in your Parliament. I would have hoped that England would take the initiative in rational politics and would take it with the energetic boldness which she has shown so often in the past. I would have hoped that she would want to teach mankind how to live,209 by disarming, abandoning expensive colonies, ceasing threatening behavior, protecting herself from any possibility of being threatened, removing unpopular taxes, and presenting the world with a fine spectacle of union, strength, wisdom, justice, and security. But, alas! Political economy has not yet sufficiently pervaded the masses, even in your country.
[208 ]Bastiat is referring here to his posthumously published Economic Harmonies.
[209 ]In English in the original.