Front Page Titles (by Subject) 157.: 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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157.: 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, 31 December 1849
[vol. 1, p. 182]
My dear Cobden, I am delighted with the Bradford meeting305 and congratulate you sincerely for having finally tackled the colonial question. I know that you have always considered this subject very delicate as it affects the most sensitive chords of patriotic hearts. Renouncing rule over a quarter of the globe! Never has such evidence of common sense and faith in science been displayed by any nation! It is surprising that you were allowed to finish your speech. For this reason, what I admired most about this meeting was not the orator (allow me to say this!) but the audience. What can you not achieve with a nation which cold-bloodedly analyzes its dearest illusions and allows, before its very eyes, investigations of the darker side of its glory?
I recall that I boldly intimated the advice to you in the past to direct your aim on the colonial regime, with which free trade is incompatible. You replied at the time that national pride is a plant that grows in all countries and especially in yours, that you should not try to rip it out roughly, and that free trade would gnaw gradually on its roots. I agreed with this good commonsense observation while deploring the necessity for you to keep quiet, since I was perfectly aware of one thing, which was that as long as England had forty colonies Europe would never believe the sincerity of her protestations. For my part, it was useless for me to say, “Colonies are a burden.” This assertion appeared as paradoxical as “It is a great misfortune for a gentleman to have fine farms.” Obviously it is necessary for the assertion and proof to come from England herself. Forward then, my dear Cobden, redouble your efforts, triumph, liberate your colonies, and you will have achieved the greatest thing that exists under the sun since it began to shed light on the follies and fine actions of mankind. The more Great Britain prides herself on her colonial colossus, the more you have to demonstrate the clay feet of this idol, which devours the substance of your workers. Do what is needed to enable England freely, maturely, and in full conscience of what she is doing to tell Canada, Australia, and the Cape, “Govern yourselves by yourselves.”306 Liberty will have won its greatest victory and political economy in action will be taught to the entire world.
For it is essential for protectionists in Europe to have their eyes opened at last.
Initially, they used to say, “England allows manufactured articles to enter the country. What great generosity since she has uncontested superiority in this respect! But she will not remove protection from agriculture since, with regard to this, she cannot stand up to competition from countries where the soil and labor cost nothing.” You have answered this charge by removing the duty from wheat, animals, and all agricultural products.
They then said, “England is playacting and the proof of this is that she is not changing her laws on navigation, since rule over the seas is her life-blood.” And you have reformed these laws, not in order to destroy your navy but to strengthen it.
Now they say, “England may well decree free trade and freedom of the seas since, with her forty colonies, she has taken control of all the outlets in the world. She will never lay a hand on her colonial system.” Overturn the old system and I do not know behind what prophecy protectionists will take refuge. As to prophecy, I dared make one two years ago. It was in Lyons, before a large assembly. I said at the time, “In less than ten years, England will herself voluntarily dismantle the colonial regime.” Do not let me pass here for a false prophet.
Economic matters are as fiercely controversial in France as they are in England, but in a different direction. The basics of economic science are being stirred up. Property, capital, everything is being called into question; and what is deplorable is that good reasons are not always on the side of rationality. This is because of the universal ignorance of these matters. Communism is being combated with communist arguments. But at last the extremely lively intelligence of this country is being put to work. What will be the result of this work? It will doubtless be good for humanity, but will this good not be dearly purchased? Will we have to endure bankruptcies and paper money issued against the security of state landholdings, etc.? That is the question.307
You will doubtless be surprised to see me publish a purely theoretical work right now and I imagine that you will not be able to bear reading it. Nevertheless, I believe that it would have been of some use in this country if I had thought of issuing it in a cheap edition, and especially if I had been able to produce the second volume. Ma non ho fiato: in both physical and moral meanings, I lack the breath to do it.
I have sent a copy of this book to Mr. Porter. My friend, our reputations are like our wines; both need to cross the sea to acquire their full flavor. I would therefore like you to give me the names of a few people to whom I might send my volume so that, with your good offices, they might review it in the journals. It is of course understood that I am not seeking praise but a conscientious appraisal from my judges.
Letter to Félix Coudroy
Paris, January 1850
[vol. 1, p. 102]
Never a day goes past, my dear Félix, on which I do not think of replying to you. Always for the same reason, my head is so weak that the slightest work wears me out. As soon as I am involved in one of these preemptive matters, the little time that I can devote to holding a pen is taken up, and I am forced to put off my correspondence day after day. But finally, if I have to seek indulgence somewhere, it ought to be from my friends.
In a previous letter you told me that you had a project that you would tell me about. I am waiting and very willing to give you support, but if it concerns newspapers, I have to warn you that I have very little contact with them, and you can guess why. It would be impossible to create ties to them without losing one’s independence. I have taken the decision that, whatever happens, I will not be a party man. With our ideas, that would be impossible. I am well aware that in these times to isolate yourself is to remove any influence you may have, but I prefer that. If I had the strength I had in the past, this would be the right time to carry out a real campaign to win over public opinion and my distance from any faction would be an advantage to me. But I can see the opportunity slipping away and this is very sad. Not a day goes by on which I am not given the opportunity to say or write some useful truth. The agreement between all the points of our doctrine will end up by making a strong impression on people’s minds, which have incidentally been made ready for this by the succession of deceptions with which they have been misled. I can see this. Many of my friends are pressing me to enter the ring and I cannot. I assure you that I am learning resignation, and when I need it I will have laid up a good stock.
The Harmonies have passed unnoticed here, except for about a dozen connoisseurs. I was expecting this; it could not have been otherwise. I do not even have the support of the customary zeal of our small church, which accuses me of heterodoxy; in spite of this I am confident that this book will gradually carve out a place for itself. In Germany, it was received quite differently.308 It is examined, ploughed up, worked over, and examined for what is there and what is not. Could I have asked for anything better?
Now I would ask the heavens to grant me one year to write the second volume, which has not even been started, after which I will sing the “Nunc dimittis.”
Socialism is spreading at a frightening rate, but like all contagious diseases it is weakening as it spreads, and it is even mutating. This will be the death of it. The name may survive but not the thing. Today, socialism has become synonymous with progress; anyone who wants any form of change is a socialist. If you refute Louis Blanc, Proudhon, Leroux, or Considérant, you are nonetheless a socialist if you do not demand the status quo in all circumstances. This leads to a strange situation. One day, everyone will meet wearing this label in his hatband, and since, for all that, people will not be in any closer agreement on the reforms to carry out, other names will have to be invented and war will be declared among the socialists. This is already the case and it is this that is saving France.
Farewell, my dear Félix; please tell my aunt that I am well.
[305 ]Bastiat and Cobden were both active members of an international association called the Friends of Peace. This association had a congress in Brussels in 1848, one in Paris (chaired by Victor Hugo) in 1849, and one in Frankfurt in 1850. Cobden organized follow-up meetings in London, Birmingham, Manchester, and Bradford, all of which Bastiat attended.
[306 ]After a rebellion in 1837 the Durham Report of 1839 recommended that the Canadian provinces be granted responsible government, which was put into effect by 1849. Responsible government (i.e., the Westminster system) was also introduced a little later in the Australian colonies: Victoria (1855); New South Wales, South Australia, and Tasmania (1856). New Zealand was granted this right in 1856 as well. The Cape Colony followed in 1872.
[307 ]In English in the original.
[308 ]See Letter 133, note 265.