Front Page Titles (by Subject) 187.: Letter to the President of the Peace Congress in Frankfurt 353 - 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:
187.: Letter to the President of the Peace Congress in Frankfurt 353 - 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:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Letter to the President of the Peace Congress in Frankfurt353
Paris, 17 August 1850
[vol. 1, p. 197]
An ailment of the larynx would not have been enough to keep me away from the Congress, especially as my role would rather have been to listen than to speak, if I were not undergoing a treatment that obliges me to remain in Paris. Please convey my regret to your colleagues. Much taken as I am with all that is grand and new in the spectacle of men of all races and languages who have come from all corners of the globe to work together for the triumph of universal peace, I would have joined my efforts to yours in favor of such a holy cause with zeal and enthusiasm.
In truth, universal peace is considered in many places an illusion, and as a result the Congress is considered to be an honorable effort but with no far-reaching effect. Perhaps this feeling is more prevalent in France than elsewhere because this is a country in which people are more weary of utopias and where ridicule is the more to be feared.
For this reason, if it had been given to me to speak at the Congress, I would have concentrated on correcting such a false assessment.
There was doubtless a time when a peace congress would have had no chance of success. When men made war to acquire loot, land, or slaves, it would have been difficult to stop them by moral or economic considerations. Even various forms of religion have failed to do this.
But today, two circumstances have changed the question radically.
The first is that wars no longer have vested interest as their cause or even their pretext, since they are always contrary to the real interests of the masses.
The second is that they no longer depend on the whims of a leader, but on public opinion.
The result of the combination of these two circumstances is that wars are due to become increasingly rare and finally disappear through the force of events and independently of any intervention by the Congress, since an event that harms the general public and which depends on the general public is bound to cease.
What, therefore, is the role of the Congress? It is to hasten this inevitable result by showing, to those who do not yet perceive this, how and why wars and arms are harmful to the general interest.
What element of utopia is there in such a mission?
For the last few years, the world has experienced circumstances which, in other eras, would have caused long and cruel wars. Why have these been avoided? Because, although there is a party in favor of war in Europe, there are also those who love peace. Although there are men who are ever ready to make war, in whom a stupid form of education has imbued ancient ideas and barbaric prejudices and who attach honor to physical courage alone, seeing glory only in military exploits, fortunately there are other men who are more religious, more moral, more farsighted, and who can work things out better. Is it not only natural that this latter category should endeavor to gain recruits from the former? How many times has civilization, as in 1830, 1840, and 1848, been, so to speak, in suspense faced with this question: which of the war or peace parties will gain the upper hand? Up to now, the peace party has triumphed and, it must be said, it is perhaps less through fervor or numbers than because it had political influence.
So peace and war depend on public opinion and opinion is divided. There is therefore a constantly imminent danger. In these circumstances, is not the Congress undertaking something that is useful, serious, effective, and even, I dare say, easy by trying to gain support for those in favor of peace so as to give them at last a decisive weight?
What is utopian in this? Does it mean saying to the people, “We are coming to enjoin you to trample your interests underfoot, to act henceforward in accordance with the principles of devotion, sacrifice, and self-renunciation?” Oh, if this were so, the enterprise would indeed be risky!
But on the contrary, we are coming to tell them: “Do not consult only your interests in the next life, but those in this one. Examine the effects of war. See whether they are not disastrous for you. See whether wars and heavy arms do not lead to interruptions in work, crises of production, the loss of strength, crushing debt, heavy taxes, impossible financial situations, discontent, and revolutions, not to mention deplorable moral habits and reprehensible violations of religious law.”
Are we not allowed to hope that this language will be heard? Take courage, then, you men of faith and devotion, have courage and confidence! The gaze and hearts of those who are now unable to join your ranks will be following you.
I remain, Mr. President, your most