Front Page Titles (by Subject) 188.: 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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188.: 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, 9 September 1850354
[vol. 1, p. 188]
My dear Cobden, I am grateful for the interest you are good enough to take in my health. It is still shaky. At the moment I have a severe inflammation and probably ulcers on the two tubes that take air to the lungs and food to the stomach. The question is to know whether this disease will stop or whether it will get worse. In the latter case, there will no longer be any means of breathing or eating, a very awkward situation indeed.355 I hope not to be subjected to this ordeal for which, however, I am not neglecting to prepare myself by practicing patience and resignation. Is there not an inexhaustible source of consolation and strength in these words, “Non sicut ego volo sed sicut tu”?356
One thing that distresses me more than these physiological prospects is the intellectual weakness whose progression I see so clearly. I will doubtless have to abandon the completion of the work I have started. But, at the end of the day, has this book as much importance as I like to give it? Will posterity not get along very well without it? And if one should combat the unseemly love of material possessions, is it not also good to stifle the upsurges of author’s vanity that come between one’s heart and the only thing worthy of one’s aspirations?
Besides, I am beginning to think that the principal idea that I am seeking to disseminate is not lost; yesterday a young man sent me in a letter an article entitled “An Essay on Capital.”357 It included these sentences:
“Capital is the characteristic sign and measure of progress. It is the sole and necessary vehicle for it, with the special mission of aiding the movement from priced goods to free ones. Consequently, instead of augmenting natural prices, as it is alleged, its unchanging role is to lower them persistently.”
These sentences encompass and summarize the most fertile of the economic phenomena that I have endeavored to describe. They include a guarantee of the inevitable reconciliation between the property-owning and the proletarian classes. Since this point of view on social order has not been defeated, since it has been perceived by others who will set it out for all to see better than ever I could, I have not entirely wasted my time and I am able to sing my “Nunc dimittis,” with slightly less distaste.
I have read the report on the Congress in Frankfurt. You are the only one to know how to give this work a practical character, an influence on the world of business. The other speakers limit themselves to well-worn commonplaces. But I continue to think that the association will end up having a significant indirect influence by awakening and molding public opinion. Doubtless, you will not obtain the official declaration of universal peace, but you will make wars more unpopular, difficult, rare, and odious.
However, we should not hide the fact that the affair in Greece358 has dealt a body blow to the supporters of peace and they will need a great deal of time to recover. Which French deputy, for example, will be sufficiently bold to speak merely of partial disarmament in the presence of the international principle involved in this Greek affair, with the consent (and it is above all this that is serious) of the British nation? Disarm! Could this be their cry when a formidable power is openly acting according to the principle that when it considers itself in confrontation, however slight the grounds of complaint, with another government, it will not only employ force against this government but also seize the private property of its citizens? As long as such a principle remains standing, whatever its cost, we will need to remain armed to the teeth.
There was a time, my friend, when diplomacy itself tried to have respect for individual property prevail at sea in time of war. This principle has entered our military mores. In 1814, the English took nothing in the south of France without paying for it. In 1823, we made war in Spain under the same conditions, and however unjust this war was from the political point of view, it made an admirable distinction, now acknowledged, between the public domain and personal property. M. de Chateaubriand tried at this time to have the elimination of privateering and letters of marque,359 in a word, respect for private property, included in international law. He failed, but his efforts reveal great progress in civilization.
How far back into the past Lord Palmerston360 is taking us! It is therefore now admitted that if England has a grievance against King Othon, no Greek can claim ownership of a bark or a keg of goods. For the same reason, if France has any complaint against Belgium, Switzerland, or Piedmont, it may send battalions to seize houses, harvests, cattle, etc. This is barbaric. I repeat, with a system like this, everyone will need to remain armed to the teeth and be ready to defend his property, for, my friend, men are not yet Quakers. They have not renounced the right to personal defense, and they will probably never renounce this.
If, moreover, everything was limited to the doctrines and acts of Lord Palmerston, this would be one more iniquity for which to reproach diplomacy, but that would be all. But what is serious and threatening is the unexpected approval given to this policy by the English nation. One hope is left to me: that this approval is not typical.
But while making politics, I am forgetting to tell you that, in order to obey my doctors’ prescriptions, with no great belief in them, I am leaving for Italy. They have condemned me to spend this winter in Pisa in Tuscany. From there, I will doubtless visit Florence and Rome. If you have any friends there who are close enough for me to introduce myself to them, please let me know, without taking the trouble to send introductory letters. If I knew where to find Mr. and Mrs. Schwabe, I would warn them of this journey in order to take their instructions. When you have occasion to write to them, please tell them about this trip.
[354 ]This letter was also contained in the book published by Mme Cheuvreux, preceded by the following note: After having left the Pyrenees in July, Bastiat settled in the vicinity of Paris. He spent his mornings alone at Le Butard, and his evenings at La Jonchère. But his very painful laryngitis worsened, and regular work became more and more difficult. His friends, who the year before saw him write several chapters of The Harmonies amid noise and movement in a corner of their living room, on a table edge, dipping his pen in a bottle of ink drawn from his pocket, caught him then pushing away his paper with an impatient gesture; idle and bowing his head, Bastiat kept silent until the moment when his ardent thinking erupted like a meteor in eloquent sentences. But his words quickly brought back the pain in his throat and forced him to be silent. On 9 September 1850, the sick man, with a stoical self-control, informed Richard Cobden about the dreadful consequences of his situation.
[355 ]In English in the original.
[356 ]“Not my will but Thine be done.”
[357 ]An unpublished paper by M. de Fontenay. See Letter 180.
[358 ]See Letter 185, note 351.
[359 ]Privateering (la course) refers to the expeditions of the corsairs, or privateers. The letter of marque was a commission given by a country to a privateer, in time of war, to capture ships of the hostile nation.
[360 ]During the blockade of the Piraeus, two hundred Greek soldiers were captured.