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12.: On Disarmament 29 - 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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Paris, 27 February 1848
[vol. 7, p. 215]
Today, Le National is looking at our situation with regard to the outside world.30
It asks, “Will we be attacked?” and, after having taken a look at the problems faced by Austria, Prussia, and Russia,31 it answers in the negative.
We agree entirely with this opinion.
What we fear is not being attacked but that the absolutist powers, with or without premeditation and simply through maintaining the military status quo, will reduce us to seeking the salvation of the revolution32 in armed propaganda.
We do not hesitate to repeat what we have said, since we wish to be understood both here and elsewhere. What we say with total conviction is this: We cannot take the initiative of disarming, and yet the simple military status quo gives us the alternative of perishing or fighting. It is for the kings of Europe to calculate the consequences of this fatal alternative. There is just one salvation for them: to disarm themselves first and immediately.
Readers will perhaps allow us a little useful fiction.
Let us imagine a small island, for many years more exploited than governed, with countless taxes and life insufferably curtailed, economically and politically. The nation is bent under the weight of this taxation and what is more it has to withdraw a significant part of its healthy population from the labor force to defend the realm and arm and feed it.
Out of the blue, this nation overthrows its oppressive government, with the aim of freeing itself from burdensome taxes and intolerable politics.
But the government, as it falls, leaves it with a huge burden of debt.
Initially, then, aggregate expenditure increases.
In parallel, however, all sources of revenue have diminished.
Now taxes are so odious that it is morally and materially impossible to maintain them, even provisionally.
Faced with this situation, the great and the good, who run all the nearby islands, anxiously entreat caution on the fledgling Republic:
“We hate you but we do not wish to attack you, in case we suffer harm ourselves. We will make do with surrounding you with a ring of soldiers and guns.”
At this the young Republic is forced to come up with many soldiers and guns in like measure.
It cannot cut back on taxes, even the most unpopular ones.
It cannot keep any of its promises to its people.
It cannot fulfill any of the hopes of its citizens.
It flounders about in its financial straits, increasing taxes with all the burden that that entails. No sooner is the people’s capital—the source of all paid employment—accumulated than it confiscates it.
In this desperate situation, nothing in the world could prevent our government from replying, “Your so-called moderation is killing us. Forcing us to maintain huge armies at the ready is to propel us toward social upheaval. We do not wish to perish and, rather than suffer this, we will stir up within your borders all the elements of disaffection that you have engendered in your own people, since you leave us no other path to salvation.”
This illustrates rather precisely our position with regard to the kings and aristocracies in Europe.
We fear that the kings will not understand this. When have we ever seen them save themselves through prudence and justice?
Nevertheless, we should tell them this. They have just one resource, to act justly toward their people, relieve them from the weight of oppression, and immediately take the initiative and disarm.
Other than this, their crowns run the risk of a huge and prolonged struggle. This is not a question of revolutionary fever, but of historical understanding and the actual nature of the things which conduce to such fever.
The kings will say, “Is it not our right to remain armed?”
Probably so, but at their own risk and peril.
They will also say, “Does not simple prudence require us to remain armed?”
Prudence requires them to disarm immediately and today rather than tomorrow.
In fact all considerations which will impel France to break her bounds, if she is forced to arm, will retain her within them if she is put into a position to reduce her military forces.
In this event the Republic will have a good reason for swiftly eliminating the most odious of the taxes, allowing the people to breathe, giving capital and labor the opportunity to develop, and abolishing the restrictions and encumbrances that are inseparable from heavy taxation.
It will welcome with joy the chance to put into practice the great principle of fraternity it has just emblazoned on its flag.
[29 ]This piece was untitled in the original.
[30 ]Bastiat’s letter is dated 27 February (1848). On 23 February the prime minister, François Guizot, resigned and a number of demonstrators were shot. On 26 February the liberal opposition organized a provisional government and declared the Second Republic, leading to the abdication of King Louis-Philippe.
[31 ]The Austrian empire, ruled by Metternich under the nominal authority of Ferdinand I; Prussia of Frederick William IV; and the Russian empire of Tsar Nicholas I were the three great absolutist powers in Europe.
[32 ]The revolution of 1848.