Front Page Titles (by Subject) 14.: Articles in La République française on the Political Situation 35 - The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics
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14.: Articles in La République française on the Political Situation 35 - 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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Articles in La République française on the Political Situation35
26 February 1848
[vol. 7, p. 212]
When we go through the streets of Paris, which are scarcely wide enough to contain the throngs of people, and remember that in this immense metropolis at this moment there is no king, no court, no municipal guard, no troops, and no civil administration other than that exercised by the citizens over themselves, when we reflect that a few men, only yesterday emerged from our ranks, are taking care of public affairs on their own, then, judging by the joy, the sense of security, and the confidence shown on every face, our initial feelings are admiration and pride.
We soon return to the past, however, and say to ourselves, “So popular self-government is not as difficult as certain people tried to persuade us it was, and economy in government is not utopian.”
There is no getting round the fact that in France we have become accustomed to excessive and grossly intrusive government. We have ended up believing that we would tear each other to pieces if we had the slightest liberty and if the state did not regulate all our movements.
This great experiment reveals indestructible principles of order within the hearts of men. Order is a need and the first of the needs, if not of all, at least of the vast majority. Let us be confident therefore and draw from this the lesson that the great and extravagant government machine which those involved called indispensable can and should be simplified.
27 February 1848
[vol. 7, p. 213. According to Paillottet,
Let us share this thought in La Presse:
What we need to ask a provisional government,36 those men who devote themselves to public salvation amid incalculable difficulties, is not to govern in exact accord with all of our ideas, but to govern. We should help it, support it and make its rough task easy, and postpone any doctrinal discussion. The agreement of all the newspapers on this will not be among the least glorious events in our revolution.
We can all the more render to ourselves this homage to abnegation in favor of the common cause, because it is deep within us.
In a few of the decrees which follow one another, we see signs of the application of a doctrine which is not ours. We have combated this and will do so again when the time permits.
Two systems are confronting one another, both of which are born of sincere convictions and both having the common good as their objective. But, it has to be said, they emanate from two quite different ideas, which moreover oppose one another
The first, more seductive and popular, consists in taking a great deal of the people’s earnings, in the form of taxes, in order to spread largesse among the people by way of philanthropic institutions.
The second wants the state to take very little, give very little, guarantee security, and give free rein to the honest exercise of every faculty; one consists in expanding indefinitely, the other in restricting as far as possible, the prerogatives of power. The one of these two systems to which we are attached37 through total conviction has few outlets in the press; it could not have had many representatives in government.
However, full of confidence in the rectitude of the citizens, to whom public opinion has entrusted the mission of building a bridge between our fallen monarchy and our burgeoning and well-ordered republic, we are willing to postpone the manifestation of our doctrine, and we will limit ourselves to sowing ideas of order, mutual trust, and gratitude to the provisional government.
27 February 1848
[vol. 7, p. 218]
All our cooperation, all our poor portion of influence, is devoted to the provisional government.
Certain of the purity of its intentions, we do not need to discuss all its measures in detail. It would be extremely demanding and even unjust, we might say, to demand perfection in emergency measures whose weight almost exceeds the limits of human strength.
We find it perfectly natural, at a time when the municipality needs so many resources, that local taxes be maintained, and it is an obligation for all citizens to ensure that this revenue is used wisely.
We would have liked the provisional government, however, not to appear to prejudge a major question with these words, “This tax must be revised and it will be shortly; it must be modified so as to make it less burdensome for the laboring classes.”
We consider that we should not seek to modify the city toll but aim to eliminate it.
Paris, 28 February 1848
[vol. 7, p. 218. According to Paillottet,
The general good, the greatest sum possible of happiness for everyone, and the immediate relief of the suffering classes are the subjects of every desire, every wish, and every preoccupation.
Such, moreover, constitute the greatest guarantee of order. Men are never better disposed to help one another than when they are not suffering, or at least when they cannot accuse anyone, especially not the government, of those sufferings inseparable from human imperfection.
The revolution38 began with a cry for reform. At that time, this word was restricted just to one of our constitutional arrangements. Today, it is still reform that we want, but of the fundamental kind, reform of our economic organization. The people, their complete freedom restored, are going to govern themselves. Does this mean the realization of all their hopes? We cannot bank on this chimera. The people will choose the measures that appear best suited to their purposes, but choice entails the possibility of error. However, the great advantage of government of the nation by the nation is that it has only itself to blame for the results of its errors and that it can always benefit from its experience. Its prudence now should consist in not allowing system builders to experiment too much on it and at its expense.
So, as we have said, two systems, discussed at length by polemicists, now confront one another.
One aspires to create the happiness of the people through direct measures. It says: “If someone suffers in any way, the state will be responsible for relieving him. It will give bread, clothing, work, care, and instruction to all those who need it.” If this system were possible, one would need to be a monster not to embrace it. If somewhere, on the moon perhaps, the state had an always accessible and inexhaustible source of food, clothing, and remedies, who could blame it for drawing on it with both hands for the benefit of those who are poor and destitute?”
But if the state does not have in its possession and does not produce any of these things, if they can be created only by human labor, if all the state can do is to take them by way of taxation from the workers who have created them in order to hand them over to those who have not created them, if the natural result of this operation must be, far from increasing the mass of these things, to discourage their production, if from this reduced mass the state is obliged to keep a part for its agents, if these agents who are responsible for the operation are themselves withdrawn from useful work, and if, finally, this system which appears so attractive at first sight, generates more misery than it cures, then it is proper to have doubts and seek to ascertain whether the welfare of the masses might not be generated by another process.
The one we have just described can obviously be put into practice only by an indefinite extension of taxes. Unless we resemble children who sulk when they are not given the moon when they first ask for it, we have to acknowledge that, if we make the state responsible for spreading abundance everywhere, we have to allow it to spread taxes everywhere, since it cannot give what it has not taken.
However, major taxes always imply major restrictions. If it were only a question of asking France to provide five or six hundred million, you might conceive an extremely simple financial mechanism for gathering it. But if we need to extract 1.5 to 1.8 billion, we need to use all the ruses imaginable in the operation of the tax laws. We need the town taxes, the salt tax, the tax on drink, and the exorbitant tax on sugar; we need to restrict traffic, burden industry, and limit consumers. An army of tax collectors is needed, as is an endless bureaucracy. The liberty of the citizens must be encroached upon, and all this leads to abuse, a desire for civil service posts, corruption, etc., etc.
It can be seen that, if the system of abundance drawn by the state from the people in order to be spread over the people by it, has its attractive side, it is also a medal that has its reverse side.
We, for our part, are convinced that this system is bad, and that there is another for achieving the good of the people, or rather for the people to achieve their own good; this consists in our giving the state all it needs to accomplish its essential mission, which is to guarantee internal and external security, respect people and property, the free exercise of faculties, and the repression of crime, misdemeanors, and fraud, and, after having given this liberally to the state, in keeping the rest for ourselves.
Finally, since the people are called upon to exercise their right, which is to choose between these two systems, we will often compare these before them, in all their political, moral, financial, and economic aspects.
[35 ]We have grouped the following four articles under the new title, “Articles in La République française on the Political Situation.”
[36 ]A provisional government was formed on 24 February 1848 and presided over by Jacques Charles Dupont de l’Eure, who was a liberal deputy under the restoration and a minister of justice under the July Monarchy. Among the government’s most famous ministers were Lamartine (Foreign Affairs), Ledru-Rollin (Interior), Cremieux (Justice), and two socialists without portfolios: Alexandre Martin (called Albert) and Louis Blanc.
[37 ](Paillottet’s note) Here and elsewhere the use of the plural shows that Bastiat was speaking for his colleagues as well as himself. At this time, his signature appears in the paper as a mark of solidarity.
[38 ]The revolution of 1848.