Front Page Titles (by Subject) 19.: Parliamentary Reform - The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics
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19.: Parliamentary Reform - 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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[vol. 7, p. 289. According to Paillottet, this
The July revolution has placed the soil of the country under a flag on which are emblazoned two words, liberty and order.
If we set aside certain completely eccentric theories, apocalypses of our modern luminaries, what forms the basis of common desires and general opinion is the longing for the simultaneous realization of these two goods, liberty and order. They include, in fact, everything that man must ask of government. The eccentric schools of which I was just speaking go much further, it is true. They require governments to provide riches for all, morality, education, well-being, happiness, and who knows what else? As if the government were itself anything other than a product of society and as if government, far from being able to give society wisdom and instruction, were not itself more or less wise and enlightened, in proportion to the virtue and enlightenment of society.
Be that as it may, the point on which the majority of men agree is this: allow any reform that extends liberty at the same time as it consolidates order; reject any innovation that compromises both one and the other of these benefits.
But what forms the greatest gulf between minds is the preference, or rather the preeminence, they give to either liberty or order. I have no need to say that I am not at all discussing the men who rally behind doctrines to satisfy their ambition. These make themselves the apostles of order or liberty, depending on whether they will gain or lose by a particular innovation. I am referring only to those minds that are calm, impartial, and which, after all, form public opinion. I am saying that what these minds have in common is that they all want liberty and order; they differ on one point, however: some concentrate more on liberty and others are concerned above all with order.
For this reason parliamentary debating chambers have centers, extreme rights and lefts, the liberals and the conservatives, the progressives and those who have been inaccurately labeled the “narrow-minded.”
We should note in passing that the mutual accusations between those conscientious men who, for the most part, fix their gaze on just one of the words of the July motto are really puerile. Among the friends of liberty, there are none who would agree to a change in the law if it were shown that this change would result in disorder in society, especially if this was permanent. On the other hand, within the party of order, there is no one so narrow-minded that he would not welcome a reform that favored the development of liberty if he were totally reassured that order would be maintained and all the more if he thought that it would also have the effect of rendering government even stronger, more stable, and more capable of fulfilling its mission and guaranteeing the security of both people and property.
Thus, if among the reforms on which the public mind has been so concentrated in the last few years, there had been one which might satisfy both these twin conditions whose manifest result was first to limit government to its genuine prerogatives, tearing from its hands everything it held by way of encroachments on public freedoms, and second to restore to this properly limited authority a stability, a permanence, a freedom of action, and a popularity that it does not have today, this reform, I am emboldened to say, might well be rejected by those who benefit from the political wrongs whose reversal is the issue, although it should be welcomed by conscientious men on all the benches of the House and, in the public arena, by all the sectors of opinion that these men represent.
I consider parliamentary reform to be constituted thus:
To know what liberty and order would have to gain or lose from this reform, we need to examine how they are affected by the current state of affairs.
Under our electoral dispensation, about a hundred and fifty to two hundred civil servants entered the legislative chamber, and this number may be increased still further. It remains to be seen what influence this will have on liberty.
What is more, this legal dispensation also means that deputies who are not civil servants and who, by virtue of their backgrounds or their commitments to the electors, cannot become such, by allying themselves to a government, may break into the circle of government through another route, that of opposition. We will ponder the result of this state of affairs in connection with the stability of government and the question of social order.
We will examine the objections made to the principle of conflicts of interest.
Lastly, we will endeavor to put forward the grounds of a proper legal arrangement, taking account of those objections which have some foundation. . . .
On the Influence on Liberty of the Eligibility of Deputies for Public Office
In the eyes of the class of men who call themselves liberals, who are far from believing that all the progress made by society toward liberty is made at the expense of public order, who, on the contrary, are convinced that nothing is more suited to strengthening peace, security, respect for property and rights, than those laws which conform to absolute justice, for this class of men, I say, the proposal which I have to substantiate here appears so obvious that it seems unnecessary to lay much stress on its demonstration.
What is, in fact, the basis of representative government? It is that the men who make up a people are not the property of a prince, a family, or a caste; they are their own masters. It is that the government has to be carried out, not in the interest of those who govern, but in the interest of those who are governed. It is that the taxpayers’ money should be spent for the benefit of the taxpayers and not for the benefit of the agents among whom this money is distributed. It is that the laws should be made by the mass who are subject to them and not by those who lay them down or who apply them.
It follows from this that this huge section of the nation which is governed has the right to keep an eye on the small section to whom government is entrusted, that it has the right to decide in what direction, within what limits, and at what price it wants to be governed, to stop government when it usurps prerogatives, either directly by rejecting those laws which shape these prerogatives or indirectly by refusing to make any payments to the agents by whom these pernicious prerogatives are exercised.
As the nation as a whole cannot exercise these rights, it has this done by its representatives. It chooses from within its ranks deputies to whom it entrusts this mission of control and supervision.
Does it not plainly follow that this control risks becoming totally ineffective if the electors choose as deputies the very men who administer, manage, and govern, that is to say, if power and control are placed in the same hands?
Our total tax burden exceeds 1.5 million and there are 34 million of us. We therefore pay an average of 45 francs each, or 225 francs for each family of five people. This is certainly exorbitant. How have we come to this in peacetime and under a regime in which we are supposed to hold all the purse strings? Heavens, the reason is simple; it is that if we, the taxpayers, are supposed to hold the purse strings, we do not genuinely hold them. We have them in our fingers for a moment in order to unfasten them very kindly and, once this has been done, we put them into the hands of those who draw on them. What is funny is that we are then astonished to find the purse lighter each day. Are we not like the cook who, as she went out, said to the cat, “Take good care of the buntings and, if the dog comes along, show him your claws.”
What I have said about money applies equally to liberty! To tell you the truth, and even though this seems a bit prosaic, money and liberty are just the same. Let us develop this idea . . .
Suppose I am the king. Suppose that, as I have been led by events to provide a constitution for my people, I nevertheless want to retain as much influence and power as possible, what should I do?
I would begin by saying, “Deputies will not be paid any fee.” And in order to have this article passed I would not hesitate to be sentimental, to vaunt the moral beauty of self-sacrifice, devotion, and sacrifice. However, in fact, I would understand perfectly that the electors could send only two classes of men to the Chamber, those who have a considerable fortune, as M. Guizot44 says, and these are always willing to ally themselves with the court, and then a host of adventurers incapable of resisting the allure of Parisian life, the dazzle of riches, positioned between their inevitable ruin and that of their family and an assured ascension to the upper realms of fortune and prestige. I am aware that a few exceptional natures would emerge triumphant from the test, but in the end, a disposition like this would enable me to hope at least for considerable influence over the shaping of majorities.
But how could I attract these deputies? Should I offer them money? But it should be acknowledged at once, to the credit of our country, that corruption in this form is not practicable at least on a wide scale—anyway, a civil list would not be sufficient for this. It is much cleverer and more amusing to have corruption paid for by the very people who suffer from it and to take from the pockets of the public what is needed to purchase the apostasy of its defenders. It will therefore suffice for a constitution to include these two strategies:
I would have to be very clumsy or human nature of surpassing sophistication if, given these two lines in the charter, I were not master of the parliament.
Note, in fact, how slippery the step is for the deputy. It is not a question here of abject corruption, votes formally bought and sold. “You are skillful, M. Deputy; your speeches reveal a wide knowledge of diplomacy. France would be only too happy to have you represent her in Rome or Vienna.” “Sire, I have no ambition; what I like most of all is retirement, rest, and independence.” “Sir, one has a duty to one’s country.” “Sire, you are imposing on me the hardest of sacrifices.” “The whole nation will be grateful to you.”
Another fellow is a simple justice of the peace in his town and is content with this.
“Really, sir, your position is scarcely befitting to your legislative mandate. The procurator of the king who is now flattering you may be criticizing you tomorrow.” “Sire, I value my modest position; it was the sole ambition of the great Napoléon.” “You must, however, leave it. You must become a counsellor to the royal court.” “Sire, my interests will suffer; there is all the travel, expenses. . . .” “You have to know how to make sacrifices,” etc.
Sentimentality is all in vain; you have to have no knowledge of the human heart, to have never examined yourself sincerely, to have never followed the advice of the oracle: Nosce te ipsum,45 and to know nothing of the subtleties of passions to imagine that deputies, who are called upon to cut a certain figure in the world, on whom all eyes are fixed and of whom exceptional liberality is required, would constantly reject the means to provide themselves with comfort, wealth, influence, the wherewithal to raise and introduce their sons, all this by an opening carefully presented to them as honorable and meritorious. Do we need to spell out here the secret argument that in the depths of their heart dooms them to fall?
It is said that we should have confidence in those who govern. This position is puerile. If caution is not admissible, what good is representative government? Political writers of great talent, among them M. de Lamartine, have rejected parliamentary reform and the conflict-of-interest rule, on the pretext that France is a country of honor, generosity, and disinterestedness, such that it cannot be supposed that a deputy, qua deputy, would extend the authority invested in him as a civil servant or seek larger emoluments, that the conflict-of-interest rule would constitute a new law of suspicion, etc.
Oh really! Is there in our seven codes a single law which is not a law of suspicion? What is the Charter if not a whole system of barriers and obstacles to possible encroachments by the king, the peers, and ministers? Was the law on forced tenure made for the convenience of judges or in view of the dreadful consequences which their dependent position might have?
I must say I cannot accept that instead of scrupulously examining a measure we should repudiate it with flowery words and sonorous sentences which are, in any case, in flagrant contradiction of the entire set of acts constituting our private lives. I would very much like to know what M. de Lamartine would say to his steward if this man tried to talk this kind of language to him: “I have brought you the accounts of my stewardship but bad faith is not presumed. Consequently, I hope that you will leave me to check the accounts on my own and to have them checked over by my son.”
You really need to close your eyes deliberately to the light, and refuse to see the human heart and the motives for our actions, such as they are, to say that since honor, delicacy, and virtue should always be presumed, it makes no difference if the control over government is assumed by government itself. It would be much simpler to eliminate the control. If you are so confident, take this confidence to the limit. This would still be a good calculation since, and I say this with the utmost sincerity, we would certainly be less misled by men who were fully responsible for their acts than if they were able to say to us, “You had the right to stop me and you let me continue. I am not the really guilty person.”
Now I ask whether, once the majority has achieved power, not by free competition or the reasoned consent of the deputies, but because the latter has been successively enrolled in the ranks of government, can one still say sincerely that we have a representative government?
Imagine a particular law, running against the interests and ideas of those it is intended to govern. They are called upon to declare through the mediation of their representatives whether they accept or reject it. Obviously they will reject it if these representatives represent in fact those whom the law is intended to govern. But if they represent those who are proposing it, supporting it, and who are called upon to execute it, it will be accepted without difficulty. Is this representative government?
[44 ]Since 29 October 1840, Guizot, then minister of foreign affairs, had been the key man of a government whose prime minister was Marshal Soult.
[45 ]“Know yourself.”