Front Page Titles (by Subject) 20.: Letter to an Ecclesiastic - 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:
20.: Letter to an Ecclesiastic - 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 an Ecclesiastic
Mugron, 28 March 1848
[vol. 7, p. 351. According to Paillottet, this
Sir and Honorable Fellow Countryman,
When I arrived from Bayonne, I found your letter dated the 22nd in which you tell me that your vote in my favor will be subject to an issue you are now raising with me. At the same time I am put to the same test in the Maransin.46
I would be a very odd representative if I entered the National Assembly after rejecting, indeed because I had in fact rejected, freedom of trade and religion. The only remaining thing I would need to do to win a few other votes is to disavow freedom of teaching. In any case, my dear sir, I thank you for believing in the sincerity of my answer. You want to know my opinion on the emoluments given to the clergy; I must not disguise my thoughts even to gain votes I might legitimately be proud of.
It is true that I have written that each person should contribute freely to support the religion he professes. I have expressed this opinion and I will support it as a political writer and as a legislator, although not in any spirit of obstinacy, until good reasons make me change my mind. As I have said in my statement of principles/election manifesto,47 my ideal is universal justice. The relations between the church and the state do not appear to me to be currently based on justice: on the one hand Catholics are forced to pay the pastoral stipends to the Protestant and Jewish religions (before long you will perhaps be paying Abbé Chatel, and that will upset a few sensibilities); on the other hand, the state takes advantage of whatever part of your budget it controls to intervene in the affairs of the clergy and to exercise an influence to which I am opposed. It plays a part in appointing bishops, canons, and parish priests, though of course the Republic can take this sort of direction, even if fetters like this put some of us out of sorts. It seems to me, for instance, contrary to freedom and likely to increase the number of points of conflict between the temporal and spiritual powers.
I believe, furthermore, in a future merger of all the Christian religions or, putting it another way, in the absorption of the dissenting sects by Catholicism. For this to happen, however, the churches must not be political institutions. It is undeniable that the roles attributed to Victoria in the Anglican Church and to Nicholas in the Russian Orthodox Church are a serious obstacle to the reuniting of the entire flock under a single shepherd.
As for the objection arising from the situation in which thirty thousand priests would be placed by a measure such as the elimination of their payments48 by the state, you are arguing, I believe, on the assumption that this step would be taken violently and not in a spirit of charity. As I see it, it implies the total independence of the clergy and, moreover, in decreeing this, we would have to take account of the treaty concluded in ’89, one which you will remember.
I would need a whole volume to develop my thesis, but, after having expressed my views so frankly and in a way intended to preserve all my independence as a legislator and political writer, I hope that you will not cast doubt upon the sincerity of what remains for me to tell you.
I believe that the reform which I am discussing with you must and will be a subject for discussion rather than a matter for legislation, for many years and perhaps for many generations to come. The forthcoming National Assembly will have the straightforward mission of conciliating minds and reassuring consciences, and I do not think it will want to raise and even less to resolve the question you are putting to me in any way that will offend public opinion.
Take note, in fact, that even if my opinion is correct, it is held only by a very small number of men. If it triumphed now in the sphere of legislation, this would be so only at the price of alarming and arousing the opposition of the vast majority of the nation. It is, therefore, for those who share my views a belief to be defended and propagated and not a measure amenable to immediate realization.
I differ from many others in that I do not think I am infallible. I am so struck by the native infirmity of individual reason that I neither seek nor will ever seek to impose my ideas. I set them out and develop them. As to their realization, I wait for public reason to pronounce its verdict. If they are right, their time will certainly come; if they are wrong, they will die before I do. I have always thought that no reform can be considered mature, with deep roots, and therefore useful, unless a lengthy debate has brought mass public opinion round to it.
It is on this principle that I have acted with regard to free trade. I have not addressed myself to those in power but to the general public and I have striven to bring it round to my opinion. I would consider free trade a lamentable gift if it were decreed before a reasoning public had called for it. I swear to you on my honor that if I had left the barricades as a member of the provisional government, with an unlimited dictatorship, I would not have taken advantage of it, as did Louis Blanc, to impose my personal views on my fellow citizens. The reason for this is simple: in my view, a reform introduced in this way, by surprise, has no solid foundation and will fall at the first test. This is also true for the question you put to me. If it depended on me, I would not accomplish the separation of the church and state violently, not because this separation does not seem to me to be a good thing in itself, but because public opinion, which is the queen of the world according to Pascal, still rejects it. This is the opinion that needs to be won over. On this question and on a few others, it will cost me nothing to remain, perhaps for the rest of my life, in an obscure minority. The day will come, I believe, when the clergy itself will feel the need to regain its independence through a new agreement with the state.
In the meantime, I hope that my opinion, which may be considered purely speculative and which in any case is far from being hostile to religion, will not lose me the honor of your vote. If, however, you feel obliged to withdraw it from me, I will in no sense regret that I have replied sincerely to you.
I remain your devoted fellow