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Note on the Translation - Frédéric Bastiat, Collected Works of Bastiat. Vol. 2: The Law, The State, and Other Political Writings, 1843-1850 
The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 2: The Law, The State, and Other Political Writings, 1843-1850, Jacques de Guenin, General Editor. Translated from the French by Jane Willems and Michel Willems, with an introduction by Pascal Salin. Annotations and Glossaries by Jacques de Guenin, Jean-Claude Paul-Dejean, and David M. Hart. Translation Editor Dennis O’Keeffe. Academic Editor, David M. Hart (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2012).
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Note on the Translation
In this translation we have made a deliberate decision not to translate Frédéric Bastiat’s French into modern, colloquial American English. Wherever possible we have tried to retain a flavor of the more florid, Latinate forms of expression that were common among the literate class in mid-nineteenth-century France. Bastiat liked long, flowing sentences, in which idea followed upon idea in an apparently endless succession of dependent clauses. For the sake of clarity, we have broken up many but not all of these thickets of expression. In those that remain, you, dear reader, will have to navigate.
As was the custom in the 1840s, Bastiat liked to pepper his paragraphs with exclamations like “What!” and aphoristic Latin phrases like Quid leges sine moribus? (What are laws without customs?). We have translated the latter and left most of the former as a reminder that Bastiat wrote in a bygone age when tastes were very different. We have also kept personal names, titles of nobility, and the like in their original French if the persons were French; thus, “M.” instead of “Mr.”; “Mme” instead of “Mrs.”; “Mlle” instead of “Miss”; and “MM” instead of “Messrs.”
In the glossaries and footnotes, we have translated the French titles of works referred to by Bastiat or cited by the editors only if the work is well known to English-speaking readers, such as Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws or Rousseau’s The Social Contract.
Because many of the pamphlets in this volume were originally given as speeches in the Chamber of Deputies (Bastiat was elected to the Constituent Assembly in April 1848 and to the Legislative Assembly in May 1849) and because Bastiat did not live to edit them into a final publishable form, the language can be at times rather colloquial and informal. One needs to remember that the speeches were given in the heat of the revolutionary moment, when France was undergoing considerable upheaval and the liberal forces Bastiat represented were under siege from both the conservatives and the protectionists on the right and the socialists on the left. Other essays in the volume were prepared for publication in such journals as Le Journal des débats, Le Journal des économistes, or Le Libre-échange and were thus in a more polished form. A handful of writings in the volume were published privately by Bastiat as “pamphlets,” which he handed out to his friends, or were submissions to parliamentary committees on various topical matters. Thus, the language he used varied considerably from pamphlet to pamphlet depending on its raison d’être. It is therefore possible that both the original French editor (Paillottet) as well as the translation in this edition have given too final a form to what were in fact ephemeral pamphlets du jour.
Concerning the problematical issue of how to translate the French word la liberté—whether to use the more archaic-sounding English word liberty or the more modern word freedom—we have let the context have the final say. Bastiat was much involved with establishing a free-trade movement in France and to that end founded the Free Trade Association (Association pour la liberté des échanges) and its journal Le Libre-échange. In this context the word choice is clear: we must use freedom because it is intimately linked to the idea of “free trade.” The English phrase “liberty of trade” would sound awkward. Another word is pouvoir, which we have variously translated as “power,” “government,” or “authority,” again depending on the context.
A third example consists of the words économie politique and économiste. Throughout the eighteenth century and most of the nineteenth, in both French and English the term political economy was used to describe what we now call “economics.” Toward the end of the nineteenth century as economics became more mathematical, the adjective “political” was dropped and not replaced. We have preferred to keep the term political economy both because it was still current when Bastiat was writing and because it better describes the state of the discipline, which proudly mixed an interest in moral philosophy, history, and political theory with the main dish, which was economic analysis; similarly, with the term économiste. Today one can be a free-market economist, a Marxist economist, a Keynesian economist, a mathematical economist, or an Austrian economist, to name a few. The qualifier before the noun is quite important. In Bastiat’s day it was assumed that any “economist” was a free-market economist, and so the noun needed no adjectival qualifier. Only during the 1840s, with the emergence of socialist ideas in France and Germany, did there arise a school of economic thinking that sharply diverged from the free market. But in Bastiat’s day this had not yet become large enough to cause confusion over naming. Even in 1849, when Gustave de Molinari published his charming set of dialogues, Les Soiréesde la rue Saint-Lazare, between three stock characters—the socialist, the conservative, and the economist—it was perfectly clear who was arguing for what, and that the economist was, of course, a laissez-faire, free-market economist.
A particularly difficult word to translate is l’industrie, as is its related term industriel. In some respects it is a “false friend,” as one is tempted to translate it as “industry” or “industrious” or “industrial,” but this would be wrong because these terms have the more narrow modern meaning of “heavy industry” or “manufacturing” or “the result of some industrial process.” The meaning in Bastiat’s time was both more general and more specific to a particular social and economic theory current in his day.
The word industry in the eighteenth century had the general meaning of “productive” or “the result of hard work,” and this sense continued to be current in the early nineteenth century. Industry also had a specific meaning, which was tied to a social and economic theory developed by Jean-Baptiste Say and his followers Charles Comte and Charles Dunoyer in the 1810s and 1820s, as well as by other theorists such as the historian Augustin Thierry. According to these theorists there were only two means of acquiring wealth: by productive activity and voluntary exchanges in the free market (that is, by “industrie”—which included agriculture, trade, factory production, and services) or by coercive means (conquest, theft, taxation, subsidies, protection, transfer payments, or slavery). Anybody who acquired wealth through voluntary exchange and productive activities belonged to a class of people collectively called les industrieux, in contrast to those individuals or groups who acquired their wealth by force, coercion, conquest, slavery, or government privileges. The latter group were seen as a ruling class or as “parasites” who lived at the expense of les industrieux.
Bastiat was very much influenced by the theories of Say, Comte, and Dunoyer and adopted their terminology regarding industry. So to translate industrie in this intellectual context as “production” (or some other modern, neutral term) would be to ignore the resonance the word has within the social and economic theory that was central to Bastiat’s worldview. Hence, at the risk of sounding a bit archaic and pedantic we have preferred to use industry in order to remain true to Bastiat’s intent.
Bastiat uses the French term la spoliation many times in his writings. It is even used in the title of two of his pamphlets (found in this volume), “Propriété et spoliation,” published in July 1848 in Le Journal des débats; and “Spoliation et loi,” published in May 1850 in Le Journal des économistes. The Oxford English Dictionary defines spoliation as “the action of ruining or destroying something” and “the action of taking goods or property from somewhere by illegal or unethical means”—from the Latin verb spoliare (strip, deprive). In using this term, Bastiat is making the point that there is a distinction between the two ways in which wealth can be acquired, either through peaceful and voluntary exchange (i.e., the free market) or by theft, conquest, and coercion (i.e., using the power of the state to tax, repossess, or grant special privileges). Some earlier translations of Bastiat use the older word spoliation; the word plunder is also used on occasion. In our translation we have preferred to use plunder. Another possible translation for spoliation is “exploitation,” which carries much the same meaning but has an unfortunate association with Marxist theories of “capitalist exploitation.”
A final note on terminology: in Bastiat’s time, the word liberal had the same meaning in France and in America. In the United States, however, the meaning of the word has shifted progressively toward the left of the political spectrum. A precise translation of the French word would be either “classical liberal” or “libertarian,” depending on the context, and indeed Bastiat is considered a classical liberal by present-day conservatives and a libertarian by present-day libertarians. To avoid the resulting awkwardness, we have decided by convention to keep the word liberal, with its nineteenth-century meaning, in the translations as well as in the notes and the glossaries.
David M. Hart