Front Page Titles (by Subject) Hayek and Spontaneous Order - Collected Works of Bastiat. Vol. 2: The Law, The State, and Other Political Writings, 1843-1850
Return to Title Page for Collected Works of Bastiat. Vol. 2: The Law, The State, and Other Political Writings, 1843-1850
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Hayek and Spontaneous Order - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
Hayek and Spontaneous Order
Two of the themes Bastiat pursues in the pamphlets are his advocacy of the “harmony” and justice of freely acting individuals in the marketplace and his criticism of state intervention and “plunder” to create authoritarianism or socialism. Friedrich Hayek called these opposing worldviews “spontaneous order” and “constructivism,” respectively.
During the 1840s a new socialist movement sprang up in France, and it would play a significant role during the upheavals of the 1848 revolution.15 Bastiat’s writing on this topic16 places the reader at the very center of the debates that explain the historical evolution of France and of a great part of the world. Similarly, as Hayek has persuasively argued, Bastiat is at the very center of the fundamental debates of political philosophy.17
The coexistence since the eighteenth century of both these streams of thought (the classical liberal and the socialist) has arguably been the source of the ambiguity in the meaning of the words liberty and property during the French Revolution and its aftermath. One can see this conflict played out in the various versions of declarations of rights that emerged periodically during the Revolution, beginning with the famous Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789).
Bastiat criticized such thinkers as Fénelon, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Mably, and Robespierre, who had done much to inspire modern enlightened public opinion. Bastiat objected to their claims that property rights are created by the state and are thus “conventional” and not “natural,” that is, existing prior to any man-made law. Rousseau comes in for particularly harsh criticism by Bastiat for the distinction he makes between “individual liberty” (which Rousseau regards as “natural”) and “property” (which Rousseau considers purely conventional).
According to Bastiat, this false distinction led Rousseau to conclude that the state had the right to enact legislation establishing the right to work, the right to get relief (welfare), and the right to impose progressive taxation. Robespierre, one of the leaders of the French Revolution, especially during the 1793–94 Reign of Terror, had been directly influenced by Rousseau, whom Bastiat quotes in “Baccalaureate and Socialism”: “Property is the right held by each citizen to enjoy and dispose of possessions that are guaranteed to him by the law.”18 In Bastiat’s view, if property were not a natural right that existed prior to the state, then the state (or whoever temporarily controlled the organs of the state) could define what “property” was and legislate to create any kind of society it desired.
The French revolutionaries of the 1790s and the 1840s had tried to apply what Bastiat called the “communist principle” to the formation of declarations of rights and constitutions and to the development of government policies regarding price controls, make-work schemes, and other economic interventions by the state. Such an extreme form of despotism frightened many French citizens in the 1790s. These citizens, seeking security and stability, turned toward a Roman-inspired form of despotism,19 such as that offered by Napoléon Bonaparte.
After lurching from the radicalism of the Jacobins to the militaristic dictatorship of Napoléon and to the conservatism of the restored Bourbon monarchy, the French people seemed to have settled upon a form of political armistice after the July revolution, with the forces of revolution and counterrevolution achieving a kind of temporary balance. Bastiat, however, unhappily believed that the French continued to educate their youth with the ideas of Rousseau and Caesar, thus trapping them in a maze that began with dreams of utopia, followed by experimentation in an attempt to create this utopia on earth, and then finally political reaction after these dreams inevitably fell apart. In its incarnation in the revolutionary period this maze began with the ideas of Rousseau, was followed by the revolutionary communism of Robespierre and his followers, and ended in the military despotism of Napoléon. In 1848 it looked to Bastiat as if France were going to repeat this pattern all over again, this time under the influence of the new socialist movement that had sprung up in the 1840s.
[15. ]See the entries for “Saint-Simon, Claude Henri de Rouvroy,” “Fourier, François-Marie Charles,” and “Blanc, Louis,” in the Glossary of Persons.
[16. ]In a similar way, Gustave de Molinari, in Les Soirées de la Rue Saint-Lazare (1849), presented a fascinating debate among a socialist, a conservative, and an economist. The latter, who supports individual freedom, opposes both the socialist and the conservative, both of whom think in constructivist terms and, incidentally, frequently agree with each other. The real opposition is not between left and right but between the constructivists—whether “conservative” or “socialist”—and the “liberals.”
[17. ]It is interesting that in several chapters of his book The Counter-revolution of Science Hayek explored the ideological situation in France in the nineteenth century, which seemed particularly strange to him. He stressed the paradox of a country in which one could find some of the most eminent representatives of both liberalism and positivism. Concerning the latter, he pointed out the importance of the scientistic prejudice that led to the appearance in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries of “social engineers,” who modeled their discipline on that of the physical and natural sciences.
[18. ]“Baccalaureate and Socialism,” p. 209. Italics in the original.
[19. ]Napoléon’s dictatorship had also inspired Benjamin Constant (1767–1830) to reflect on the differences between ancient and modern notions of liberty and the dangers of military conquest and political usurpation. See “The Spirit of Conquest and Usurpation and Their Relationship to European Civilization” (1814) and “The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with That of the Moderns” (1819) in Benjamin Constant, Political Writings.