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5: Justice and Fraternity 1 - 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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Justice and Fraternity1
[vol. 4, p. 298. “Justice et fraternité.” Originally published in the 15 June 1848 issue of Le Journal des économistes.]
On a great many points the Economists2 are in opposition to a number of schools of socialism, which claim to be more advanced and which are, I readily agree, more active and popular. Our adversaries (I do not wish to call them detractors) are the communists; the followers of Fourier and Owen; MM Cabet, Louis Blanc, Proudhon, and Pierre Leroux; and many others.
What is very strange is that these schools differ among themselves at least as much as they differ from us. It is therefore necessary (1) that they admit a common principle that we do not admit and (2) that this principle lends itself to the infinite diversity among them that we observe.
I believe that what radically divides us is this:
Political economy reaches the conclusion that only universal justice should be demanded of the law.
Socialism, in its various branches and through applications whose number is of course unlimited, demands in addition that the law should put into practice the dogma of fraternity.
Well, what is the result? Following Rousseau, socialism accepts that the entire social order is encompassed by the law. We know that Rousseau based society on a contract. On the very first page of his book on the Revolution,3 Louis Blanc says: “The principle of fraternity is that which, viewing the members of the extended family as interdependent, at some point tends to organize various forms of society, the work of man, on the model of the human body, the work of God.”4
Starting from this point, that society is the work of man, the work of the law, socialists are inevitably led to the conclusion that nothing exists in society that has not been ordered and arranged in advance by the legislator.
Therefore, seeing that political economy limits itself to demanding from the law justice everywhere and for all, that is, universal justice, they have concluded that it did not acknowledge fraternity in social relationships.
The reasoning for this is strict. “Since society is contained in law,” they say, “and since you ask the law only for justice, you are therefore excluding fraternity from the law and consequently from society.”
From this have come the imputations of rigidity, coldness, hardness, and lack of feeling that have been heaped on economic science and those who profess it.
But is the leading premise admissible? Is it true that all of society is encompassed in the law? It can be seen immediately that if it is not, then all these imputations collapse.
Now! To say that positive law, which always acts with authority, through constraint, resting on the force of coercion, with the bayonet and dungeon as sanctions and ending with some laid-down penalty; to say that law, which cannot decree affection, friendship, love, self-denial, selflessness, or sacrifice therefore cannot decree that which epitomizes them, namely fraternity: is this to wipe out or deny these noble attributes of our nature? Certainly not; it is to say only that society is wider than the law; that a number of acts take place and a host of feelings are stirring outside and above the law.
For my part, in the name of science, I protest with all my strength at this wretched interpretation, according to which, because we acknowledge that the law has limits, we are accused of denying everything that is outside these limits. Ah! Whether people believe or not, we too salute with ardor the word fraternity which came down from the peak of the sacred mountain eighteen centuries ago and is emblazoned forever on our republican flag. We too wish to see individuals, families, and nations come together, help one another, and come to each other’s assistance in the difficult journey through mortal life. We too feel our hearts beat faster and our tears flow at the recounting of generous acts, whether they shine in the lives of simple citizens or bring together and mingle different classes and especially when they precipitate predestined peoples to occupy pioneering positions in progress and civilization.
And will we be reduced to talking about ourselves? Well, then! Let our actions be scrutinized. Certainly, we are very willing to admit that the host of political writers, who these days wish to stifle everything, including the sentiment of personal self-interest, in people’s hearts and who show themselves to be so merciless toward what they call individualism, whose mouths are so incessantly filled with words like selflessness, sacrifice, and fraternity, exclusively adhere to the sublime motives they advise others to observe, that they give examples as well as advice and are careful to align their conduct with their doctrine. We are very pleased to take their word for it that they are full of disinterestedness and charity, but finally we should be allowed to say that from this point of view we are not afraid of comparison.
Each one of these Deciuses5 has a plan that intends to achieve the happiness of humanity, and all appear to say that if we oppose them it is because we fear either for our wealth or for other social advantages. No, we oppose them because we hold their ideas to be false and their projects to be as puerile as they are disastrous. Because if it were proved to us that it is possible to bring down happiness on earth permanently through an artificial organization or by decreeing fraternity, there are those among us who, although they are economists, would joyfully sign such a decree with their last drop of blood.
However, it has not been proved to us that fraternity can be imposed. Whenever and wherever it occurs, it arouses such lively sympathy in us because it acts outside any legal constraint. Fraternity is either spontaneous or it does not exist. To decree it is to annihilate it. The law may indeed oblige men to remain just; in vain will it endeavor to oblige them to be devoted to others.
It is not I, incidentally, who have invented this distinction. As I said just now, eighteen centuries ago these words were uttered by the divine founder of our religion:
The law says: Do not unto others as you would not have them do unto you.
And I say to you: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
I believe that these words set the limits that divide justice from fraternity. I believe that they also trace the demarcation line, one that I will not say is absolute and impassable but theoretical and rational, between the circumscribed field of the law and the limitless region of human spontaneity.
When a large number of families, all of which in order to live, develop, and improve themselves need to work either in isolation or in association, pool part of their strengths, what can they demand of this common strength other than the protection of all the individuals, all their work, all their property, all their rights and interests? Is this anything other than universal justice? Obviously the rights of each person are limited by the absolutely identical rights of all the others. The law cannot therefore do anything other than to recognize this limit and see that it is respected. If it allowed some people to infringe it, this would be to the detriment of some of the others. The law would be unjust. It would be even more unjust if, instead of tolerating this infringement, it ordered it.
Let us take property, for example. The principle is that what each person achieves through his work belongs to him, whether this work is comparatively more or less clever, persevering, or apposite and consequently more or less productive. If two workers wish to combine their strengths in order to share the product in accordance with agreed proportions or exchange their products with each other, or if one wishes to make the other a loan or a gift, what does the law have to do with this? Nothing, I think, other than require the fulfilling of agreements and prevent or punish misrepresentation, violence, or fraud.
Does this mean that the law will forbid acts of selflessness and generosity? Who could even think this? But will it go so far as to order them? This is precisely the point that separates economists from socialists.
If the socialists mean that, in extraordinary circumstances and emergencies, the state has to store up a few resources, assist in certain misfortunes, and smooth over certain transitions, for God’s sake, we would agree. This has been done and we would like it done better; however, there is a point along this path that should not be exceeded, the point at which governmental foresight destroys individual foresight by taking its place. It is perfectly clear that organized charity would, in such a case, do much more permanent harm than temporary good.
But we are not dealing here with exceptional measures. What we are investigating is this: is the mission of the law, viewed from a general and theoretical position, to determine the limits of preexisting mutual rights and see that they are respected, or to provide happiness to people directly by provoking acts of selflessness, self-denial, and mutual sacrifice?
What strikes me in this last theoretical viewpoint (and it is to this issue that I will be frequently returning in this hastily written article) is the uncertainty that it causes to hover over human activity and its results, the unknown before which it places society, an unknown whose nature is to paralyze all of its strength.
We know what justice is and where it is. It is a fixed and immovable point. Let the law take it as its guide, and everyone knows what is expected of him and acts accordingly.
But what is the fixed point of fraternity? What are its limits? What form does it take? Obviously it is infinite. Fraternity, in sum, consists in making a sacrifice for another, working for another. When it is free, spontaneous, and voluntary I can understand it and I applaud it. My admiration for sacrifice is all the greater where it is total. But when this principle, that fraternity will be imposed by law, is propounded within society, that is to say in good French, that the distribution of the fruits of work will be made through legislation, with no regard for the rights of the work itself, who knows to what extent this principle will operate, what form a caprice of the legislator will give it and in what institutions a decree will bring it into existence from one day to the next? Well, I ask whether society can continue to exist in these conditions.
Note that sacrifice, by its very nature, is not, like justice, something that has a limit. It can extend from the gift of a small coin thrown into a beggar’s plate to the gift of life, usque ad mortem, mortem autem crucis.6 The Gospels, which taught fraternity to men, explained it through its counsels. It tells us: “When someone strikes you on the right cheek, offer the left cheek. If someone wants to take your jacket give him your coat as well.”7 It went further than just explaining fraternity to us; it has given us the most complete, touching, and sublime example of it on the summit of Golgotha.
Well then! Will it be said that legislation has to push the achievement of the dogma of fraternity through administrative measures to this point? Or will it stop somewhere along the way? But to what extent will it stop and in accordance with what rule? Today, this will depend on one vote, tomorrow on another.
The same uncertainties hover over the form. It is a question of imposing sacrifices on some for the benefit of all or on all for the benefit of some. Who can tell me how the law will deal with this? For it cannot be denied that the number of formulae for fraternity is infinite. Not a day goes past when five or six appeals do not reach me through the post and all of them, please note, are completely different. Truly, is it not folly to believe that a nation can experience a degree of moral tranquillity and material prosperity when the principle is admitted that, from one day to the next, the legislator can toss the nation in its entirety into the one of the hundred thousand molds of fraternity that has gained its favor momentarily?
May I be allowed to contrast the most striking consequences of the economic and socialist systems?
First of all, let us imagine a nation that adopts justice, universal justice, as the basis for its legislation.
Let us suppose that its citizens tell their government: “We will take responsibility for our own lives. We will take charge of our work, our transactions, our education, our progress, and our religion. For your part, your sole mission will be to contain us within the limits of our rights in all respects.”
In truth, we have tried so many things that I would like the whim to take hold of my country, or any country around the globe, to try this at least. Certainly, it cannot be denied that the mechanics are of amazing simplicity. Each individual will exercise all of his rights as he sees fit, provided that he does not infringe the rights of others. The test would be all the more interesting if, in point of fact, the peoples that came the closest to each other under this system exceeded all the others in security, prosperity, equality, and dignity. Yes, if ten years of life were left to me, I would willingly give nine of them to witness for a year an experiment of this nature in my country. For here, it seems to me, is what I would be fortunate enough to witness.
In the first place, each individual would be certain of his future as far as this could be affected by the law. As I have pointed out, literal justice is something that is so constraining that legislation that had only this in view would be almost immutable. It could be changed only with regard to the means of achieving a single aim ever more closely: to ensure that people and their rights were respected. Thus each person could undertake all sorts of honest enterprises without fear or uncertainty. All careers would be open to all; each person would be free to exercise his faculties freely, according to his self-interest, liking, aptitude, or circumstances. There would be no privileges or monopoly, nor restrictions of any sort.
Next, since all the forces of government would be applied to preventing and redressing willful misrepresentations, frauds, misdemeanors, crimes, and violence, it is to be believed that government forces would achieve these all the more since they would not be dispersed as they are today over a host of objects that are foreign to their essential prerogatives. Our opponents themselves will not deny that preventing and eliminating injustice is the principal mission of the state. Why then is it that the valuable art of prevention and elimination has made so little progress in our country? It is because the state neglects it in favor of the thousand other functions for which it has been made responsible. This is why security is far from being the distinctive characteristic of French society. It would be total under the regime which I am for the moment analyzing: security in the future, since no utopia could impose itself by means of government power; security in the present, since this power would be exclusively devoted to combating and abolishing injustice.
I must at this point say something about the consequences that security engenders. First of all, property will be totally guaranteed in its variety of forms: land and movable assets; industrial, intellectual, and manual property. It is now protected from attack by wrongdoers and, what is more, from attack by the law. Whatever the nature of the services rendered by workers to society or between themselves, or traded externally, these services will always have their natural value. This value will still be much affected by events, but at least it can never be affected by the whims of the law or the needs of taxation, intrigues, claims, or parliamentary entanglements. The price of things and work will thus suffer minimally from fluctuations, and when all of these conditions obtain simultaneously it would be impossible for industry not to develop, wealth not to increase, or capital not to accumulate with prodigious rapidity.
Now, when capital increases, its uses compete among themselves; its remuneration decreases, or in other words interest rates fall. They bear less and less on the price of products. The share of capital in the national product decreases continuously. This factor of production, now being more widely distributed, comes within the reach of a greater number of men. The price of consumer goods is relieved of the whole part no longer set aside for capital; things become cheaper and this is an essential and prime condition for the liberating of the working classes.8
At the same time and for the same reason (the rapid accumulation of capital), earnings will of necessity rise. Capital, in fact, yields absolutely nothing if it is not put to use. The larger this source of earnings is and the more it is put to use in relation to a given number of workers, the more earnings will rise.
In this way, the necessary result of this clear-cut regime of strict justice, and consequently of freedom and security, is to raise the suffering classes in two ways, first of all by making life cheaper and second by raising the level of earnings.
It is impossible for the fate of workers to be naturally and doubly improved without their moral condition being elevated and purified. We are therefore proceeding along the path of equality. I am not talking only about equality before the law, which is obviously implied since it excludes any form of injustice, but actual equality, both physical and moral, that results from the fact that the remuneration of labor increases in the same proportion as the income from capital decreases.
If we cast an eye on the relationships of this people with other nations, we will see that they all favor peace. Arming itself against any form of aggression is its sole policy. It does not threaten nor is it threatened. It has no diplomatic service and still less any armed diplomatic force. Since by virtue of the principle of universal justice no citizen is able to call upon the law in his own self-interest to intervene to prevent another citizen from buying or selling abroad, the commercial relationships enjoyed by these people will be free and extensive. No one will argue that such relationships are not a contributory factor to maintaining peace. They are a genuine and valuable system of defense, which will make arsenals, fortresses, navies, and standing armies almost pointless. Thus, all the forces of this people will be directed toward productive work, an additional cause of an increase in capital with all its consequences.
It is easy to see that within this people, the government has been reduced to very slender proportions and the wheels of administration to their simplest form. What does this mean? Giving government the sole mission of maintaining justice between the citizens. Well, this can be done at little cost, and even in France today it costs only twenty-six million. Therefore this nation will to all intents and purposes not pay any taxes. It is even certain that civilization and progress will tend to make the government ever more simple and economic, since the more justice results from sound social habits, the more it will be apposite to reduce the force organized to impose it.
When a nation is crushed by taxes, nothing is more difficult, and I might even say impossible, than to distribute them equitably. Statisticians and financiers no longer aspire to do so. However, there is something that is even more impossible, and that is to restrict the taxes to the rich. The state can have a great deal of money only by draining everybody’s resources, especially those of the masses. But in the simple regime to which I am devoting this humble argument, a regime that requires only a few tens of millions, nothing is easier than an equitable distribution. A single contribution, proportional to the property realized, raised in the family and at no cost within municipal councils, will be enough. There will be no more of the tenacious tax system or voracious bureaucracy that are the dank moss and vermin of the social body, no more of the indirect contributions, the money snatched by force or guile, the tax traps set on all the paths of work, the harassments that hurt us even more because of the freedoms they withdraw from us than because of the resources of which they deprive us.
Do I need to show that order would be the inevitable result of a regime like this? Where would disorder come from? Not from destitution; it would probably be unknown in the country at least as a chronic occurrence; and where temporary and accidental suffering did on occasion occur, no one would dream of turning against the state, the government, or the law. At present, when it is accepted in principle that the state has been set up to distribute wealth to everyone, it is natural that it should be asked to account for this commitment. To fulfill it, the state increases the number of taxes and causes more destitution than it relieves. New demands from the public, new taxes from the state, and we can go only from one revolution to the next. But if it was fully understood that the state should take from workers only what was absolutely essential to protect them from all forms of fraud and violence, I cannot see from what quarter disorder would arise.
There are some who will think that society would be very dismal and gloomy under such a simple regime that is so easy to set up. What would become of great political action? What use would statesmen be? Would not national representation itself, reduced to improving the civil and penal codes, cease to offer the spectacle of passionate debates and dramatic combats to the avid curiosity of the public?
This curious reservation comes from the idea that government and society are one and the same thing, an erroneous and disastrous idea if ever there was one. If they were really identical, simplifying government would in effect be to demean society.
But would the mere fact that government would limit itself strictly to maintaining justice take something away from the initiative of the citizens? Is their action even today restricted within limits set by the law? Would it not be possible for them, provided that they did not depart from the principles of justice, to form an infinite variety of alliances or associations of all kinds—religious, charitable, industrial, farming, and intellectual, indeed not excluding even political associations like those of the followers of Fourier and Cabet? On the contrary, is it not certain that a wealth of capital would encourage all these activities? The only thing would be that each person would join voluntarily at his own risk. What people want, through the intervention of the state, is to share in the risks and expenses of the public.
It will doubtless be said: “In this sort of regime, we can clearly see justice, economy, freedom, wealth, peace, order, and equality, but we do not see fraternity.”
Once again, does the human heart contain only what the legislator has put there? Was it necessary for fraternity to issue from the electoral urn for it to appear on earth? Does the law forbid you to practice charity because it imposes only justice on you? Do you believe that women would cease to be selfless and have a heart open to pity because selflessness and pity were not commanded by the Code? And which is the article of the Code that tears young girls from the embraces of their mothers and propels them toward the distressing asylums in which the hideous wounds of the body and even more hideous wounds of the mind are displayed? Which is the article of the Code that determines vocations to the priesthood? To which written law or government intervention are we to relate the founding of Christianity, the zeal of the apostles, the courage of the martyrs, the good deeds of Fénelon or Francis de Paule,9 the self-denial of so many men who in our time have risked their lives for the triumph of the popular cause.10
Every time we judge an act to be good and fine, we want it to become more widespread, and this is natural. However, when we see within society a force before which everything bows down, our first thought is to have it collude with us in decreeing and imposing the act in question. But what is important is to know whether we are not in this way depreciating both the nature of this force and the nature of the act which from being voluntary has been made obligatory. As far as I am concerned, I cannot get into my head that the law, which is a force, can usefully be employed for anything other than curbing wrongs and maintaining rights.
I have just described a nation in which this would be so. Let us now suppose that within this people the opinion became prevalent that the law would no longer be limited to imposing justice but would aim to impose fraternity as well.
What would happen? It will not take me long to tell you since the reader has only to redo the scenario by reversing the foregoing picture.
First of all, a terrible uncertainty and a deadly insecurity would hang over the entire domain of private activity since fraternity can take on thousands of unknown forms and consequently thousands of decrees that cannot be anticipated. A host of draft regulations will threaten established relationships each day. In the name of fraternity some will demand the uniformity of earnings, and at a stroke the working classes will be reduced to the condition of Indian castes. Skill, courage, assiduity, and intelligence will not be enough to redress their situation; the lead weight of the law will weigh down upon them. This world will be for them like Dante’s Inferno: “Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate chi!”11 In the name of fraternity, another will demand that work be reduced to ten, eight, six, or four hours, and production will grind to a halt. As there will be no more bread to assuage hunger or cloth to keep out the cold, a third inspiration will demand the missing bread and cloth be replaced by obligatory paper money. “Is it not with écus that we buy these things? Increasing the number of écus,” he will say, “will increase the amount of bread and cloth. Increasing the amount of paper will increase the number of écus. Let us do this.” A fourth will demand that competition be abolished, a fifth that personal self-interest be abolished. Someone else wants the state to provide work; another, education; and yet another, pensions for every citizen. Yet another person wants to bring down every king on this earth and decree universal war in the name of fraternity. I will stop there. It is perfectly clear that going down this road we will find an inexhaustible source of utopias. They will be rejected, people will say. This may be so, but it is possible that they will not, and this would be enough to create uncertainty, the greatest scourge of work.
Under this regime, it will be impossible to build up capital. It will become scarce, expensive, and concentrated. This means that earnings will decrease and that inequality will create an ever-deepening abyss between the classes.
Public finances will not be slow to descend into total confusion. How could it be otherwise when the state is responsible for supplying everything to everyone? The people will be crushed by taxes, and loan upon loan will be taken out. Once the present has been exhausted, the future will be devoured.
Finally, since it will be accepted in principle that the state is responsible for producing fraternity in favor of its citizens, the entire people will be seen to be transformed into supplicants. Landed property, agriculture, industry, commerce, the merchant navy, and industrial companies will all clamor to receive favors from the state. The treasury will literally be pillaged. Each individual will have good reason to prove that legal fraternity has to be seen from the following angle: the advantages for me and the burdens for others. Everyone will devote his efforts to extracting some shred of fraternal privilege from the legislature. Despite having the best founded claims, the suffering classes will not always have the most success; their numbers will constantly increase, however, which will lead to our being able to go nowhere save from one revolution to the next.
In a word, we will witness the progress of the entire sad spectacle of which a few modern societies are offering us a foretaste since they have adopted this disastrous idea of legal fraternity.
I have no need to say that this notion is rooted in generous sentiments and pure intentions. It is indeed because of this that it attracted the sympathy of the masses so quickly and also that it opens an abyss beneath our feet if it is wrong.
I add that I personally would be happy if someone proved to me that it is not wrong. Good heavens, if universal fraternity could be decreed and this decree effectively given the sanction of government; if, as Louis Blanc would wish it, the spring of personal self-interest could be made to disappear from this world through the vote; if, through legislation, that article in the program of La Démocratie pacifique titled No More Egoism could be achieved; and if we could organize for the state to give everything to everyone without receiving anything from anyone, then let all this be done. I would certainly vote for the decree and rejoice that humanity had achieved perfection and happiness via such a short and easy route.
But, it has to be said, such notions appear illusory and futile to the point of puerility. It is not surprising that they have awakened hopes in the classes that work, suffer, and have no time to reflect. But how can they mislead leading political writers?
At the sight of the sufferings that overwhelm many of our brothers, these political writers thought that they could be laid at the door of the freedom that is justice. They started with the idea that the system of freedom and strict justice had been tested legally and had failed. They concluded that the time had come to make legislation take a further step forward and that it ought, in a word, to become imbued with the principle of fraternity. This has given rise to the schools of the followers of Saint-Simon, Fourier, communism, and Owen; to attempts to organize work; to declarations that the state owes subsistence, well-being, and education to all its citizens; that it should be generous, charitable, involved in everything, and devoted to all; that its mission is to give milk to babies, educate young people, ensure work for the able-bodied and pensions for the weak; in a word, that it should intervene directly to alleviate all forms of suffering, satisfy and anticipate every need, supply capital to all enterprises, enlightenment to all minds, balm to every wound, asylums to all misfortunes, and even help end the sacrifice of French blood to all the oppressed around the world.
Once again, who would not wish to see all these benefits flow over the world from the law as though from an everlasting source? Who would not be happy to see the state assume responsibility for every trouble, every precaution, every responsibility, every duty, and every arduous and weighty burden that the impenetrable design of Providence has placed on humanity, and reserve for the individuals who make it up the attractive and easy side of things: the satisfactions, enjoyments, certainties, peace, rest, a present that is always assured and a future full of gaiety, wealth without care, a family without responsibility, credit without surety, and an existence without effort?
Certainly, we would all like that, if it were possible. But is it possible? That is the question. It is not easy to grasp what people mean by the state. I find, in the perpetual personification of the state, the strangest and most humiliating mystification of all. What in fact is this state that takes on itself all virtues, all duties, and all liberalities? From where does it draw these resources that we urge it to shower such bounty on individual people? Is it not from the individuals themselves? How then can these resources grow when they pass through the hands of a parasitic and voracious intermediary? It is not clear, on the contrary, that this system is such that it will absorb a great deal of useful effort and reduce the workers’ share of income by an equivalent amount? Do we not also see that workers will abandon to it, along with part of their well-being, part of their freedom?
From whatever point of view I consider human law, I cannot see that we can reasonably ask of it anything other than justice.
Take religion, for example. Certainly, it would be desirable for there to be just one belief, one faith, and one religion in the world, on condition that it was the true faith. But however desirable unity may be, diversity, that is to say research and discussion, is even better for as long as the infallible sign by which this true faith will be recognized does not shine out before men’s intelligence. The intervention of the state, even where it took fraternity as a pretext, would therefore be an oppression, an injustice if it claimed to be establishing unity, for who would guarantee that the state, unbeknown to itself perhaps, would not work to stifle truth in favor of error? Unity must result from the universal consent of freely held convictions and the natural attraction that truth exercises over the minds of men. All that we can therefore ask of the law is freedom for all forms of belief, whatever anarchy may result in the thinking world. For what does this anarchy prove? That unity is not at the origin but at the end of intellectual evolution. It is not the point of departure; it is a result. The law that would impose it would be unjust, and if justice does not necessarily imply fraternity, it will at least be agreed that fraternity excludes injustice.
The same is true of teaching. Who will not agree that, if we could reach consensus on the best form of teaching possible with regard to the subject and method, then a single methodology or one imposed by government would be preferable since, on this assumption, only error could be excluded by law. But for as long as this criterion has not been found, as long as the legislator or the minister of public education does not bear the irrefutable sign of infallibility on his forehead, the best chance for the true method to be discovered and absorb the others lies in diversity, tests, experience, and individual effort, all directed by the concern for success, in a word, freedom. The worst option is a uniform system of education by decree since, under this regime, error will be permanent, universal, and irremediable. Therefore, those who, spurred on by a sentiment of fraternity, demand that the law should direct and impose a system of education should be aware that they are running the risk that the law will direct and impose only error and that legal prohibition may attack truth by way of the intelligent minds who believe that they possess it. Well, I ask you, is it genuine fraternity that has recourse to force to impose or at least risk imposing error? Diversity is feared and stigmatized as anarchy, but it is the inevitable result of the very diversity of intelligent minds and convictions and besides, it tends to be reduced by discussion, study, and experience. In the meantime, by what right is one system valued above the others by law or political fiat? Here again, we find that this alleged fraternity, which invokes the law or legal constraint, is in opposition to justice.
I could make the same remarks with regard to the press, and in truth I find it hard to understand why those who demand a uniform education imposed by the state do not also demand the same thing for the press. The press is a form of education too. The press allows discussion because it lives by it. It therefore also contains diversity and anarchy. Why not, in accordance with these ideas, create a ministry of publicity and make it responsible for inspiring all the books and journals in France? Either the state is infallible, in which case we could not do better than to submit to it the entire domain of intelligent thought, or it is not, in which case it is no more rational to hand over education to it than to the press.
If I consider our relationships with foreigners, in this case, too, I see no rule except justice, so prudent, solid, and acceptable to all that it is capable of becoming a law. To submit these relationships to the principle of legal, obligatory fraternity is to decree perpetual and universal war, for it would become an obligation for us to place our forces and the blood and treasure of our citizens at the service of anyone who claimed them with regard to any cause that arouses the sympathy of the legislator. What a singular form of fraternity! A long time ago Cervantes personified its ridiculous vanity.
But it is above all with regard to work that the dogma of fraternity seems to me to be dangerous, where, contrary to the idea that is the essence of this sacred word, plans are made to incorporate it into our codes, accompanied by the penal dispositions that sanction any positive law.
Fraternity always implies the idea of selflessness and sacrifice, and because of this it arouses tears of admiration whenever it occurs. If it is said, as some socialists do say, that acts of fraternity are profitable to their author, there is no need to decree them; men do not need a law to induce them to make a profit. Besides, this point of view degrades and much tarnishes the notion of fraternity.
Let us therefore leave it its character, summed up in these words: a voluntary sacrifice inspired by fraternal sentiment.
If you make fraternity a legal prescription, whose acts are prescribed and made obligatory by the industrial code, what remains of this definition? Only one thing: sacrifice, but an involuntary sacrifice, one that is forced, determined by a fear of punishment. And in good faith, what is a sacrifice of this nature, imposed on one person for the benefit of another? Is this fraternity? No, it is injustice. The word must be spoken; it is legal plunder, the worst form of plunder, since it is systematic, permanent, and unavoidable.
What was Barbès doing when in the session on 15 May he introduced a tax of a billion in favor of the suffering classes? He was putting your principle into practice. This is so true that the proclamation by Sobrier, which comes to the same conclusion as the speech by Barbès, starts with this preamble: “The consideration that fraternity must no longer be an empty word but must be revealed through actions entails the following: capitalists, identified as such, will pay, etc.”
You who are protesting, what right have you to blame Barbès and So-brier? What have they done apart from being slightly more consistent than you and taking your own principle a little further?
I say that when this principle is introduced into legislation, even when it first makes just a timid appearance, it paralyzes capital and labor, for nothing guarantees that it will not develop further indefinitely. Do we need so many reasoned arguments to show that where men are no longer certain of enjoying the fruit of their work they no longer work or work less? You should be fully aware that insecurity is the major cause of paralysis of investment. It drives investment away and prevents it from building up, and then what happens to those very classes whose sufferings are allegedly being relieved? I sincerely think that this phenomenon alone is enough to make the most prosperous of nations descend rapidly to a level below that of Turkey.
The sacrifice imposed on some in favor of others through the operation of taxes obviously loses its fraternal character. Who therefore gains the merit for it? Is it the legislator? The only cost to him is casting a ball into an urn. Is it the tax collector? He obeys for fear of losing his job. Is it the taxpayer? He pays in self-defense. To whom therefore will be attributed the merit that selflessness implies. Where is the morality to be found?
Extralegal plunder arouses total aversion and turns against itself all the forces of public opinion, making them agree with the notions of justice. Legal plunder, on the other hand, is accomplished without disturbing consciences, which leads only to a weakening of a moral sense within a people.
With courage and prudence, we can avoid the plunder that is contrary to law. Nothing can protect us from legal plunder. If someone tries it, what dreadful sight is set before society? A plunderer armed by the law against a victim resisting the law.
When on the pretext of fraternity the law imposes mutual sacrifices on citizens, human nature does not for this reason lose its rights. Each person strives to contribute little to the sacrificial heap and to receive a great deal from it. However, in this struggle, are the most unfortunate the ones that gain most? Certainly not, those who gain the most are the most influential and the greatest schemers.
Are union, agreement, and harmony at least the fruit of fraternity as we have understood it? Doubtless, fraternity is the divine chain that in the long run will bind in unity all individuals, families, nations, and races. But this is on condition that it remains as it is, that is to say, the most free, spontaneous, voluntary, meritorious, and religious of sentiments. Its mask will not accomplish the prodigy, and it will be in vain that legal plunder adopts the name of fraternity with its features, formulae, and insignia. Legal plunder will always be just a principle of discord, confusion, unjust claims, terror, deprivation, inertia, and hatred.
A serious objection is made. We are told: “It is true that freedom and equality before the law constitute justice. But strict justice remains neutral between the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak, the scholar and the ignorant, the owner and the proletarian, the fellow countryman and the foreigner. However, since self-interests are by nature antagonistic, leaving men their freedom and allowing only just laws to intervene between them is to sacrifice the poor, the weak, the ignorant, the proletarian, and the athlete who presents himself unarmed for the combat.”
“What could result from this freedom of production on which so much hope had been banked,” said M. Considérant, “from this celebrated principle of free competition, which was thought to be so strongly endowed with the characteristics of democratic organization? The only result would be collective enthrallment of the propertyless masses, who are also without manufactured weapons or the wherewithal of production or education, in a word, their general subservience to the class that is well endowed with power over production and well armed to boot. It is said that ‘the lists are open, each individual is called to combat and the conditions are the same for all combatants.’ Very well, only one thing has been forgotten, and that is that on this great battlefield some are educated, seasoned, equipped, and armed to the teeth, that they possess a major procurement system, equipment, ammunition, and weapons of war and occupy all the positions; whereas the others are deprived, naked, ignorant, and famished and, in order to scrape a daily living for themselves and their wives and children, are obliged to implore their opponents themselves to give them work of sorts and a meager wage.”12
What, are we comparing work with war? These arms that are being called capital, which consist in procurements of all sorts and which can never be employed for other than conquering rebellious nature, are being assimilated through a deplorable sophism with the bloody weapons which in combat men turn against one another! It is obvious that it is too easy to calumniate the industrial order by using the vocabulary of war to decry it.
The profound and irreconcilable disagreement on this point between socialists and economists consists in this: The socialists believe in the inherent antagonism of self-interests. The economists believe in natural harmony or rather in the necessary and progressive harmonization of self-interests. This sums it all up.
From the premise that self-interests are naturally antagonistic, socialists are led by the force of logic to seek an artificial organization for self-interests or even to stifle the sentiment of self-interest in the hearts of men if they can. This is what they tried to do in the Luxembourg Palace. However, although they are crazy enough, they are not strong enough and it goes without saying that, having ranted against individualism in their books, they sell their books and behave exactly like common mortals in ordinary daily life.
Well, if interests were naturally antagonistic, then justice, freedom, and equality before the law probably should be trampled underfoot. The world would need to be remade or, as they say, society would need to be reconstructed, according to one of the innumerable plans they are always inventing. Self-interest, an unruly principle, should be replaced by legal, imposed, involuntary, and obligatory selflessness, in a word, organized plunder, and since this new principle would arouse only infinite repugnance and resistance, attempts would first be made to have it accepted under the dishonest misnomer of fraternity, after which the law would be invoked, which would mean force.
But if Providence has not erred, if it has arranged things in such a way that personal interests under the law of justice naturally achieve perfectly harmonious agreements, if, as M. de Lamartine says, they arrive through freedom at a form of justice with which despotism could never supply them, if the equality of rights is the most certain and direct way to equality in fact, well then, all that we can ask of the law is to provide justice, freedom, and equality, just as all that we ask is the removal of obstacles so that the drops of water that make up the ocean find their own level.13
And that is the conclusion reached by political economy. It does not seek this conclusion, it finds it, but it is happy to find it since, in the end, is it not highly satisfactory for the spirit to see harmony in freedom where others are reduced to demanding it from despotism?
The words full of hatred with which socialists oft en address us are really very strange! What then! If by mischance we were mistaken, should they not deplore this? What are we saying? We say: After mature consideration, it has to be acknowledged that God has done well, so that the best conditions under which progress can occur are justice and freedom.
Socialists think we are mistaken; that is their right. But they should at least be sorry about this, for if our error is proved it implies that it is urgent to substitute the artificial for the natural, arbitrary systems for freedom, and contingent and human inventions for eternal and divine design.
Let us imagine that a chemistry professor comes and tells us: “The world is threatened with a major catastrophe; God has not taken sufficient precautions. I have analyzed the air escaping from human lungs and seen that it is no longer fit to breathe, so that, calculating the volume of the atmosphere, I can predict the day when it will be totally corrupted and when humanity will perish by consumption unless it adopts the artificial means of respiration that I have invented.”
Another professor comes forward and says: “No, humanity will not perish in this way. It is true that the air that is used for animal life is no longer fit for this use, but it is fit for plant life and that exhaled by plants is fit for humans to breathe. An incomplete study led people to believe that God made a mistake; more detailed research has shown that He included harmony in His work. Men can continue to breathe as nature intended.”
What would people have said if the first professor had covered the second with insults, saying: “You are a chemist with a heart that is hard, dry, and cold. You are preaching a dreadful laissez-faire; you do not like humanity, as is shown in your demonstrating the uselessness of my breathing apparatus”?
This encapsulates our entire quarrel with the socialists. Both our camps want harmony. They seek it through the countless theoretical systems they want imposed on people by law; we find it in the nature of people and things.
This would be the right place to demonstrate that self-interest leads to harmony, since this is the entire question, but to do this would require me to give a course in political economy and the reader will forgive me for not doing so right now.14 I will say only this: If political economy succeeds in recognizing the harmony of personal interests, it is because, unlike socialism, it does not stop at the immediate consequences of phenomena, but proceeds to their subsequent and final effects. That is its whole secret. The two schools differ exactly as the two chemists I have just mentioned do; one sees part of the picture and the other the whole. For example, when the socialists are prepared to take the trouble to follow the effects of competition right to the end, that is, right up to the consumer, instead of stopping at the producer, they will see that competition is the most powerful agent for equality and progress, whether it occurs inside the country or comes from abroad. And it is because political economy finds what constitutes harmony in this definitive effect that it says: In my field, there is a lot to learn and little to do. A lot to learn because the sequence of effects can be followed only with great application; little to do since the harmony of the entire phenomenon comes from the final effect.
I have had the opportunity of discussing this question with the eminent man that the revolution has raised to such great heights.15 I told him: As the law acts through constraint we can ask only justice of it. He thought that nations could also expect fraternity of it. Last August, he wrote to me: “If ever in a crisis I find myself at the helm of events, your idea will be half of my creed.” I sent him this reply: “The second half of your creed will stifle the first, since you cannot establish legal fraternity without establishing legal injustice.”16
I will end by saying to the socialists: If you believe that political economy rejects association, organization, and fraternity, you are mistaken.
Association! And do we not know that this is society itself in the constant throes of improvement?
Organization! And do we not know that it makes all the difference between a heap of heterogeneous elements and nature’s masterpieces?
Fraternity! And do we not know that this is to justice what impulses of the heart are to cold calculations of the mind?
We agree with you on this; we applaud your efforts to spread on the field of humanity the seed that will bear fruit in the future.
But we oppose you from the instant you call the law and taxes, that is to say, constraint and plunder, into play, since, apart from the fact that this recourse to force shows that you have more faith in yourselves than in the genius of humanity, this recourse is enough, in our view, to change the very nature and essence of the teaching that you are endeavoring to put into practice.17
[1. ]The slogan “liberté, égalité, fraternité” is deeply associated with the ideals of the French Revolution, yet before it became the official motto of France (probably during the Third Republic) many other combinations of ideals were used for polemical effect by various groups: law, nation, unity, property, justice, and so on.
[2. ]See the entry for “Les Économistes” in the Glossary of Subjects and Terms.
[3. ]Blanc, Histoire de la Révolution française (1847).
[4. ]Ibid., vol. 1, pp. 9–10.
[5. ]See the entry for “Decius, Gaius Messius Quintus,” in the Glossary of Persons.
[6. ]“[Christ became obedient for us] unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:8.)
[7. ]Luke 6:29. The King James version states: “And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also.”
[8. ](Paillottet’s note) See the pamphlet titled Capital and Rent in vol. 5, and see chap. 2 of Economic Harmonies in vol. 6. (OC, vol. 5, p. 23, “Capital et Rente”; and vol. 6, chap. 7, p. 228, “Capital.”)
[9. ]The religious order known as the Minims was founded by the Italian priest Francis of Paola (1416–1507) in 1435. The order was severely weakened by the French Revolution and is now defunct.
[10. ](Paillottet’s note) In practical terms, men have always distinguished between a contract and a purely benevolent act. I have on occasion been pleased to observe the most charitable man, the most selfless heart, and the most fraternal soul that I know. The parish priest of my village raises love for his fellow men and particularly for the poor to an exceptional level. It goes so far that when he has to extract money from the rich in order to assist the poor, this fine man is not very scrupulous in his choice of means.
[11. ]“All hope abandon, ye that enter here!” (Dante, Inferno III, line 9.)
[12. ](Paillottet’s note) See “Property and Plunder” hereafter, including the final note. [See “Property and Plunder,” p. 147 in this volume.] See also in vol. 2 the reply to a letter from M. Considérant. (OC, vol. 2, p. 134, “La résponse à une lettre de M. Considérant.”)
[13. ]In December 1844, Lamartine wrote in his journal Le Bien public an article titled “On the Right to Work,” in which he said, “There is no other organization of work than its freedom; there is no other distribution of income than work itself paying its accomplishments and doing itself a justice that your arbitrary systems do not do.” See also “Bastiat’s Political Writings: Anecdotes and Reflections,” pp. 410–12, and the entry for “Le Bien public” in the Glossary of Subjects and Terms.
[14. ](Paillottet’s note) Several chapters of Economic Harmonies had by this point already been published in the Le Journal des économistes and the author was shortly to continue this work.
[15. ]Lamartine, then member of the provisional government and minister of foreign affairs.
[16. ](Paillottet’s note) In August 1847, at the time when a public meeting was being prepared in Marseilles in favor of free trade, Bastiat met M. de Lamartine there and had a long discussion on free trade and then on freedom of all sorts, a fundamental axiom of political economy. See the note following the speech given in Marseilles in vol. 2 (OC, vol. 2, p. 311, “Sixième discours, à Marseille”). See also in vol. 1 the two letters to M. de Lamartine, vol. 1, p. 406, “Un Économiste à M. de Lamartine,” and p. 452, “Seconde lettre à M. de Lamartine.”
[17. ](Paillottet’s note) “There are three levels for humanity: the lowest, plunder; the highest, charity; and a middle level, justice.