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12: Protectionism and Communism - 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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Protectionism and Communism
[vol. 4, p. 504. “Protectionisme et communisme.” January 1849. This article is Bastiat’s response to Adolphe Thiers’s book De la propriété, which appeared in the fall of 1848. n.p.]
To M. Thiers1
Do not be ungrateful to the February revolution. It surprised you, offended you perhaps, but it also prepared you as an author, orator, and privy councillor2 for unexpected triumphs. Among these successes, there is one that is certainly very extraordinary. In the last few days the following appeared in La Presse:
“The association for the defense of national work (formerly the Mimerel Committee) has just sent a circular to all its correspondents to announce that a subscription had been set up to support the distribution in the workshops of M. Thiers’s book on property. The association itself is buying five thousand copies.”
I would have liked to have been present when your eyes saw this flattering announcement. A flash of malicious joy must have shone in them.
It is very true to say that the ways of God are as unerring as they are mysterious. For if you are ready for a moment to agree that when it is generalized, protectionism becomes communism (something which I will shortly endeavor to demonstrate), just as carp fry become adult carp provided that God keeps them alive, it is already very strange that a champion of protectionism poses as a destroyer of communism; but what is even more strange and consoling is that a powerful association, which was formed to propagate the communist principle both theoretically and practically (to the extent that the association considered it profitable for its members), should now devote half of its resources to destroy the evil that it has done with the other half.
I repeat, this is a consoling sight. It reassures us that the truth will inevitably triumph, since it reveals that the first and true propagators of subversive doctrines, terrified by their success, are now concocting both the antidote to the poison and the poison in the same dispensary.
It is true that the latter assumes that the communist and prohibitionist principles are identical, and perhaps you do not accept this identity, although to tell the truth I cannot think it possible that you could have written four hundred pages on property without being struck by this. Perhaps you think that a little effort devoted to commercial freedom or rather free trade, impatience with sterile discussion, the ardor of combat, and the energy of the struggle have shown me the errors of my adversaries under a magnifying glass, as happens only too oft en to us polemicists. Doubtless it is my imagination that is inflating the theory of Le Moniteur industriel to the dimensions of that of Le Populaire, in order to more easily be right about it. Is it likely that major manufacturers, honest landowners, rich bankers, and clever statesmen unwittingly and unintentionally made themselves the initiators and apostles of communism in France?
Why not, may I ask? There are many workers, brimming with a sincere belief in the right to work, who are consequently communists without knowing it or wishing it and who would not allow people to consider them such. The fact is that in all classes interest directs the will, and the will, as Pascal said, is the major organ of credit. Under another name, many industrialists, highly honest people incidentally, treat communism as it is always treated, that is to say, on the condition that only other people’s property will be shared out. But as soon as this principle is gaining ground and it becomes a matter of releasing their own assets to be shared out, then, oh dear! communism repels them! They distributed Le Moniteur industriel, and now they are distributing the book on property. To be surprised by this, you would need to have no knowledge of the human heart and its secret recesses and of how easily it makes itself a skillful deceiver.
No, sir, it is not the heat of the struggle that has caused me to see the prohibitionist doctrine in this light, since, on the contrary, it is because I saw it in this light before the struggle that I became involved.3 Please believe me, expanding our foreign trade a little, an incidental result that is certainly not to be sniffed at, has never been my decisive reason for this. I believed and still believe that property is involved in this question. I believed and still believe that our customs duties, because of the spirit in which they were drawn up and the arguments used to defend them, have made a breach in the very principle of property through which all the rest of our legislation threatens to drive.
Considering the state of people’s minds, it seemed to me that a form of communism that—I have to say this to be fair—is unaware of itself and its effects was about to overwhelm us. It seemed to me that this form of communism (for there are several forms) was taking advantage very logically of the prohibitionist arguments and limiting itself to insisting on its implications. It is therefore in this domain that I considered it useful to combat this form of communism, since it was arming itself with the sophisms put about by the Mimerel Committee and since there was no hope of overcoming this form of communism as long as these sophisms were left unrefuted and triumphant in the public outlook. It is from this point of view that we took our stance in Bordeaux, Paris, Marseilles, and Lyons when we founded the Association pour la liberté des échanges (free-trade association). Commercial freedom, considered in its own right, is doubtless a precious asset for nations, but all in all if we had had only this in view, we would have given our association the title of Association for Commercial Freedom, or even more politically apposite, for the gradual reform of duties. But the term free trade implies the freedom to dispose of the fruits of your work, in other words, property, and this is the reason that we preferred it.4 Of course we knew that this term would raise difficulties. It affirmed a principle, and this being so it was bound to cause all the advocates of the opposing principle to join the ranks of our opponents. What is more, it was extremely repugnant to people, even those best disposed to support us, that is to say, the merchants, who were then more concerned with reforming the tariffs than overcoming communism. Le Havre, while sympathizing with our views, refused to come under our banner. People everywhere told me, “We are more likely to obtain a lessening of the duties on our products by not parading absolute demands.” I replied, “If this is your sole view, take action through your Chambers of Commerce.” I was also told, “The term free trade terrifies and makes success less likely.” This was perfectly true, but I drew my strongest argument for its adoption from the very fear conjured up by this term. The more it terrifies people, I said, the more it proves that the notion of property is losing its hold in people’s minds. The prohibitionist doctrine has distorted ideas, and distorted ideas have produced protectionism. Obtaining an accidental improvement in customs duties by stealth or the goodwill of the minister is to alleviate an effect, not destroy the cause. I therefore continued to use the term free trade, not out of spite but because of the obstacles that it was bound to create for us, obstacles that revealed the sickness of people’s minds and thus proved beyond doubt that the very foundations of social order were being threatened.
It was not enough to indicate our aim by means of a term; the term needed to be defined. That is what we did, and I quote here, as supporting evidence, the first act or manifesto of this association:
At the time of joining forces to defend a great cause, the undersigned feel the need to set out their beliefs and to proclaim the aim, limits, means, and spirit of their association.
Trade is a natural right like property. Any citizen who has created or acquired a product must have the option of either using it immediately or selling it to another person on the earth’s surface who is free to give him in exchange the object of his preference. Depriving him of this faculty, when he has not used it to contravene public order and proper behavior, and solely to satisfy the convenience of another citizen, is to legitimize plunder and contravene the law of justice.
It also violates the conditions of order, since what order can there be within a society in which each branch of production, supported by the law and public forces, seeks its success through the oppression of all the others?
This is to misunderstand the providential design which rules human destiny as shown in the infinite variety of climate, seasons, and natural forces and the aptitudes and goods that God has so unequally shared out between men with the sole aim of uniting them through trade in the bonds of universal fraternity.
It is to oppose the development of public prosperity, since he who is not free to trade is not free to choose his work and is obliged to give a false orientation to his efforts, faculties, capital, and the agents nature has made available to him.
Last, it is to compromise peace between nations since it disrupts the relationships that unite them and that make wars impossible by making them too costly.
The aim of the Association is therefore la liberté des échanges.
The undersigned do not contest the right of society to establish taxes on goods that cross the border in order to cover common expenditure, provided that they are determined solely in view of the needs of the treasury.
However, as soon as the tax loses its fiscal character and aims to repel foreign goods, to the detriment of the tax system itself, in order to raise the price of a similar national product artificially and thus hold the community to ransom for the benefit of a particular group, protectionism or rather plunder instantly becomes manifest and this is the principle the Association aims utterly to discredit in people’s minds and remove totally from our laws, independently of any form of reciprocity and arrangements in force elsewhere.
Although the Association is pursuing the total destruction of the protectionist regime, it does not follow that it is asking for a reform of this nature to be achieved overnight and result from a single vote. Even to retrace one’s steps from evil to good and from an artificial state of affairs to a natural situation, precautions may be required as a matter of prudence. Such details of execution are part of the powers of the state; the mission of the Association is to spread knowledge of and popularize the principle.
As for the means it intends to use, it will never seek these elsewhere than in constitutional and legal avenues.
Last, the Association is independent of all political parties. It is at the service of no industry, sector, or part of the national territory. It embraces the cause of eternal justice, peace, union, free communication, and fraternity among all men and the cause of general interest, which is confused everywhere and in all aspects with that of the public as a consumer.
Is there one word in this manifesto that does not reveal a burning desire to strengthen or even reestablish the notion of property, corrupted by a regime of restriction, in people’s minds? Is it not plain that in the manifesto commercial interest is secondary and social interest primary? Note that the duty in itself, whether good or bad from an administrative or fiscal point of view, is of little concern to us. But as soon as it acts intentionally in a protectionist manner, that is to say, as soon as it reveals a tendency to plunder and the negation in principle of the right to property, we fight against it, not as a customs duty but as a system. It is the idea of this system, we argue, that we are endeavoring to discredit utterly in people’s minds in order to make it disappear from our laws.
Doubtless the question will be asked why, with regard to a general matter of this importance, we have limited the struggle to the domain of a specific question.
The reason is simple. It was necessary to oppose one association by another and recruit interests and soldiers into our army. We were fully aware that between prohibitionists and free traders the polemic could not be prolonged without its shaking up and finally resolving all the moral, political, philosophical, and economic questions that relate to property, and since the Mimerel Committee had compromised this principle by pursuing just one specific aim, we had to hope to raise the principle by pursuing in our turn the specific and opposing aim.
But what does it matter what I may have said or thought in previous times? What does it matter that I may have glimpsed or thought that I had glimpsed a certain link between protectionism and communism? The essential is to know whether this link exists. That is what I am going to examine.
Doubtless you remember the day when, with your natural skill, you caused M. Proudhon to utter this admission that has become famous: “Give me the right to work and I will yield you the right of property.” M. Proudhon did not hide that in his view these two rights are incompatible.
If property is incompatible with the right to work and if the right to work is based on the same principle as protectionism, what ought we to conclude other than that protectionism is itself incompatible with property? In geometry, it is held to be an incontrovertible truth that two entities equal to a third are equal to each other.
However, it has happened that an eminent orator, M. Billault, believed it to be his duty to support the right to work on the rostrum. This was not easy in view of the admission let slip by M. Proudhon. M. Billaultfully understood that having the state intervene to equalize wealth and level situations was to embark on the slippery slope to communism, and what did he say to persuade the National Assembly to violate the whole basis of property? He simply told you that what he was asking you to do you were already doing through your customs duties. His claim does not go beyond a somewhat wide application of doctrines that are accepted and applied by you. These are his words:
Cast a glance on our customs duties. Through their prohibitions, differential taxes, subsidies, and various arrangements, society is helping, supporting, slowing down, or speeding up all the forms of national work [very good]. Society not only holds the balance between French work, which it protects, and foreign work, but in our homeland various forms of industry still see it constantly intervening between them. Listen to the never-ending claims before the courts by one industry against another, for example, industries that use iron complaining against the protection given to French iron against foreign iron, those that use flax or spun cotton protesting against the protection given to French yarn against foreign yarn, and so on. Society [he should have said the government] thus finds itself closely involved in all the struggles and difficulties of work. It actively intervenes in it on a daily basis both directly and indirectly, and the first time you have customs problems you will see that whether you like it or not you will be obliged both to take sides and sort out the rights of each of the interests.
The argument that it is the debt owed by society to destitute workers that causes the government to intervene in the question of work is therefore not a valid one.
And please note that in his argumentation, M. Billault had no thought of subjecting you to bitter irony. He is not a free trader in disguise taking pleasure in making the lack of consistency of the protectionists palpable. No, M. Billault is himself a bona fide protectionist. He aspires to having wealth leveled by the law. To this end, he considers the action of customs duties useful, and when he encounters the right to property as an obstacle he leaps over it, just as you do. He is then shown the right to work, which is a second step in the same direction. He next encounters the obstacle of the rights of property and leaps over it once more. However, on turning around, he is totally surprised to see that you are no longer following him. He asks you why. If you reply:
I accept in principle that the law may violate property, but I find it inconvenient for it to do this under the guise of the right to work,
M. Billault would understand you and would discuss with you this secondary question of opportuneness. But you counter him with the actual principle of property. This surprises him and he thinks he has the right to say to you:
Do not play the good apostle now, and if you reject the right to work, let it at least not be by basing yourself on the rights of property, since you are violating this right by means of your customs duties whenever it suits you.
He might add with good reason:
Through protectionist duties you oft en violate the property of the poor for the benefit of the rich. Through the right to work you will be violating the property of the rich for the benefit of the poor. By what misfortune have you been overcome by scruples this late in the day?5
Between M. Billault and you, therefore, there is just one difference. Both of you are treading the same path, that of communism. The only thing is that you have taken one step and he has taken two. In this respect, in my view at least, you have the advantage. However, you lose it from the point of view of logic. For since, like him, you are walking with your back turned from property, it is amusing to say the least that you pose as its champion. This is an inconsistency that M. Billault has been able to avoid. But alas! It is only for him to fall in turn into a depressing battle of words! M. Billault is too enlightened not to sense, at least dimly, the danger of each of his steps along a path that leads to communism. He does not lay himself open to ridicule by posing as the champion of property just when he is violating it, but how does he think of justifying himself? He invokes the favorite axiom of those who want to reconcile two irreconcilable things: There are no principles. Property, communism, let us take a bit from anywhere we choose depending on the circumstances.
In my view, the pendulum of civilization, which swings from one principle to the other depending on the needs of the moment, but which always records a step forward, will return to the need for government action after strongly inclining toward the absolute freedom of individualism.
There is therefore nothing new under the sun; there are no principles since the pendulum has to swing from one principle to the other depending on the needs of the moment. Oh, metaphor! Where would you lead us if we gave you your head!6
As you so judiciously said from the rostrum, not everything can be said, and still less written, all at once. It should be clearly understood that I am not examining here the economic aspect of the protectionist regime. I am not looking to see whether, from the point of view of national wealth, it does more good than harm or more harm than good. The only point I wish to prove is that it is nothing other than a manifestation of communism. MM Billault and Proudhon have begun the demonstration. I will try to complete it.
First of all, what is meant by communism? There are several ways, if not of achieving communality of property, at least of trying to achieve it. M. de Lamartine counted four. You think that there are at least a thousand, and I agree with you. However, I think that they can all be divided into three general categories, of which just one, in my opinion, is genuinely dangerous.
First of all, two or more men can envisage pooling their work and lifestyle. As long as they do not seek to infringe security, restrict freedom, or usurp the property of others, either directly or indirectly, if they do harm, they harm themselves. The tendency of these men will always be to achieve their dreams in distant deserts. Anyone who has thought about these things knows that those who are unfortunate will perish in torment, the victims of their illusions. In these days communists of this type have called their illusionary Elysian Fields Icaria,7 as if they had had the gloomy premonition of the terrible outcome to which they were being driven. We must weep for their blindness and should warn them if they were likely to listen to us, but society has nothing to fear from their illusions.
Another form of communism, and decidedly the most brutal, is this: make a heap of all the assets that exist and share them out ex aequo.8 This is plunder that has become a dominant and universal rule. It is the destruction not only of property but also of work and the very motivation that stimulates men to work. This form of communism is so violent, absurd, and monstrous that in truth I cannot really think it is dangerous. This is what I said some time ago to a large assembly of voters, the majority of whom belonged to the suffering classes. An outburst of murmuring greeted my words.
I showed surprise. “What!” it was said; “M. Bastiat dares to say that communism is not dangerous! He must be a communist! Well, we thought as much, since communists, socialists, and economists are all tarred with the same brush as the rhyme shows.” I had some trouble extricating myself from this fix. But this very interruption proved the truth of my statement. No, communism is not dangerous in its most naïve form, that of pure and simple plunder; it is not dangerous when it causes dread.
I hasten to say that while protectionism may and should be assimilated to communism, it is not to the form I have just described.
But communism also has a third form.
Causing the state to intervene, giving it the mission of evening out profits and balancing wealth by taking from some without their consent in order to give to others with no retribution, making it responsible for carrying out the work of leveling through plunder, this is definitely communism. Neither the procedures practiced by the state to do this nor the fine names used to adorn this idea change this. Whether direct or indirect means are used to achieve this, through restriction or taxes, through customs duties or the right to work, whether equality, solidarity, or fraternity is invoked, this does not change the nature of things. Plundering property is no less plunder because it is accomplished legally, in an orderly fashion, systematically, and through the implementation of the law.
I add that this is the form of communism that is truly dangerous in our time. Why? Because in this form we see it always ready to invade everything. And look! One person asks the state to supply the tools of their trade free of charge to artisans and workers; this is inviting it to seize them from other artisans and workers. Another wants the state to lend interest free; it cannot do this without violating property. A third claims free education at all levels. Free! That means at taxpayers’ expense. A fourth demands that the state subsidize associations of workers, theaters, artists, etc. But such subsidies embody an equal level of income withheld from those who have legitimately earned it. A fifth will not rest until the state has artificially raised the price of a product for the benefit of those selling it, but this is to the disadvantage of those who buy it. Yes, in these terms there are very few people who in one way or another are not communists. You are one, M. Billault is one, and I fear that in France we are all such to a greater or lesser extent. It seems as though intervention by the state reconciles us with plunder by attributing responsibility for it to everyone, that is to say, to no one, with the result that people can enjoy the property of others with a perfectly clear conscience. Did not the honest M. Tourret, one of the most upright men to sit on a ministerial bench, start his exposition of the reasons for the draft law on advance payments to agriculture in this way: “It is not enough to give education to encourage the arts; it is also necessary to provide the tools of the trade”? Following this preamble, he submitted to the National Assembly a draft law whose first article went as follows:
Article I: In the 1849 budget, a credit of ten million has been opened for the minister of agriculture and trade, intended to make advance payments to landowners and associations of owners of rural assets.
Admit that if legislative language were concerned with accuracy, this article should have been drafted thus:
During 1849 the minister of agriculture and trade is authorized to take ten million from the pockets of workers who have great need of it and to whom it belongs in order to put it in the pockets of other workers who also need it and to whom it does not belong.
Is this not a communist act, and when generalized does it not constitute communism?
Take a manufacturer who would die rather than steal a sous. He does not have the slightest scruple in submitting the following request to the legislature: “Enact a law that raises the price of my cloth, iron, or coal and makes it possible for me to hold my purchasers to ransom.” Since the reason on which he bases his request is that he is not happy with his profit as provided by freedom to trade or free trade (which I state is the same thing, whatever people say),9 and since we are all discontented with our profit and inclined to call upon the legislature, it is clear, at least to me, that if the legislature does not hasten to say, “That is none of my business; I am not responsible for violating property but for guaranteeing it,” I say that we are clearly in the throes of communism. The means of implementation used by the state may differ, but they all have the same aim and follow the same principle.
Supposing that I come to the bar of the National Assembly and say,
I carry out a trade and do not think that my profit is sufficient. For this reason, I ask you to issue a decree that authorizes the tax collectors to exact just one little centime from each family in France for my benefit.
If the legislature accepts my request, it could be seen as just an isolated example of legal plunder, which is not enough to warrant being called communism. However, if every Frenchman, one after another, made the same request, and if the legislature examined these requests with the avowed aim of achieving equality of wealth, it is in this principle and its effects that I see, and you will not fail to see, communism.
That the legislature makes use of customs officers and tax collectors, direct or indirect taxation, or restrictions or premiums to put its ideas into practice is of little importance. Does it consider itself entitled to take and to give without compensation? Does it think that its mission is to balance profits? Does it act in accordance with this belief? Does the majority of the public approve and encourage this method of acting? In this case, I say that we are on the downward slope to communism, whether we are aware of this or not.
And if I am told: “The state is not acting in favor of everyone, but only in favor of a few sectors,” I will answer: “It has then found the means to make communism itself worse still.”
I am aware, sir, that doubt can be cast on these deductions by creating confusion of a very facile sort. People will quote quite legitimate administrative facts, cases in which state intervention is as equitable as it is useful; then, establishing an apparent analogy between these cases and those against which I am protesting, they will put me in the wrong and they will tell me: “Either you ought not to see communism in protectionism or you ought to see it in all government action.”
This is a trap into which I do not wish to fall. For this reason I am obliged to look for the exact circumstance that confers a communist character on state intervention.
What is the purpose of the state? Which matters ought citizens to entrust to collective compulsion? Which ought they to reserve to private activity? Answering these questions would be to give a course in politics. Fortunately, I do not need to do this to solve the problem that concerns us.
When citizens, instead of providing a service to themselves, transform it into a public service, that is to say, when they consider it apposite to pool resources to have work done or to procure joint satisfaction for themselves, I do not call this communism, since I do not see in it the element that gives the latter its special character: leveling through plunder. It is true that the state takes through taxation but gives back by means of services. This is a particular but legitimate form of the basis of all types of society: exchange. I will go further. By entrusting a particular service to the state, citizens may be doing something that is an advantage or a disadvantage. It is advantageous if, by this means, the service is provided better or cheaper. It is disadvantageous if it is not, but in none of these cases do I see the principle of communism. In the first case the citizens have succeeded, and in the second they have made a mistake, but that is all, and while communism is an error it does not follow that every error is the result of communism.
In general, economists are very distrustful of government intervention. They see in it all sorts of disadvantages: a downgrading of freedom, energy, foresight, and individual experience, which are the most valuable bases of society. It oft en happens, therefore, that they oppose such intervention. But it is not at all from this point of view and for this reason that they reject protectionism. Let no one therefore use as an argument against us our predilection, which is perhaps too pronounced, for freedom; and let no one say: “It is not surprising that these men reject the protectionist regime since they reject state intervention in everything.”
First of all, it is not true that we reject it in everything. We allow that it is the state’s mission to maintain order and security, to ensure respect for people and property, and to curb fraud and violence. As for the services whose sphere is, so to say, production, we have no other rule than this: Let the state be responsible for it if there is a proven economizing of resources for the masses. But for goodness’ sake, in calculating this include all the innumerable disadvantages of work monopolized by the state.
Then, I am bound to repeat, it is one thing to vote against a new function given to the state on the basis that, all things being considered, it is a disadvantage and constitutes a national loss; it is quite another thing to vote against this new function because it is illegitimate and plunderous and because it grants to the government a new mission to do precisely what its original mission was designed to prevent and punish. Well, we hold against what is called the protectionist regime both these types of objection, but the second outweighs the first by far in our determination to wage a bitter war on it, of course by legal means.
Thus, for example, let people submit to a local council the question of whether it is better to allow each family to collect its water requirements a quarter of a league away or whether it is preferable for the authority to levy a subscription to bring the water to the village square. I would have no objection in principle to an examination of this question. The calculation of the advantages and disadvantages for all would be the sole element in the decision. A mistake may be made in the calculation, but the error itself, though it would lead to a loss of property, would not constitute a systematic violation of that property.
But should the mayor propose to ride roughshod over one enterprise for the benefit of another, to forbid clogs in order to benefit shoemakers or something similar, then I would tell him that it was no longer a calculation of advantages and disadvantages: it would be political corruption and an abusive hijacking of public compulsion. I would say to him, “You who are the trustee of public authority and power to punish plunder, how do you dare to apply them to the protection and systematic operation of plunder?”
Should the mayor’s intention triumph, if I were to see as a result of this precedent all the businesses in the village agitating to solicit favors at the expense of each other, and if in the midst of this noisy and unscrupulous ambition I see the very notion of property sink without trace, I would be free to think that, to save it from shipwreck, the first thing to do would be to point out what was iniquitous in the measure that was the initial link in this abominable chain.
It would not be difficult, sir, for me to find passages in your book that agree with my subject and are in line with my views. To tell the truth, I would have only to open it at random. Yes, harking back to a children’s game, if I stick a pin into this book, I would find on the page selected by fate an implicit or explicit condemnation of the protectionist regime and proof that this regime is in principle identical with communism. And why should I not demonstrate this proof? Here I go. The pin has selected page 283; on it I read:
It is therefore a serious error to attack competition and not to have seen that while the nation is a producer, it is also a consumer, and that if it receives less on the one hand (which I deny and you will deny it yourselves a few lines further down) and pays less on the other, there remains, for the benefit of all, the difference between a system that restrains human activity with a system that urges it ever forward down the path, telling it never to stop.
I challenge you to say that this does not apply just as much to the competition that takes place above the Bidassoa10 as to that which occurs above the Loire. Let us make another stab with the pin. That’s it; here we are, on page 325.
Rights either exist or they do not. If they exist, they lead to absolute consequences. . . . There is something else: if the right exists, it exists at all times; it is fully operational today, yesterday, tomorrow, the day after, in summer as in winter, not when it suits you to declare it valid but whenever it suits the worker to invoke it.
Would you claim that an ironmaster has an indefinite and perpetual right to prevent me from indirectly producing two hundredweight of iron in my workplace, which is a vineyard, for the advantage to him of directly producing just one in his factory, which is a forge? This right also exists or it does not. If it exists, it is fully operational today, yesterday, tomorrow, the day after, in summer as in winter, not when it suits you to declare it valid but whenever it suits the ironmaster to invoke it!
Let us tempt fate again. It has selected page 63, on which I read the following aphorism:
Property does not exist if I cannot give it away as well as consume it.
We, for our part, say: “Property does not exist if I cannot trade it as well as consume it.” And allow me to add that the right to exchange is at least as precious, as socially important, and as characteristic of property as the right to give it away. It is to be regretted that in a book intended to examine property from every angle, you thought it necessary to devote two chapters to giving, which is not in danger, and not one line to exchange, which is so shamelessly violated under the very authority of the laws of the country.
Another jab of the pin. Oh! It brings us to page 47.
The first property owned by man lies in his person and faculties. There is a second, less close to his being but not less sacred, in the product of these faculties that embraces everything known as his worldly goods and that society has the greatest interest in guaranteeing him, since without this guarantee there would be no work, and without work, no civilization, not even the necessities but deprivation, plunder, and barbarity.
Well, sir, let us elaborate on this text, if you will.
Like you, I see property first in the free disposal of man’s person, followed by his faculties and finally the product of these faculties, which proves, let it be said in passing, that from a certain point of view freedom and property merge.
I would scarcely dare to say, like you, that the ownership of the product of our faculties is less closely linked to our being than that of the faculties themselves. Physically this is unquestionable, but if a man is deprived of his faculties or their products, the result is the same, and this result is known as slavery—a fresh proof of the natural identity of freedom and property. If I use force to appropriate all the work of a man for my benefit, this man is my slave. He is also my slave if, while letting him work freely, I find a way through force or guile to take possession of the fruit of his work. The first type of oppression is more odious, the second cleverer. Since it is a known fact that work done freely is more intelligent and productive, the masters have said to themselves, “Let us not usurp the faculties of our slaves directly, but let us seize the richer product of their faculties operating freely and give this new form of servitude the fine title of protection.”
You also say that society has an interest in guaranteeing property. We agree; the only thing is that I go further than you, and if by society you mean the government, I say that its sole duty with regard to property is to guarantee it; if the government attempts to level property, the government is by this very action violating property instead of guaranteeing it. This is worth examining.
When a certain number of men who cannot live without work and property pool their resources to pay for a common force, obviously their aim is to work and enjoy the fruit of their work in total security and not to put their faculties and property at the mercy of this force. Even if no government, properly called, has yet formed, I do not believe that individual persons can have their right to defense—that is, the right to defend their persons, faculties, and property—challenged.
Without claiming to philosophize here on the origin and extent of the prerogatives of governments, a huge subject very likely to daunt me in my weakness, I ask that you allow me to put an idea before you. It seems to me that the prerogatives of the state can consist only in the codification of preexisting personal rights. For my part, I cannot conceive of a collective right that is not rooted in individual right and does not presuppose it. Therefore, to know whether the state is legitimately endowed with a right, the question must be asked whether this right exists in individuals by virtue of their organization and in the absence of any form of government. It is on the basis of this idea that I rejected the right to work a few days ago. I said, “Since Peter does not have the right to force Paul directly to give him work, he is no more entitled to exercise this alleged right through the intervention of the state, since the state is only the common force created by Peter and Paul at their expense with a clear aim, which can never be to make something just that is not just. This is the touchstone I use to judge between the guarantee and the leveling of property by the state. Why has the state the right to guarantee everyone his property, even by force? Because this right preexists in each individual. The right of legitimate defense of individual entities, the right to employ force if need be to repel attacks directed against their persons, faculties, and assets, cannot be challenged. It is accepted that, since it is within each citizen, this individual right can take a collective form and make the common force legitimate. And why should the state not have the right to level property? Because in order to do so it has to take away from some and give to others. Well, since none of the thirty million French citizens have the right to take by force on the pretext of achieving equality, it is difficult to see how they can invest this right in the common force.
And note that the prerogative of leveling is destructive of the right of guarantee. Take savages. They have not yet founded a government. But each of them has the right of legitimate defense, and it is not difficult to see that this is the right that will become the basis of the legitimate common force. If one of these savages has devoted his time, energy, and intelligence to making himself a bow and arrow and another wishes to steal these from him, the entire sympathy of the tribe will be with the victim, and if the cause is brought before the elders to be judged, the plunderer will unfailingly be condemned. Only one step further is needed to organize a common force. But, I ask you, has this force the task, at least the legitimate one, of regularizing the act of him who defends his property as of right, or the act of him who violates the property of others in defiance of this right? It would be very strange if the collective force were to be based not on individual right but on its constant and systematic violation! No, the author of the book I have before me cannot be supporting a thesis like this. But it is not enough for the author not to support the thesis; he ought perhaps to have contested it. It is not enough to attack this crude and absurd form of communism, which a few sectarians advocate in leaflets that are decried. It might have been a good thing to unveil and stigmatize this other bold and subtle form of communism, which by simply corrupting the just notion of the prerogatives of the state has insinuated itself into some of the branches of our legislation and threatens to invade them all.
For, sir, it is really unquestionable that by operating the customs duties, through the so-called protectionist regime, governments are carrying out the monstrosity of which I have just spoken. They are deserting the right of legitimate defense that preexists in each citizen and is the source and reason of their own purpose, in order to appropriate an alleged right to level through plunder, a right that previously resided in no one and thus cannot exist communally either.
But what is the use of stressing these general ideas? What is the use of demonstrating here the absurdity of communism since you have done this yourself (except for one of its manifestations, and in my view the most threatening in practice) much better than I am able to do?
Perhaps you will tell me that the principle of the protectionist regime does not oppose the principle of property. Let us look at the procedures of this regime.
There are two of these: subsidies11 and restrictions.
With regard to the subsidy, this is evident. I dare to challenge anyone to claim that the last stage of the system of premiums, taken to its limit, is not absolute communism. Citizens work in the shelter of the common force, which is responsible, as you say, for guaranteeing to each his own, suum cuique. But now the state with the most philanthropic intentions in the world is undertaking a quite new and different task, which in my view is not just exclusive but destructive of the first. It is pleased to make itself the judge of profit, to decide which activities are not being remunerated enough and which get too much. It is pleased to set itself up as the leveler and, as M. Billault says, to swing the pendulum of civilization to the opposite side from freedom and individualism. As a result, it is levying a contribution from the entire community to hand out presents in the form of premiums to the exporters of a particular type of product. Its claim is to be encouraging industry. It should say one industry at the expense of all the others. I will not stop at showing that it stimulates suckers at the expense of fruit-bearing branches, but I ask you, by going down this path, is it not authorizing every producer to come forward to claim a premium as long as he provides proof that he does not have as much income as his neighbor? Has the state the proper function of listening to and assessing all these requests and acceding to them? I do not think so, but those who believe this must have the courage to clothe their thought in its controlling detail and to say: “The government is not responsible for guaranteeing property but for leveling it. In other words, property does not exist.”
I am dealing here only with a question of principle. If I wanted to scrutinize the economic effects of subsidies for exports, I would show them in their most ridiculous light since they are just a free gift made by France to foreigners. It is not the sellers who receive it but the purchaser by virtue of this law that you yourself have noted in connection with taxes: the consumer finally bears all the charges, just as he receives all the advantages of production. For this reason, the most mortifying and mysterious thing possible has happened to us with regard to these premiums. A few foreign governments have reasoned thus: “If we raise our entry duties to a figure equal to the premium paid by French taxpayers, it is clear that nothing will change for our consumers since the cost price for them will be the same. Goods reduced by five francs at the French border will pay five francs more at the German border. This is an infallible way of making the French treasury responsible for our public expenditure.” But other governments, I am assured, have been even more ingenious. They said to themselves, “The premium given by France is really a gift made to us, but if we raise the duty, there is no reason for more of these goods to enter our country than in the past; we ourselves are setting a limit on the generosity of these excellent Frenchmen. On the other hand, let us abolish these duties provisionally; let us encourage an unprecedented influx of their cloth in this way, since each meter brings with it a totally free gift.” In the first case, our premiums have been to the foreign tax authorities; in the second, they have benefited the ordinary citizens but on a wider scale.
Let us move on to restriction.
I am an artisan, a carpenter, for example. I have a small workshop, tools, and some materials. All of these are unquestionably mine, since I have made them or, what amounts to the same thing, I have purchased and paid for them. What is more, I have vigorous arms, some intelligence, and a great deal of goodwill. These are the funds with which I have to provide for my needs and those of my family. Note that I cannot produce anything that I need directly, whether iron, wood, bread, wine, meat, fabric, etc., but I can produce their value. In the end, these things have, so to say, to emerge in another form from my saw and my plane. My interest is to receive honestly as great a quantity as possible for each quantity of my work. I say “honestly” since I do not wish to violate either the property or the person of anyone. However, I have no wish to see anyone violating either my property or my freedom. I and other workers who agree on this point impose sacrifices on ourselves and give up part of our work to men known as civil servants, since we give them the specific function of guaranteeing our work and its proceeds from all forms of attack, whether from within or from without.
With these arrangements in place, I am getting ready to put my intelligence, arms, saw, and plane to work. Naturally, my eyes are constantly fixed on those things that are necessary for my existence. These are the things I have to produce indirectly by creating their value. The problem for me is to produce them as advantageously as possible. Consequently I cast a glance over the world of values, summed up in what is known as the current price. From the data on the current price I note that the means for me to have the greatest possible quantity of fuel, for example, for the smallest quantity of work is to make an item of furniture and deliver it to a Belgian who in return will give me coal.
However, there is in France a worker who is looking for coal in the bowels of the earth. It so happens that the civil servants whose salary both the miner and I are contributing to in order for each of us to have our freedom to work and the free disposal of our products maintained (which is property), it so happens, I repeat, that these civil servants have conceived another idea and have given themselves a different purpose. They have decided that they ought to equalize my work and that of the miner. Consequently, they have forbidden me to heat myself with Belgian coal; and when I go to the border with my item of furniture to collect my coal, I find that these civil servants are preventing the coal from entering, which is the same thing as preventing my item of furniture from leaving. I therefore say to myself: “If we had not thought of paying civil servants to spare us the trouble of defending our property ourselves, would the miner have had the right to go to the border and forbid me a profitable trade on the pretext that it is better for him that this trade not be concluded?” Certainly not. If he had made such an unjust attempt, we would have fought on the spot, he driven by his unjust claim and I fired up by my right of legitimate defense. We had cast our votes and paid a civil servant precisely to avoid fights like this. How, therefore, is it that I find the miner and the civil servant in agreement to restrict my freedom and hard work in order to reduce the sphere in which my talents may be exercised? If the civil servant had taken my side, I would understand his right; it would derive from mine, since legitimate defense is a genuine right. But where has he drawn the right to help the miner in his injustice? I learn from all this that the civil servant has changed his role. He is no longer a simple mortal invested with his own rights delegated to him by other men who, in consequence, possessed them. No. He is a being superior to humanity, drawing his rights from himself, and among his rights, he arrogates to himself that of leveling profits and keeping the balance between all forms of position and condition. All very good, say I; in this case I will overwhelm him with claims and requests as soon as I see someone richer than me anywhere in this country. He will not listen to you, I am told, for if he listened to you he would be a communist and he does not forget that his mission is to guarantee property, not to level it.
What chaos and confusion reigns in the facts! And how can you expect chaos and confusion not to reign in men’s minds? You may well be fighting against communism; as long as you are seen to accommodate, cherish, and flatter it in that part of the legislation it has invaded, your efforts will be in vain. It is a snake that, with your approval and care, has slipped its head into our laws and behavior, and now you are indignant at seeing its tail show itself in turn!
It is possible, sir, that you will make me a concession. Perhaps you will tell me the “protectionist regime is based on the principle of communism. It is contrary to law, property, and freedom. It ejects the government from its path and invests it with arbitrary attributions that have no rational basis. All this is only too true, but the protectionist regime is useful; without it the country would succumb to foreign competition and be ruined.”
This would lead us to examine restriction from an economic point of view. Setting aside any consideration of justice, right, equity, property, and freedom, we would have to settle the question of pure utility, the question of what is purchasable, so to speak; and you will agree that this is not my subject. Incidentally, take care that in using utility to justify a contempt for right, you are in effect saying: “Communism, plunder, although condemned by justice, may nevertheless be accepted as being expedient.” And you will agree that an admission like this would be full of danger.
Without seeking to solve the economic problem here, I ask you to allow me one assertion. I declare that I have subjected the advantages and disadvantages of protectionism, from the sole point of view of wealth, to arithmetical calculation, setting aside any consideration of a higher order. I also declare that I have reached the following result: that any restrictive measure has one advantage and two disadvantages, or, if you prefer, one profit and two losses, with each of these losses being equal to the profit and thus giving rise to a clear and definite loss, which provides the consoling proof that, in this as in many other things, and I dare say in everything, utility and justice agree.
True, this is just a statement, but it can be proved mathematically.
What causes public opinion to err on this point is that the profit due to protectionism is visible to the naked eye, whereas of the two equal losses it brings in its wake one is infinitely divided between the citizens and the other is visible only to the eye of an investigative mind.
Without claiming to do this demonstration here, I ask you to allow me to outline its basis.
Two products, A and B, have a normal value of 50 and 40 in France. Let us suppose that in Belgium A is worth only 40. This being so, if France is subject to a restrictive regime, she will be able to enjoy the use of A and B by diverting a quantity equal to 90 from her total output since she will be reduced to producing A directly. If she were free, this amount of effort, equal to 90, would come to: 1. the production of B, which she would deliver to Belgium to obtain A; 2. the production of another B for herself; and 3. the production of some good C.
It is this part of the effort made available in the second case for the subsequent production of C, that is to say the creation of a new good equal to 10, without France thereby being deprived of either A or B, that is difficult to understand. Substitute iron for A; wine, silk, and Parisian articles for B; and loss of wealth for C; you will always find that restriction limits national well-being.12
Do you wish to abandon this heavy algebra? I am happy to. You will not deny that while the prohibitionist regime has achieved some good for the coal industry, it is only by raising the price of coal.13 You will not deny either that this excess price from 1822 to the present has caused every person who uses this form of fuel a higher expenditure for each such usage, in other words, that this excess price represents a loss. Can it be said that the producers of coal, in addition to the interest on their capital and the ordinary profits to the industry, have received excess profit through restriction that is equivalent to this loss? If that were the case, protection, while remaining unjust, odious, plundering, and communistic, would be at least neutral from the purely economic point of view. It would then deserve to be equated to plunder of the basic kind, which displaces wealth without destroying it. But you yourself declare on page 236 “that the mines in the Aveyron, in Alais, Saint-Etienne, Creuzot, and Anzin, the best known, have not produced an income of 4 percent of the capital committed!” In order for capital in France to yield 4 percent, no protection is needed. Where then is the profit here to compensate for the loss described above?
This is not all. There is another form of national loss here. Since through the relative increase in price of the fuel all the users of coal have lost money, they have had to restrict their other forms of consumption proportionally and the total of national production has of necessity been reduced by this measure. This is the loss that is never included in the calculations since it is not obvious.
Allow me one more observation that to my surprise has not struck others more. It is that protection applied to the products of agriculture is shown in all its odious iniquity with regard to those known as the Proletariat while causing damage in the long run to landowners themselves.
Let us imagine a South Sea island whose land has become the private property of a certain number of inhabitants.
Let us imagine that on this territory that has been appropriated and marked out there is a proletarian population that is constantly increasing, or tending to increase.14
This latter class will never be able to produce directly the things that are essential to life. They will need to sell their labor to men who are in a position to supply them in exchange with food and even materials of work: cereals, fruit, vegetables, meat, wool, flax, leather, wood, etc.
Obviously it is in their interest that the market in which these things are sold be as wide as possible. The more they are faced with a greater abundance of these agricultural products, the more they will receive for each given quantity of their own output.
Under a free regime, a fleet of boats will be seen going to seek foodstuffs and materials on neighboring islands and continents and carrying in payment manufactured products. The owners will benefit from all the prosperity they have the right to expect. A just balance will be maintained between the value of industrial production and that of agricultural production.
However, in these circumstances, the landowners of the island make the following calculation: If we prevented the proletarians from working for foreigners and receiving in exchange subsistence and raw materials, they would be obliged to call upon us. As their number is growing unceasingly and the competition between them is increasingly active, they would rush to obtain the portion of food and materials remaining for sale after we had taken what we needed, and we could not fail to sell our products at a very high price. In other words, the balance will be upset between the relative value of their work and ours. They would devote a greater number of hours of labor to our satisfaction. Let us therefore pass a law forbidding this trade that is hampering us, and to execute this law let us create a body of civil servants, for the payment of which the proletariat will be taxed along with us.
I ask you, would this not be the utmost oppression, a flagrant violation of the most precious of all freedoms, of the first and most sacred of all property?
However, and note this well, it would perhaps not be difficult for landowners to have this law accepted as a benefit by the workers. They would not fail to tell them:
“We have not done this for ourselves, honest creatures, but for you. Our interest concerns us little; we are thinking only of yours. Through this wise measure, agriculture will prosper. We the landowners will become rich, which will enable us to give you a great deal of work and pay you a good wage. Without it we will be reduced to destitution, and what will become of you? The island will be flooded with subsistence goods and materials of work from abroad, your ships will be constantly at sea; what a national catastrophe! It is true that abundance would reign around you, but would you be part of it? Do not say that your wages would be maintained and increased, because foreigners would do nothing save increase the number of people demanding what you produce. What makes you sure that they will not take the fancy of delivering you their products for nothing? If this happened, you would die of starvation surrounded by abundance, since you would no longer have either work or a wage. Believe us, accept our law gratefully. Increase and multiply; what is left of provisions on the island beyond what we consume will be delivered to you for your work, of which, in this way, you will always be sure. Above all, do not allow yourself to think that this is a war of words between you and us in which your freedom and property are at risk. Never listen to those that tell you so. Take it as fact that the real conflict is between you and foreigners, those barbarous foreigners, may God curse them, who obviously want to exploit you by offering you deceitful transactions that you are free to accept or reject.”
It is not unlikely that a speech such as this, suitably seasoned with sophisms on money, the balance of trade, national production, agriculture that feeds the nation, the prospect of war, etc., etc., would be hugely successful and would gain approval for the oppressive decree by those oppressed themselves, if they were consulted. This has happened before and will happen again.
But the prejudices of landowners and the proletariat do not change the nature of things. The result will be a population that is destitute, hungry, ignorant, corrupted, and devastated by starvation, illness, and vice. The result will also be the dreadful shipwreck in people’s minds of the notions of right, property, freedom, and the proper attributes of the state.
And what I would like to be able to demonstrate here is that the punishment will shortly reach the landowners themselves; they will have prepared their own ruin by ruining the consuming public, since, in this island, the increasingly indigent population will be seen to fall upon the poorest food. Sometimes they will eat chestnuts, sometimes corn, at other times millet, buckwheat, oats, and potatoes. They will forget the taste of wheat and meat. Landowners will be totally astonished to see agriculture decline. They will in vain agitate, form themselves into agricultural associations, and eternally hark back to the famous adage, “Make forage; with forage you have cattle, with cattle, fertilizer, and with fertilizer, wheat.” They will in vain create new taxes to distribute subsidies to producers of clover and alfalfa; they will always be thwarted by the obstacle of a destitute population incapable of paying for meat and consequently of giving the slightest impetus to this hackneyed circle. They will end by learning at their own expense that it is better to be subject to competition and face rich customers than to have a monopoly and be faced with a ruined customer base.
This is why I say: “Not only is prohibition communism, but it is the worst kind of communism. It starts by subjecting the faculties and work of the poor, their sole property, to the discretion of the rich, it leads to a clear loss for the masses and ends by enveloping the rich themselves in the common ruin. It invests the state with the singular right to take from those with little in order to give to those with a great deal; and when, by virtue of this principle, the disinherited people of the world invoke the intervention of the state to achieve a leveling in the opposite direction, I really do not know what the state will be able to reply. In any case, the initial and best response would be to renounce oppression.
But I am eager to finish with these calculations. After all, what is the state of the debate? What are we saying and what do you say? There is one point, a capital point, on which we agree: that the intervention of the legislator to level wealth by taking from some what is needed to gratify others is communism, the death of all work, all forms of saving, all well-being, all justice, and all society.
You notice that this disastrous doctrine is invading journals and books in all its forms, in a word, the field of intellectual speculation; and you attack it there vigorously.
For my part, I think I see that it had previously penetrated legislation and the practical world with your consent and assistance, and it is here that I am striving to combat it.
I would next draw your attention to the inconsistency into which you would fall if, while combating the prospect of communism, you were to treat it in action with consideration or, even worse, encourage it.
If your reply is: “I am acting in this way because although communism carried out by customs duties is opposed to freedom, property, and justice, it is nevertheless in accord with general utility and this consideration makes me discount by comparison all others.” If this is your answer, do you not feel that you are destroying in advance the entire success of your book, limiting its range, depriving it of its force, and acknowledging that communists of all shades are right, at least with regard to the philosophical and moral aspects of the question?
And then, sir, could a mind as enlightened as yours accept the hypothesis of radical antagonism between utility and justice? Would you like me to be frank? Rather than venture such a subversive and impious statement, I would prefer to say, “This is a particular question in which, at first sight, it seems to me that utility and justice are in conflict. I am glad that all men who have spent their lives examining it in detail think otherwise; I have doubtless not studied it enough.” I have not studied it enough! Is this such a painful admission that, to avoid making it, people rush into inconsistency to the extent of denying the wisdom of providential laws which govern the development of human societies? For what more formal negation of divine wisdom is there than to deduce the essential incompatibility of justice and utility! It has always appeared to me that the most cruel form of anguish that can afflict an intelligent and conscientious mind is to stumble at this limit. What side should you join, in fact, what decision should you take in the face of an alternative like this? Should you support utility? This is the path taken by men who consider themselves to be practical. But unless they cannot put two ideas together, they are doubtless appalled at the consequences of systemic plunder and iniquity. Will those who embrace the cause of justice resolutely, whatever it costs, say: “Do what you have to do, whatever the consequences”? This is what honest souls prefer, but who would want to take the responsibility of plunging his country and humanity into destitution, desolation, and death? I defy anyone who is convinced of this antagonism to make up his mind.
I am mistaken. People will decide, and the human heart is so made, that interest will be put before conscience. This is borne out by facts, since everywhere that the protectionist regime has been thought to favor the well-being of the people it has been adopted in spite of any consideration of justice, and then its consequences have occurred. Belief in property has been wiped out. In the spirit of M. Billault it has been said, “Since property has been violated by protection, why should it not be violated by the right to work?” Others after M. Billault will take a third step, and still others behind them a fourth, until communism has taken hold.15
Good and sound minds like yours are appalled at the steepness of this slope. They strive to climb back up it and in fact do climb back up, as you have done in your book, to the protectionist regime, which supplies the first and only practical momentum of society on the fatal decline, but in the presence of this living negation of the right to property, if instead of this maxim of your book: “Rights either exist or they do not; if they exist they lead to absolute consequences,” you substitute this sentence: “Here is a special case in which the national good requires the sacrifice of right,” then immediately everything that you believed gave force and reason to your work would be only weakness and inconsistency.
For this reason, sir, if you wish to complete your work, you have to give an opinion on the protectionist regime, and to do this it is essential that you start by solving the economic problem; one has to find out about the alleged usefulness of this regime. For even supposing I obtained from you its condemnation from the point of view of justice, this would not be enough to kill the regime. I repeat, men are so made that when they think they are placed between real good and abstract justice, the cause of justice is in great danger. Do you want palpable proof of this? This is what happened to me.
When I arrived in Paris, I found myself in the company of so-called democratic and socialist economists in whose circles, as you know, the words principle, selflessness, sacrifice, fraternity, right, and union are widely used. Wealth is examined from top to bottom as something that is, if not despicable, at least secondary to the point at which, since we take great account of it, we ourselves are seen as being cold economists, egoists, individualists, bourgeois and heartless men whose only God is Mammon.16 “Good!” I said to myself. “Here are noble hearts with whom I have no need to discuss the economic point of view, which is very subtle and requires more application than Parisian political writers are in general able to give to a study of this nature. With these people, however, the question of interest cannot be an obstacle; either they believe, on the faith of divine wisdom, that interest is in harmony with justice, or they will sacrifice it very willingly, since they thirst after selflessness. If, therefore, they allow that free trade is an abstract right, they will resolutely flock to its banner.” Following this, I addressed my appeal to them. Do you know what their answer was? Here it is:
Your free trade is a splendid utopia. It is based on right and justice, it achieves freedom, it consecrates property, and its consequence will be the union of peoples and the reign of fraternity between men. You are right a thousand times in principle, but we will fight you to the death and by every means because foreign competition will be fatal to national production.
I took the liberty of addressing this reply to them:
I deny that foreign competition would be fatal to national production. In any case, if this were so, you would be positioned between interest, which, according to you, is on the side of restriction; and justice, which, by your own admission, is on the side of freedom! Well, when I, a venerator of the golden calf, call upon you to make a choice, how is it that you, the advocates of abnegation, trample principles underfoot to cling to interest? Do not therefore speak out so fiercely against a motive that governs you as it governs simple mortals.
This experience warned me that, above all, this daunting problem has to be resolved: Is there harmony or antagonism between justice and utility? And consequently the economic aspect of protectionism has to be scrutinized, for since the advocates of fraternity themselves were giving ground over the alleged loss of money, it was becoming clear that it is not enough to remove any doubt concerning universal justice as an ideal; it is also necessary to justify that unworthy, abject, despicable, and despised, albeit all-powerful, motive, interest.
This is what gave rise to a small thesis in two volumes which I am taking the liberty of sending you with this letter,17 since I am convinced, sir, that if, like the economists, you judge the protectionist regime severely from the moral point of view and if we differ only with regard to its usefulness, you will not refuse to examine carefully the question whether these two major elements in any definitive conclusions are mutually exclusive or are in agreement.
This harmony exists, or at least it is as obvious to me as sunlight. May it also be revealed to you! It would be then that in applying your eminently persuasive talent to fighting communism in its most dangerous manifestation, you would deliver it a mortal blow.
Look at what is happening in England. It would seem that if communism were to find a soil that favored it anywhere, it would be in Britain. There, with feudal institutions everywhere causing extreme deprivation and extreme opulence to confront each other, such conditions ought to have prepared people’s minds for infection by false doctrines. And yet, what do we see? While these false doctrines caused unrest on the continent, they did not even ripple the surface of English society. Chartism18 was not able to take root. Do you know why? Because the association, which for ten years has debated protectionism, has triumphed over it only by shining a strong light on the principle of property and on the rational functions of the state.
Doubtless, if unmasking protectionism is to attack communism for the same reason and because of their close connection, both may also be struck a blow by following the opposite approach from yours. Restriction could not survive very long faced with a proper definition of the right of property. This being so, if one thing surprised me and made me rejoice, it was to see the Association for the Defense of Monopolies19 devote its resources to distributing your book. This is a highly striking sight and consoles me for the uselessness of my past efforts. This resolution from the Mimerel Committee will doubtless oblige you to increase the number of editions of your work. In this case, allow me to point out to you that in its present state the book has one major gap. In the name of science, in the name of truth, and in the name of public good, I beg you to fill this gap and call upon you to reply to the following two questions:
Ah, sir, if you reach the same conclusions as me, if through your talent, reputation, and influence you caused these conclusions to become dominant in public opinion, who can calculate the extent of the service you would be rendering to French society? We would see the state limit itself to its purpose, which is to guarantee to each person the exercise of his faculties and the free disposal of his goods. We would see the state divest itself of both its colossal, illegitimate attributions and the terrifying responsibility they entail. It would limit itself to repressing the abuses of freedom, which is to achieve freedom itself. It would ensure justice for all and would no longer promise wealth to anyone. Citizens would learn to distinguish between what is reasonable to ask of it and what is puerile. They would no longer burden it with claims and demands. They would no longer accuse it of causing their misfortunes. They would not pin illusionary hopes on it, and in the enthusiastic pursuit of good that is not the state’s to dispense, they would not be seen at each disappointment to accuse the legislator and the law, change the men and the forms of government, and pile institution on institution and rubble on rubble. We would see the universal fever for mutual plunder through the extremely expensive and risky intervention of the state die out. Once it is limited in its objectives and responsibility, simple in its action, with low expenditure, and no longer burdening those it governs with the cost of their own chains, and is enjoying the support of public good sense, the government would have a solid base, which in our country has never been its lot, and we would finally have resolved this most pressing problem: the closing forever of the abyss of revolutions.
[1. ]Thiers’s book De la propriété was published in the fall of 1848 under the auspices of the Central Committee of the Association for the Defense of National Work, a vehicle for protectionist doctrines. The association apparently took no offence at Thiers’s claim that “everyone is entitled to dispose completely and freely of the products of his work.” Bastiat shows below that the latter proposition contradicts protectionist doctrines.
[2. ](Paillottet’s note) At the time this article appeared, in January 1849, M. Thiers was very highly regarded at the Elysée.
[3. ](Paillottet’s note) See in vol. 1 the letters addressed to M. de Lamartine in January 1845 and October 1846 and in vol. 2 the article titled Du Communisme, dated 27 June 1847. (OC, vol. 1, p. 406, “Un Économiste à M. de Lamartine,” and p. 452, “Seconde Lettre à M. de Lamartine”; and vol. 2, p. 116, “Du Communisme.”)
[4. ](Paillottet’s note) See in vol. 2 the article titled Free Trade dated 20 December 1846. (OC, vol. 2, p. 4, “Le Libre-Échange.”)
[5. ](Paillottet’s note) This thought, by which, according to the author, M. Billault was able to strengthen his argument, was shortly to be adopted by another protectionist. It was developed by M. Mimerel in a speech delivered on 27 April 1850 to the General Council for Agriculture, Industry, and Trade. See a passage from his speech quoted in this volume in the article Plunder and Law. (OC, vol. 5, p. 1, “Spoliation et loi”; passage begins on p. 11.) [See also “Plunder and Law,” p. 174 in this volume.]
[6. ](Paillottet’s note) See this volume, p. 94, chapter 18, of Sophisms. (OC, vol. 4, p. 94, chap. 18, “Il n’y a pas de principes absolus.”)
[7. ]See the entry for “Cabet, Étienne,” in the Glossary of Persons.
[8. ]“On equal footing.”
[9. ]Bastiat contrasts the expression “l’échange libre” (which we have translated as “freedom to trade”) with “le libre-échange” (which we have translated as “free trade”). By January 1849, when he wrote this article, the expression “le libre-échange” had acquired a particular meaning. It had become associated with the Association pour le libre-échange (The Free Trade Association), which he helped found, and with the journal Le Libre-échange (Free Trade), which he edited, and the movement for free trade in France, which he led.
[10. ]A river in the Basque country between France and Spain.
[11. ]Customs gave subsidies to some exporters in order to encourage—or maintain in existence—a specific sector of production. In practice, these subsidies covered the taxes levied on raw materials used by the said industries for the exported products.
[12. ](Paillottet’s note) See in vol. 2 the articles titled “One Profit for Two Losses” and “Two Losses for One Profit.” (OC, vol. 2, p. 377, “Un profit contre deux pertes,” and p. 384, “Deux pertes contre un profit.”)
[13. ]The cost of French coal after extraction was on average 9.76 francs per ton. France imported one-third of its consumption of coal from the United Kingdom and Belgium. The import duty was 6 francs for the British coal and 3 francs for the Belgian coal coming by land.
[14. ](Paillottet’s note) See in this volume the third letter of the article titled “Property and Plunder,” pp. 407ff. (OC, vol. 4, p. 394, “Propriété et spoliation,” pp. 407ff.) [See also “Property and Plunder,” p. 157 in this volume.]
[15. ](Paillottet’s note) See in vol. 5 the final pages of the pamphlet titled “Plunder and Law.” (OC, vol. 5, p. 1, “Spoliation et loi,” final pages 13–15.) [See also “Plunder and Law,” final pages 275–76 in this volume.]
[16. ](Paillottet’s note) See in vol. 2 most of the articles under the heading “Polemic Against the Journals,” especially the article titled “The Democratic Party and Free Trade.” (OC, vol. 5, pp. 81–164; and p. 93, “Le Parti démocratique et le libre-échange.”)
[17. ](Paillottet’s note) These two small volumes, which the author indeed sent to M. Thiers, were the first and second series of the Sophisms. (OC, vol. 4, “Sophismes économiques,” p. 1, “Première série,” and p. 127, “Deuxième série.”)
[18. ]Chartism was an English working-class movement that was active from 1838 throughout the 1840s. It took its name from the so-called People’s Charter of 1838, which called for the following: full manhood suffrage for those over twenty-one, the removal of the requirement that members of Parliament own a certain minimum of property, the payment of a salary for members of Parliament, the annual election of Parliament, and the creation of equally sized constituencies.
[19. ]Bastiat is being sarcastic here. He is calling the protectionist Association for the Defense of National Work the “Association for the Defense of Monopolies.” This association was headed by Pierre Mimerel and Antoine Odier.