Front Page Titles (by Subject) 14: The War Against Chairs of Political Economy 1 , 2 - Collected Works of Bastiat. Vol. 2: The Law, The State, and Other Political Writings, 1843-1850
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14: The War Against Chairs of Political Economy 1 , 2 - 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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[vol. 5, p. 16. “Guerre aux chaires d’économie politique.” June 1847. n.p.]
We know with what bitterness men who restrict the trade of others for their own advantage complain that political economy stubbornly refuses to extol the merit of these restrictions. Although they do not hope to obtain the elimination of science, at least they pursue the dismissal of those who teach it, retaining from the Inquisition this wise maxim, “If you wish to get the better of your opponents, then shut their mouths.”
We were therefore not surprised to learn that to mark the draft law on the organization of the university, they addressed to the minister of education a lengthy memorandum, from which we quote a few excerpts here:
“Do you really mean it, minister? Do you wish to introduce the teaching of political economy in the university! Is this a deliberate act to discredit our privileges?”
“If there is one venerable maxim, it is most assuredly this: In any country, education ought to be in harmony with the principle of government. Do you think that in Sparta or Rome the treasury would have paid teachers to speak out against the plunder resulting from war or against slavery? And you want to allow restrictionism to be discredited in France!”3
“Nature, sir, has so ordained things that society can exist only on the products of work, and at the same time it has made work burdensome. This is why in all eras and in all countries an incurable propensity for mutual pillage has been noted in men. It is so pleasant to lay the burden on one’s neighbor and keep the payment for oneself!”
“War is the first means that people thought of. There is no shorter and simpler way of seizing other people’s property.”
“Then followed slavery, which is a more subtle means, and it has been proved that reducing prisoners to servitude instead of killing them was a major step toward civilization.”
“Last, the passage of time has substituted for these two crude means of plunder another that is more subtle and for this very reason has much more likelihood of lasting, especially since its very name, protection, is admirably suited to dissimulating its odious aspect. You are not unaware of the way names can sometimes deceive us in regard to the bad side of things.”
“As you see, minister, preaching against protectionism in modern times or against slavery in ancient times is exactly the same thing. It always undermines social order and upsets the peace of mind of a very respectable class of citizens. And if pagan Rome showed great wisdom and a farsighted spirit of conservation in persecuting the new sect that arose within its midst to proclaim aloud the dangerous words peace and fraternity, why should we have any more pity for professors of political economy? However, our customs are so gentle and our moderation so great that we do not require you to deliver them to the wild beasts. Forbid them to speak and we will be satisfied.”
“Or at least, if they are so intent on speaking, can they not do this with a degree of impartiality? Can they not trim science a bit to suit our wishes? By what quirk of fate have professors of political economy all agreed to turn the weapon of reason against the protectionist dispensation? If this has certain disadvantages, surely it also has advantages since it suits us. Might our professors not gloss over the disadvantages a bit more and highlight the advantages?”
“Besides, what are scholars for if not to make science? What stops them from inventing a form of political economy specially for us? Obviously it is a case of ill will on their part. When the Sacred Inquisition of Rome found it impious that Galileo had the earth rotating, this great man did not hesitate to have it immobile again. He even declared it to be so on his knees. It is true that as he rose, it is said that he murmured, ‘E pur si muove.’4 Let our professors declare publicly and on their knees that freedom is worth nothing, and we will pardon them if they mutter, on condition that they do it with clenched teeth, ‘E pur è buona.’”5
“But second, we want to push moderation still further. You will not disagree, minister, that we must be impartial first and foremost. Well then! Since there are two conflicting doctrines in the world, one whose motto is ‘Leave trade alone’ and the other ‘Prevent trade,’ for goodness’ sake keep the balance equal and have one taught as well as the other. Give the order that our political economy should be taught in this way.”
“Is it not very discouraging to see science always on the side of freedom, and should it not share its favors a little? No, no sooner is a chair instituted than, like the head of the Medusa, we see the face of a free trader appear.”
“In this way, J. B. Say set an example that MM Blanqui, Rossi, Michel Chevalier, and Joseph Garnier were quick to follow. What would have become of us if your predecessors had not taken great care to limit this disastrous form of teaching? Who knows? This very year we would have had to endure cheap bread.”
“In England, Adam Smith, Senior, and a thousand others caused the same scandal. What is more, Oxford University instituted a chair of political economy and appointed . . . whom? A future archbishop,6 and lo and behold, his grace started to teach that religion agreed with science in condemning the part of our profits that arose from a protectionist regime. So what happened? Little by little, public opinion was won over, and before two years were out, the English had the misfortune of being free to buy and sell. May they be ruined as they well deserve!”
“The same thing happened in Italy. Kings, princes, and dukes, both great and small, were imprudent enough to tolerate the teaching of economics without laying an obligation on professors to reconcile science with protectionism. A host of professors, men like Genovesi and Beccaria, and in our time M. Scialoja, as might be expected, began to preach freedom; and here we have Tuscany free to trade and there we have Naples cutting swathes through its customs duties.”
“You know the results achieved in Switzerland by the intellectual movement that has always directed men’s minds toward economic knowledge there. Switzerland is free and seems to be situated in the center of Europe, like light on a chandelier, deliberately to embarrass us. For when we say, ‘The result of freedom is to ruin agriculture, trade, and industry,’ people do not fail to point Switzerland out to us. For a time, we did not know what to answer. Thank goodness La Presse solved our problem by supplying us with this invaluable argument, ‘Switzerland can cope because it is small.’”
“The curse of science is threatening to let loose the same plague on Spain. Spain is the very home of protection. And just see how it has prospered! And not counting the treasure she has drained from the New World and the richness of her soil, her prohibitionist policy is sufficient to explain the degree of splendor that she has achieved. However, Spain has professors of political economy, men like La Sagra and Florez Estrada, and so we find the minister of finance, M. Salamanca, aiming to raise Spain’s credit and increase her budget just through the power of free trade.”
“Last, minister, what more do you want? In Russia, there is only one economist and he is in favor of free trade.”7
“As you can see, the conspiracy of all the world’s scholars against the fettering of trade is flagrant. And what interest is urging them on? None. If they preached protectionism, they would be no leaner, no worse off. It is therefore pure wickedness on their part. This unanimity holds the greatest dangers. Do you know what people will say? Seeing them so closely in agreement, people will end up believing that what unites them in the same belief is the same reason that causes all the geometers around the world since Archimedes to think the same way regarding the square of the hypotenuse.”
“When therefore, minister, we beg you to have two contradictory doctrines taught impartially, it can be only a secondary request on our part, since we can guess what will happen, and he whom you make responsible for teaching restriction may well, through his study, be brought to the path of freedom.”
“The best thing is to outlaw science and scholars once and for all and return to the wise traditions of the empire. Instead of instituting new chairs of political economy, abolish those—fortunately they are few—that are still standing. Do you know how political economy has been defined? The science that teaches workers to keep what belongs to them. It is quite clear that a good quarter of the human race would be lost if this disastrous science happened to spread.”
“Let us hold on to a good and harmless classical education. Let us fill our young people with Greek and Latin. What harm will it do us if they scan the hexameters of the Bucolics8 on the tips of their fingers from morning to night? Let them live with Roman society, with the Gracchi and Brutus, within a Senate in which war is constantly discussed and a Forum in which the question of plunder is constantly to the fore; let them become imbued with the sweet philosophy of Horace:
“What need is there to teach them the laws of production and trade? Rome teaches them to despise work, servile opus, and not to recognize as legitimate any other trade than the vae victis of the warrior who owns slaves. In this way, we will have a young generation well prepared for life in our modern society. There are indeed a few small dangers. Our young people will be somewhat republican, they will have strange ideas on freedom and property, and in their blind admiration for brute force they will perhaps be found to be somewhat disposed to find fault with the whole of Europe and to deal with political questions in the street by throwing cobblestones. This is inevitable, and frankly, minister, thanks to Titus Livy we have all more or less paddled in this rut. After all, these are questions that you can easily overcome with a few good gendarmes. But what gendarmerie can you call out against the subversive ideas of economists, the daring people who have inscribed at the top of their program this atrocious definition of property: When a man has produced something by the sweat of his brow, since he has the right to consume it, he has the right to exchange it?9
“No, no, with people like this, it is a waste of time to resort to rebuttal.”
“Quick, a gag, two gags, three gags!”
[1. ]The teaching of political economy (essentially liberal) began rather late in France. From 1815 Jean-Baptiste Say taught at the Athénée and then at the Conservatoire national des arts et métiers. Under the July Monarchy, two chairs were created: one at the Collège de France, in 1831, occupied first by Say and then by Pellegrino Rossi and Michel Chevalier; the other was created at the École des ponts et chaussées in 1846. It was occupied by Joseph Garnier.
[2. ](Paillottet’s note) Three years before the demonstration that triggered the preceding pamphlet [Paillottet is referring to “Plunder and Law”], the removal of professors and the abolition of chairs of political economy had been formally requested by the members of the Mimerel Committee, who shortly afterward softened their position and limited themselves to claiming that the theory of protectionism should be taught at the same time as that of free trade.
[3. ](Paillottet’s note) This is the origin of Baccalaureate and Socialism, which will become even more apparent in the following pages. (OC, vol. 4, p. 442, “Baccalauréat et socialisme.”) [See also “Baccalaureate and Socialism,” p. 185 in this volume.]
[4. ]“And yet it moves.”
[5. ]“And yet it is good.”
[6. ](Paillottet’s note) Mr. Whately, the archbishop of Dublin, who founded a chair of political economy there, held the professorship at Oxford.
[7. ]Bastiat is probably referring to Henri-Frédéric Storch.
[8. ]This is a reference to the Eclogues, or Bucolics, of the Roman poet Virgil (70–19 bc). The Eclogues were pastoral poems depicting a rural Arcadia but set during a time of land confiscations by the Roman state.
[9. ](Paillottet’s note) See the declaration of the principles of [Free Trade] Society in Le Libre-échange in vol. 2. (OC, vol. 2, p. 1, “Déclaration.”)