Front Page Titles (by Subject) The Idea of Laissez-faire - Collected Works of Bastiat. Vol. 2: The Law, The State, and Other Political Writings, 1843-1850
Return to Title Page for Collected Works of Bastiat. Vol. 2: The Law, The State, and Other Political Writings, 1843-1850
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
The Idea of Laissez-faire - Frédéric Bastiat, Collected Works of Bastiat. Vol. 2: The Law, The State, and Other Political Writings, 1843-1850 
The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 2: The Law, The State, and Other Political Writings, 1843-1850, Jacques de Guenin, General Editor. Translated from the French by Jane Willems and Michel Willems, with an introduction by Pascal Salin. Annotations and Glossaries by Jacques de Guenin, Jean-Claude Paul-Dejean, and David M. Hart. Translation Editor Dennis O’Keeffe. Academic Editor, David M. Hart (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2012).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
The Idea of Laissez-faire
Bastiat is now seen as one of the leading advocates of the idea of laissez-faire in the nineteenth century, yet the origin of the term is surrounded by controversy.19 In English the phrase “laissez-faire” has come to mean the economic system in which there is no regulation of economic activity by the state. Other terms have also been used to mean the same thing, such as the “Manchester School” or “Cobdenism,” thus linking this policy prescription to the ideas of Richard Cobden and the Anti–Corn Law League.
The origins of the term laissez-faire are not clear. One account attributes the origin to the merchant and physiocrat Vincent de Gournay (1712–59), who used a slightly longer version of the phrase, “laissez faire, laissez passer” (let us do as we wish, let us pass unrestricted) to describe his preferrred government economic policy. Another physiocrat, Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot (1727–81), attributes the phrase “laissez-nous faire” (let us do as we wish) to the seventeenth-century merchant Legendre, who used the phrase in an argument with the French minister of finance Colbert about the proper role of government in the economy. Yet a third physiocrat, François Quesnay (1694–1774), combined the term with another phrase: “Laissez-nous faire. Ne pas trop gouverner” (Let us do as we wish. Do not govern us too much) to make the same point.
A contemporary of Bastiat, Joseph Garnier (1813–81), in the entry for “laissez faire, laissez passer” in the Dictionnaire de l’économie politique, explained laissez-faire to mean “laissez travailler” (leave us free to work as we wish) and laissez passer to mean “laissez échanger” (leave us free to trade as we wish).20 By all these measures, Bastiat is certainly an advocate of laissez-faire in the fullest sense.
[19. ]Other manifestations of the term were “laissez faire, laissez passer”; “laissez-nous faire”; and “Laissez-nous faire. Ne pas trop gouverner.” See Oncken, Die Maxime laissez faire et laisser passez.
[20. ]Garnier, “Laissez faire, laissez passer” in Coquelin, Dictionnaire de l’économie politique, vol. 2, p. 19.