Selected Quotations from Bastiat’s Collected Works,
vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics (2011)
My dear Frédéric [FB writing to himself],
Like you I love all forms of freedom; and among these, the one that is the
most universally useful to mankind, the one you enjoy at each moment of the
day and in all of life’s circumstances, is the freedom to work and to trade.
I know that making things one’s own is the fulcrum of society and even of human
life. I know that trade is intrinsic to property and that to restrict the one
is to shake the foundations of the other. I approve of your devoting yourself
to the defense of this freedom whose triumph will inevitably usher in the reign
of international justice and consequently the extinction of hatred, prejudices
between one people and another, and the wars that come in their wake...
I love freedom of trade as much as you do. But is all human progress encapsulated
in that freedom? In the past, your heart beat for the freeing of thought
and speech which were still bound by their university shackles and the laws
against free association. You enthusiastically supported parliamentary reform
and the radical division of that sovereignty, which delegates and controls,
from the executive power in all its branches. All forms of freedom go together.
All ideas form a systematic and harmonious whole, and there is not a single
one whose proof does not serve to demonstrate the truth of the others. But
you act like a mechanic who makes a virtue of explaining an isolated part
of a machine in the smallest detail, not forgetting anything. The temptation
is strong to cry out to him, “Show me the other parts; make them work together;
each of them explains the others. . . .
[Draft Preface for the Harmonies [addressed
to himself and written at the end of 1847.], CW1, p. 318, 320. Online at </title/2393/226010>.]
The following quotations have been selected as interesting and representative
of the over 200 letters and several dozen political essays which appear in The
Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The
Correspondence and Articles on Politics (2011). They caught my eye as I
was reading the various drafts the volume has been through over the past few
years. They have been roughly categorized into topics. The links will take
you to Liberty Fund's Online Library of Liberty edition of the book
if you wish to read further. The volumes in the collection will include the
- Volume 1. The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on
Politics (March 2011)
- Volume 2. The Law, The State, and Other Political Writings, 1843-1850 (June
- Volume 3. Economic Sophisms and "What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen"
- Volume 4. Miscellaneous Works on Economics: From Jacques Bonhomme to the
Journal des Économistes
- Volume 5. Economic Harmonies
- Volume 6. The Struggle against Protectionism: The English and French Free
For more information see the following:
Frédéric Bastiat,The Collected
Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The
Correspondence and Articles on Politics, translated from the French by
Jane and Michel Willems, with an introduction by Jacques de Guenin and Jean-Claude
Paul-Dejean. Annotations and Glossaries by Jacques de Guenin, Jean-Claude
Paul-Dejean, and David M. Hart. Translation editor Dennis O’Keeffe
(Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2011). </title/2393>
- The Awkward Provincial
- We have an amusing description of the newly
arrived provincial Bastiat by Mme Cheuvreux, who carefully notes the
un-Parisian cut of his clothes
- Member of the Societe d’economie politique
- 37. Letter to Félix Coudroy, Paris, May 1845
- 180. Letter to M. de Fontenay, Les
Eaux-Bonnes, 3 July 1850
- 200. Letter to Horace Say, Pisa, 20 October
- Peace and Cobden
- Letter to Richard Cobden, London, 8 July 1845
- 186. Letter to Richard Cobden, Paris, 17
- 187. Letter to the President of the Peace
Congress in Frankfurt, Paris, 17 August 1850
- The 1830 Revolution
- 18. Letter to Félix Coudroy, Bayonne 5 August
1830 [p. 30]
- The 1848 Revolution
- 93. Letter to Marie-Julienne Badbedat (Mme
Marsan), 27 February 1848
- 94. Letter to Félix Coudroy, Paris, 29
- 104. Letter to Julie Marsan (Mme Affre),
Paris, 29 June 1848
- 6. Political Manifestos of April 1849 [pp.
- 6. Political Manifestos of April 1849 [pp.
- Suffering from his Throat Condition
- 133. Letter to Félix Coudroy, Paris, 25 April
- 150. Letter to Mrs. Schwabe, Paris, 14
- 191. Letter to Louise Cheuvreux, Lyons, 14
- 197. Letter to Prosper Paillottet, Pisa, 11
- 203. Letter to Félix Coudroy, Rome, 11
- 79. Letter to Richard Cobden, Paris, 20 April
- Morality of being a Politician
- 103. Letter to Richard Cobden, Paris, 27 June
- 197. Letter to Prosper Paillottet, Pisa, 11
- 2. To the Electors of the District of
Saint-Sever, 1846 
- 163. Letter to Mme Cheuvreux, Paris, March
- 196. Letter to Bernard Domenger, Pisa, 8
- Wit and Humour
- 139. Letter to Mme Cheuvreux, Notes taken in
Antwerp, June 1849
- 144. Letter to Mme Cheuvreux, Mugron, 12
- 3. On Parliamentary Reform, 1846 [p. 369-370]
- 148. Letter to Mme Cheuvreux, Paris, 7
- Tendency of all governments to grow in power
- 1. To the Electors of the Département of the
Landes, November 1830 [p. 344]
- 2. To the Electors of the District of Saint-Sever,
- Criticism of Algerian colonization
- 2. To the Electors of the District of
Saint-Sever, 1846 [363-5]
- FB’s theory of the state
- 3. On Parliamentary Reform, 1846 [p. 373]
- FB caught between left and right in Chamber
- 5. Letter to a Group of Supporters, 1849 [pp.
- Two Revolutionary Broadsides by Frédéric
Bastiat (June 1848
- “Freedom” (11-15 June 1848)
- “Laissez-faire” (11-15 June, 1848)
The Awkward Provincial
We have an amusing description of
the newly arrived provincial Bastiat by Mme Cheuvreux, who carefully notes the
un-Parisian cut of his clothes:
Source: Frédéric Bastiat, Lettres d’un habitant des Landes,
There I saw Bastiat fresh from the Great
Landes present himself at M. Say’s home. His attire was so conspicuously
different from those surrounding him that the eye, however distracted, could
not help but stare at him for a moment. The cut of his garments, due to the
scissors of a tailor from Mugron, was far away from ordinary designs. Bright
colors, poorly assorted, were placed next to one another, without any attempt
at harmony. Floss-silk gloves covering his hands, playing with long white
cuffs; a sharp collar covering half his face; a little hat, long hair; all that
would have looked ludicrous had not the mischievous appearance of the newcomer,
his luminous glance, and the charm of his conversation made one quickly forget
the rest. Sitting in front of this countryman, I discovered that Bastiat was
not only one of the high priests of the temple, but also a passionate
initiator. What fire, what verve, what conviction, what originality, what
winning and witty common sense! Through this cascade of clear ideas, of these
displays, new and to the point, the heart was shown, the true soul of man
Member of the Societe d’economie politique
37. Letter to Félix Coudroy, Paris,
My dear Félix, I am sure that you are
waiting to hear from me. I, too, have a lot to tell you but I must be brief.
Although at the end of each day it transpires that I have done nothing, I am
always busy. In Paris, the way things are, until you are in the swing of things
you need half a day to put fifteen minutes to good use.
I was given a good welcome by M.
Guillaumin, who is the first economist I have seen. He told me that he would
give a dinner, followed by a reception, to put me in contact with the men of
our school; as a result I have not gone to see any of these people. This dinner
was held yesterday. I was on the right of the host, clear proof that the dinner
was in my honor, and Dunoyer was on his left. Next to Mme Guillaumin were MM
Passy and Say. MM Dussard and Reybaud were also there. Béranger had been
invited but he had other engagements. In the evening a crowd of other
economists arrived: MM Renouard, Daire, Monjean, Garnier, etc., etc. Between
you and me, my friend, I can tell you that I felt a keen satisfaction. There
were none of these people who had not read, reread, and perfectly understood my
three articles. I could write for a thousand years in La Chalosse, La
Sentinelle, or Le Mémorial without finding a genuine reader, except for you.
Here, one is read, studied, and understood. I am sure of this since all or
nearly all of them went into the greatest detail, which shows that politeness
was not the only reason for this welcome; the only one I found a little cold
was M. X. To tell you of the kindnesses I was covered with and the hope that
appeared to be based on my cooperation is to make you understand that I was
ashamed of my role. My friend, I am perfectly convinced today that, although
our isolation has prevented us from equipping our minds sufficiently, it has,
at least when it comes to particular questions, given them a strength and
accuracy which many more educated and gifted men perhaps do not possess.
What gave me the most pleasure, because it
proved that I have really been read with care, is that the last article,
entitled “Sophism,” was ranked above the others. This is the one in fact in
which the principles are examined in the greatest depth, and I was expecting it
not to have been tackled. Dunoyer asked me to write an article on his work, to
be included in the Débats. He was kind enough to say that he thought me
eminently suited to making his work appreciated. Alas! I can already see that I
will not be able to maintain the far too lofty status which these kind men have
180. Letter to M. de Fontenay, Les
Eaux-Bonnes, 3 July 1850
. . . Perhaps you are too ardently in
favor of the Harmonies in the face of opposition from Le Journal des
économistes. Middle-aged men do not easily abandon well-entrenched and
long-held ideas. For this reason, it is not to them but to the younger
generation that I have addressed and submitted my book. People will end up
acknowledging that value can never lie in materials and the forces of nature.
From this can be drawn the absolutely free characteristic of gifts from God in
all their forms and in all human transactions.
This leads to the mutual nature of
services and the absence of any reason for men to be jealous of and hate each
other. This theory should bring all the schools together on a common ground.
Since I live with this conviction, I am waiting patiently, since the older I
become the clearer I perceive the slowness of human evolution.
However, I do not conceal a personal wish.
Yes, I would like this theory to attract enough followers in my lifetime (even
if only two or three) for me to be assured before dying that it will not be
abandoned if it is true. Let my book generate just one other and I will be
satisfied. This is why I cannot encourage you too strongly to concentrate your
thinking on capital, which is a huge subject and may well be the cornerstone of
political economy. I have no more than touched upon it; you will go further
than I and will correct me if need be. Do not fear that I will take offence.
The economic horizons are unlimited: to see new ones makes me happy, whether it
was I that discovered them or someone else that is showing them to me.
200. Letter to Horace Say, Pisa, 20
. . . I believe in fact that political
economy is more widely known here than in France because it is included in the
law. It is a great thing to give a gloss of this science to the men who are
more or less closely concerned with the execution of the laws, since these men
contribute greatly to their drafting and in addition they form the basis of
what is known as the enlightened class. I have no hope of seeing political
economy taking root in the school of law in France. In this connection, the
blindness of governments is incomprehensible. They do not want us to teach the
only approach to economic science that guarantees them durability and
stability. Is it not typical that the minister of trade and the minister of
education, by passing me from one to the other like a ball, have effectively
refused me a location in which to give lectures free of charge?
Since you are our cappoletto, our leader,
you ought to indoctrinate our friends Garnier and Molinari in order that
they take advantage of this unique occasion of the signature370 which, whatever
people say, is giving dignity to the newspaper. It is up to them, I believe,
to give La Patrie something it has never had, which is color and character.
They will have to act with great prudence and circumspection, since the paper
is not an économiste publication either with respect to its director, its
shareholders, or its subscribers. Its cachet should become apparent only
gradually. I believe that our friends should not act as though they were
in an overtly économiste journal and one which displayed the flag. This would
be to cross swords with our opponents. But in La Patrie the tactic should
not be the same. First of all, questions of free trade should be discussed
only now and then, in particular the most controversial (such as the laws
on navigation). It would be better to deal with the question on a higher
plane, one that embraces politics, political economy, and socialism at the
same time, that is to say, state intervention. In my view, they should also
not put forward nonintervention as a theory or set of principles. All they
should do is draw the attention of the reader to it each time the opportunity
arises. In order not to generate mistrust, their role is to show for each
individual case the advantages and disadvantages of intervention. Why should
we hide the advantages? There have to be some if this intervention is so
popular. They will therefore have to admit that, when there is good to be
done or an evil to be combated, a call for government enforcement appears
at first to be the shortest, most economic and effective means. In this very
respect, in their place, I would show myself to be very broad-minded and
conciliatory to government supporters, since they are very numerous and it
is less a question of refuting them than winning them over. But after having
acknowledged the immediate advantages, I would draw their attention to later
disadvantages. I would say: This is how new functions, new civil servants,
new taxes, new sources of discontent, and new financial problems are created.
Then, by substituting government enforcement for private activity, are we
not removing the intrinsic value of individuality and the means of acquiring
it? Are we not making all citizens into men who do not know how to act individually,
take a decision, and repulse unexpected events and surprise attacks? Are
we not preparing elements of society for socialism, which is nothing other
than one man’s thought taking the place of everyone else’s will?
If the various special questions that may
arise are discussed from this point of view with impartiality, with the
arguments for and against being correctly made, I believe that the public would
take a greater interest in them and would soon recognize the true cause of our
Peace and Cobden
44. Letter to Richard Cobden, London, 8 July 1845
At last I have the pleasure of presenting
you with a copy of the translation about which I have spoken to you on several
occasions. In carrying out this work, I was convinced that I was rendering a
genuine service to my country, both by popularizing sane economic doctrines and
unmasking the guilty men who concentrate on maintaining disastrous national
restrictions. I was not mistaken in my expectations. I distributed about a
hundred copies in Paris and they have had the best possible reception. Men who,
through their position and the subject of their study, ought to know what is
happening in your country were surprised on reading it. They could not believe
their eyes. The truth is that everyone in France is unaware of the importance of
the campaign in your country, and people still suspect that a few manufacturers
are seeking to propagate ideas of freedom abroad through pure British
Machiavellianism. If I had confronted this prejudice directly, I would not have
vanquished it. By leaving the free traders to act and allowing them to speak,
in a word, by translating you, I hope that I have dealt it a blow from which it
will not recover, provided that the book is read. That is the question.
I hope, sir, that you will be good enough
to grant me the honor of having a short discussion with you and expressing my
gratitude, fellow feeling, and profound admiration to you personally.
Your most humble servant.
186. Letter to Richard Cobden,
Paris, 17 August 1850
My dear Cobden, as you know about my poor
health, you will not have been surprised at my absence from the Congress in
Frankfurt, especially since you will not have attributed it to a lack of zeal.
Apart from the pleasure of being one of your colleagues in this noble
enterprise, it would have been very pleasant for me to meet in Frankfurt
friends that I rarely have the occasion to see and to meet a host of
distinguished men from these two excellent races, the Anglo-Saxon and the
Germanic. In a word, I have been deprived of this consolation like many others.
For a long time now, mother nature has gradually been making me accustomed to
all sorts of deprivations, as though to familiarize me with the final one which
includes them all.
As I have had no news of you, for a time I
did not know whether you were going to the Congress; since it did not occur to
me that you could go from England to Frankfurt without going through Paris, and
since I did not think either that you would pass through our capital city
without letting me know, I concluded that you yourself had been prevented from
doing so. I have been told that this is not so and I am happy for the Congress.
Try to deal a mighty blow to this monster of war, an ogre that is almost as
voracious when digesting as it is when eating, for I truly believe that arms
cause almost as much harm to nations as war itself. What is more, they hinder
good. For my part, I constantly return to what seems to me to be as clear as
daylight: as long as disarmament prevents France from restructuring her
finances, reforming her taxes, and satisfying the just hopes of the workers,
she will continue to be a nation in convulsion . . . and God alone knows what
the consequences will be.
187. Letter to the President of
the Peace Congress in Frankfurt, Paris, 17 August 1850
An ailment of the larynx would not have
been enough to keep me away from the Congress, especially as my role would
rather have been to listen than to speak, if I were not undergoing a treatment
that obliges me to remain in Paris. Please convey my regret to your colleagues.
Much taken as I am with all that is grand and new in the spectacle of men of
all races and languages who have come from all corners of the globe to work
together for the triumph of universal peace, I would have joined my efforts to
yours in favor of such a holy cause with zeal and enthusiasm.
In truth, universal peace is considered in
many places an illusion, and as a result the Congress is considered to be an
honorable effort but with no far-reaching effect. Perhaps this feeling is more
prevalent in France than elsewhere because this is a country in which people
are more weary of utopias and where ridicule is the more to be feared.
For this reason, if it had been given to
me to speak at the Congress, I would have concentrated on correcting such a false
There was doubtless a time when a peace
congress would have had no chance of success. When men made war to acquire
loot, land, or slaves, it would have been difficult to stop them by moral or
economic considerations. Even various forms of religion have failed to do this.
But today, two circumstances have changed
the question radically.
The first is that wars no longer have
vested interest as their cause or even their pretext, since they are always
contrary to the real interests of the masses.
The second is that they no longer depend
on the whims of a leader, but on public opinion.
The result of the combination of these two
circumstances is that wars are due to become increasingly rare and finally
disappear through the force of events and independently of any intervention by
the Congress, since an event that harms the general public and which depends on
the general public is bound to cease.
What, therefore, is the role of the
Congress? It is to hasten this inevitable result by showing, to those who do
not yet perceive this, how and why wars and arms are harmful to the general
What element of utopia is there in such a
The 1830 revolution
18. Letter to Félix Coudroy,
Bayonne 5 August 1830 [p. 30]
My dear Félix, I will not talk any more about Paris to you as the newspapers
will inform you of all that is going on. Our cause is triumphing, the nation
is admirable, and the people will be happy.
Here the future appears to be darker. Fortunately, the question will be
decided this very day. I will scribble the result for you in the margin.
This is the situation. On the 3rd, many groups were gathered in the square
and were discussing, with extraordinary exaltation, whether we should not
immediately take the initiative of displaying the tricolor flag. I moved
about without taking part in the discussions, as whatever I said would have
had no effect. As always happens, when everyone talks at once, no one does
anything and the flag was not displayed.
The following morning, the same question was raised. The soldiers were still
well disposed to let us act, but during the hesitation, dispatches arrived
for the colonels and obviously cooled down their zeal for the cause. One
of them even cried out in front of me that we had a king and a charter and
that we ought to be faithful to them, that the king could not do wrong, that
his ministers were the only guilty ones, etc., etc. He was replied to roundly
. . . but this repeated inaction gave me an idea which, by dint of my turning
it over in my mind, got so ingrained there that since then I have not thought
till now of anything else.
It became clear to me that we had been betrayed. The king, I said to myself,
can have one hope only, that of retaining Bayonne and Perpignan; from these
two points, he would raise the Midi and the west and rely on Spain and the
Pyrenees. He could foment a civil war in a triangle whose base would be the
Pyrenees and the summit Toulouse, with the two angles being fortresses. The
country it comprises is the very home of ignorance and fanaticism; one side
of it touches Spain, the second the Vendée, and the third Provence. The more
I thought about it, the clearer this project became. I told my most influential
friends about it but they, inexcusably, had been summoned at the citizens’
pleasure to take charge of various organizations and no longer had time to
think of serious matters.
Other people had had the same idea as I, and by dint of shouting and repetition
it became general. But what could we do when we were unable to deliberate
and agree, nor make ourselves heard? I withdrew to reflect and conceived
The first, which was already that of the entire population of Bayonne, was
to display the flag and endeavor, through this movement, to win over the
garrison of the chateau and the citadel. This was done yesterday at two o’clock
in the afternoon, but by old people who did not attach the same significance
to it as Soustra, I, and a lot of others, with the result that this coup
I then took my papers of authorization to go to the army encampment to look
for General Lamarque. I was relying on his reputation, his rank, his character
as a deputy and his eloquence to win over the two colonels and, if need be,
on his vigor to hold them up for two hours and present himself at the citadel
in full military dress, followed by the National Guard with the flag at their
head. I was on the point of mounting my horse when I received word that the
general had left for Paris, and this caused the project, which was undoubtedly
the surest and least dangerous, to fail.
I immediately had a discussion with Soustra, who unfortunately was occupied
with other cares, telegraphic dispatches, the soldiers’ encampment, the National
Guard, etc., etc.; we went to find the officers of the 9th, who have an excellent
spirit, and suggested that they seize the citadel; and we undertook to lead
six hundred resolute young men. They promised us the support of their entire
regiment, after having, in the meantime, deposed their colonel.
Do not say, my dear Félix, that our conduct was imprudent or frivolous.
After what has happened in Paris, what is most important is that the national
flag should fly over the citadel in Bayonne. Without that, I can see civil
war in the next ten years, and, although I do not doubt the success of the
cause, I would willingly go so far as to sacrifice my life, an attitude shared
by all my friends, to spare our poor provinces from this fearful scourge.
Yesterday evening, I drafted the attached proclamation to the 7th Light,
who guard the citadel, as we intended to have it delivered to them before
This morning, when I got up, I thought that it was all over; all the officers
of the 9th were wearing the tricolor cockade, the soldiers could not contain
their joy, and it was even being said that officers of the 7th had been seen
wearing these fine colors. An adjutant had even shown me personally the positive
order, given to the entire 11th division, to display our flag. However, hours
went by and the banner of liberty was still not visible over the citadel.
It is said that the traitor J—— is advancing from Bordeaux with the 55th
regulars. Four Spanish regiments are at the border, there is not a moment
to lose. The citadel must be in our hands this evening or civil war will
break out. We will act with vigor if necessary, but I, who am carried along
by enthusiasm without being blind to the facts, can see that it will be impossible
to succeed if the garrison, which is said to be imbued with a good spirit,
does not abandon the government. We will perhaps have a few wins but no success.
But we should not become discouraged for all that, as we must do everything
to avoid civil war. I am resolved to leave straight away after the action,
if it fails, to try to raise the Chalosse. I will suggest to others that
they do likewise in the Landes, the Béarn, and the Basque country; and through
famine, wiles, or force we will win over the garrison.
I will keep the paper remaining to me to let you know how this ends.
The 5th at midnight
I was expecting blood but it was only wine that was spilt. The citadel has
displayed the tricolor flag. The military containment of the Midi and Toulouse
has decided that of Bayonne; the regiments down there have displayed the
flag. The traitor J—— thus saw that the plan had failed, especially as the
troops were defecting on all sides; he then decided to hand over the orders
he had had in his pocket for three days. Thus, it is all over. I plan to
leave immediately. I will embrace you tomorrow.
This evening we fraternized with the garrison officers. Punch, wine, liqueurs,
and above all, Béranger contributed largely to the festivities. Perfect cordiality
reigned in this truly patriotic gathering. The officers were warmer than
we were, in the same way as horses which have escaped are more joyful than
those that are free.
Farewell, all has ended. The proclamation is no longer useful and is not
worth the two sous it will cost you.
The 1848 revolution
93. Letter to Marie-Julienne
Badbedat (Mme Marsan), 27 February 1848
My dear lady,
You must be anxious. I would like to
reassure you. My cold has almost disappeared and in this respect I am in my
normal state, with which you are familiar. On the other hand, the revolution
has left me safe and sound.
As you will see in the newspapers, on the
23rd everything seemed to be over. Paris had a festive air; everything was
illuminated. A huge gathering moved along the boulevards singing. Flags were
adorned with flowers and ribbons. When they reached the Hôtel des Capucines,
the soldiers blocked their path and fired a round of musket fire at point-blank
range into the crowd. I leave you to imagine the sight offered by a crowd of
thirty thousand men, women, and children fleeing from the bullets, the shots,
and those who fell.203
An instinctive feeling prevented me from
fleeing as well, and when it was all over I was on the site of a massacre with
five or six workmen, facing about sixty dead and dying people. The soldiers
appeared stupefied. I begged the officer to have the corpses and wounded moved
in order to have the latter cared for and to avoid having the former used as
flags by the people when they returned, but he had lost his head.
The workers and I then began to move the
unfortunate victims onto the pavement, as doors refused to open. At last,
seeing the fruitlessness of our efforts, I withdrew. But the people returned
and carried the corpses to the outlying districts, and a hue and cry was heard
all through the night. The following morning, as though by magic, two thousand
barricades made the insurrection fearsome. Fortunately, as the troop did not
wish to fire on the National Guard, the day was not as bloody as might have
All is now over. The Republic has been
proclaimed. You know that this is good news for me. The people will govern
themselves. I am convinced that for a long time they will govern themselves
badly, but they will learn from experience. Right now, ideas I do not share
have the upper hand. It is fashionable to expand the functions of the state
considerably, and I think they should be restricted. For this reason, I am
outside the movement, although several of my friends are very powerful in it.
Two friends and I produced a leaflet to inject some of our ideas into the
intellectual to and fro.204
Do not worry about the sequel. My age and
health have extinguished in me any taste for street campaigning. As for a
situation, I will not be seeking one, and will wait until I am considered
94. Letter to Félix Coudroy,
Paris, 29 February 1848
The February revolution has certainly been
more heroic than that of July.205 There is nothing so admirable as the courage,
order, calm, and moderation of the people of Paris. But what will the results
be? For the last ten years, false doctrines that were much in fashion nurtured
the illusions of the working classes. They are now convinced that the state is
obliged to provide bread, work, and education to all. The provisional
government has made a solemn promise to do so; it will therefore be obliged to
increase taxes to endeavor to keep this promise, and in spite of this it will
not keep it. I have no need to tell you what kind of future lies ahead of us.
There is one possible recourse, which is
to combat the error itself, but this task is so unpopular that it cannot be
carried out safely; I am, nevertheless, determined to devote myself to this if
the country sends me to the National Assembly.
The scramble for office has started, and
several of my friends are very powerfully placed. Some of them ought to
understand that my special studies may be useful, but I do not hear them
mentioned. As for me, I will set foot in the town hall only as an interested
spectator; I will gaze on the greasy pole but not climb it. Poor people! How
much disillusionment is in store for them! It would have been so simple and so
just to ease their burden by decreasing taxes; they want to achieve this
through the plentiful bounty of the state and they cannot see that the whole
mechanism consists in taking away ten to give it back eight, not to mention the
true freedom that will be destroyed in the operation!
I have tried to get these ideas out into
the street through a short-lived journal206 which was produced in response to
the situation; would you believe that the printing workers themselves discuss
and disapprove of the enterprise? They call it counterrevolutionary.
How, oh how can we combat a school which
has strength on its side and which promises perfect happiness to everyone?
My friend, if someone said to me, “You
will have your idea accepted today but tomorrow you will die in obscurity,” I
would agree to it without hesitation, but striving without good fortune and
without even being listened to is a thankless task!
104. Letter to Julie Marsan (Mme
Affre), Paris, 29 June 1848
My dear Julie,
Cables and newspapers will have told you
all about the triumph of the republican order after four days of bitter
I shall not give you any detail, even
about me, because a single letter would not suffice.
I shall just tell you that I have done my
duty without ostentation or temerity. My only role was to enter the Faubourg
Saint-Antoine after the fall of the first barricade, in order to disarm the
fighters. As we went on, we managed to save several insurgents whom the militia
wanted to kill. One of my colleagues displayed a truly admirable energy in this
situation, which he did not boast about from the rostrum.
6. Political Manifestos of April
1849 [pp. 390-91]
My dear Fellow Countrymen,
On 23 February, I did not take part in the
insurrection. By chance, I happened to find myself present during the gunfire
at the Hôtel des Capucines. While the crowd fled in panic, I advanced against
the current, and facing the battalion whose rifles were still hot, with the
help of two workers, I gave help during this unhappy night to those who were
As early as the 25th, I managed to guess
at the subversive ideological excesses soon to be concentrated on the
Luxembourg Palace.41 To combat them I founded a newspaper. Here is the judgment
given of it by a review which I have come across, one which is not suspect,
entitled A Catholic Bibliography Intended for Priests, Seminaries, Schools,
etc. “La République française, a broadsheet which appeared soon after the
Revolution, written with talent, moderation, and wisdom, opposed to socialism,
the Luxembourg Palace, and circulars.”
6. Political Manifestos of April
1849 [pp. 391]
However, a frightful collision was
threatened. The genuine work carried out by individual workshops was replaced
by the bogus production of national workshops. The organized and armed people of Paris were the plaything
of ignorant utopians and fomenters of disorder. The Assembly, forced to destroy
these deceptive illusions one by one through its votes, foresaw the storm but
had few means of resisting it other than the moral strength that it received
from you. Convinced that voting was not enough—the masses needed to be
enlightened—I founded another newspaper which aimed to speak the simple
language of good sense and which, for this reason, I entitled Jacques Bonhomme.
It never stopped calling for the disbanding of the forces of insurrection,
whatever the cost. On the eve of the June Days, it contained an article by
me on the national workshops. This article, plastered over all the walls
of Paris, was something of a sensation. To reply to certain charges, I had
it reproduced in the newspapers in the département.
The storm broke on 24 June. One of the
first to enter the Faubourg Saint Antoine following the removal of the
formidable barricades which protected access to it, I accomplished a twin and
difficult task, to save those unfortunate people who were going to be shot on
unreliable evidence and to penetrate into the most far-flung districts to help
in the disarmament. This latter part of my voluntary mission, accomplished
under gunfire, was not without danger. Each room might have hidden a trap, each
window or basement window a rifle.
Suffering from his Throat Condition
133. Letter to Félix Coudroy,
Paris, 25 April 1849
My friend, by remaining in obscurity, I
would have reasons with which to console myself if at least my somber
predictions fail to materialize. I have my theory to write down and I am
receiving powerful encouragement just at the right time. Yesterday I read these
words in an English review: in political economy, the French school has gone
through three phases encapsulated by the following three names, Quesnay, Say,
Of course, it is premature for me to be
assigned this rank and role, but it is clear that I have a new, fertile idea
that I believe to be true. This idea is one that I have never developed
methodically. It has come through almost accidentally in a few of my articles,
and since this has been enough to catch the attention of learned men, since it
has already been given the honor of being considered as a milestone in science,
I am now certain that when I produce the complete theory it will at least be
examined. Is this not all I could wish for? With what ardor will I use my
retirement to set out this doctrine, in the certainty that it will be
scrutinized by judges who understand and who are waiting for it!
On the other hand, professors of political
economy are trying to teach my Theory of Value but are no more than feeling
their way. It has made an impression in the United States, and yesterday in the
Assembly a delegation of Americans presented me with a translation of my works.
The preface shows that they are waiting for the fundamental idea which up to
now has rather been outlined than formulated. This situation is also true for
Germany and Italy. It is true that all this is happening in the closed circle
of professors, but it is through them that ideas make their entrance into the
I am therefore ready to accept with
resolution the naturally very hard life that will be allocated to me. What
gives me courage is not Horace’s “non omnis moriar,” [all of me shall not die]
but the thought that perhaps my life will not have been pointless for the human
150. Letter to Mrs. Schwabe,
Paris, 14 October 1849
Do not be afraid, madam, that your advice
is untimely. Is it not based on friendship? Is it not the surest sign of this?
It is in vain that you predict late
flowering happiness for me in the future. This cannot happen for me, even in
the pursuit or the triumph of an idea that is useful to the human race since my
health condemns me to hate the struggle. Dear lady, I have poured into your
heart just a drop from the chalice of bitterness that fills mine. For example,
just look at my difficult political position and you will see whether I can
agree with the prospects you offer me.
I have always had a political idea that is
simple, true, and can be grasped by all, and yet it is misunderstood. What was
I lacking? A theater in which to expose it. The February revolution occurred.
It gave me an audience of nine hundred people, the elite of the nation given a
mandate by universal suffrage with the authority to put my views into practice.
These nine hundred people were full of the best intentions. They were terrified
of the future. They hesitated and cast about for some notion of salvation. They
were silent, waiting for a voice to be heard and to which they could rally. I
was there; I had the right and duty to speak. I was aware that my words would
be welcomed by the Assembly and would echo around the masses. I felt the idea
ferment in my head and my heart . . . and I was forced to keep silent. Can you
imagine a worse form of torture? I was obliged to keep silent because just at
this time it pleased God to remove from me all my strength, and when huge
revolutions are achieved such as to afford me a rostrum, I am unable to mount
it. I was not only incapable of speaking but also even of writing. What a bitter
disappointment! What cruel irony!
Here I am, since my return, confined to my
room for simply having wanted to write a newspaper article.
191. Letter to Louise Cheuvreux,
Lyons, 14 September 1850
Dear Demoiselle Louise,
You told me, dear demoiselle, that poetic
Italy would be a source of new emotions for me. Oh, I very much fear that it
will be unable to extricate me from this numbness which is gradually taking
over all of my faculties. You gave me a lot of encouragement and advice, but
for me to be sensitive to nature and art, you would have needed to lend me your
soul, the soul that longs to blossom with happiness, which so quickly becomes
attuned to everything that is beautiful, graceful, sweet, and lovely and which
has such great affinity with all that is harmonious in light, color, sound, and
life. Not that this need for happiness reveals any selfishness in your soul; on
the contrary, if it seeks, attracts, or desires it, it is to concentrate it in
itself as in a hearth and from there radiate it around you in wit, a fine
mischief, constant good deeds, consolation, and affection. It is with this
disposition of the soul that I would like to travel, as there is no prism that
embellishes external objects more. However, I am changing surroundings and
skies under a totally different influence.
Oh, how fragile is the human frame! Here I
am, the plaything of a tiny pimple growing in my larynx. It is the thing that
is driving me from the south to the north and from north to south. It is the
thing that makes my knees buckle and empties my head. It is the thing that
makes me indifferent to the Italian landscapes of which you speak. I will soon
have no thought or concentration for anything other than it, like the old
invalids who fill their entire conversations and all their letters with one
single idea. It seems as though I am well down this path already.
197. Letter to Prosper Paillottet,
Pisa, 11 October 1850
I feel the desire to live, my dear
Paillottet, when I read your account of your anxiety at the news of my death.
[wrongly announced by an Italian newspaper] Thank heaven, I am not dead, not
even more seriously ill. This morning, I saw a doctor who is going to try to
rid me, at least for a few minutes, of this pain in my throat, whose constancy
is so distressing. But in any case, if this news had been true, you would have
had to accept it and be resigned to it. I would like all my friends to acquire
the philosophy I have myself acquired in this respect. I assure you that I will
yield my last breath with no regret and almost with joy, if I could be sure to
leave behind me, to those who love me, no searing regrets but a sweet,
affectionate, and slightly melancholic memory. When I am no longer ill, this is
what I will prepare them for. . . .
203. Letter to Félix Coudroy,
Rome, 11 November 1850
If I put off writing to you from day to
day, my dear Félix, it is because I always think that in a little while I will
have the strength to indulge in a long chat. Instead of this, I am obliged to
make my letters ever shorter, either because my weakness is increasing or
because I am losing the habit of writing. Here I am in the Eternal City, my
friend, unfortunately very little disposed to visit its marvels. I am
infinitely better than in Pisa, surrounded by excellent friends who wrap me in
the most affectionate solicitude. What is more, I have met Eugene again and he
comes to spend part of the day with me. So, if I go out, I can always give my
walks an interesting aim. I would ask for one thing only, and that is to be
relieved of this piercing pain in the larynx; this constant suffering
distresses me. Meals are genuine torture for me. Speaking, drinking, eating,
swallowing saliva, and coughing are all painful operations. A stroll on foot
tires me and an outing in a carriage irritates my throat; I cannot work nor
even read seriously. You see the state to which I am reduced. Truly, I will
soon be just a corpse that has retained the faculty of suffering. I hope that
the treatment that I have decided to undergo, the remedies I am given, and the
gentleness of the climate will improve my deplorable situation soon.
My friend, I will speak only vaguely about
one of the subjects you have discussed with me. I had already thought about
this, and among my papers there should be some outlines of articles in the form
of letters addressed to you. If my health returns and I am able to write the
second volume of the Harmonies, I will dedicate it to you. If not, I will
insert a short dedication in the second edition of the first volume. In the
second of these cases, which will imply the end of my career, I will be able to
set out my plan to you and bequeath to you the mission of completing it.
79. Letter to Richard Cobden, Paris, 20 April 1847
My dear friend, your letter of the 7th,
written from Rome, found me at my post. I spent three weeks with a sick
relative. I hoped that this journey would also restore me to health, but this
has not been so. Influenza has degenerated into a stubborn cold and I am
currently spitting blood. What astonishes and frightens me is to see how far a
few drops of blood expelled from the lungs can weaken our poor bodily system,
especially the head. I find it impossible to work and very probably I will be
asking the council for a further leave of absence. I will take advantage of
this to go to Lyons and Marseilles, to strengthen the links with our various
associations, which are not as closely in agreement as I would wish.
I have no need to tell you how much I
share your views on the political results of free trade. We are being accused
within the democratic and socialist party of being devoted to the cult of
material interests and of bringing everything down to questions of wealth. I
must admit that when it concerns the masses I do not share this stoic disdain
for wealth. This word does not mean having a few écus more; it means bread for
those who are hungry, clothing for those who are cold, education, independence,
and dignity. But after all, if the sole result of free trade were to increase
public wealth I would not spend any more time on it than on any other matter
relating to agriculture or industry. What I see above all in our campaigning is
the opportunity to confront a few prejudices and to have a few just ideas
penetrate the consciousness of the general public. This is an indirect benefit
that outweighs the direct benefits of free trade a hundredfold, and if we are
experiencing so many obstacles in spreading our economic argument, I believe
that providence has put these obstacles in our path precisely so that the
indirect benefits can be felt. If freedom were to be proclaimed tomorrow, the
general public would remain in its present rut with regard to other
considerations, but initially I am obliged to deal with these ancillary ideas
with extreme caution so as not to upset our own colleagues. For this reason, I
am concentrating my efforts on clarifying the economic problem. This will be
the starting point for more advanced views. I only hope that God will allow me
three or four years of strength and life! Sometimes I tell myself that if I
worked alone and for my own account, I would not have to take such precautions
and my career would have been more useful.
Morality of being a Politician
103. Letter to Richard Cobden,
Paris, 27 June 1848
My dear Cobden, you have learned of the
huge catastrophe that has just afflicted France and which is afflicting the
world. I believe you will be glad to have news of me but I will not go into
many details. It is really too distressing for a Frenchman, even for a
cosmopolitan Frenchman, to have to describe these dreadful scenes to an
Allow me therefore to leave the task of
giving you the facts to our journals. I will just say a few words about the
causes. In my opinion, they are all rooted in socialism. For a long time our
rulers have prevented a knowledge of economics from being widespread as far as
they could. They have gone further. Out of ignorance, they have prepared
people’s minds to accept the errors of socialism and false republicanism, since
this is the obvious trend in classical and university education. The nation has
been infatuated with the idea that fraternity can be established by law. The
state has been required to provide for the welfare of its citizens directly.
But what has been the outcome? Because of the natural leanings of the human
heart, each person has begun to claim a greater share of the welfare for
himself from the state. This means that the state or the public treasury has
been plundered. Every class has demanded from the state the means of
subsistence, as of right. The efforts made by the state to provide this have
led only to taxes and restrictions and an increase in deprivation, with the
result that the demands of the people have become more pressing. In my view, a
protectionist regime has been the first manifestation of this disorder. Owners,
farmers, manufacturers, and shipowners have called upon the law to intervene to
increase their share of wealth. The law has been able to satisfy them only by
creating distress in the other classes, especially the working classes. These
therefore raised a clamor, and instead of demanding that this plundering should
cease, they demanded that the law should allow them to take part in the
plundering as well. It has become general and universal. It has led to the ruin
of all forms of industry. The workers, who are more deprived than ever, began
to think that the dogma of fraternity had not been designed for them and took
up arms. You know the rest: a frightful slaughter which, for four days,
desolated the capital of the civilized world and which has still not been
It seems to me, my dear Cobden, that I am
alone in the National Assembly to perceive the cause of the evil and consequently
its remedy. However, I am obliged to keep quiet, for what is the use of
speaking if I am not understood? I therefore sometimes ask myself if I am not a
crank, like so many others, submerged in my old errors; but this thought cannot
be right since I know too much, I think, about the problem in all its details.
Besides, I tell myself: “In the end, what I am asking for is that the very
harmonious and simple laws of Providence should triumph. Or are we to take it
that Providence is in error?
I now profoundly regret that I accepted
the mandate entrusted to me. I am not good for anything there, whereas, as a
simple political writer, I might have been useful to my country.
197. Letter to Prosper Paillottet,
Pisa, 11 October 1850
… he (Garnier) should not allow either M.
de Saint-Chamans or anyone else to identify my position with that of M. Benoist
d’Azy with regard to tariffs. There are three essential differences between us:
1. First, although it is true that I am
driven by the love of my region, this is not the same thing as being driven by
the love of money.
2. Everything I have inherited and all my
worldly assets are protected by our tariffs. Therefore, the more M. de
Saint-Chamans deems me to be self-seeking, the more he has to consider me
sincere when I state that protectionism is a plague.
3. But what totally precludes the
protectionists’ position in the Assembly from being identified with that of the
free traders is the abyss that separates their demands. What M. Benoist d’Azy
is asking of the law is that it should fleece me for his benefit. What I ask of
the law is that it should be neutral between us and that it should guarantee my
property in the same way as that of the blacksmith.
2. To the Electors of the District
of Saint-Sever, 1846 
According to the way that letter has been
interpreted, it appears that I would demand that all civil servants be banned
I do not know whether such an absolute
meaning is perceptible in my letter. In that case, my expression must have gone
beyond my thought. I have never considered that the Assembly in which laws are
drawn up could do without magistrates, or that it could deal constructively
with maritime problems in the absence of seamen, with military problems in the
absence of soldiers, or with financial problems in the absence of financiers.
What I said and what I uphold is this: as
long as the law has not settled the position of civil servants in parliament,
as long as their interests as civil servants are not, so to speak, effaced by
their interests as taxpayers, the best we electors can do is not to appoint
any; and, I must admit, I would rather there were not a single one of them in
the House than see them there as a majority, without cautionary measures having
been taken, as the good sense of the public requires, in order to protect them
and to protect us from the influence that hope and fear must exercise over
This has been construed as petty jealousy,
as mistrust verging on hatred toward civil servants. It is nothing of the sort.
I know many civil servants, nearly all my friends belong to that category (for
who doesn’t nowadays?), as I do myself; and in my essays on economics, I
maintained, contrary to the opinion of my master, M. Say, that their services
are productive just as private services are. But it is nonetheless true that
they differ in that we take of the latter only what we want, and at an agreed
price, whereas the former are imposed on us as well as the payment attached to
them. Or, if it is claimed that public services and their payment are
voluntarily approved by us, because they are formulated by our representatives,
it must be acknowledged that our approval stems only from that very
formulation. It is therefore not up to civil servants to see to the
formulation. It is no more up to them to decide on the extent of the service
and the price to be paid than it is up to my wine supplier to decide on the
amount of wine I should take and the sum I should spend on it. It is not of
civil servants that I am wary, it is of the human heart; and I can respect
those who make a living out of collecting taxes, while considering that they
are hardly qualified to vote them, just as M. Larnac probably respects judges,
while considering their duties as incompatible with those of the National
163. Letter to Mme Cheuvreux,
Paris, March 1850
I am sending Mlle Louise a few verses on
women, which I liked. They are, however, by a poet who is an economist since he
has been nicknamed the free trade rhymer.315 If I had the strength I would do a
free translation of this piece in thirty pages of prose; this would do well in
Guillaumin’s journal. Your sweet little tease (I do not forget that she
possesses the art of teasing to a high degree, not only without wounding but
almost caressing) does not greatly believe in poetry of production and she is
perfectly right. It is what I ought to have called Social Poetry, which
henceforth, I hope, will no longer take for the subject of its songs the
destructive qualities of man, the exploits of war, carnage, the violation of
divine laws, and the degradation of moral dignity, but the good and evil in
real life, the conflicts of thought, all forms of intellectual, productive,
political, and religious combinations and affinities, and all the feelings that
raise, improve, and glorify the human race. In this new epic, women will occupy
a place worthy of them and not the one given to them in the ancient Iliad
genre. Was their role really to be included in the booty?
In the initial phases of humanity, when
force was the dominant social principle, the action of woman was wiped out. She
had been successively beast of burden, slave, servant, and mere instrument of
pleasure. When the principle of force gave way to that of public opinion and
customs, she recovered her right to equality, influence, and power, and this is
what the last line of the small item of verse I am sending Mlle Louise
expresses very well.
You see how dangerous and indiscreet the
letters of poor recluses are. Please forgive me this chatter; all I ask for in
reply is reassurance as to the health of your daughter.
196. Letter to Bernard Domenger,
Pisa, 8 October 1850
Let us talk of Mesdames X. I have always
noticed that customary devotion does nothing to change the way men act and I
very much doubt that there is more probity, gentleness, or mutual respect and
consideration among our highly devout populations in the south than among the
indifferent populations in the north. Young and amiable people will attend the
bloody sacrifice of their Redeemer every day and will promise Him a great deal
more than simple equity, and every evening they will deck altars to Our Lady
with flowers. At every instant they will repeat: deliver us from evil, lead us
not into temptation, thou shalt not take away or keep what belongs to another,
etc., etc., and then when the opportunity occurs, they take as much as they can
from their father’s inheritance at the expense of their brothers, just as the
sinners do. Why not? Are they not quits with an act of contrition and a firm
purpose of amendment? They do good work; they give a half farthing to the poor
and thus gain absolution. So what do they have to fear? What do they have to
reproach themselves for, since they have succeeded in making accomplices of the
ministry of God and God Himself?
Wit and Humour
139. Letter to Mme Cheuvreux,
Notes taken in Antwerp, June 1849
To tell you the truth, there is just one
resource for the observer and that is the dinner table. It gathered around it
today sixty diners not one of whom was Belgian. You could see five Frenchmen
and five long beards; the five beards belonged to the five Frenchmen or rather
the five Frenchmen to the five beards, since the principal should never be
taken for the accessory.
This being so, I asked myself this
question, “Why do the Belgians, English, Dutch, and Germans shave? And why do
the French not shave?” In each country, men like to have it thought that they
possess the qualities that are the most highly prized. If fashion turned to
blond wigs, I would say to myself that these people are effeminate; if I
noticed in portraits an exaggerated development of the forehead, I would think
that these people had dedicated a cult to intelligence; and when savages
disfigure themselves to make themselves look frightening, I conclude that they
prize brute force above all. This is why I experienced a dreadful feeling of
humiliation today when I saw all the efforts of my fellow countrymen to make
themselves look ferocious. Why did they have these beards and moustaches? Why
this military tattooing? Whom do they want to terrify and why? Fear! Is this
the tribute that my country is bringing to civilization?
It is not only traveling salesmen who are
indulging in this ridiculous travesty; should it not be up to women to fight
144. Letter to Mme Cheuvreux,
Mugron, 12 September 1849
What a good invention the electric
telegraph will be when it is put to the service of friendship! Perhaps one day
it will have a telescope, which will enable it to see at two hundred leagues.
Distance would then be bearable; for example, I would now turn it toward your
drawing room. Mlle Louise is at the piano. I can guess from her expression the
romantic song she is singing. M. Cheuvreux and you are experiencing the
sweetest joy you can experience on this earth and your friends are forgetting
that the last coaches are about to leave. This picture is heartwarming. Would
it be unseemly and too provincial to tell you that this portrait of virtue,
happiness, and union of which your family has given me such an example has been
an antidote for me to the skepticism that is fashionable and a protection
against anti-Parisian prejudice. What does this reproach by Rousseau mean,
“Paris, a town of mud, etc.”? .
Right now, madam, do you want me to lend
you my marvelous telescope for a minute? I would really like you to be able to
see from behind the curtain the following scenes of provincial life. In the
morning, Félix and I walk around my room reading a few pages of Madame de Staël
or a psalm by David; when dusk falls I go to the cemetery to look for a tomb,
my foot recognizes it, here it is! In the evening I spend four hours in
intimate contact with my good aunt. While I am buried in my Shakespeare, she
talks with the most sincere animation, being kind enough both to ask the
questions and provide the answers. Here comes the chambermaid, however, who
thinks that the hours are long and feels obliged to give them a bit of variety;
she comes on the scene and tells us about her electoral tribulations. The poor
girl has been giving me publicity; people have always challenged her on free
trade and she has argued with them. Alas, what arguments! She proudly repeats
them to me and while she is giving her speech in Basque dialect, patois, and
French, I remember this quotation from Patru, “There is nothing like a bad
advocate for ruining a good cause.” Finally, suppertime arrives; dogs and cats
rush into the room, escorting the garbure [cabbage and bacon soup]. My aunt
becomes furious. “Dreadful animals,” she cries. “You see how bold they become
when M. Bastiat arrives!” My poor aunt! This great fury is just artful
tenderness and can be translated thus: “See what a nice person Frédéric is.” I
do not say that this is true, but my aunt wants this to be believed.
3. On Parliamentary Reform, 1846
To M. Larnac, Deputy for the Landes
However, sir, although public office and
private industry have in common that both render similar services to society,
it cannot be denied that they differ in one circumstance which it is essential
to note. Each person is free to accept or refuse the services of private
industry and receive them insofar as they suit him and to discuss their price.
On the other hand, anything that concerns public office is regulated in advance
by law and removed from our free will. It prescribes for us the quantity and
quality we have to consume (pardon this rather too technical language) as well
as the remuneration that will be attached. For this reason, it would seem that
it is up to those for whom and at whose expense this type of service is
established to approve at least the law which determines its particular
purpose, its scope, and the salaries involved. If the field of hairdressing
were regulated by law, if we left to wig makers the job of making the law, it
is likely (and I would not at all wish to ruffle the feelings of wig makers,
nor to display a tendency to illiberal suspiciousness but simply to base my
reasoning on the knowledge we have of the human heart), it is likely, I repeat,
that we would soon be inordinately well groomed, indeed to the point of tyranny
and the emptying of our purses. In the same way, when the electors have laws
passed which regulate the provision of public safety and the salaries thereby
entailed, or those of any other governmental product, by civil servants who
earn their living from this work, it would seem to me to be indisputable that
these electors run the risk of being administered and taxed beyond all
148. Letter to Mme Cheuvreux,
Paris, 7 October 1849
I have received from my beloved Landes
this morning a carton that I assume contains some ortolan buntings. I am
sending it to you without opening it. Supposing it contains woolen stockings!
Oh, I would be very embarrassed, but when all is said and done I would be the
butt of a few jokes. Yesterday evening, in my haste and with characteristic
tact, I arrived at M. Say’s house right in the middle of dinner. To celebrate
the reopening of the Monday gatherings, all our friends were there. The party
was in full swing to judge from the bursts of laughter that reached me in the
drawing room. The hall embellished with a number of black, white, and pink
cloaks showed that there were not only economists present.
After dinner, I approached the
sister-in-law of M. D—— and, knowing that she has just arrived
from Belgium, I asked her if she had had a pleasant trip. This is what she
answered: “Sir, I had the unspeakable pleasure of not seeing the face of
a single Republican because I hate them.” The conversation could not continue
for long on this subject, so I spoke to the person next to her, who started
to tell me about the pleasant impressions made on her by Belgian royalism.
“When the king passes,” she said, “everything is joyful: shouts of joy, heraldic
figures, banners, ribbons, and lanterns.” I see that in order not to displease
the ladies too much, we must make haste to elect a king. The embarrassment
is to know which one, since we have three in the wings and who will win (after
a civil war)?
I was obliged to take refuge with groups
of men, since to tell you the truth political passions are grimaces on women’s
faces. The men pooled their skepticism. They are splendid propagandists who do
not believe a word of what they preach. Or rather, they do not doubt, they just
pretend to doubt. Tell me which is worse, to pretend to doubt or to pretend to
believe? Economists really must stop this playacting.
Tendency of all governments to grow in power
1. To the Electors of the
Département of the Landes, November 1830 [p. 344]
In order to be able to carry out safely
all the modes of activity in the course of private life, taxpayers need to be
administered, judged, protected, and defended. This is the aim of government.
Government is made up of the king, who is the supreme head, ministers, and an
army of agents who report to one another and who envelop the nation as if it
were in a huge network.
If this vast machine always kept itself
within the limits of its responsibilities, elected representatives would be
superfluous. However, the government is a living body at the center of the
nation, which, like all organized entities, tends strongly to preserve its
existence, to increase its well-being and power, and to expand indefinitely its
sphere of action. Left to itself, it soon exceeds the limits which circumscribe
its mission. It increases beyond all reason the number and wealth of its
agents. It no longer administers, it exploits. It no longer judges, it persecutes
or takes revenge. It no longer protects, it oppresses.
This would be the way all governments
operate, the inevitable result of this law of movement with which nature has
endowed all organized beings, if the people did not place obstacles in the way
of governmental encroachments.
The electoral law is precisely this brake
on the encroachments of government, a brake which our constitution hands over
to taxpayers themselves.
2. To the Electors of the District
of Saint-Sever, 1846 
Government power, a vast, organized, and
living body, naturally tends to grow. It feels cramped within its supervisory
mission. Now, its growth is hardly possible without a succession of
encroachments upon the field of individual rights. The expansion of government
power means usurping some form of private activity, transgressing the boundary
that I set earlier between what is and what is not its essential function.
Government power departs from its mission when, for instance, it imposes a
particular form of worship on our consciences, a particular method of teaching
on our minds, a particular finality for our work or for our capital, or an
invasive drive on our international relationships, etc.
Gentlemen, I would bring it to your
attention that government becomes all the more costly as it becomes oppressive.
For it can commit no encroachments otherwise than through salaried agents. Thus
each of its intrusions implies creating some new administration, instituting
some fresh tax, so that our freedom and our purse inevitably share a common
Criticism of Algerian colonization
2. To the Electors of the District
of Saint-Sever, 1846 [363-5]
I must make myself clear on one vast
subject, more especially as my views probably differ from those of many of you:
I am referring to Algeria. I have no hesitation in saying that, unless it be in
order to secure independent frontiers, you will never find me, in this case or
in any other, on the conqueror’s side.20
To me it is a proven fact, and I venture
to say a scientifically proven fact, that the colonial system is the most
disastrous illusion ever to have led nations astray. I make no exception for
the English, in spite of the specious nature of the well-known argument post
hoc, ergo propter hoc.
Do you know how much Algeria is costing
you? From one-third to two-fifths of your four direct taxes, including the
extra cents. Whoever among you pays three hundred francs in taxes sends one
hundred francs annually to evaporate into the clouds over the Atlas mountains
or to sink into the sands of the Sahara.
We are told that the money is an advance
and that, a few centuries from now, we shall recover it a hundredfold. But who
says so? The very quartermaster general’s department that swindles us out of
our money. Listen here, gentlemen, when it comes to cash, there is but one
useful piece of advice: let each man watch his purse . . . and those to whom he
entrusts the purse strings.
We are further told: “The money spent
helps to support many people.” Yes, indeed, Kabyle spies, Moorish moneylenders,
Maltese settlers, and Arab sheikhs. If it were used to cut the “Grandes-Landes”
canal,22 to excavate the bed of the Adour River and the port of Bayonne, it
would help to support many people around us, too, and moreover it would provide
the country with an enormous capacity for production.
I have spoken of money; I should first
have spoken about men. Every year, ten thousand of our young fellow citizens,
the pick of our population, go to their deaths on those consuming shores, and
to no useful purpose so far, other than to extend, at our expense, the field of
the administrative services, who are naturally all in favor of it. In answer to
that, there is the alleged advantage of ridding the country of its surplus. A
horrible pretext, which goes against all human feeling and which hasn’t even
the merit of being materially true, for, even supposing the population to be
overabundant, to take from it, with each man, two or three times the capital
which could have supported him here, is far from being any relief to those who
But I must be fair. In spite of its liking
for anything that increases the size of its administration, it seems that at
the outset the government shrank from that abyss of bloodshed, injustice, and
distress. The nation chose to go ahead; it will long suffer the consequences.
What carried the country away, besides the
mirage of a great empire, of a new civilization, etc., was a strong reaction of
national feeling against the offensive claims of the British oligarchy.
England’s veiled opposition to our designs was enough to persuade us to go
ahead with them. I appreciate that feeling, and I would rather see it go astray
than die out. But, on the other hand, is there not a danger that it should
place us under the very domination that we hate? Give me two men, the one
submissive and the other contrary, and I will lead them both on a leash. If I
want them to walk, I will say to one: “Walk!” and to the other: “Don’t walk!”
and both of them will do as I wish. If our sense of dignity were to take that
form, then all perfidious Albion would have to do, in order to make us do the
most stupid things, would be to appear to oppose them. Just suppose, and it is
certainly very allowable to do so, that England sees in Algeria the ball and
chain that tie us down, the abyss which could swallow up our power; then would
that country have only to frown, take on a haughty and angry air, in order to
make us pursue a dangerous and insane policy? Let us avoid that pitfall; let us
judge by ourselves and for ourselves; let no one lay down the law to us either
directly or in a roundabout way. The problem of Algiers is unfortunately not
isolated. We are bound by precedents; the past has committed the future, and
there are precedents that must be taken into account. Let us, however, remain
master of decisions to come; let us weigh the advantages and drawbacks; and let
us not disdain to add a measure of justice to the balance, albeit toward the
Kabyles. If we do not begrudge the money, if glory is not to be haggled over,
let us at least attach some importance to the grief of families, the sufferings
of our fellow countrymen, the fate of those who fall, and the disastrous habits
of those who survive.
FB’s theory of the state
3. On Parliamentary Reform, 1846
To M. Larnac, Deputy for the Landes
There is therefore a division to be made
between private activity and collective or governmental activity. On the one
hand, many people are inclined to increase the attributions of the state
indefinitely. The most eccentric visionaries, such as Fourier, come together on
this point with the most practical of the men of state, such as M. Thiers.
According to these powerful geniuses, the state must, under their supreme
management, naturally, be the great administrator of justice, the great
pontiff, the great teacher, the great engineer, the great industrialist, and
the people’s great benefactor. On the other hand, many sound minds espouse the
opposite view; there are even those who go so far as to want the government to
be limited to its essential functions, which are to guarantee the security of
people and property, to prevent and repress violence and disorder, to ensure for
all the free exercise of their faculties and the proper reward for their
efforts. It is already not without some danger, they say, that the nation
entrusts to a hierarchically organized body the redoubtable responsibility for
the police force. This is indeed necessary, but at least the nation should
refrain from giving this body more jurisdiction over moral, intellectual, or
economic life, if it does not wish to be reduced to the status of so much
property or of a mere thing.
FB caught between left and right in Chamber
5. Letter to a Group of
Supporters, 1849 [pp. 387 ff.]
To MM Tonnelier, Degos, Bergeron, Camors,
Dubroca, Pomede, Fauret, etc.
You say that I am being painted as a
socialist. What can I answer? My writings are there. Have I not countered the
Louis Blanc doctrine with Property and Law, the Considérant doctrine with
Property and Plunder, the Leroux doctrine with Justice and Fraternity, the
Proudhon doctrine with Capital and Rent, the Mimerel committee with
Protectionism and Communism, paper money with Damned Money, and the Montagnard
Manifesto with The State? I spend my life combating socialism. It would be very
painful for me to have this acknowledged everywhere except in the département
of the Landes.
My votes have been depicted as close to
the extreme left. Why have the occasions on which I have voted with the right
not equally been mentioned?
But, you will say, how have you been able
to be alternatively in two such opposing camps? I will explain this.
For a century, the parties have taken a
great many names and adopted a great many pretexts; basically, it has always
been a matter of the same thing, the struggle of the poor against the rich.
Now, the poor demand more than what is
just and the rich refuse even that which is just. If this continues, social
war, of which our fathers witnessed the first act in ’93, and of which we
witnessed the second act in June, this frightful fratricidal war38 is not
nearing its end. The only possible conciliation is on the field of justice, in
everything and for all.
After February, the people put forward a
host of iniquitous and absurd pretensions mingled with some well-founded claims.
What was needed to avert social war?
- To refute in written form the iniquitous
claims and rebuff them legally.
- To support the well-founded claims in written
form and allow them legally.
That is the key to my conduct.
At the start of the revolution, popular
hopes were highly exalted and knew no bounds, even in our département, and I
remind you that I was not considered to be sufficiently red. It was much worse
in Paris; the workers were organized, armed, and masters of the terrain, at the
mercy of the most fiery demagogues.
The initial action of the National
Assembly had to be one of resistance. It was concentrated above all in the
finance committee, made up of men belonging to the rich class. Resisting mad
and subversive demands, rebuffing progressively increasing taxes, paper money,
the taking over of private industry by the state, and the suspension of
national debts: such was its laborious task. I played my part, and I ask you,
citizens, if I had been a socialist, would this committee have selected me
eight times in a row to be its vice president?
Once the work of resistance was completed,
the work of reform remained to be carried out in the 1849 budget. So many
unevenly shared taxes needed to be changed! So many restrictions needed to be
removed! Just take this business of conscription, for example (they have since
renamed it “recruitment”), a tax of seven years on lives, drawn from a hat!
Given these droits réunis (now known as indirect contributions), a regressive
income tax affecting the poor disproportionately, are these not well-founded
complaints from the people? After the days in June when anarchy was defeated,
the National Assembly considered that the time had come to enter resolutely and
spontaneously this avenue of reparation dictated by equity and even by
The finance committee, through its
composition, was less inclined to this second task than the first. New people
had been introduced into it by bielections,40 and it was constantly being said
that, far from changing taxes, we would be very happy if we could have
reestablished the situation just as it had been before February.
For this reason, the Assembly entrusted to
a commission of thirty members the task of preparing the budget. It charged
another commission with harmonizing the tax on drink with the principles of
liberty and equality enshrined in the constitution. I was a member of both and,
much as I ardently rebuffed utopian demands, I was equally ardent in carrying
out just reform.
It would take too long to relate here how
the good intentions of the Assembly were paralyzed. History will reveal this.
But you can understand my line of conduct. What I am reproached for is
precisely what I am proud of. Yes, I have voted with the right against the left
when it was a matter of resisting the excesses of mistaken popular ideas. Yes,
I have voted with the left against the right when the legitimate complaints of
the poor, suffering classes were being ignored.
Because of this, I may have alienated both
parties and will remain crushed in the center.
Two Revolutionary Broadsides by Frédéric Bastiat
“Freedom” (11-15 June 1848)
published in the first issue of Jacques
Bonhomme, dated 11-15 June 1848 [CW1, pp. 433-44]. </title/2393/226072>.
I have lived a long time, seen a great deal,
observed much, compared and examined many things, and I have reached the
Our fathers were right to wish to be free, and
we should also wish this.
It is not that freedom has no disadvantages,
since everything has these. To use these disadvantages in argument against it
is to say to a man trapped in the mire: Do not get out, as you cannot do this
without some effort.
Thus, it is to be wished that there be just one
faith in the world, provided that it is the true one. However, where is the
infallible authority which will impose it on us? While waiting for it to
manifest itself, let us maintain the freedom of discussion and conscience.
It would be fortunate if the best method of
teaching were to be universally adopted. But who has it and on what authority?
Let us therefore demand freedom of teaching.
We may be distressed to see writers delight in
stirring up all forms of evil passion. However, to hobble the press is also to
hobble truth as well as lies. Let us, therefore, take care never to allow the
freedom of the press to die.
It is distressing that man should be reduced to
earning his bread by the sweat of his brow. It would be better for the state to
feed everyone, but this is impossible. Let us at least have the freedom to
By associating with one another, men can gain
greater advantage from their strength. However, the forms of association are
infinite; which is best? Let us not run the risk that the state imposes the
worst of these on us; let us seek the right one by trial and error, and demand
the freedom of association.
A people has two ways of procuring something.
The first is to make it; the second is to make something else and trade it. It
is certainly better to have the option than not to have it. Let us therefore
demand the freedom to trade.
I am throwing myself into public debate; I am
trying to get through to the crowd to preach all the freedoms, the total of
which make up liberty.
“Laissez-faire” (11-15 June, 1848)
Source: Originally published in the first issue
of Jacques Bonhomme, dated 11-15 June 1848 [CW1, pp. 434-45]. </title/2393/226074>.
Laissez-faire! I will begin by saying, in order
to avoid any ambiguity, that laissez-faire is used here for honest things, with
the state instituted precisely to prevent dishonest things.
This having been said, and with regard to things
that are innocent in themselves, such as work, trade, teaching, association,
banking, etc., a choice must be made. It is necessary for the state to let
things be done or prevent them from being done.
If it lets things be done, we will be free and
optimally administered most economically, since nothing costs less than
If it prevents things from being done, woe to
our freedom and our purse. Woe to our freedom, since to prevent things is to
tie our hands; woe to our purse, since to prevent things requires agents and to
employ agents takes money.
In reply to this, socialists say:
“Laissez-faire! What a disaster!” Why, if you please? “Because, when you leave
men to act, they do wrong and act against their interests. It is right for the
state to direct them.”
This is simply absurd. Do you seriously have
such faith in human wisdom that you want universal suffrage and government of
all by all and then you proclaim these very men whom you consider fit to govern
others unfit to govern themselves?