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The 9th Day of Christmas: Condy Raguet on the anti-Christian character of protection and the need for peace on earth (1832)

The American free trader Condy Raguet (1784-1842) argues that there is not one set of rules which governs “duty from man to man, and another sort of duty from nation to nation”. There is only one, namely the “Christian dispensation” for “peace on earth, and good will to men” which in economics translates into a policy of free trade:

IT is to us one of the most incomprehensible things that so many persons, who profess to be advocates of religion and good will to man, should be the disciples of a philosophy which teaches that the selfish principle is paramount to the principle of neighbourly love. If there be one truth which the Christian dispensation enforces with more than peculiar emphasis, after a man’s duty to God, it is a man’s duty to his neighbour. Upon these two principles hang all the law and the prophets…

Now what does the restrictive philosophy teach? Why, that individuals, pursuing particular branches of industry, should consult their own interests, without any regard whatever to the interests of their neighbours; that sections or districts of country should unite together in a scheme calculated to render others tributary to them; and, carrying the principle still further out, that nations should study their own selfish interests, without regard to the interests of other nations. The consequences of such a course of conduct cannot be other than to produce private enmities and heart-burnings between those who benefit and those who suffer, as is visible, every day, to our own eyes—civil war between different sections of the same country, as we may see before another year—and foreign wars of which we have witnessed an abundance within the last half century, growing out of commercial restrictions. If it were true that the Christian religion enjoined one sort of duty from man to man, and another sort of duty from nation to nation, there might be some ground for the adoption of one rule as applicable to one case, and another rule as applicable to the other. But no distinction is made between them, and peace on earth, and good will to men, are every where inculcated.

ESSAY No. CXXVII. (July 11, 1832).

Anti-Christian character of the American System.

IT is to us one of the most incomprehensible things that so many persons, who profess to be advocates of religion and good will to man, should be the disciples of a philosophy which teaches that the selfish principle is paramount to the principle of neighbourly love. If there be one truth which the Christian dispensation enforces with more than peculiar emphasis, after a man’s duty to God, it is a man’s duty to his neighbour. Upon these two principles hang all the law and the prophets.

And what is man’s duty to his neighbour? It is to act towards him according to the rules of equity and justice—it is to do unto him as you would that he should do unto you. An observance of these rules could not fail to make of society a complete band of brothers; and, so far from their operating to the disadvantage of individuals, their happiness would be incalculably promoted by it…

Now what does the restrictive philosophy teach? Why, that individuals, pursuing particular branches of industry, should consult their own interests, without any regard whatever to the interests of their neighbours; that sections or districts of country should unite together in a scheme calculated to render others tributary to them; and, carrying the principle still further out, that nations should study their own selfish interests, without regard to the interests of other nations. The consequences of such a course of conduct cannot be other than to produce private enmities and heart-burnings between those who benefit and those who suffer, as is visible, every day, to our own eyes—civil war between different sections of the same country, as we may see before another year—and foreign wars of which we have witnessed an abundance within the last half century, growing out of commercial restrictions.If it were true that the Christian religion enjoined one sort of duty from man to man, and another sort of duty from nation to nation, there might be some ground for the adoption of one rule as applicable to one case, and another rule as applicable to the other. But no distinction is made between them, and peace on earth, and good will to men, are every where inculcated. Or, if it were true that the adoption of the selfish principle, in opposition to the neighbourly principle, either in relation to individuals, sections of country, or nations, would promote even the temporal interests of man, something might be allowed to those who embraced it, upon the score of human frailty, which often prefers a temporal to a spiritual blessing. But no such effect follows. The Restrictive System not only is injurious to the whole nation which adopts it, and to every separate branch of industry which is carried on in it, but, in the long run, to most of the very favoured classes themselves: for every one must perceive, that the profits and wages gained in protected branches of industry must ultimately be brought down to the common average of profits and wages, by which they are placed on a level with others which are not protected—and, when they reach that point, they participate with the rest of the nation in bearing their share of the national loss arising from the diminished production of the total land and labour of the country…

About this Quotation:

This quotation is part of a series for “The Twelve Days of Christmas” on the theme of “Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will towards men.” [Luke 2:14]

The American free trader Condy Raguet firmly believed that the so-called “American System” of high levels of protection for favoured industries and government funded public works was “anti-Christian.” This was true he argued because it violated two fundamental Christian doctrines, namely that of “peace on earth and good will to men” and “to do unto others as you would that they should do unto you.” Furthermore he argued, there was not one set of moral principles laid down in the Bible which governed the behaviour of “man to man” and another set to govern “nation to nation.” There was only a single set of moral principles which governed all human activity, that of “the rules of equity and justice” which were violated by protective tariffs and government subsidies. The American system of protection did this by making some, the consumers of high-priced protected goods, “tributaries” of others, those who benefited from tariff protection. Raguet thought that only a policy of free trade would permit “an observance of these rules (of equity and justice) (which) could not fail to make of society a complete band of brothers; and, so far from their operating to the disadvantage of individuals, their happiness would be incalculably promoted by it.”

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