Bastiat on the fact that even in revolution there is an indestructible principle of order in the human heart (1848)

Frédéric Bastiat

The French classical liberal economist Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) was impressed by the relative order which prevailed in the early days of the February Revolution in Paris in 1848. After having lived under an oppressive regime for more than half a century, the French people seemed to have an “indestructible principle of order” in their hearts:

When we go through the streets of Paris, which are scarcely wide enough to contain the throngs of people, and remember that in this immense metropolis at this moment there is no king, no court, no municipal guard, no troops, and no civil administration other than that exercised by the citizens over themselves, when we reflect that a few men, only yesterday emerged from our ranks, are taking care of public affairs on their own, then, judging by the joy, the sense of security, and the confidence shown on every face, our initial feelings are admiration and pride…

There is no getting round the fact that in France we have become accustomed to excessive and grossly intrusive government. We have ended up believing that we would tear each other to pieces if we had the slightest liberty and if the state did not regulate all our movements.

This great experiment reveals indestructible principles of order within the hearts of men. Order is a need and the first of the needs, if not of all, at least of the vast majority. Let us be confident therefore and draw from this the lesson that the great and extravagant government machine which those involved called indispensable can and should be simplified.

Twice during the revolutionary year of 1848 Frédéric Bastiat and some younger friends took to the streets of Paris in an attempt to persuade the rioters not to be seduced by the superficial appeal of socialism. In February he helped edit and distribute La République française. In June he did the same with Jacques Bonhomme. The articles were short and written to appeal to the average worker. Some were designed to made into wall posters which could be glued to the walls of the streets of Paris to attract the attention of passers-by. In this unnamed article from 26 February Bastiat observes with some surprise how order seemed to emerged from within the chaos of revolution. After having been ruled for decades with the heavy hand of monarchical or imperial rule, the people of France took matters into their own hands and created a new order which suggested to him that “principles of order” were an inherent part of of human nature, and hence indestructible.