Frédéric Bastiat, while pondering the nature of war, concluded that society had always been divided into two classes - those who engaged in productive work and those who lived off their backs (1850)

Frédéric Bastiat

Found in Economic Harmonies (FEE ed.)

In chapter 19 of the last work he ever completed, Frédéric Bastiat pondered on the nature of war and who benefits from it. He concluded that society is divided into two groups: those who live off the productive activity of others and the vast bulk of the people who engage in productive activities:

… [in the ancient world] a very small number of men managed to live without working, supported by the labor of the oppressed masses. This small leisured group made their slaves construct sumptuous palaces, vast castles, or somber fortresses. They loved to surround themselves with all the sensuous pleasures of life and with all the monuments of art. They delighted in discoursing on philosophy and cosmogony; and, above all, they carefully cultivated the two sciences to which they owed their supremacy and their enjoyments: the science of force and the science of fraud. For beneath this aristocracy were the countless multitudes occupied in creating, for themselves, the means of sustaining life and, for their oppressors, the means of surfeiting them with pleasures. Since the historians never make the slightest mention of these multitudes, we forget their existence; they do not count for us at all. We have eyes only for the aristocracy. [in ancient life] … the only difference was that the labor that a few men had managed to escape fell crushingly on the oppressed masses, to the great detriment of justice, liberty, property, wealth, equality, and progress…

Bastiat had a scathing attitude towards the study of classical languages and the ancient world because he had a very low regard for the morals of the slave owning and conquering Romans. Like Milton he thought that military glory was a “false glory” and Like Calhoun he thought that society was divided into classes of people - those who worked and traded peacefully and who paid the taxes, and those who lived off those taxes and ofter served in the military to boot. When this quotation was chosen, Liberty Fund was preparing to translate the complete works of Bastiat (the mid-19th century French edition runs to 7 volumes). Soon there will a cornucopia of the writings in English of this great defender of liberty.