Frédéric Bastiat on the state as the great fiction by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else (1848)

Frédéric Bastiat

Found in Selected Essays on Political Economy (FEE ed.)

In his essay on “The State”, which Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) wrote during the revolutionary year of 1848 when socialist governments were promising the moon to French citizens, he sarcastically offered his own definition of what the state was:

As, on the one hand, it is certain that we all address some such request to the state, and, on the other hand, it is a well-established fact that the state cannot procure satisfaction for some without adding to the labor of others, while awaiting another definition of the state, I believe myself entitled to give my own here. Who knows if it will not carry off the prize? Here it is: The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else.

Liberty Fund is preparing a multi-volume collection of the selected works of Frédéric Bastiat in a translation which will take several years to complete. Much of this material has never been translated into English before. Here we have an older English translation of this favorite aphorism by Bastiat. In an earlier quotation we provided the French original. Soon after he wrote this piece Bastiat died in Italy from a serious throat condition and thus France lost one of its ablest defenders of the free market and individual liberty.