Frédéric Bastiat and the state as “la grande fiction à travers laquelle Tout Le Monde s'efforce de vivre aux dépens de Tout Le Monde (1848)

Frédéric Bastiat

In 1848, the year of revolution in France and elsewhere, Bastiat writes an amusing polemic against all those who wish use the state to fund their own pet projects:

L'État, c'est la grande fiction à travers laquelle Tout Le Monde s'efforce de vivre aux dépens de Tout Le Monde. (The state is that great fiction by which everyone tries 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. This quotation comes from an article he wrote in 1848 and it has been available in an English translation for some time. It contains one of Bastiat’s most famous phrases, that “The state is that great fiction by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else.” Here we provide it in its French original. An English version will follow in a later quotation. The hostorical context for this quotation is the rise of socialism in France and the various attempts during the revolution to introduce socialist legislation. Bastiat wrote for a more popular audience, using the Journal des Débats as a platform, to counter the spread of socialist ideas. One of his tactics was to try to persuade conservatives that the interventionist legislation they proposed was also “socialist”.