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Frédéric Bastiat, The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 2: The Law, The State, and Other Political Writings, 1843-1850 [2012]

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Frédéric Bastiat, The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 2: The Law, The State, and Other Political Writings, 1843-1850, Jacques de Guenin, General Editor. Translated from the French by Jane Willems and Michel Willems, with an introduction by Pascal Salin. Annotations and Glossaries by Jacques de Guenin, Jean-Claude Paul-Dejean, and David M. Hart. Translation Editor Dennis O’Keeffe. Academic Editor, David M. Hart (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2012).

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About this Title:

Vol. 2 of a 6 vol. collection of the works of the 19th century French political economist Frédéric Bastiat. This volume contains 19 essays on political theory, including “The State,” “The Law,” and “Property and Plunder.” A detailed glossary contains information about the people, institutions, and ideological issues of his day.

Additional information about the Bastiat translation project can be found at the Bastiat Project Summary page.

Copyright information:

The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.

Fair use statement:

This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.

Table of Contents:

Edition: current; Page: [i]
“The Law,” “The State,” and Other Political Writings, 1843–1850
Edition: current; Page: [ii]

The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat

Jacques de Guenin, General Editor

The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics

“The Law,” “The State,” and Other Political Writings, 1843–1850

Economic Sophisms and “What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen”

Miscellaneous Works on Economics: From “Jacques-Bonhomme” to Le Journal des Économistes

Economic Harmonies

The Struggle Against Protectionism: The English and French Free-Trade Movements

Edition: current; Page: [iii]

Frédéric Bastiat

Edition: current; Page: [iv] Edition: current; Page: [v]
“The Law,” “The State,” and Other Political Writings, 1843–1850
frédéric bastiat
Jacques de Guenin, General Editor Translated from the French by Jane Willems and Michel Willems with an introduction by Pascal Salin
Annotations and Glossaries by Jacques de Guenin, Jean-Claude Paul-Dejean, and David M. Hart
Translation Editor Dennis O’Keeffe
Academic Editor David M. Hart
Liberty Fund
Edition: current; Page: [vi]

This book is published by Liberty Fund, Inc., a foundation established to encourage study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.


The cuneiform inscription that serves as our logo and as the design motif for our endpapers is the earliest-known written appearance of the word “freedom” (amagi), or “liberty.” It is taken from a clay document written about 2300 bc in the Sumerian city-state of Lagash.

© 2012 by Liberty Fund, Inc.

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Cover art: Image of the village of Mugron, France, the town where Bastiat spent most of his adult life, from a postcard at

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Bastiat, Frédéric, 1801–1850. [Selections. English. 2012]

The Law, the State, and other political writings, 1843–1850 / Frédéric Bastiat; Jacques de Guenin, general editor; translated from the French by Jane Willems and Michel Willems; with an introduction by Pascal Salin; annotations and glossaries by Jacques de Guenin and David M. Hart; translation editor Dennis O’Keeffe.

p. cm.—(Collected works of Frédéric Bastiat)

Includes bibliographical references and index.

isbn 978-0-86597-829-4 (hbk.: alk. paper)—isbn 978-0-86597-830-0 (pbk.: alk. paper)

1. Economics. 2. Law. 3. Property. 4. France—Politics and government—1830–1848. 5. France—Politics and government—1848–1852. I. Guenin, Jacques de. II. Title.

hb105.b3a25 2012

330—dc23 2012010907

Liberty Fund, Inc.

8335 Allison Pointe Trail, Suite 300

Indianapolis, Indiana 46250-1684

Edition: current; Page: [vii]


  • General Editor’s Note, ix
  • Note on the Translation, xi
  • Note on the Editions of the Œuvres complètes, xv
  • Acknowledgments, xvii
  • Introduction, xix
  • Frédéric Bastiat Chronology, xxxii
  • Map of France Showing Cities Mentioned by Bastiat, xxxiv
  • Map of Southwestern France, xxxv
  • “The Law,” “The State,” and Other Political Writings, 1843–1850
    • 1. Reflections on the Petitions from Bordeaux, Le Havre, and Lyons Relating to the Customs Service, 1
    • 2. The Tax Authorities and Wine, 10
    • 3. On the Wine-Growing Question, 25
    • 4. Property and Law, 43
    • 5. Justice and Fraternity, 60
    • 6. Individualism and Fraternity, 82
    • 7. The State, 93
    • 8. The State (draft), 105
    • 9. The Law, 107
    • 10. Property and Plunder, 147
    • 11. Baccalaureate and Socialism, 185
    • 12. Protectionism and Communism, 235
    • 13. Plunder and Law, 266
    • 14. The War Against Chairs of Political Economy, 277
    • 15. Peace and Freedom or the Republican Budget, 282
    • 16. Discourse on the Tax on Wines and Spirits, 328
    • 17. The Repression of Industrial Unions, 348 Edition: current; Page: [viii]
    • 18. Reflections on the Amendment of M. Mortimer-Ternaux, 362
    • 19. Parliamentary Conflicts of Interest, 366
    • Bastiat’s Political Writings: Anecdotes and Reflections, 401
  • Glossary of Persons, 417
  • Glossary of Places, 451
  • Glossary of Subjects and Terms, 453
  • Bibliographical Note on the Works Cited in This Volume, 463
  • Bibliography, 465
  • Index, 473
Edition: current; Page: [ix]

General Editor’s Note

The six-volume Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat will be the most complete compilation of Bastiat’s works published to date, in any country or in any language. The main source for the translation is the Œuvres complètes de Frédéric Bastiat, published by Guillaumin in the 1850s and 1860s.1

Although the Guillaumin edition was generally chronological, the volumes in this series have been arranged thematically:

The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics

“The Law,” “The State,” and Other Political Writings, 1843–1850

Economic Sophisms and “What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen”

Miscellaneous Works on Economics: From “Jacques-Bonhomme” to Le Journal des Économistes

Economic Harmonies

The Struggle Against Protectionism: The English and French Free-Trade Movements

There are four kinds of notes in this volume: footnotes by the editor of the Guillaumin edition (Prosper Paillottet), which are preceded by “(Paillottet’s note)”; footnotes by Bastiat, which are preceded by “(Bastiat’s note)”; new editorial footnotes, which stand alone (unless they are commenting on Paillottet’s notes, in which case they are in square brackets following Paillottet’s note); and source notes, which are given after the title of each article. The source note consists of (1) the volume number and the beginning page number as the work appears in the Œuvres complètes; (2) the original French title; and (3) the date and place of original publication.

In the text, Bastiat (as Paillottet does in the notes) makes many passing references Edition: current; Page: [x] to his works, for which we have provided an internal cross-reference if the work is found in this volume. For those works not in this volume, we have provided the location of the original French version in the Œuvres complètes (indicated in a footnote by “OC,” followed by the Guillaumin volume number, beginning page number, and French title of the work).

In addition, we have made available two online sources for the reader to consult. The first source is a table of contents of the seven-volume Œuvres complètes and links to PDF (Portable Document Format) facsimiles of each volume. The second source is our “Comparative Table of Contents of the Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat,” which is a table of contents of the complete Liberty Fund series.2 Here, the reader can find the location of the English translation of the work in its future Liberty Fund volume. These contents will be filled in and updated as the volumes are published and will eventually be the most complete comparative listing of Bastiat’s works.

In order to avoid multiple footnotes and cross-references, a glossary of persons, a glossary of places, and a glossary of subjects and terms have been provided to identify those persons, places, and terms mentioned in the text. The glossaries will also provide historical context and background for the reader as well as a greater understanding of Bastiat’s work. If a name as it appears in the text is ambiguous or is found in the glossary under a different name, a footnote has been added to identify the name as it is listed in the glossary.

Finally, original italics as they appear in the Guillaumin edition have been retained.

Jacques de Guenin
Saint-Loubouer, France
Edition: current; Page: [xi]

Note on the Translation

In this translation we have made a deliberate decision not to translate Frédéric Bastiat’s French into modern, colloquial American English. Wherever possible we have tried to retain a flavor of the more florid, Latinate forms of expression that were common among the literate class in mid-nineteenth-century France. Bastiat liked long, flowing sentences, in which idea followed upon idea in an apparently endless succession of dependent clauses. For the sake of clarity, we have broken up many but not all of these thickets of expression. In those that remain, you, dear reader, will have to navigate.

As was the custom in the 1840s, Bastiat liked to pepper his paragraphs with exclamations like “What!” and aphoristic Latin phrases like Quid leges sine moribus? (What are laws without customs?). We have translated the latter and left most of the former as a reminder that Bastiat wrote in a bygone age when tastes were very different. We have also kept personal names, titles of nobility, and the like in their original French if the persons were French; thus, “M.” instead of “Mr.”; “Mme” instead of “Mrs.”; “Mlle” instead of “Miss”; and “MM” instead of “Messrs.”

In the glossaries and footnotes, we have translated the French titles of works referred to by Bastiat or cited by the editors only if the work is well known to English-speaking readers, such as Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws or Rousseau’s The Social Contract.

Because many of the pamphlets in this volume were originally given as speeches in the Chamber of Deputies (Bastiat was elected to the Constituent Assembly in April 1848 and to the Legislative Assembly in May 1849) and because Bastiat did not live to edit them into a final publishable form, the language can be at times rather colloquial and informal. One needs to remember that the speeches were given in the heat of the revolutionary moment, when France was undergoing considerable upheaval and the liberal forces Bastiat represented were under siege from both the conservatives and the protectionists on the right and the socialists on the left. Other essays Edition: current; Page: [xii] in the volume were prepared for publication in such journals as Le Journal des débats, Le Journal des économistes, or Le Libre-échange and were thus in a more polished form. A handful of writings in the volume were published privately by Bastiat as “pamphlets,” which he handed out to his friends, or were submissions to parliamentary committees on various topical matters. Thus, the language he used varied considerably from pamphlet to pamphlet depending on its raison d’être. It is therefore possible that both the original French editor (Paillottet) as well as the translation in this edition have given too final a form to what were in fact ephemeral pamphlets du jour.

Concerning the problematical issue of how to translate the French word la liberté—whether to use the more archaic-sounding English word liberty or the more modern word freedom—we have let the context have the final say. Bastiat was much involved with establishing a free-trade movement in France and to that end founded the Free Trade Association (Association pour la liberté des échanges) and its journal Le Libre-échange. In this context the word choice is clear: we must use freedom because it is intimately linked to the idea of “free trade.” The English phrase “liberty of trade” would sound awkward. Another word is pouvoir, which we have variously translated as “power,” “government,” or “authority,” again depending on the context.

A third example consists of the words économie politique and économiste. Throughout the eighteenth century and most of the nineteenth, in both French and English the term political economy was used to describe what we now call “economics.” Toward the end of the nineteenth century as economics became more mathematical, the adjective “political” was dropped and not replaced. We have preferred to keep the term political economy both because it was still current when Bastiat was writing and because it better describes the state of the discipline, which proudly mixed an interest in moral philosophy, history, and political theory with the main dish, which was economic analysis; similarly, with the term économiste. Today one can be a free-market economist, a Marxist economist, a Keynesian economist, a mathematical economist, or an Austrian economist, to name a few. The qualifier before the noun is quite important. In Bastiat’s day it was assumed that any “economist” was a free-market economist, and so the noun needed no adjectival qualifier. Only during the 1840s, with the emergence of socialist ideas in France and Germany, did there arise a school of economic thinking that sharply diverged from the free market. But in Bastiat’s day this had not yet become large enough to cause confusion over naming. Even in 1849, when Gustave de Molinari published his charming set of dialogues, Les Soirées Edition: current; Page: [xiii] de la rue Saint-Lazare, between three stock characters—the socialist, the conservative, and the economist—it was perfectly clear who was arguing for what, and that the economist was, of course, a laissez-faire, free-market economist.

A particularly difficult word to translate is l’industrie, as is its related term industriel. In some respects it is a “false friend,” as one is tempted to translate it as “industry” or “industrious” or “industrial,” but this would be wrong because these terms have the more narrow modern meaning of “heavy industry” or “manufacturing” or “the result of some industrial process.” The meaning in Bastiat’s time was both more general and more specific to a particular social and economic theory current in his day.

The word industry in the eighteenth century had the general meaning of “productive” or “the result of hard work,” and this sense continued to be current in the early nineteenth century. Industry also had a specific meaning, which was tied to a social and economic theory developed by Jean-Baptiste Say and his followers Charles Comte and Charles Dunoyer in the 1810s and 1820s, as well as by other theorists such as the historian Augustin Thierry. According to these theorists there were only two means of acquiring wealth: by productive activity and voluntary exchanges in the free market (that is, by “industrie”—which included agriculture, trade, factory production, and services) or by coercive means (conquest, theft, taxation, subsidies, protection, transfer payments, or slavery). Anybody who acquired wealth through voluntary exchange and productive activities belonged to a class of people collectively called les industrieux, in contrast to those individuals or groups who acquired their wealth by force, coercion, conquest, slavery, or government privileges. The latter group were seen as a ruling class or as “parasites” who lived at the expense of les industrieux.

Bastiat was very much influenced by the theories of Say, Comte, and Dunoyer and adopted their terminology regarding industry. So to translate industrie in this intellectual context as “production” (or some other modern, neutral term) would be to ignore the resonance the word has within the social and economic theory that was central to Bastiat’s worldview. Hence, at the risk of sounding a bit archaic and pedantic we have preferred to use industry in order to remain true to Bastiat’s intent.

Bastiat uses the French term la spoliation many times in his writings. It is even used in the title of two of his pamphlets (found in this volume), “Propriété et spoliation,” published in July 1848 in Le Journal des débats; and “Spoliation et loi,” published in May 1850 in Le Journal des économistes. Edition: current; Page: [xiv] The Oxford English Dictionary defines spoliation as “the action of ruining or destroying something” and “the action of taking goods or property from somewhere by illegal or unethical means”—from the Latin verb spoliare (strip, deprive). In using this term, Bastiat is making the point that there is a distinction between the two ways in which wealth can be acquired, either through peaceful and voluntary exchange (i.e., the free market) or by theft, conquest, and coercion (i.e., using the power of the state to tax, repossess, or grant special privileges). Some earlier translations of Bastiat use the older word spoliation; the word plunder is also used on occasion. In our translation we have preferred to use plunder. Another possible translation for spoliation is “exploitation,” which carries much the same meaning but has an unfortunate association with Marxist theories of “capitalist exploitation.”

A final note on terminology: in Bastiat’s time, the word liberal had the same meaning in France and in America. In the United States, however, the meaning of the word has shifted progressively toward the left of the political spectrum. A precise translation of the French word would be either “classical liberal” or “libertarian,” depending on the context, and indeed Bastiat is considered a classical liberal by present-day conservatives and a libertarian by present-day libertarians. To avoid the resulting awkwardness, we have decided by convention to keep the word liberal, with its nineteenth-century meaning, in the translations as well as in the notes and the glossaries.

David M. Hart
Edition: current; Page: [xv]

Note on the Editions of the Œuvres complètes

The first edition of the Œuvres complètes appeared in 1854–55, consisting of six volumes.1 The second edition, which appeared in 1862–64, was an almost identical reprint of the first edition (with only minor typesetting differences) but was notable for the addition of a new, seventh volume, which contained additional essays, sketches, and correspondence.2 The second edition also contained a preface by Prosper Paillottet and a biographical essay on Bastiat by Roger de Fontenay (“Notice sur la vie et les écrits de Frédéric Bastiat”), both of which were absent in the first edition.

Another difference between the first and second editions was in the sixth volume, which contained Bastiat’s magnum opus, Economic Harmonies. The first edition of the Œuvres complètes described volume 6 as the “third revised and augmented edition” of Economic Harmonies. This is somewhat confusing but does have some logic to it. The “first” edition of Economic Harmonies appeared in 1850 during the last year of Bastiat’s life but in an incomplete form. The “second” edition appeared in 1851, after his death, edited by “La Société des amis de Bastiat” (most probably by Prosper Paillottet and Roger de Fontenay) and included the second half of the manuscript, which Bastiat had been working on when he died. Thus the edition that appeared in the first edition of the Œuvres complètes was called the “third” edition on its title page. This practice continued throughout the nineteenth century, with editions of Economic Harmonies staying in print as a separate volume as Edition: current; Page: [xvi] well as being included as volume 6 in later editions of the Œuvres complètes. By 1870–73, therefore, when the third edition of the Œuvres complètes appeared, the version of Economic Harmonies in volume 6 was titled the “sixth” edition of the work.

Other “editions” of the Œuvres complètes include a fourth edition, 1878–79, and a fifth edition, 1881–84. If there was a sixth edition, the date is unknown. A seventh edition appeared in 1893, and a final edition may have appeared in 1907. (For a complete listing of the editions of the Œuvres complètes that were used in making this translation, see the bibliography.)

David M. Hart
Academic Editor
Edition: current; Page: [xvii]


This translation is the result of the efforts of a team comprising Jane Willems and Michel Willems; Dr. Dennis O’Keeffe, Professor of Social Science at the University of Buckingham and Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs in London, who carefully read the translation and made very helpful suggestions at every stage; Dr. David M. Hart, Director of the Online Library of Liberty Project at Liberty Fund, who supplied much of the scholarly apparatus and provided the translation with the insights of a historian of nineteenth-century European political economy; Dr. Aurelian Craiutu, Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Bloomington, who read the final translation and contributed his considerable knowledge of nineteenth-century French politics to this undertaking; Dr. Robert Leroux of the University of Ottawa for additional assistance with the translation; and Dr. Laura Goetz, senior editor at Liberty Fund, who organized and coordinated the various aspects of the project from its inception through to final manuscript.

I would also like to acknowledge the contribution of Mr. Manuel Ayau (1925–2010), a Liberty Fund board member whose support and enthusiasm for the translation project was crucial in getting it off the ground.

This volume thus has all the strengths and all the weaknesses of a voluntary, collaborative effort. My colleagues and I hope that Bastiat would approve, especially as no government official was involved at any stage.

Jacques de Guenin
General editor
Founder of the Cercle Frédéric Bastiat
Edition: current; Page: [xviii] Edition: current; Page: [xix]


The pamphlets and articles in this volume clearly show Frédéric Bastiat to be a keen observer and analyst of the political and economic problems of his time. Many of the pamphlets were written while he was an active politician, a position he held unfortunately for only a short period of time. Bastiat was elected to the Constituent Assembly in April 1848 and then to the Legislative Assembly in May 1849 but died on Christmas Eve in 1850, at the age of forty-nine.1

Despite his brief life, Bastiat was a privileged witness to a particularly unsettled period of French history: after the Revolution of 1789 came a period of political chaos, followed by the Napoleonic Empire, the return of the monarchy in 1815, a revolution in 1830, and another one in 1848, at which date the Second Republic was founded and universal suffrage adopted for the first time in French history. It was also during this period that the “bourgeoisie” became an increasingly influential social class that made possible, after the death of Bastiat, the takeoff of economic growth under Emperor Napoléon III and the beginnings of industrialization in Britain and France. These were the events that provided the background for Bastiat’s numerous writings on economics and politics.

The Political Pamphlets as Models of Applied Economics

Bastiat was both a thinker and an actor in public affairs. He was a politician who was inspired by both economic and ethical principles, which is a Edition: current; Page: [xx] rare occurrence, whether then or now. Next to Bastiat “the economist,” who wrote such monumental theoretical works as Economic Harmonies (1850), we have Bastiat the “political pamphleteer,” who wrote in response to the political and economic battles of the moment.2 To those economists who dream of attempting to implement their ideas, political life might seem attractive; however, only a very few, like Bastiat, are lucky enough to get that opportunity. While France was wracked by wave after wave of revolutionary change between 1848 and 1850, Bastiat had the chance to present his ideas in speeches to the Assembly, in broadsides handed out in the street, as essays in popular journals, and as articles in academic journals.

Throughout the pamphlets, Bastiat demonstrates how the combination of careful logic, consistency of principle, and clarity of exposition is the instrument for solving most economic and social problems. He does not hesitate to present facts and even statistics to his readers, but he does so in a manner that is understandable and coherent because the material is analyzed through the filter of rigorous economic theory.3

In this volume the reader will find discussions covering a wide variety of topics, such as the theory of value and rent (in which Bastiat made path-breaking contributions), public choice and collective action, regulations, taxation, education, trade unions, price controls, capital and growth, and the balance of trade, many of which topics are still at the center of political debate in our own time. Far from being dry and technical discussions of abstruse matters, all Bastiat’s pamphlets are written with such outstanding limpidity that reading them is a joy.

Eyewitness to Political and Economic Upheavals (1848–50)

After a period as a successful provincial magistrate, Bastiat was elected in the immediate aftermath of the February revolution of 1848 to the Constituent Assembly in Paris. He represented his home département (the Landes, Edition: current; Page: [xxi] located in the southwest region of France) and became active in opposing both the socialism of the left and the authoritarianism of the right. As a classical liberal advocate of natural rights, universal franchise, the ultraminimalist state, and absolute free trade, Bastiat was not completely at home on the right or on the left side of the Assembly, though he oft en sat on the left because of his opposition to many of the establishment’s policies. On the right sat the monarchists, militarists, large landowners, supporters of the very limited voting franchise, and business interests who advocated tariff protection and subsidies. Occupying the left were the republicans, democrats, socialists, and advocates of state-supported make-work schemes and other subsidies to the poor. As some of his speeches indicate, Bastiat could cleverly play off one side against the other, appealing to the right in his attacks on socialism but appealing to the left in his support of the republic and his criticism of state subsidies to the rich.

In 1846 a key economic reform occurring in Britain caught Bastiat’s attention: Prime Minister Robert Peel’s abolition of the Corn Laws.4 The repeal of these laws eliminated many price controls on imported food stuffs and thus lowered the cost of food for those British consumers who were the least well off. The person behind the successful repeal was Richard Cobden whose organization, the Anti–Corn Law League, mobilized British opinion and forced Peel to act as he did. Bastiat, impressed with this popular and successful movement, very much wanted to emulate Cobden’s success by organizing a homegrown French free-trade movement and spent much of his time during the mid-1840s trying to bring this about, with disappointing results.5

Toward the end of his life, as a deputy in the Constituent Assembly and then in the Legislative Assembly, Bastiat became immersed in the struggles against the rise of socialist groups from the left and the opportunistic, interventionist policies of other groups on the right. Many of his pamphlets from this period were economic in nature and designed to alert people to the dangers of growing government intervention in the economy and attacks on the rule of law. The pamphlets are period pieces to the extent that they Edition: current; Page: [xxii] reflect the day-to-day or week-to-week battles for liberty fought by Bastiat in the Assembly (he served on a budget committee and thus had access to important economic data). However, they are also timeless works of applied economic theory that still stand today as insightful, informative, and even exemplary forms of their kind.

Republicanism and Universal Suffrage

Bastiat was a “sincere” republican in the sense that he favored a republican system of government (as opposed to a monarchical one) and, more precisely, because he favored universal suffrage. Yet he was also aware of the dangers of unrestrained democracy if it were allowed to violate the people’s rights to property (“plunder”) and liberty (“slavery”). In his famous pamphlet “The Law” (1850) Bastiat explains that the law, far from being what it ought to be, namely the instrument that enabled the state to protect individuals’ rights and property, had become the means for what he termed “spoliation,” or plunder.

As the will and the capacity to legislate became commonplace—the result of universal suffrage—plunder, too, became commonplace. Bastiat’s views on law and plunder are both modern and prophetic, given that democracy was a relatively new experience in France. Like his contemporary Alexis de Tocqueville, Bastiat was an astute observer of the society of his time as well as a visionary of what unrestrained democracy might lead to, as the following passage shows:

Whatever the disciples of the Rousseau school think, those who say that they are very advanced and whom I believe to be retarded by twenty centuries, universal suffrage (taking this word in its strictest sense) is not one of the sacred dogmas with regard to which any examination or even doubt is a crime.6

Bastiat points out the logical contradiction of the Rousseauean law-makers who believed that ordinary citizens are naturally inclined to make bad choices in their own lives (but not in choosing their political representatives apparently), so that they must be deprived of their freedom, whereas the elected rulers of society would necessarily be inclined to make good choices Edition: current; Page: [xxiii] concerning the lives of others: “And if humanity is incapable of making its own judgments, why are people talking to us about universal suffrage?”7

Bastiat concludes with a sad commentary on the effects that unbridled democracy has had in France, writing that although the French people “have led all the others in winning their rights, or rather their political guarantees, they nevertheless remain the most governed, directed, administered, taxed, hobbled, and exploited of all peoples.”8

In the pamphlet “Plunder and Law”9 (1850), written before “The Law” appeared, Bastiat had already expressed his uneasiness concerning the idea of universal suffrage:

Following the February revolution, when universal suffrage was proclaimed, I hoped for a moment that its great voice would be heard to say: “No more plunder for anyone, justice for all!” . . . No, by bursting into the National Assembly, each class came to make the law an instrument of plunder for itself according to the principles they upheld. They demanded progressive taxes, free credit, the right to work, the right to state assistance, guaranteed interest rates, a minimum rate of pay, free education, subsidies to industry, etc., etc.; in short, each wanted to live and develop at other people’s expense.10

We thus find in Bastiat’s writings clear statements about the dangerous confusion that exists between two opposite concepts of the law, “law and legislation”—to use the words of the twentieth-century Nobel Prize–winning economist Friedrich Hayek (1899–1992). Legislation is the output of the political process; it is an instrument of plunder and it breeds a war of all against all. But law, properly conceived, is, as Bastiat states, “the common power organized to obstruct injustice and, in short, the law is justice”11—a straightforward but striking formula that encapsulates a whole body of theory.

In witnessing these processes at work in the French assemblies of 1848 and 1849, Bastiat was led to some important theoretical insights into the nature of the state itself. He most clearly expressed these views in another pamphlet, Edition: current; Page: [xxiv] “The State,” which he wrote in that most revolutionary year of 1848 and from which comes perhaps his best-remembered quotation: “The state is the great fiction by which everyone endeavors to live at the expense of everyone else.12

State Education

In his writings Bastiat gives a lot of attention to the problem of education. A good example is his opposition to the importance placed upon the teaching of Latin in the school curriculum. In his own education Bastiat had attended a progressive school that emphasized modern languages and practical subjects. He was opposed to learning Latin and reading the works of the famous Latin authors because, in his view, Roman civilization was based on slavery and the glorification of war and the state; commerce, individual rights, and natural law were ignored or downplayed.

In a submission to the Mimerel Commission in 1847,13 Bastiat opposed the politicalization of the teaching of economics in higher education. Apart from the fact that political economists were not granted their own faculty but had to teach within the schools of law, the commission at first wanted to abolish the teaching of political economy altogether. Eventually it relented and recommended that if the political economists must teach, they should be required by the state to soften their relentless criticism of protection by giving “equal time” to protectionist ideas—an early version of “teaching the debate,” if you will. Bastiat naturally opposed this measure. His view of state education became so severe that he saw no other option than its complete abolition. His pamphlet “Baccalaureate and Socialism” (1850) was written expressly in order to explain an amendment he had proposed to the National Assembly: he dared to ask that the state-run universities no longer be the sole grantors of degrees, thereby ending the state’s monopoly over the awarding of such degrees.14

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Hayek and Spontaneous Order

Two of the themes Bastiat pursues in the pamphlets are his advocacy of the “harmony” and justice of freely acting individuals in the marketplace and his criticism of state intervention and “plunder” to create authoritarianism or socialism. Friedrich Hayek called these opposing worldviews “spontaneous order” and “constructivism,” respectively.

During the 1840s a new socialist movement sprang up in France, and it would play a significant role during the upheavals of the 1848 revolution.15 Bastiat’s writing on this topic16 places the reader at the very center of the debates that explain the historical evolution of France and of a great part of the world. Similarly, as Hayek has persuasively argued, Bastiat is at the very center of the fundamental debates of political philosophy.17

The coexistence since the eighteenth century of both these streams of thought (the classical liberal and the socialist) has arguably been the source of the ambiguity in the meaning of the words liberty and property during the French Revolution and its aftermath. One can see this conflict played out in the various versions of declarations of rights that emerged periodically during the Revolution, beginning with the famous Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789).

Bastiat criticized such thinkers as Fénelon, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Edition: current; Page: [xxvi] Mably, and Robespierre, who had done much to inspire modern enlightened public opinion. Bastiat objected to their claims that property rights are created by the state and are thus “conventional” and not “natural,” that is, existing prior to any man-made law. Rousseau comes in for particularly harsh criticism by Bastiat for the distinction he makes between “individual liberty” (which Rousseau regards as “natural”) and “property” (which Rousseau considers purely conventional).

According to Bastiat, this false distinction led Rousseau to conclude that the state had the right to enact legislation establishing the right to work, the right to get relief (welfare), and the right to impose progressive taxation. Robespierre, one of the leaders of the French Revolution, especially during the 1793–94 Reign of Terror, had been directly influenced by Rousseau, whom Bastiat quotes in “Baccalaureate and Socialism”: “Property is the right held by each citizen to enjoy and dispose of possessions that are guaranteed to him by the law.18 In Bastiat’s view, if property were not a natural right that existed prior to the state, then the state (or whoever temporarily controlled the organs of the state) could define what “property” was and legislate to create any kind of society it desired.

The French revolutionaries of the 1790s and the 1840s had tried to apply what Bastiat called the “communist principle” to the formation of declarations of rights and constitutions and to the development of government policies regarding price controls, make-work schemes, and other economic interventions by the state. Such an extreme form of despotism frightened many French citizens in the 1790s. These citizens, seeking security and stability, turned toward a Roman-inspired form of despotism,19 such as that offered by Napoléon Bonaparte.

After lurching from the radicalism of the Jacobins to the militaristic dictatorship of Napoléon and to the conservatism of the restored Bourbon monarchy, the French people seemed to have settled upon a form of political Edition: current; Page: [xxvii] armistice after the July revolution, with the forces of revolution and counterrevolution achieving a kind of temporary balance. Bastiat, however, unhappily believed that the French continued to educate their youth with the ideas of Rousseau and Caesar, thus trapping them in a maze that began with dreams of utopia, followed by experimentation in an attempt to create this utopia on earth, and then finally political reaction after these dreams inevitably fell apart. In its incarnation in the revolutionary period this maze began with the ideas of Rousseau, was followed by the revolutionary communism of Robespierre and his followers, and ended in the military despotism of Napoléon. In 1848 it looked to Bastiat as if France were going to repeat this pattern all over again, this time under the influence of the new socialist movement that had sprung up in the 1840s.

Peace, Liberty, and Taxes

In the pamphlet “Peace and Freedom or the Republican Budget” (1849), Bastiat’s skill as a writer and thinker enables him to rapidly turn the mundane topic of the national budget into one of principle and high theory. He quickly goes beyond strict budgetary considerations to reach a high level of theoretical analysis and, in so doing, provides an original and audacious contribution to the field of tax theory. In fact, he may be the first author to support the idea that “taxes kill taxes”—in other words, the concept known in our own time as the Laffer Curve.

In this text Bastiat blames both the “financiers,” who try to obtain fiscal equilibrium by taxing people, and the so-called advanced republicans, who make so many promises to their constituents that an increase in taxes is unavoidable. Bastiat believed that it was important to secure the stability of the young republic by alleviating the tax burden on the people, thus inducing them to “love the republic.” For Bastiat, in order for public finance to blossom, the rational thing to do would be to decrease tax rates, not increase them, because, for the state, “taxing more is to receive less.”20 Bastiat does not hesitate to write that even if there is a budget deficit, taxes must be reduced, as much out of principle as out of the recognition that economic hardship has been so severe that the people have to receive some relief. As he put it, such a solution “is not boldness, it is prudence”!21

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The Left, Taxes, and Trade Unions

In Bastiat’s lifelong quest to instill into the French people the ideals of liberty, peace, and prosperity—that is, those principles today associated with the conservative right—Bastiat sat on the parliamentary benches with the left. His political position is more easily understood if one remembers that, in his time, those who sat on the right in the Assembly were mainly conservatives, not classical liberals. They were nostalgic for the ancien régime of the pre-1789 period, namely the era of the monarchy and aristocratic class privileges. In fact, Bastiat was very critical of the efforts made by the wealthiest and most politically connected individuals to protect their own interests by manipulating the power of the legislature and the state. Like his friend and colleague in England Richard Cobden, Bastiat passionately believed that in advocating for free markets, low taxes, and free trade he was defending the interests of the poor.

The difficulty of Bastiat’s balancing act in the Assembly between left and right can clearly be seen in the reaction to two of his speeches: “Discourse on the Tax on Wines and Spirits” (1849) and “The Repression of Industrial Unions” (1849).

In the first speech Bastiat, who represented an agricultural district in which the production of wine was particularly important, attempts to convince his colleagues that the farmers in his locality have to bear an unfair tax burden. He defends the interests of his constituents without compromising what he rightly considers to be the lessons of sound economic theory. What is particularly striking in this speech is the fact that he receives applause from those sitting on the left’s benches. Bastiat points out that poor people suffer the most from state interventionism and that politically influential businessmen are able to induce the state to pass laws giving them protection from foreign competition, with the result that higher prices are created for ordinary consumers.

Bastiat concludes therefore that liberalizing trade and freeing up markets benefit the poor. Note that in Bastiat’s time, as in ours, it was a commonly held view that liberals (in the classical sense of the word) supported business interests over the interests of ordinary consumers. It is fascinating to discover that when Bastiat gave this speech, both the champions of the poor and the supporters of the republic (the left) seemed to understand what he was saying and to approve it. Unfortunately, the applause he received in the Assembly was not followed up by any concrete legislation to bring about the reforms he advocated.

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In the second speech, “The Repression of Industrial Unions,” Bastiat opposes legislation that restricts the right of workers to form the unions proposed by the right. Bastiat explains why both businessmen and workers must be granted the freedom to form trade unions; he argues that “the word union is synonymous with association”22 and that human freedom implies the right to associate with whomever and for whatever purpose one chooses. In addition, Bastiat strongly supports the right to strike, since an individual can legitimately decline to sell his or her work and “when it [an action] is innocent in itself, it cannot become guilty because it is carried out by a large number of individuals.”23 He further proclaims, “For what is a slave if not a man obliged by law to work under conditions that he rejects?” This sentence was greeted in the Assembly with repeated shouts of “Hear! Hear!” from the benches of the left.

Contrary to frequently held modern views, Bastiat’s belief is that a consistent (classical) liberal is necessarily against all forms of slavery and is in favor of the right to associate and also to strike, with the important condition that violence is not used. Thus, the state should not forbid trade unions and strikes, but it should punish those who use violence in any strike-related activity. On the basis of these clear principles of individual liberty, Bastiat supported the proposal to allow the creation of trade unions, concluding that “only principles have the power to satisfy people’s minds, to win over their hearts, and to unite all serious minds.”24

The Economists, the Socialists, and Legal Plunder

According to Bastiat and the liberal, free-trade political economists of his time, there was only one school of economics, that of Les Économistes.25 On the other hand, there were many schools of socialism, all of which opposed the ideas of Les Économistes. The reason for this difference is straightforward in Bastiat’s view: true economists are concerned with principles, and if people agree on principles they cannot express conflicting or incoherent statements. On the contrary, socialists want to rebuild human nature and each school has its own recipe for changing society. Bastiat expresses this view clearly in “Justice and Fraternity” (1848): “I believe that what radically Edition: current; Page: [xxx] divides us is this: political economy reaches the conclusion that only universal justice should be demanded of the law. Socialism, in its various branches and through applications whose number is of course unlimited, demands in addition that the law should put into practice the dogma of fraternity.”26

For Bastiat, the approaches of the political economists and the socialists are incompatible with each other because socialism necessarily impinges upon individual rights whenever one wants to redistribute wealth by using constraint. The main criterion for evaluating human actions is to ask whether an act is made freely or whether it is obtained by violence. According to Bastiat, legal violence is the most dangerous of human actions because it is wielded without any risk to the politicians and their supporters; moreover, it is even considered virtuous because politicians use it in the name of brotherhood and solidarity. Bastiat’s consistency in opposing all forms of coercion, whether legal or not, separates him from most of his contemporaries.

Freedom to Exchange

It is not surprising that Bastiat frequently opposes protectionist measures and pleads the case for free trade, but what is surprising is the broad range of arguments he uses to make his case. He draws his arguments from many fields of inquiry, such as economics, history, philosophy, and ethics. He reminds us that he was the founder of the Association pour la liberté des échanges (the free-trade association) and not the “association for commercial freedom” or the “association for the gradual reform of tariffs.” The “association for commercial freedom” would suggest support for only a narrowly based interest group that worked in the area of “commerce.” Likewise, the “association for the gradual reform of tariffs” would be inappropriate in Bastiat’s view because it would imply a willingness to compromise with those groups who benefited from protection at the expense of the broad mass of consumers who suffered from it. Thus, he chose for his organization the more general and somewhat abstract name “Association pour la liberté des échanges,” explaining that “the term free trade implies the freedom to dispose of the fruits of your work, in other words, property,27 and this property could be in the form of wine, cotton cloth, gold bullion, or ideas.

Bastiat also makes a striking comparison between slavery and protectionism: Edition: current; Page: [xxxi] “If I use force to appropriate all the work of a man for my benefit, this man is my slave. He is also my slave if, while letting him work freely, I find a way through force or guile to take possession of the fruit of his work.”28 In his battle with both conservatives and socialists Bastiat wanted to make the rhetorical and philosophical point that protectionism was just another form of that age-old means of granting privileges to one group at the expense of the liberty and property of another group. Thus he gave “this new form of servitude the fine title of protection.”29


Throughout the writings in this volume, we discover the personality of Bastiat. He is a keen observer and analyst of the times and a passionate politician who rushes into many debates with the hope of changing the course of history during the crucial period in which he lived. It is as if he somehow anticipated that he had only a very short time left to live.

The time between his election to the Assembly in early 1848 and his death on Christmas Eve in 1850 was a scant twenty months. During this period he carried out his parliamentary duties, wrote numerous pamphlets, and worked feverishly to complete his magnum opus, Economic Harmonies.30 His aim was to convince as many people as possible that liberal economic theory is the only way to evaluate political decisions rationally and to help bring about the creation of a free, prosperous, and peaceful society.

Pascal Salin

My thanks to David M. Hart for his editorial contributions and his insights into the history of this period.

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Frédéric Bastiat Chronology

1801 Born in Bayonne, 30 June.
1808 Death of mother. Moves to Mugron with father, grandfather, and Aunt Justine.
1810 Death of father.
1814–18 Attends school at Sorèze.
1819–25 Works in Bayonne for his Uncle Monclar.
1825 Death of grandfather. Inherits part of his estate.
1830 The “three glorious days,” 27–29 July. Louis-Philippe becomes “king of the French.”
1831 Appointed county judge.
1833 Elected to the General Council of the Landes.
1840 Travels to Spain and Portugal.
1844 On the Influence of French and English Tariff s on the Future of the Two Peoples.
1845 Travels to Paris and London.
Cobden and the League.
Economic Sophisms (first series).
1846 Founds the Association pour la liberté des échanges.
To the Electors of the District of Saint-Sever.
Founds weekly journal Le Libre-échange.
1847 Economic Sophisms (second series).
1848 Revolution, 22–24 February. The republic is proclaimed.
Elected to the Constituent Assembly, 23 April.
Founds La République française and Jacques Bonhomme.
Property and Law.
Justice and Fraternity.
Property and Plunder.
The State.
Louis-Napoléon elected president of the republic, 10 December.
1849 Elected to the Legislative Assembly, 13 May.
Protectionism and Communism.
Capital and Rent.
Peace and Freedom, or the Republican Budget.
Parliamentary Incompatibilities.
Damned Money.
Free Credit.
1850 Economic Harmonies.
Plunder and Law.
The Law.
Baccalaureate and Socialism.
What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen.
Departure for Rome, September.
Dies in Rome, 24 December.

An expanded and detailed version of the life and works of Bastiat can be found at

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Map of France Showing Cities Mentioned by Bastiat
Cartography by Mapping Specialists, Madison, Wisconsin.
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Map of Southwestern France
Cartography by Mapping Specialists, Madison, Wisconsin.
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“The Law,” “The State,” and Other Political Writings, 1843–1850

Edition: current; Page: [xxxviii] Edition: current; Page: [1]

1: Reflections on the Petitions from Bordeaux, Le Havre, and Lyons Relating to the Customs Service1

[vol. 1, p. 231. “Réflexions sur les pétitions de Bordeaux, Le Havre et Lyon, concernant les Douanes.” April 1834. n.p.]

Free trade will probably suffer the fate of all freedoms; it will be introduced into our legislation only after it has taken hold of our minds. For this reason, we should applaud the efforts of the traders in Bordeaux, Le Havre, and Lyons even if the only effect of these efforts in the immediate future is to draw public attention to the matter.

However, if it is true that a reform has to be generally understood to be firmly established, it follows that nothing can be more disastrous than something that misleads opinion. And nothing is more likely to mislead it than writings that clamor for freedom on the basis of the doctrines of monopoly.

It would doubtless require a great deal of temerity for a simple farmer to disturb, through bold criticism, the unanimous chorus of praise that welcomed the demands of French trade both inside and outside France. No less would be needed to confirm his decision to do so than a firm conviction, I would even say a certainty, that such petitioning would be as disastrous in its effects on the general interest, and in particular on the agricultural interests of France, as its doctrinal effects would be on the progress of economic science.

In speaking out in the name of agriculture against the customs plans presented by the petitioners, I feel the need to begin by declaring that what Edition: current; Page: [2] arouses my complaints in these plans is not the liberal element in their premises, but the exclusive content of their conclusions.

They demand that all protection be removed from primary products, that is to say from agricultural work, but that protection be maintained for the manufacturing industry.

I have come not to defend the protection that they are attacking but to attack the protection that they are defending.

Privilege is being claimed for a few; I come to claim freedom for all.

Agriculture owes its cosseted sales to the monopoly it exercises and its unfairly priced purchases to the monopoly to which it is subject. If it is just to relieve it of the first of these, it is no less so to free it from the second.2

To wish to deliver us to universal competition without subjecting manufacturers to the same situation is to damage our sales without relieving our purchases and to do just the opposite for manufacturers. If this is freedom, may I then have a definition of privilege?

It is up to agriculture to reject such attempts.

I make so bold here as to call upon the petitioners themselves and especially M. Henri Fonfrède. I urge him to refute my complaints or to support them.

I will show:

  • 1. That, between the plan of the petitioners and the government system, there is community of principle, error, aim, and means;
  • 2. That they differ only in one additional error for which the petitioners are responsible;
  • 3. That the aim of this project is to set up an unjust privilege in favor of traders and manufacturers to the detriment of farmers and the general public.

§1.: Between the petitioners’ proposals and the protectionist system there is community of principle, error, aim, and means.

What is the protectionist system? Let us hear M. de Saint Cricq’s views on this.

“Work constitutes the wealth of a people, since on its own it has created material things that we need, and because general affluence consists in an abundance of these things.” This is the principle.

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“But it is necessary for this abundance to flow from the nation’s work. If it were based on foreign work, domestic work would stop immediately.” This is the error.

“Therefore, what should a farming and manufacturing country do? Limit its market to the products of its territory and its industry.” This is the aim.

“And to do this, limit through duties, and prohibit as necessary, the products of the territory and industry of other peoples.” This is the means.

Let us compare this approach with that of the petition from Bordeaux.

The petition divides all goods into four categories. The first and second cover food products and raw materials that have not yet undergone any human transformation. In principle a wise economy would require that these two categories not be taxed.

The third category is made up of objects that have undergone some preparatory work. This preparation enables a few duties to be levied on them. It can be seen, therefore, that according to the doctrine of the petitioners, protection begins as soon as national work begins.

The fourth category is made up of finished products that can under no circumstances be useful to national work. We consider these, says the petition, to be the most properly taxable.

Thus the petitioners claim that foreign competition damages national work; this is the error of the protectionist regime. They demand protection for work; this is the aim of the protectionist regime. They make this protection consist of duties on foreign work; this is the means used by the protectionist regime.

§2.: These two systems differ through one additional error for which the petitioners are responsible.

However, there is an essential difference between these two doctrines. It lies entirely in the greater or lesser extension given to the meaning of the word work.

M. de Saint-Cricq extends it to cover everything. He therefore wishes to protect everything.

“Work constitutes the entire wealth of a people,” says he. “The protection of the agriculture industry, the entire agriculture industry, the manufacturing industry, the entire manufacturing industry, is the cry that will always resound around this chamber.”

The petitioners regard as work only that which is done by manufacturers, and therefore they accord the favors of protection only to this.

Raw materials have not yet undergone any human transformation, and Edition: current; Page: [4] in principle they should not be taxed. Manufactured objects can no longer be useful to national work; we consider these to be the most properly taxable.”

This gives rise to three questions which require examination: 1. Are raw materials the outcome of work? 2. If they are not something else, is this work so different from the work done by factories that it would be reasonable to subject them to opposing regimes? 3. If the same regime suits all types of work, should this regime be one of free trade or one of protectionism?

1. Are raw materials the outcome of work?

And precisely what are, I ask you, all the articles that the petitioners include in the first two categories of their proposals? What are all types of wheat, flour, farm animals, dried and salted meat, pork, bacon, salt, iron, copper, lead, coal, wool, skins, and seeds, if they are not outcomes of work?

What, it will be said, is an iron ingot, a ball of wool, or a bushel of wheat if not a product of work? Is it not nature that creates each?

Doubtless, nature creates the elements of all these things, but it is human work that produces their value. It is not given to men, to manufacturers, any more than to farmers, to create or make something out of nothing, and if by work you mean creation, all our work would be non productive and that of traders more so than any other!

The farmer therefore does not claim to have created wool, but he does claim to have produced value, by which I mean that through his work and expenditures he has transformed into wool substances that in no way originally resembled wool. What else does the manufacturer do when he converts wool into fabric?

In order for men to clothe themselves in fabric, a host of operations is necessary. Before the intervention of any human work, the true raw materials of this product are air, water, heat, light, and the gases and salts that have to be included in its composition. An initial operation converts these substances into fodder, a second into wool, a third into thread, and a fourth into a garment. Who would dare to say that no part of this operation constitutes work, from the first furrow of the plough that starts it to the final stitch that completes it?

And since, for greater speed in the completion of the end product—the garment—the work is divided among several categories of workers, you wish, through an arbitrary distinction, to determine that the sequence of these tasks should be the reason for their importance, so that the first does not even deserve the title of work and the last, work par excellence, should Edition: current; Page: [5] be the only one worthy of the favors of monopoly! I do not believe that one could push the spirit of system and partiality any further than this.

The farmer, people will say, unlike the manufacturer, has not done everything himself. Nature has helped him and, while there is some work involved, not everything in wheat is work.

But everything in its value is work, I repeat. I agree that nature has contributed to the material growing of the grain; I agree that this growth is exclusively its work; but you have to agree that I have obliged nature to do this by my work, and when I sell you wheat, I am not being paid for the work of nature but for my own work.

And, in this respect, manufactured objects would not be the products of work either. Are not manufacturers also helped by nature? Do they not make use of the weight of the atmosphere when using steam engines, just as I use its humidity with the help of the plough? Did they create the laws of gravity, of the transmission of force, and of affinity?

You will agree, perhaps, that wool and wheat are the product of work. But coal, you will say, is certainly the work, and only the work, of nature.

Yes, nature has made coal (for it has made everything), but work has created its value. Coal has no value when it is a hundred feet below ground. You have to find it, and this is work. It has to be taken to market, and this is work of a different kind; and mark my words, the price of coal in the marketplace is nothing other than the sum of all the wages paid for all the work of extraction and transport.

The distinction people have tried to make between raw materials and manufactures is therefore theoretically empty. As the basis for an unequal distribution of privilege, it would be iniquitous in practice, unless one wished to claim that although both are the result of work, the importing of one category is more useful than the other in the development of public wealth. This is the second question I have to examine.

2. Is it more advantageous to a nation to import so-called raw materials than manufactured objects?

Here I have to combat a very firmly entrenched belief.

“The more abundant the raw materials,” says the Bordeaux petition, “the more manufactures increase in number and expand.” “Raw materials,” it says elsewhere, “provide endless opportunity for the work of the inhabitants of the countries into which they are imported.” “Since raw materials,” says the petition from Le Havre, “are the basic units of work, they have to be subject Edition: current; Page: [6] to a different regime and immediately admitted at the lowest rate of duty.”3 “Among other articles whose low price and abundance are a necessity,” states the petition from Lyons, “manufacturers all mention raw materials.”

Doubtless it is advantageous for a nation that so-called raw materials should be abundant and at a low price; but I ask you, would it be advantageous for that nation if manufactured objects were high priced and few in number? In both cases this abundance and cheapness must be the fruit of free trade or this scarcity and high price must be the fruit of monopoly. What is supremely absurd and iniquitous is to want the abundance of the one to be due to free trade and the scarcity of the other to be due to privilege.

It will still be insisted and said, I am sure, that the duties that protect the work of factories are demanded in the general interest and that to import articles that require no further human intervention is to lose all the profit of labor, etc., etc.

Note the terrain into which the petitioners are being drawn. Is this not the terrain of the protectionist regime? Could M. de Saint-Cricq not produce a similar argument against the importation of wheat, wool, coal, and all materials that are, as we have seen, the products of work?

To refute this latter argument and prove that the import of foreign products does not damage national work is therefore to demonstrate that the regime of competition is just as suitable for manufactured objects as for raw materials. This is the third question I have asked myself.

In the interests of brevity, may I be allowed to reduce this demonstration to one example that includes them all?

An Englishman may export a pound of wool to France in a variety of forms, as a fleece, as thread, as fabric, or as a garment, but in all cases he will not import an equal quantity of value, or, if you like, of work. Let us suppose that this pound of wool is worth three francs raw, six francs as thread, twelve francs as fabric, and twenty-four francs when made into a garment. Let us also suppose that in whatever form the exportation is made the payment is made in wine, for, after all, it has to be made in something and nothing stops us from supposing that it will be in wine.

If the Englishman imports raw wool, we will export three francs’ worth of wine; we will export six francs’ worth if the wool arrives as thread, twelve Edition: current; Page: [7] francs’ worth if it arrives as fabric, and finally, twenty-four francs’ worth if it arrives in the form of a garment. In this last case, the spinner, the manufacturer, and the tailor will have been deprived of work and profit, I know; one sector of national work will have been discouraged to the same extent, as I also know; but another sector of work that is equally national, wine making, will have been encouraged in precisely the same proportion. And since the English wool can arrive in France in the form of a garment only to the extent that all the workers who combined to produce it in that form are superior to French workers, all things considered, the consumer of the garment will have gained an advantage which may be considered to be a net one, both for him and for the nation.

Change the nature of the goods, the stage of their evaluation, and their source, but think the matter through clearly and the result will always be the same.

I know that people will tell me that the payment might have been made not in wine but in cash. I will draw attention to the fact that this objection could equally well be advanced against the importation of a primary product as against that of a manufactured product. Besides, I am sure that it would not be made by any trader worthy of the name. As for the others, I will limit myself to saying to them that money is a domestic or foreign product. If it is the former, we can do nothing better than to export it. If it is the latter, it must have been paid for out of national work. If we acquired it from Mexico, exchanging it for wine for example, and we then exchanged the wine for an English garment, the result is still wine exchanged for a garment, and we are totally in line with the preceding example.

§3.: The petitioners’ plan is a system of privileges demanded by trade and industry at the expense of agriculture and the general public.

That the petitioners’ plan creates unjust privileges that benefit manufacturers is a fact that, I believe, is only too well proved.

However, it is doubtless not so clear how it also grants privileges to trade. Let us examine this.

All other things being equal, it is to the public’s advantage for raw materials to be used on the very site of their production.

For this reason, if people in Paris want to consume eau-de-vie from Armagnac, it is in Armagnac, not in Paris, that the wine is distilled.

It would, however, not be impossible to find a hauler who prefers to transport eight barrels of wine than one barrel of eau-de-vie.

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It would not be impossible either for a distiller to be found in Paris who preferred to import the primary rather than the finished product.

It would not be impossible, if this came within the field of protectionism, for our two industrialists to come to an understanding to demand that wine be allowed to enter the capital freely but that eau-de-vie be taxed with heavy duties.

It would not be impossible that, when they sent their demand to the protectionist authority, in order to conceal their selfish outlooks the better, the hauler would mention only the interests of the distiller and the distiller only those of the hauler.

It would not be impossible for the protectionist authority to see an opportunity to acquire an industry for Paris in this plan and to increase its own importance.

Finally, and unfortunately, it would not be impossible for the good people of Paris to see in all this only the extended views of those enjoying protection and the protectionist authority and to forget that, in the final instance, it is on them that the costs and contingencies of protectionism always fall.

Who would wish to believe that the petitioners from Bordeaux, Lyons, and Le Havre, following the clamor of generous and liberal doctrines, would achieve by common accord a similar result and a totally identical system organized on a grand scale?

“It is mainly in this second category (the one that includes materials that have not yet undergone any human transformation),” the petitioners from Bordeaux say, “that the mainstay of our merchant navy is to be found. . . . In principle, a wise economy would require that this category, as well as the first, not be liable to duty. The third might have duties levied and the fourth we consider to be the most appropriate to the levying of duties.”

“Whereas,” say the petitioners from Le Havre, “it is essential to reduce raw materials immediately to the lowest rate of duty, so that industry can in turn put to work the naval forces that supply it with its initial and essential means of work. . . .”

The manufacturers could not be more polite to shipowners. For this reason, the petition from Lyons requests the free introduction of raw materials to prove, it is said, “that the interests of manufacturing towns are not always in opposition to those of coastal ones.”

Do we not seem to hear the Parisian hauler, whom I mentioned before, formulating his request thus: “Whereas wine is the principal element I transport, in principle it should not be liable to duty; as for eau-de-vie, this can Edition: current; Page: [9] have duty levied on it. Whereas it is essential to reduce wine immediately to the lowest rate of duty so that the distiller can use my vehicles, which supply him with the initial and essential element of his work . . .” and to hear the distiller requesting the free import of wine to Paris and the exclusion of eau-de-vie, “to show that the interests of distillers are not always in opposition to those of haulers.”

In sum, what would be the results of the system being proposed? They are these:

It is at the price resulting from competition that we, the farmers, sell our primary products to manufacturers. It is at the price resulting from monopoly that we buy it back from them.

If we work in circumstances that are less favorable than those of foreigners, so much the worse for us. In the name of freedom we are condemned.

But if manufacturers are less skillful than foreigners, so much the worse for us. In the name of privilege we are condemned once more.

If people learn to refine sugar in India or weave cotton in the United States, it is the raw sugar and cotton in the form of fiber that will be transported in order to use our naval forces and we, the consumers, will pay for the pointless transportation of the residues.

Let us hope that, for the same reason and in order to supply lumberjacks with the initial and essential element of their work, we will bring in firs from Russia with their branches and bark. Let us hope that gold from Mexico will be imported in mineral form. Let us hope that, in order to have leather from Buenos Aires, herds of cattle will be transported.

It will never come to that, people will say. And yet it would be rational. But this so-called rationality borders on absurdity.

Many people, I am convinced, have adopted the doctrines of the protectionist regime in good faith (and certainly what is happening is scarcely likely to change their minds). This does not surprise me in the least; what does surprise me is that, when doctrines have been adopted with regard to one point, they are not adopted with regard to everything, since error also has its own logic. As for me, in spite of all my efforts, I have not been able to find a single objection that can be made to the regime of absolute exclusion that cannot be applied equally to the practical system of the petitioners.

Edition: current; Page: [10]

2: The Tax Authorities and Wine1

[vol. 1, p. 243. “Le Fisc et la vigne.” January 1841. n.p.]

The production and sale of wines and spirits must of necessity be affected by the treaties and laws on finance that are currently the subject of deliberations in the chambers.

We will endeavor to set out:

  • 1. The new obstacles that the draft law dated 30 December 1840 is threatening to impose on the wine-producing industry;
  • 2. Those obstacles implicit in the formal rationale that accompanies this draft ;
  • 3. The results to be expected from the treaty signed with Holland;
  • 4. The means by which the wine-producing industry might succeed in freeing itself.

§1.: The legislation on wines and spirits is a clear departure from the principle of equality of duties.

At the same time it places all the classes of citizen whose industry it regulates in a separate, heavily taxed category, it creates among these very classes Edition: current; Page: [11] inequalities of a second order: all are placed outside common law; each is held at varying degrees of distance.

It appears that the minister of finance has taken not the slightest notice of the radical inequality we have just pointed out, but on the other hand he has shown himself to be extremely shocked by the secondary inequalities created by the law: he considers as privileged the classes that have not yet suffered from all of the rigors it imposes on other classes. He is devoted to removing these nice differences not by relaxing them but by making them worse.

However, in pursuit of equality thus understood, the minister remains faithful to the traditions of the creator of the institution. It is said that Bonaparte originally established tariffs that were so moderate that the receipts did not cover the costs of collection. His minister of finance drew to his attention the fact that the law annoyed the nation without providing the treasury with funds. “You are an idiot, M. Maret,” replied Napoléon. “Since the nation is complaining about a few impositions, what would it have done if I had added heavy taxes to them? Let us first accustom them to the exercise; later we can adjust the tariff.” M. Maret realized that the great captain was no less an able financier.

The lesson has not been lost, and we will have the opportunity of seeing that the disciples are preparing the reign of equality with a prudence worthy of the master.

The principles on which the legislation on wines and spirits is based are clearly and energetically expressed in three articles flowing from the law dated 28 April 1816:

Art. 1. Each time wine, cider, etc., is taken away or put somewhere else, a circulation duty will be paid. . . .

Art. 20. In towns and villages with a total population of two thousand people and more2 . . . the treasury will levy an entry duty . . ., etc. . . .

Art. 47. When the wine, cider, etc., is sold retail, a duty of 15 percent of the said sales price will be levied. . . .

In this way, each movement of wine, each entry, and each retail sale lead to the payment of a duty.

Side by side with these rigorous and, one might say, strange principles, the law establishes a few exceptions.

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With regard to circulation duty:

Art. 3. The following will not be subject to the duty levied under Art. 1:

  • 1. Those wines and spirits that an owner has transported from his press or a public press to his cellars or storehouses;
  • 2. Those that a sharecropper, farmer, or holder of a long-term lease for rent hands over to the owner or receives from him by virtue of official leases or customary use;
  • 3. The wine, cider, or perry3 that is dispatched by an owner or farmer from the cellars or storehouses in which his harvest has been deposited, and provided that it is the produce of the said harvest, whatever place it is sent to and the standing of the person to whom it is sent.

Art. 4. The same exemption will be granted to traders, wholesalers, brokers, middlemen, agents, distillers, and retail traders, for the wines and spirits they have had moved from one to another of their cellars situated within the confines of the same département.

Art. 5. The transport of wines and spirits that are removed for dispatch abroad or to the French colonies will equally be exempt from circulation duty.

The entry duty did not allow any exceptions.

With regard to retail duty:

Art. 85. Owners who wish to sell the wines and spirits they produce at retail will be granted a discount of 25 percent on the duties they will have to pay. . . .

Art. 86. However, they will be subject to all the obligations imposed on professional retailers. Notwithstanding this, inspections by agents will not take place within their domiciles provided that the premises on which their wines and spirits will be sold at retail are separate from these.

Thus, to summarize these exceptions:

Exemption from circulation duty for the wines of their harvest that owners send from their own property to their own property elsewhere throughout the entire territory of France;

Exemption from the same duty for the wine that traders, merchants, retailers, etc., have had transported from one to another of their cellars situated in the same département;

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Exemption from the same duty for wine that is exported;

A discount of 25 percent of the retail duty for owners;

Exemption from inspection visits by agents within their own domiciles where the premises on which this sale is made are separate from these.

Now, here is the text of the draft law put forward by the minister of finance:

Article 13. Exemption from circulation duty on wines and spirits will be allowed only in the following cases:

  • 1. For wines which the harvester has transported from his press to his cellars and storehouses or from one to another of his cellars, within the confines of the same village or a bordering one;
  • 2. For wines and spirits that a farmer or the holder of a long lease hands over to his owner or receives from him, within the same limits of a single village, by virtue of official leases or customary use.

Article 3 of the law dated 28 April 1816 and Article 3 of the law dated 17 July 1819 are repealed.

Article 14. Wines and spirits from their harvest that owners have transported from one part of their own property to another, outside the limits laid down in the preceding article, will be exempt from circulation duty, provided the owners acquire the necessary permit and are subject at the place of destination to all the obligations imposed on wholesale merchants with the exception of the payment of a license.

Article 25. The provision of Article 85 of the law dated 28 April 1816, which allows to owners who sell at retail the wines and spirits of their own production an exceptional discount of 25 percent of the retail duty that they have to pay, is repealed.

We would greatly exceed the limits we have set ourselves if we carried out a comprehensive examination of the points raised by the draft law, and we will have to limit ourselves to a few short observations.

First, does Article 13 of the draft law repeal Articles 4 and 5 of the 1816 law? An affirmative answer appears to result from the following absolute phrase: Exemption will be allowed only if . . ., which implies the exclusion of all categories not listed in the remainder of the disposition.

However, a negative answer may be concluded from the disposition that ends Article 13, since, by repealing only Article 3 of the 1816 law, it apparently maintains Articles 4 and 5.

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In this last case we consider that there is a certain anomaly in reserving for traders and retailers within the confines of the département a right that is restricted for owners to the limits of a village.

Second, since the new measures aim to increase revenue, we should no doubt expect them to be burdensome for taxpayers. It is possible, however, for these measures to exceed their aim and lead to disadvantages out of all proportion to the advantages hoped for.

In effect, these measures deal a deathblow to large-property owners through Article 13 and to small-property owners through Article 20.

As long as exemption from circulation duty was limited to the confines of a département, it could have resulted only in exceptional evils. The ownership of vineyards in several départements is rare, and where this occurs owners will have cellars in each of these départements. However, it is very frequent for an owner to have vineyards in several neighboring villages that do not border on one another; and in general, in this situation, it is in his interest to gather his harvest into the same cellar. The new law obliges him either to increase the number of his buildings, making surveillance more difficult, or to bear the cost of circulation duty for a product that is already very heavily taxed and whose sale will perhaps take place only several years later.

And what will the exchequer gain? Very little, unless the owner, as M. de Villèle hopes, drinks all his wine to recover the duty a little earlier.

It will doubtless be said that Article 14 of the draft will counteract this disadvantage. We will wait and examine the spirit and effect of this later.

On the other hand, small owners draw a very considerable advantage from retail sales: that of keeping their wooden barrels from year to year. From now on, they will be obliged each year to make an outlay oft en in excess of their means to buy them. I will say without hesitation that this disposition contains the cause of total ruin for a great many small owners. The purchase of wooden barrels is not something that they can avoid or delay doing. When the harvest arrives, it is essential, whatever the price, to acquire the wood in which to store it; and if the owner does not have the money, he is at the mercy of the sellers. Wine producers have been seen to offer half their harvest to obtain the means to house the other half. Retail sales would avoid this extreme situation, one that will oft en recur now that this possibility will in practice be forbidden to them.

The two modifications or, as the minister puts it, the two improvements to existing legislation, which we have just been analyzing, are not the only Edition: current; Page: [15] ones contained in the draft law dated 30 December. There are two others on which we ought to make a few comments.

Article 35 of the law dated 21 April 1832 had converted the circulation, entry, and retail duties into a single tax, levied at the entrance to towns, thus allowing free circulation within these towns and abolishing customs investigations.

According to Article 16 of the draft, this single tax will now replace only the entry and retail duties, with the circulation and license duties continuing to be levied as they were in 1829, so that one could say of it, in chorus with the singer,

That this single tax will have two sisters.

Another difficulty arises here. In order to establish the single tax (1832 law, Article 36), “The sum of all the annual yields, from all the duties to be replaced, is to be divided by the total value of annual production.”

Since circulation and license duties are no longer included in those to be replaced, they should not be part of the dividend; this being so, since the quotient will be correspondingly lower, the general public will be subject to the old barriers, with no benefit for the treasury.

The implication is that if the minister intends the yield of current taxation to be maintained, circulation and license duties will be levied twice, once directly by virtue of the new law and a second time through the single tax, since they are included as elements in the calculation of this tax.

Last, a fourth modification introduces a new basis for conversion of spirits into liqueurs.

This is not all. The minister makes it clearly felt that it will not be long before he raises the tariff on wines and spirits to the levels of 1829. Many distinguished authorities, he said, considered that it was the right time to cancel the exceptions allowed in 1830.

Many other such authorities consider that if the minister refrains from making a formal proposal in this respect, it is to allow the Chamber of Deputies the honor of this initiative.

We will now leave the reader to measure the space that separates us from the July revolution. Ten years have scarcely elapsed, and here we are with our legislation on wines and spirits shortly to be indistinguishable from that under the empire or restoration, except for an increase in charges and severity.

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§2.: If only this growth in severity had as its aim just the current interest of the tax authorities, we could at least hope that it satisfies their requirements in full. But it does not even leave us this illusion, and by proclaiming that they wish a particular dispensation to carry the day, the tax authorities are warning us that we have to expect new requirements until such time as this dispensation has been fully implemented.

“We have considered it just (says the “statement of the reasons”) to restrict the exemption to circulation duty in favor of owners to the just limits within which it might be legitimately claimed; that is to say, to restrict it to the products of their harvest which they intend for their consumption and that of their family, in the actual place of production. Beyond this, it was a privilege that nothing justified and that violated the principle of the equality of duties. For the same reason, we propose to cancel the discount of 25 percent to the wine producer who sells the wines of his production at retail.”

Now, from the instant the government has the equality of duties as its aim, with the understanding that this language means the subjection of all the classes affected by the law on wines and spirits to the full total of the obstacles weighing on the most maltreated class, then for as long as this aim is not reached, the most rigorous measures can be only the prelude to still more rigorous measures.

We should fear it above all in the knowledge that the master4 has carried out and recommended a pitiless but prudent tactic in this connection.

We have seen that the 1816 law extended the owner’s exemption from circulation duty to the entire territory of France.

Shortly afterward it was restricted to the limits of the département or to bordering départements (law dated 25 March 1817, Article 81).

Later it was reduced to the limits of bordering districts (law dated 17 July 1819, Article 3).

Now, the proposal is being made to circumscribe it to the limits of a village or bordering villages (draft law, Article 13).

One step further and it will have totally disappeared.

And this step undoubtedly will be taken, for while these successive restrictions have circumscribed the privilege, they have not destroyed it. There still remains one case in which the harvester consumes a wine that has circulated without paying circulation duty, and it will not be long before it is said Edition: current; Page: [17] that this is a totally unjustified privilege, which violates the principle of equality of taxes. At the level of application, therefore, the tax authorities have compromised with principle but have also, in principle, made clear their intent, and is it not enough for once that they have come down from the district to the commune without stopping at the canton?

Let us be quite sure, therefore, that the reign of equality is coming and that in a short time there will be no exceptions at all to this principle. On each removal or displacement of wine, cider, or perry,5 duty will be levied.

But should this be said? Yes, we will be expressing our entire thoughts, even though we may be suspected of giving way to exaggerated distrust. We believe that the tax authorities have perceived that, when the circulation duty is extended to all without exception, equality will have reached only half of its career; it will still subject owners to the yoke of customs inspection.

We consider that in Article 14 the tax authorities have sown the seed of this secret intention.

What other aim could this measure have?

Article 13 of the draft restricts the exemption from circulation duty to the limits of the village commune.

The rationale is careful to declare that anything exceeding this exemption is a privilege that is totally unjustified.

And Article 14 immediately restores the right that Article 13 removed from us; it gives it back without limits, provided that the owner subjects himself to the obligations imposed on wholesale merchants.

A concession like this is designed to arouse our mistrust.

This floury sack bodes no good.6

Note the specific character of this Article 14.

First, it appears to be a corrective. Article 13 may have seemed rather harsh; Article 14 comes to offer some consolation.

Second, it goes somewhat further than sugar-coating the pill; it hides the pill and hints at the customs inspection without referring to it explicitly.

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Last, it pushes prudence to the point of being optional; it goes even further, it makes Article 13 optional. How can we complain? Can we not escape circulation duty by taking refuge in customs inspections and find shelter against customs inspections in circulation duty?

Let us hope we are mistaken! However, we have witnessed an increase in the tariff, and we have witnessed an increase in circulation duty; we are right to worry that customs inspections will increase, too. As the teller of fables told us: “What is small will grow large . . ., provided that God keeps it alive.”7

The gradual progress toward equality is also shown in the development of retail duty.

We have seen that current legislation allows owners two forms of exemption in this respect: first, by giving them a discount of 25 percent on the duty; second, by exempting the owner from home inspections when the point of sale is in a different location.

For the moment, current legislation merely limits itself to calling for the withdrawal of the first of these exemptions. However, the principle of equality is not satisfied, since owners continue to enjoy a privilege denied to café owners, that is to say, the privilege of not having to open their houses, their bedrooms, and their cupboards to the gaze of customs agents, always provided that, in order to sell their wine, they rent premises on an official lease.

§3.: If we redirect our gaze to France’s external relations and how these relate to the sale of wine, we will find scarcely any grounds to console us for the internal regime that burdens our industry.

We cannot examine here all the matters that relate to this huge subject. We have to limit ourselves to a few considerations on a question currently being negotiated, a trade treaty with Holland.

After having announced during the session on 21 January that according to this treaty: “Our wines and spirits in barrels will be exempt from any customs duty upon entry into Dutch territory; should they be imported in bottles, they will enjoy a discount of three-fifths of the duty on wine and half for spirits,” the minister exclaimed:

“You will be aware, sirs, that in all sales negotiations carried out by the government, one of its most pressing considerations has always been to expand as far as possible the market for our wine production by opening up new outlets in foreign countries. It is with particular satisfaction that we Edition: current; Page: [19] submit to your approval the means of relieving the sufferings of a sector of trade that is so worthy of our solicitude.”

From this pompous preamble, who would not think that our wines are going to enjoy considerable sales in Holland?

To measure the amplitude of the concessions that our negotiators obtained from the Dutch government, you ought to know that foreign wines and spirits are subject to two different import duties in Holland: customs duty and excise duty.

If you consult the table at the end of this article,8 you will see that the Dutch government has combined its reductions so cleverly that our luxury trade (wine in bottles) enjoys a tax relief of 10½ percent for the Gironde and 21 percent for the Meuse, and our essential trade (wine in barrels) 12 percent for the east and 1⅓ percent for the west of France. This fine outcome has caused such great satisfaction in our negotiators that they have been quick to reduce by 33⅓ percent the duties on cheese and white lead9 made in Holland.

§4.: When a significant sector of the population considers itself to be oppressed, it has just two means of regaining its rights: revolutionary means and legal means.

It appears that successive governments in France have vied with one another to instill in the wine-producing classes a disastrous prejudice to the effect that their sole hope of escape lies in revolutions.

As a matter of fact, the 1814 and 1815 revolutions at least won the wine-producing classes a great many promises, and we see from the actual text of the laws of the time that the Restoration claimed to be keeping indirect taxation only as an exceptional resource, which was essentially temporary (law dated 1816, Article 257; and law dated 1818, Article 84).

Scarcely had this empowerment consolidated somewhat, however, when its promises evaporated along with its fears.

The 1830 revolution,10 to do it justice, promised nothing, but it did effect some notable tax relief (laws dated 17 October and 12 December 1830).

We can already see that it was thinking not only of returning to the old legislation but also of giving it an aspect of rigor that was unknown in the great days of the Empire and the Restoration.

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Thus, in troubled times, the tax authorities make promises, compromise, and relax their severity.

In peaceful times, they retract their concessions and march on to new conquests.

We repeat that we are surprised that the authorities do not fear that this comparison will strike people’s minds and that they will not draw this deplorable conclusion: “Legal means are killing us.”

This would certainly be the most dreadful of errors; and experience, which may be invoked in this regard, proves on the contrary that no reliance should be placed on promises and alleviations wrung through fear from a tottering government.

A government newly come to power may well, under pressure of circumstances, temporarily renounce part of its revenues; but too many charges weigh on the new government for it to abandon totally the intention of regaining them. More than any other government, has it not certain ambitions to satisfy, persons to reassure, prejudices to overcome? Domestically, a government newly come to power has given rise to jealousy, bitterness, and miscalculations; does it not have to develop some apparatus for policing and repression? Externally, it arouses fear and mistrust; does it not have to surround itself with walls and increase its fleets and armies?

Therefore, seeking relief through revolution is an illusion.

However, we believe, and strongly, that the wine-producing population can, through an intelligent and persevering use of legal means, succeed in improving its situation.

We draw its attention in particular to the resources offered by the right of association.

For the last few years, manufacturers have acknowledged the advantage of being represented by special delegations to the government and the chambers. Manufacturers of sugar, woolen cloth, and linen and cotton fabrics have their committee of delegates in Paris.

In this way, no tax or customs measure likely to affect these industries can be passed without enduring the crucible of a long and rigorous inquiry, and everyone is aware how much the domestic producers of sugar owe the success of their struggle to the vigor of their association.

If the manufacturing industry had not introduced the system of delegation, perhaps it would have fallen to the wine-producing industry to set the example. But what is certain is that the wine-producing industry cannot refuse Edition: current; Page: [21] to enter the arena into which others have gone before. It is only too clear that inquiries in which its voice is not heard are incomplete and further that it has everything to lose in leaving the field open to interests that are oft en rivals.

In our opinion, each wine-producing area ought to have a committee in the town that is located at the heart of its commercial activities. Each of these committees would nominate a delegate, and the association of delegates in Paris would form the central committee.

Thus, the basin of the Adour and its tributaries, those of the Garonne, the Charente, the Loire, the Rhone, and the Meuse, and the départements that make up the Languedoc, Champagne, and Burgundy would all have their own delegates.

We have had discussions with several people in this institution without encountering a single one who disputed the usefulness of our proposed legislation, but we have to answer a few objections they made to us.

We have been told:

“The wine-producing industry has its natural delegates in its deputies.

“It is difficult to obtain the assistance of such a large number of interested parties, the majority of whom are scattered throughout the countryside.

“The financial situation of France does not allow any hope of the abolition of indirect taxation; besides, indirect taxation has indisputable advantages alongside a great many disadvantages.”

1. Are deputies delegates of the wine-producing industry?

Clearly, when an electoral body invests a citizen with legislative functions, it does not reduce this mission to matters pertinent to industry. Other considerations determine its choice, and we should not be surprised if a deputy, even when he represents a wine-producing département, has not beforehand made an in-depth study of all the questions relating to the trade in and the duties on wines and spirits. Even less, once he has been nominated, can he concentrate his attention exclusively on a single interest when so many serious matters claim it. Therefore, in the special committees that deal with sugar, iron, and wine, he can see nothing but an advantage in having available the information and documents which would otherwise be physically impossible for him to seek out and coordinate on his own. Besides, the precedents established by the manufacturers remove any value from this objection.

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2. It is also said that it is difficult to obtain long-lasting assistance from people scattered about the country.

We, for our part, believe that this difficulty is exaggerated. It would doubtless be insurmountable if active and painstaking assistance were to be expected from each person concerned. But, in situations like these, the most active participate on behalf of the others, and towns act on behalf of the countryside. This does not cause a problem when their interests are identical, and since there is a wine-producing committee in Bordeaux, there is no reason why there should not be one in Bayonne, Nantes, Montpellier, Dijon, or Marseilles, and from these to a central committee there is just one further step to take. It is when difficulties are exaggerated that nothing is achieved. It is certainly easier for three hundred manufacturers of sugar rather than several thousand manufacturers to reach agreement and organize themselves. However, just because something does not happen by itself it should not be concluded that it cannot be done. It should even be recognized that if the masses find it harder to organize themselves, they acquire through organization an unstoppable momentum.

3. Last, the objection is made that France’s financial situation rules out any hope that it would be able to give up the income from consumption tax.

But that again is to circumscribe the question. Does the organization of a central committee establish in advance that its sole mission would be to pursue the total abolition of this tax? Would it have nothing else to do? Do customs questions relating to wine not arise every day? In the discussions that resulted in the treaty with Holland, are people sure that the intervention of the committee would have had no influence on the terms of this treaty? And, as for indirect taxation, is there nothing between total abolition and the total maintenance of the current regime? Do not the method of collection, the means of preventing or repressing fraud, and pertinent powers and jurisdictions offer a vast scope for reform?

Moreover, it should not be thought that everything has been said with regard to the principal question. It is not our place to formulate an opinion on the consumption tax; there are leading authorities and great examples both for and against it. Consumption tax is the rule in England and the exception in France. Well, now! This problem has to be settled. If the system is bad in principle, it has to be abolished; if it is deemed to be good, it has to be improved, its exceptional character has to be removed, and it has to be made Edition: current; Page: [23] both less heavy and more productive by its being generalized. Here, perhaps, lies the solution to the great ongoing debate between the tax authorities and the taxpayer. And who can say that the movement of minds generated by the setting up of industrial committees and the regular exchanges of views made either between them or by their agency, between the general public and the government, will not hasten this solution?

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Unit Main Duty Importers Stamp Duty Total Main Duty Additional Amounts Importers Stamp Duty Total Total of Current Import Duties Duties Modified by Treaty Difference
WINES hectol. fr. c. fr. c. fr. c. fr. c. fr. c. fr. c. fr. c fr. c. fr. c. fr. c. fr. c.
By Sea
In Barrels '' '' 21 '' 03 '' 43 '' 67 26 71 6 68 3 47 3 68 40 54 41 21 40 54 1
In Bottles '' 12 29 1 60 '' 43 14 32 26 71 6 68 3 47 3 68 40 54 54 86 46 28 10 ½
By Land
In Barrels '' 6 57 '' 85 '' 43 7 85 26 71 6 68 3 47 3 68 40 54 48 39 40 54 12
In Bottles '' 19 67 2 85 '' 43 22 66 26 71 6 68 3 47 3 68 40 54 63 26 49 67 21 ½
In Barrels '' 2 12 '' 27 '' 43 2 82 42 40 10 60 5 51 5 85 64 36 67 18 64 26 4
In Bottles '' 9 84 1 28 '' 43 11 55 42 40 10 60 5 51 5 85 64 36 75 91 70 12 7
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3: On the Wine-Growing Question

[vol. 1, p. 261. “Mémoire présenté à la société d’agriculture, commerce, arts et sciences, du département des Landes sur la question vinicole.” 22 January 1843. n.p.]

Memoir Presented to the Société d’agriculture, commerce, arts, et sciences du département des Landes on the Wine-Growing Question (22 January 1843)


In one of your previous sessions you set up a commission to investigate the causes of the hardship afflicting the wine-growing sector of the département of the Landes and the means by which it would be possible to combat this.

Circumstances have not allowed me to transmit to the commission the work it entrusted to me. I regret this most sincerely, since the contribution of the enlightened men that form the commission would have made it more worthy of you. Although I am bold enough to believe that my ideas are not so very different from those that they would have authorized me to submit to you, I must nevertheless assume full responsibility. . . .

Sirs, proving first of all that the hardship experienced by our wine-growing people is genuine and presenting a living picture of this to you would both satisfy the logical order of this report and win over your interest and goodwill for it. I am only too ready to sacrifice this consideration to the desire not to intrude on your time too much, since, ready as I am to admit unreservedly and without fear of being wrong that we are not all in agreement on the causes of the decline of the industry we are discussing, there is at least no disagreement between us on the fact that this decline exists.

A detailed analysis of all the causes that have contributed to this unfortunate result would also lead to amplifications that are too wide-ranging.

We would need first of all to examine those causes that are beyond our Edition: current; Page: [26] means of action. One of these is competition from the southeast of France, which is growing daily, encouraged by the gradual improvement in our transport systems. Another is the relative inferiority that appears to be the lot of regions that, like the Chalosse, are not structured to replace cultivation using manpower with that using oxen.

We would then need to distinguish the causes of suffering for which the producer himself is responsible. Has he devoted enough time to improving his cultivating and wine-producing procedures? Has he been farsighted enough to limit his planting? Has he been clever enough to adapt his products to the changes that may have been noted in the needs and tastes of consumers? Have efforts been made, through the choice and blend of grape varieties or other means, to substitute quality for the quantity of wine produced, insofar as outlets are limited, since this might have restored the balance of income to a certain extent? And has the Société d’agriculture itself not been too sparing of encouragement to an agricultural sector from which a third of our population earns its living, while being only too ready to encourage the introduction of exotic plants, whose success is more than uncertain?1

Finally, we need to list those causes of our hardship that must be laid at the door of government measures whose effect has been to hinder the production, circulation, and consumption of wine, and this would lead me to examine the special influence on our region of direct taxes, indirect taxes, city tolls, and customs regulations.

I will limit the scope of this report to the last three of these causes of our sufferings, first because they are much the most immediate determinants of our decline and second because I consider that they are susceptible to present or future changes, which public opinion may hasten or delay at will through demonstrations for or against them.

Before discussing this subject, I have to say that it has been examined with impressive intellectual talent, along with several other economic questions, by one of our colleagues, M. Auguste Lacome of Le Houga,2 in a paper that was read during one of your previous sessions. The author assesses the situation of vineyard owners with equal sagacity and impartiality. By granting concessions that were perhaps too great, he acknowledges that the ever-increasing needs of the country, the communes, and the factories make Edition: current; Page: [27] it unlikely that our public charges will be reduced. He asks the question whether, supposing this to be so, it is just to give satisfaction to all interests at the expense of the interests of wine alone and, after establishing that this is as contrary to natural justice as it is to the letter of the law, he seeks to find out by what means the resources requested up to now from our sector might be replaced. Going down this route and directing his meditations to practical use is to show genuine capability and the ability to rise above the crowd of critical souls who limit themselves to the facile task of criticizing what is wrong without suggesting a remedy. I will not take the liberty of deciding whether the author has always succeeded in indicating the proper sources from whom compensation for the tax on wines and spirits should be requested; I will limit myself to suggesting that the general public should be enabled to judge this by including Lacome’s paper in our Annals.

Sirs, I am approaching the subject I propose to discuss. Has the triple chain of gross impositions that our wines encounter through city dues, indirect taxes, or customs tariffs, depending on whether they seek outlets in towns, nationwide, or through export sales, affected production or caused the burdens that have given rise to our complaints?

It would be very surprising if there were conflicting opinions on this.

What has become of the many commercial houses in Bayonne whose sole activity in days gone by was to export our wines and spirits to Belgium, Holland, Prussia, Denmark, Sweden, and the towns of the Hanseatic League? What has become of the inland navigation system, which we have seen so active and which incontestably gave rise to the many concentrations of population established on the left bank of the Adour? What has become of the proliferating trade investment in a product that because of its property of improving with age would under normal conditions increase in value with time, a product that was effectively a savings bank for our forefathers, spread a comfortable existence among the working classes of the time, and was the traditionally acknowledged source of all the wealth that still survives in Chalosse? All of that has disappeared together with freedom of production and trade.

In the face of this twin assault on our property by the protectionist regime and overbearing taxation, faced with a burden so straightforwardly explained by the obstacles that block our domestic and foreign outlets, nothing surprises us more than the haste with which the tax authorities seek to find the cause of our sufferings elsewhere, unless it is the credulity of the general public in being taken in by their sophisms.

This, however, is what we witness every day. The tax authorities claim Edition: current; Page: [28] that too many vines have been planted and each person repeats, “If we are suffering, it is not because we lack trade or because the weight of taxes is suffocating us, but because we have planted too many vines.”

I have in previous times attacked this assertion, but it expresses an opinion that is too widespread and the tax authorities have made it too deadly a weapon against us for me not to return to my refutation in a few words.

First of all, I would very much like our opponents to set the limits they intend to impose on the growing of vines! I never hear reproaches made that wheat, flax, or orchards invade too high a proportion of our territory. The comparison of supply and demand and costs compared with sale prices are the limits between which the expansion or contraction of industries operates. Why would vine growing, contrary to this general law, extend more widely as it becomes more ruinous?

People will say all that is theory. Well then, let us see what the facts reveal.

Through the offices of a minister of finance,3 we learn that the wine-growing area of France was 1,555,475 hectares in 1788 and 1,993,307 hectares in 1828. The increase is therefore in the ratio of 100 to 128. In the same period of time, the population of France, which according to Necker4 had been 24 million, increased to 32 million, a ratio of 100 to 133. The cultivation of vines, far from expanding unreasonably, has not even kept up with the increase in numbers of the population.

We could check this result through research into consumption if we had statistical data relating to this. As far as we know, this has been done only for Paris and has provided the following result:

Population Total Consumption Consumption per Inhabitant
5.(Bastiat’s note) Mémorial de chronologie [The Chronological Gazette].
6.(Bastiat’s note) Lavoisier.
7.(Bastiat’s note) Annuaire du bureau des longitudes [The Yearbook of the Longitudes Office].
8.(Bastiat’s note) Ibid.
1789 599,5665 687,500 hectoliters6 114 liters
1836 909,1257 922,364 hectoliters8 101 liters
Edition: current; Page: [29]

Thus, sirs, it is undeniable that in this half-century and while all branches of production have made such remarkable progress, the most natural thing we produce has remained at the very least stationary.

We should conclude that the so-called encroachment of vines is based on allegations as contrary to logic as to fact, and after we have been assured that we are not mistaken in attributing our suffering to the administrative measures that have limited all of our outlets, let us examine the character and effects of these measures more closely.

At the top of the list, we should place the indirect tax on wines and spirits and the duties on circulation, dispatch, consumption, license, transportation, entry, and retail—a sorry and incomplete list of the subtle inventions by which the tax authorities are paralyzing our industry and greedily extracting from it, indirectly, more than one hundred million every year. Far from giving any hint of a foreseeable lessening in these rigors, they redouble them from year to year and although, in 1830, they were obliged in a revolutionary spirit,9 so to speak, to agree to a reduction of forty million, a reduction that has ceased to be noticeable, they have never allowed a session to be completed without expressing their regret and complaining about it.

It has to be said that the wine-producing populations have rarely brought a practical business attitude to bear in their efforts to escape from this regime of arbitrary exceptions. Driven by the more immediate impact of their own sufferings or by the necessities of the time, either they have demanded, vehemently, the total abolition of all consumption taxes, or they have bowed unreservedly under a system they considered monstrous but irremediable, thus swinging from blind confidence to cowardly demoralization.

The pure and simple abolition of indirect contributions is obviously an illusion. Demanded in the name of equality of duties, it implies the abolition of all consumption taxes, from those imposed on salt and tobacco to those bearing on wines and spirits, and what bold reformer would succeed in decreasing budgeted public expenditure immediately to the level of budgeted income reduced to the four headings of direct taxation? No doubt the time will come, and we should hasten its coming through our efforts as well as our hopes, when private industry, with a morale lifted by experience and expanded by a sense of association, will encroach on the domain of public Edition: current; Page: [30] services; and government, reduced to its essential function, the maintaining of internal and external security, will require only the resources to meet this sphere of activity, thus enabling a host of taxes that undermine the liberty and equality of our citizens to be removed from our financial system. But how far from this trend are the views of those who govern us and the all-powerful forces of public opinion! We are being drawn inexorably and perhaps providentially in opposite directions. We ask everything from the state: roads, canals, railways, encouragement, protection, monuments, education, conquests, colonies, and military, maritime, and diplomatic supremacy; we want to civilize Africa and Oceania and what else? Like England, we are obeying a force for expansion that is directing all our resources to be centralized in the hands of the state; we cannot therefore avoid seeking, like England, the exercise of power in taxes on consumption, the most fruitful, regularly increasing, and even the most tolerable of all taxes, when properly understood, since it is then mingled with the act of consumption itself.

But should we conclude from this that all is well with the current situation, or at least that our ills are irremediable? I do not think so. On the contrary, I think that the time has come to subject indirect taxation, still in its infancy, to a revolution similar to that which the land register and equalization have brought to taxes on land.

I in no sense aspire here to the formulation of an entire system of indirect taxes, since this would require knowledge and experience, which I am far from possessing. However, I hope that you will not find it out of place for me to lay down a few principles if only to give you a glimpse of the huge field awaiting your consideration.

I have said that indirect taxation was still in its infancy. Perhaps it will be felt that it is somewhat presumptuous to judge a work of Napoléon in this way. However, it must be realized that a tax system is always of necessity imperfect at its outset, since it is established under the influence of some urgent need. Is it to be imagined that if a need for funds gave rise to a land tax in a country in which this type of public revenue was unknown, it would be possible at the first try to achieve the perfection that has been achieved in France only at the cost of fifty years of work and a hundred million of expenditure? How therefore could indirect taxation, so complicated in nature, have achieved from its inception the final degree of perfection?

A rational law for a good system of consumer taxes would be this: make the tax as comprehensive as possible with regard to the number of objects it falls on and as moderate as possible with regard to its level.

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The closer indirect taxation gets in practical terms to these two rules, the more it will fulfill the conditions that ought to be found in an institution of this kind:

  • 1. Make each person contribute in accordance with his wealth;
  • 2. Avoid damaging production;
  • 3. Hinder the movements of industry and commerce as little as possible;
  • 4. Curtail profits and consequently the incidence of fraud;
  • 5. Avoid imposing restrictions that make arbitrary exceptions of any specific class of citizen;
  • 6. Follow unswervingly all the fluctuations of public wealth;
  • 7. Adapt with the greatest flexibility to all the distinctions that a sensible policy can establish between products, depending on whether they are essentials or convenience products and luxuries;
  • 8. Get involved, readily, in cultural mores by emphasizing with regard to public opinion the respect with which it does not fail to enshrine everything that is undeniably useful, moderate, and just.

It appears in this case that our financial system has been based on the diametrically opposing principle, namely the limitation of the number of objects taxed and the maintenance of the tax on a high level.

A choice has been made, from a thousand products, of two or three—salt, wine and spirits, and tobacco—and these have been heavily burdened.

Once again, it could scarcely have been otherwise. The head of state, desperate for money, has not been concerned with perfection or justice. He has been concerned with making funds flow into the treasury abundantly and easily, and since he had a force capable of overcoming all resistance, he had only to pick a product that was eminently taxable and inflict repeated blows on it.10

With regard to us, the public, wines and spirits must have been the first to come to his mind. They are universally used and promise abundant resources. They are difficult to transport and could hardly escape the attention of the tax authorities. They are produced by a scattered population, which is apathetic and inexperienced in public conflict, and their collection did Edition: current; Page: [32] not seem likely to subject the authorities to insurmountable resistance. The Decree dated 5th Ventôse11 in the Year XII was passed accordingly.

However, two opposing principles can produce only opposing consequences; it could not therefore be denied that indirect taxes such as those instituted by the Decree of Year XII12 are a perpetual violation of the rights and personal interests of citizens.

Indirect taxation is unjust simply by virtue of the exceptions it makes.

It offends equity because it raises as much from the wages of a workman as from the income of a millionaire.

Indirect taxation is bad economics because by raising too much revenue it limits consumption, affects production, and tends to restrict the very source that feeds it.

It is not good policy, since it encourages fraud and is incapable of either preventing or repressing fraud without encircling the activities of production with formalities and obstacles laid down in the most barbarous code that has ever dishonored the legislature of a great people.

If, therefore, men of goodwill and intelligence, the councils of the départements and districts, the Chambers of Commerce, the societies for agriculture, the committees of industrialists and wine producers, these lobby groups that fashion public opinion and draw up material for legislation, wish to give their work in this context a useful and practical direction, if they wish to achieve results that reconcile the collective requirements of Edition: current; Page: [33] our civilization and the interests of each industry and class of citizen, they should not have recourse to a puerile list of unattainable requirements and still less should they give way to sterile discouragement. They should work with perseverance toward the fertile principle we have just set out, with all its just and practical consequences.

The second cause of the decline in wine producing is the regime of city tolls. In the same way that indirect taxes hinder the general circulation of wine, city tolls drive the wine trade away from population centers, that is to say, its major markets of consumption. This is the second barrier placed by the spirit of taxation between the seller and the purchaser.

Except for the fact that city tolls are applied to specific locations, they are a branch of indirect taxation, and for this reason their proper basis in terms both of yield and of justice is the one we have just assigned to this kind of tax: generalization with regard to its area of operation, limitation with regard to the intensity of its application. In other words, such tolls must cover everything but must subject each product to a duty too small to be noticed. City tolls are all the more properly held to this principle of good administration and equity in that unlike combined duties they do not even have the trite excuse of being hard to collect. However, we see that the principle of taxing only certain key products has won in this instance and that highly populated towns base half, three quarters, and even all of their revenues on wines and spirits alone.

If the tariffs of city tolls were left to the sovereign decision of municipal councils, wine-producing départements would be able to retaliate against manufacturing départements. All the working groups of the population would then be seen to engage in an internal customs conflict, a huge turmoil, but one from which the common sense of the general public would probably sooner or later, by way of negotiation, cause the application of the principle we have invoked. It is unquestionably to avoid these domestic disorders that the central power has been given the authority to regulate the tariffs of city tolls, an authority that is an essential part of the franchises of towns and of which they have been deprived for the benefit of the state only on condition that the state is responsible for keeping an even balance between all the various interests.

What use has the state made of this excessive prerogative? If there is one product that the state ought to have protected and removed from municipal rapacity, that product is wine, which already provides the community with so many and such heavy tributes, and yet it is precisely wine that it allows Edition: current; Page: [34] to be overburdened. What is more, a law has set limits to these extortions; a vain barrier

For the crucible of decrees

Has evaporated the law.13

Would we be showing ourselves to be too demanding if we asked that the tariffs of city tolls be gradually reduced to a maximum not exceeding 10 percent of the value of the goods?

The protectionist regime is the third cause of our hardship, and perhaps the one that has most immediately caused our decline. It is therefore worth your particular attention, especially since it is currently the subject of a lively debate between all of the interests concerned, at the end of which debate your opinion and wishes cannot remain far apart.

Customs duties originated as a means of creating revenue for the state. They are an indirect tax, a giant national toll; and as long as they retain this characteristic it is an act of injustice and bad management to remove them from this rule governing any consumer taxes: universality and reasonableness of the tax.

I would go even further: as long as the customs service is a purely fiscal institution, it is in its interest to tax not only imports but also exports, under the twin consideration that the state is thus creating for itself a second source of revenue that costs nothing to collect and that is borne by foreign consumers.

However, it has to be said that it is no longer tax but protection that is the aim of our customs measures, and in order to judge them from this point of view, we would have to go into arguments and developments which have no place in this report. I will limit myself therefore to considerations that have a direct bearing on our subject.

The idea that dominates the protectionist system is this: if we succeed in creating a new form of industry in our country or in giving new impetus to an industry that already exists, we will be increasing the mass of work and consequently the wealth of the nation. Now, a simple way of causing a product to be made within is to prevent its coming in from outside. From this we get prohibitive or protectionist duties.

Edition: current; Page: [35]

This system would be based on reason if it were in the power of a decree to add something to the wherewithal of production. But there is no decree in the world that can increase the number of hands or the fertility of the soil of the nation, add a cent to its capital or an additional ray to its sunshine. All that a law can do is to change the combinations of action that these means exercise over each other, substitute an artificial direction for the spontaneous direction of production, and force it to solicit the services of a miserly agent instead of a generous one: in a word, to divide it, scatter it, mislead it, and set it against greater obstacles but never to increase it.

Allow me a comparison. If I said to someone, “You have just one field and you grow cereals in it, part of which you sell to purchase flax and oil. Do you not see that you depend on two other farmers? Divide your field into three; divide your time, your advance payments, and your strength into three and grow olive trees, flax, and cereals together.” This man would probably have good arguments to put against me, but if I had authority over him I would add: “You do not know your own interests; I forbid you, under pain of paying me huge taxes, to purchase oil and flax from anyone whomsoever.” I would oblige this man to diversify his crops, but would I have increased his well-being? That is the prohibitionist regime. It is a bad pruning of the industrial tree, which, while adding nothing to its sap, diverts the tree from growing fruit in favor of suckers.

In this way, in each zone protectionism encourages the production of consumable value but discourages to the same degree tradable value, from which we must rigorously conclude—and this is what brings me back to the decline of wine producing in France—that protectionist tariffs cannot promote the production of certain objects we obtain from abroad without restricting the industries that supply us with the means of trade, that is to say, without causing hindrance and suffering to that production that harmonizes best with the climate, the soil, and the gift s of the inhabitants.

And, sirs, do not the facts once again energetically support the rigor of these deductions? What is happening on either side of the Channel? On the other side, with this nation that nature has endowed so profusely with the wherewithal and the ability needed for the development of manufacturing industry, it is precisely the population of the workshops that is devoured by destitution, misery, and starvation. Language has no expression to describe such hardship; goodwill is powerless to relieve it, and the laws are powerless to repress the disturbances to which it gives rise.

On this side of the Channel, a clear sky and generous sun should generate Edition: current; Page: [36] inexhaustible sources of wealth at every corner of the territory. Well then! It is exactly the wine-producing population that offers the vision of destitution, a sad mirror of the destitution that reigns in the workshops of Great Britain.

Doubtless the poverty of French vineyard owners is less widely trumpeted than that of English workmen. Its ravages are not felt by turbulent urban masses, and it is not proclaimed by the thousand outlets of the press morning and evening, but it is no less real. Travel through our sharecropping farms and you will see families in straitened circumstances, their food mere corn and water, people whose entire consumption does not exceed ten centimes per day per person. Half of this may be supplied to them, apparently as a loan but in effect as a gift from the owner. For this reason, the fate of the owner is relatively no better. Enter his house, one that is falling down, with furniture handed down from generation to generation bearing witness to the struggle that exists, an incessant and bitter struggle against the attractions of well-being and modern comforts that surround him and that he keeps out. Initially you will be tempted to see a ridiculous side to these constant privations, this ingenious parsimony, but take a closer look and you will soon see its sad and touching and, I might say, almost heroic side, for the thought that sustains him in this painful conflict is the ardent desire to keep his sons up to the level of his ancestors, to avoid descending from generation to generation down to the lowest ranks of the social scale, an intolerable suffering from which all his efforts will not spare him.

Why therefore are these people, who are so rich in iron and fire, so rich in capital and productive abilities, whose men are active, persevering, and as constant as the cogs of their machines, dying of want on piles of coal, iron, and fabric? Why are these other people with fertile land and generous sun succumbing to deprivation surrounded by their vines, silk, and cereals? Solely because an economic error incorporated in the protectionist regime has forbidden them to trade mutually in their various riches. Thus, this deplorable system, already ruined on theoretical grounds by economic science, also has ranged against it the terrible argument of the facts.

It is therefore not surprising that we are witnessing the start of a reaction in favor of liberal ideas.14 These ideas have arisen in the highest of our intelligent Edition: current; Page: [37] minds, and, before rallying the forces of public opinion, they have penetrated the sphere of power, in England with Huskisson and in France with M. Duchâtel.15

Doubtless, the government is generally in no great hurry to hasten the development of public freedoms. There is, however, one exception to be made in favor of free trade. It can never be through ill will but only through systematic error that those in power paralyze this freedom. They are only too aware that if the customs service were brought back to its original purpose—the creation of public revenue—the treasury would gain, the task of the government would be made easier because of its neutrality in the face of industrial rivalries, and peace between nations would have its most powerful guarantee in the trade relations between peoples.

We should therefore not be surprised by the trend toward favoring free trade that is becoming apparent in the high circles of governments in Prussia, Austria, Spain, England, Belgium, and France, in the guise of customs unions, trade, commercial treaties, etc., etc.16 These are all steps toward the holy alliance of peoples.

Unquestionably, one of the most significant official demonstrations of this trend is the treaty negotiated two years ago between France and England.17 At that time if the wine-producing industry had kept an eye on its genuine interests, it would have glimpsed, and through its share of influence hastened, a prosperous future of which it probably had no idea. In effect, at no time had such brilliant prospects been open to southern France. Not only was England lowering the duties she had imposed on our wines, but Edition: current; Page: [38] through an innovation of incalculable effect she was also replacing the fixed duty that was so disadvantageous to ordinary wines with a progressive duty which, while maintaining a reasonably high tax on luxury wine, reduced very considerably the duty on lower-quality wine. This meant that not only a few aristocratic cellars but also the farms, workshops, and cottages of Great Britain were open to our production. No longer was it just the Aï, Laffitte, and Sauterne18 that had the privilege of crossing the Channel; the entire wine-producing districts of France were suddenly faced with twenty million consumers. I will not try to calculate the effect of a revolution on this scale and its influence on our vineyards, merchant navy, and trading towns, but I do not think anyone can doubt that, under the sway of this treaty, production, revenue, and investment in land in our département would have increased rapidly and prodigiously.

From another point of view, the principle of a progressive rate of duty was a fine victory and a step toward the general adoption of an ad valorem tax, the only just and equitable system that conforms to the true principles of science. A uniform duty is by nature aristocratic; it allows for the maintenance of a few relationships only, and only between high-born producers and consumers. A progressive duty based on value would bring the popular masses of all nations into relations of common interest.

However, France could not lay claim to such advantages without opening its market to some of the products of English industry. The treaty was likely, therefore, to be resisted by manufacturers. This was not slow to manifest itself in a clever, persevering, and desperate way. The producers of coal, iron, and fabric made their grievances plain and did not limit themselves to passive opposition. Associations and committees were organized within each industry; permanent delegates were given the mission of winning acceptance for special interests by ministries and chambers. Abundant and regular subscriptions assured the support of the most widely distributed newspapers to this cause and, through their pages, gained the sympathy of public opinion, which was misled. It was not enough to cause the treaty to fail to be concluded temporarily; it had to be made impossible, even at the risk of a general conflagration, and to this end the patriotic pride that is such a sensitive fiber in French hearts had to be unceasingly inflamed. Since that time, we have seen these groups stir up, with devilish Machiavellianism, all the Edition: current; Page: [39] long-dormant jealousies of the nation and finally succeed in sabotaging all the negotiations started with England.

A short time afterward, the governments of France and Belgium developed the idea of merging the economic interests of the two nations.19 Once again this was a source of hope for the industries of the south and a source of alarm for the manufacturing monopoly. This time, circumstances were not favorable for the monopoly; working against it were the interest of the masses and the industries in trouble, as well as the influence of the government and every popular instinct, quick to see in the customs union the prelude to and guarantee of a closer alliance between these two children of the same fatherland. Journalists who had supported it with regard to the English question were of little succor in the Belgian case for fear of being discredited in the eyes of the general public. All they could do was either counter the customs union through insinuations made with a great deal of oratorical circumspection or retreat into shameful neutrality.

However, the neutrality of the newspapers in the most important question to be raised in France at the present time could not be maintained for very long. The monopoly had no time to lose; it needed a prompt and vigorous demonstration to bring about the failure of the customs union and continue to keep our south of France under their heel. This was the mission that an assembly of delegates, which became famous under the name of the deputy who was its president (M. Fulchiron), accomplished successfully.

What were the wine-producing interests doing in the meantime? Alas! They scarcely managed laboriously to produce a few shadows of association. When they should have gone into combat, committees were recruited with difficulty in the depths of a province. With no organization, resources, order, or mouthpiece, is it surprising that they were defeated for the second time?

But it would be foolish to lose heart. It is not in the power of a few Edition: current; Page: [40] fleeting intrigues to bury major social questions in this way and to reverse permanently the trends that are leading to the unity of human destinies. These questions may be restricted for a time, but they rise up again and these trends regain strength; at the time I am speaking to you, these questions have already been referred to our national assemblies by the speech from the throne.

Let us hope that this time the committees of wine producers will not be absent from the battlefield. Privilege has immense resources; it has delegates, finance, and supporters who have more or less declared themselves in the press. It is strong in the unity and swiftness of its movements. Let the cause of freedom be defended by the same means. It has truth and immense numbers in its favor; let it also acquire organization. Let committees rise up in all the départements and join with the central committee in Paris. Let them increase their financial and intellectual resources. May they finally help the central committee to carry out the difficult mission of being a powerful support for the government if it moves toward establishing free trade and an obstacle if it yields to the exactions of the special interests of a privileged industrial sector.

But is it part of your portfolio to give support to this task?

Well, sirs, is not your title the Société d’agriculture et commerce? Are you not summoned from all corners of the land as being the men most familiar with the knowledge relating to these two branches of public wealth? Do you not recognize that, since they are exhausted by disastrous measures, they no longer provide not just well-being but even subsistence for the population, and are you not allowed to take such dearly held interests under your wing and do what Chambers of Commerce are doing every day? Are you not a society to be taken seriously? Is the extent of your attributions legally limited to the inspection of some foreign plant, imaginary fertilizer, or common sector of speculative agronomy? And is it enough for a question to be serious for you to waive your credentials immediately?

I am convinced that the Société d’agriculture would not wish to reduce its influence to this degree. I have the honor of proposing that it adopt the following resolution:

Draft Resolution

The Société d’agriculture des Landes, taking note of the hardship afflicting the people of the Chalosse and Armagnac, who are particularly devoted to the cultivation of vines;

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Acknowledging that the principal causes of this hardship are indirect taxation, city tolls, and the protectionist regime;

With regard to indirect taxation, the Society considers that the owners of vineyards, for as long as the state in order to meet its expenditures cannot forfeit its current revenues, cannot hope that a source of revenue as important as this be cut without replacing it with another, but nevertheless the Society still supports the vineyard owners’ just protestations against the regime of arbitrary exceptions in which this system of taxation has placed them. It does not consider it impossible that a means of reconciling the requirements of the treasury, the interest of the taxpayers, and the truth of the principle of the equality of charges might be found in an extension of this type of tax at a reasonable level and with a less-complicated method of collection.

It is through a similar deviation from the laws of equity that city tolls were authorized to base themselves almost exclusively on wines and spirits. By reserving the right to sanction the tariffs decided by vote in the communes, it appears that the aim of the state must have been to prevent city tolls, overwhelmed with the industrial hostility aroused, from becoming between provinces what the customs system is between nations, a perpetual ferment of discord. However, it is in that case difficult to explain how the state can have tolerated and seconded the coalition of the interests of all the towns against one single sector of production. All the abuses of city tolls would be prevented if the law restored their franchises to the communes and intervened in the arrangement of the tariffs only to set them at a general, uniform limit that would not be exceeded to the disadvantage of any product, without distinction.

The Society also attributes the decline of wine producing in the département of the Landes to the absolute stoppage of exports of wines and spirits through the port of Bayonne, an effect that the protectionist regime could not fail to produce. It has also gained the hope of a speedy improvement in our external outlets from the recent words of the king of the French.20

The Society does not pretend that the obstacles that the spirit of monopoly will put in the path of the accomplishment of this benefit do not exist. It will point out that by temporarily turning the action of tariffs to the advantage of a few industrial firms, France never intended to relinquish the right to use customs dues for a purely fiscal purpose; rather, far from this, France has always proclaimed that protection was by its very nature temporary. The time has come at last when private interests should be subjugated to the interests Edition: current; Page: [42] of consumers, industries suffering hardship, the maritime commerce of trading towns, and the overall interest of peace between nations of which trade is the surest guarantee.

The society expresses the wish that future treaties should, as far as possible, be founded on the principle of duties proportional to the value of the goods, which is the only true and fair system and the only one that is able to extend to all classes the benefits of international trade.

Foreseeing all the debates that are bound to take place between rival industries when the reform of the customs system takes place, the society believes it would be abandoning the cause that it has just taken under its patronage if it left the département of the Landes without the resources to take part in the combat which is being prepared.

Consequently, and in the absence of special committees, whose support it regrets not being able to lean upon in these circumstances, it has decided that the Commission of Wine Producers, which has already been nominated in the session of 17 April 1842, will continue its functions and will communicate with the committees for the Gironde and Paris.

Copies of this resolution will be sent through the good offices of the secretary of the Society to the minister for trade, to the Commissions of the chambers involved, and to the secretariat of the committees of wine producers.

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4: Property and Law

[vol. 4, p. 275. “Propriété et loi.” Originally published in the 15 May 1848 issue of Le Journal des économistes.]

The confidence of my fellow citizens has given me the title of legislator.

I would certainly have declined this title if I had understood it as Rousseau did.

“He who dares undertake to provide institutions to a people,” he said, “must feel that he is capable, so to speak, of changing human nature, of transforming each individual who, of himself, is a perfect and solitary whole, into a part of a much greater whole from which this individual is to receive to a certain degree his life and being; of changing the physical constitution of man in order to strengthen it, etc., etc. If it is true that a great prince is a rare man, what is to be said of a great legislator? The first has only to follow the model that the second has put forward. The second is the inventor of the machine, while the first is only the workman who assembles it and makes it work.”1

Since Rousseau was convinced that the social state was a human invention, he had to place law and the legislator on a high pedestal. Between the legislator and the rest of the human race, he saw the distance or rather the abyss that separates the inventor from the inert matter of which the machine is made.

According to him, the law ought to transform people and create or not create property. According to me, society, people, and property existed before the laws, and, to limit myself to a particular question, I would say: It is not because there are laws that there is property, but it is because there is property that there are laws.

The opposition of these two systems is radical. The consequences that Edition: current; Page: [44] result from them are constantly divergent; let me therefore set out the question clearly.

I warn you first of all that I am taking the word property in a general sense and not in the restricted sense of landed property. I regret, and probably all economists regret with me, that this word involuntarily awakens in us the idea of possession of land. What I mean by property is the right the worker has over the value he has created through his work.

That having been said, I ask myself whether this right is a creation of the law or if it is not, on the contrary, prior to and higher than the law, whether it was necessary for the law to give birth to the right of property or whether, on the contrary, property was a fact and right that existed before the law and that had given rise to it? In the first case the mission of the legislator is to organize, amend, and even eliminate property if he thinks this right; in the second his powers are limited to guaranteeing it and ensuring that it is respected.

From the preamble to a draft constitution issued by one of the greatest thinkers of modern times, M. Lamennais, I quote:

The French people declare that they acknowledge rights and duties that predate and are greater than all the positive laws and that are independent of them.

These rights and duties, directly handed down by God, are summarized in the triple dogma expressed by these sacred words: equality, liberty, fraternity.

I put the question whether the rights of property are not among those that, very far from deriving from positive law, predate the law and are its raison d’être.

This is not, as might be thought, a slight or pointless question. It is a vast and fundamental one. The answer to it is of the highest concern to society, something you will be convinced of, I hope, once I have compared the origins and effects of the two opposing theoretical systems.

Economists consider that property, like the person, is a providential fact. The law does not give existence to one any more than to the other. Property is a necessary consequence of the constitution of man.

In the full sense of the word, man is born a property owner, since he is born with needs whose satisfaction is essential to life, with organs and faculties whose exercise is essential to the satisfaction of these needs. These faculties are merely an extension of the person, and property is just an extension Edition: current; Page: [45] of these faculties. To separate man from his faculties is to make him die; to separate man from the product of his faculties is once again to make him die.

There are political writers who are greatly preoccupied with finding out how God ought to have made man. For our part, we study man as God has made him. We ascertain that he cannot live without satisfying his needs, that he cannot provide for his needs without work, and that he cannot work if he is not certain of applying the fruits of his work to his needs.

This is why we consider that property is a divine institution and that its safety and protection are the object of human law.

It is so true that property predates the law that it is acknowledged even by primitive people who have no laws or at least no written laws. When a savage has devoted his work to building himself a hut, no one disputes his possession or ownership of it. Doubtless another savage who is stronger than he can drive him out but not without angering and alarming the entire tribe. It is actually this abuse of strength that gives rise to association, agreement, and the law, which places public force in the service of property. Therefore the law arises out of property, a far cry from property arising from law.

It can be said that the principle of property is even recognized by animals. The swallow tends her young family with care in the nest she has built with her own efforts.

Even plants live and thrive by assimilation, by appropriation. They appropriate substances, the elements of air and salts that are within their reach. You have only to interrupt this phenomenon for them to dry up and die.

In the same way, men live and develop through appropriation. Appropriation is a natural and providential phenomenon that is essential to life, and property is only appropriation that has become a right through work. When work has rendered assimilable and appropriable substances that were not so, I really do not see how it can be claimed that, in law, the phenomenon of appropriation has to be attained for the benefit of an individual other than he who has carried out the work.

It is in view of these primordial facts, necessary consequences of the very constitution of man, that the law intervenes. Since the aspiration toward life and development may induce a strong man to despoil a weak one, thus violating the rights of production, it has been agreed that the strength of all would be devoted to the prevention and repression of violence. The purpose of the law is therefore to ensure respect for property. It is not property that is conventional but law.

Let us now seek the origin of the opposing theoretical system.

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All of our past constitutions proclaimed that property is sacred, which appears to assign to our coming together as a society the purpose of the free development either of individuals or of particular associations by means of work. This implies that property is a right that predates the law, law’s only objective being to guarantee property.

I wonder, however, whether this declaration has not been introduced into our charters instinctively, so to speak, by virtue of catchwords, of language spoken long ago, and above all I wonder whether it is at the root of all social convictions.

Now, if it is true, as people say, that literature is the expression of society, doubts may be raised in this connection, since it is certain that never have political writers, after having respectfully saluted the principle of property, so oft en called for the intervention of the law, not in order to have property respected but to amend, alter, transform, fine-tune, weigh down, and organize property, credit, and labor.

Now, this supposes that an absolute power over people and property is attributed to the law and consequently to the legislator.

This may distress us but it should not surprise us.

From where do we draw our ideas on these subjects, especially our notion of law? In Latin books and in Roman law.

I have not studied my Roman law, but it is enough for me to know that this is the source of our ideas to be able to assert that these ideas are erroneous. The Romans had to regard property as purely conventional, a product and an artificial creation of the written law. Obviously, the Romans could not, as political economy does, go back to the constitution of man and perceive the relationship and necessary links between these phenomena: needs, faculties, work, and property. This would have been a suicidal error. How could they, who lived by pillage, all their property being the fruit of plunder and their means of existence based on the labor of slaves, have brought into their legislation, without shaking the foundations of their society, the notion that the true title of property was produced by work? No, they could neither say this nor think it. They had to have recourse to the following empirical definition of property: jus utendi et abutendi,2 a definition that relates only to effects and not to causes or origins, since they were clearly obliged to keep the origins dark.

It is sad to think that the science of law in our country and in the nineteenth Edition: current; Page: [47] century is still at the level of ideas that the presence of slavery must have inspired in the classical world, but there is an explanation for this. The teaching of law is a monopoly in France, and monopoly rules out progress.

It is true that jurists do not mold the entire range of public opinion, but it has to be said that university and church education is a marvelous preparation for the young people of France to receive the erroneous notions of jurists on these subjects since, as though the better to make sure of this, for the ten finest years of our life, it plunges us all into this atmosphere of war and slavery that enveloped and permeated Roman society.

Let us not therefore be surprised to see reproducing itself in the eighteenth century this Roman idea that property is a mere convention and a legal institution, that far from law being a corollary of property, it is property that is a corollary of law. We know that according to Rousseau not only property but also society as a whole was the result of a contract, an invention originating in the mind of the legislator.

“Social order is a sacred right which forms the basis of all the others. However, this right does not come from nature. It is therefore based on conventions.”3

Thus, the right that is the basis of all the others is purely conventional. Therefore property, which is a subsequent right, is also conventional. It does not come from nature.

Robespierre was imbued with the ideas of Rousseau. From what the pupil had to say on property, we can recognize the theories and even the form of oratory of the master.

Citizens, I will first of all put before you a few articles which are necessary to complete your theory of property. Let no one be alarmed by the use of this word. You souls of mud, who esteem only gold, I do not wish to touch your treasures, however tainted their source. . . . For my part, I would prefer to be born in Fabricius’s hut than in Lucullus’s palace, etc., etc.4

I will draw to your attention here that when you analyze the notion of property, it is irrational and dangerous to make this word a synonym Edition: current; Page: [48] of opulence and in particular of ill-gotten opulence. Fabricius’s cottage is just as much an item of property as Lucullus’s palace. However, may I draw the reader’s attention to the following sentence, which sums up this entire outlook?

In defining liberty, this primary need of man, the most sacred of the rights he holds from nature, we have correctly stated that its limit lies in the rights of others. Why have you not applied this principle to property, which is a social institution, as though the eternal laws of nature were less inviolable than the conventions of mankind?

Following these introductory remarks, Robespierre establishes the principles in these terms:

Article 1: Property is the right of each citizen to enjoy and dispose of the portion of goods which is guaranteed to him by the law.

Article 2: The right to property is limited, like all others, by the obligation to respect the rights of others.5

In this way, Robespierre contrasts liberty and property. These are two rights with different origins: one comes from nature; the other is a social institution. The first is natural, the second conventional.

The common limit that Robespierre places on these two rights ought, it would seem, to have led him to think that they have the same source. Whether it is a question of liberty or property, respecting others’ rights is not to destroy or alter that right; it is to acknowledge and confirm it. It is precisely because property is a right that predates the law just as liberty does that both exist only on condition that they respect the rights of others, and the mission of the law is to ensure that this limit is respected, which means that it recognizes and maintains the very principle of it.

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Be that as it may, it is certain that Robespierre, following Rousseau’s example, considered property to be a social institution, like a convention. In no way did he link it to its true justification, which lies in work. It is the right of disposal of the portion of goods guaranteed by the law, he said.

I have no need to remind you here that through Rousseau and Robespierre the Roman notion of property has been transmitted to all our so-called socialist schools. We know that the first volume by Louis Blanc on the Revolution6 is an extravagant eulogy to the Geneva philosopher and to the leader of the Convention.

Thus, this idea that the right of property is a social institution, that it is an invention of the legislator, a creation of the law, in other words, that it is unknown to man in a state of nature, this idea, say I, has been transmitted from the Romans to us through the teaching of law, classical studies, the political writers of the eighteenth century, the revolutionaries of’93, and the theorists of organization of today.7

Let us now move on to the consequences of the two theoretical systems that I have just contrasted beginning with the jurist view.

The first step is to open a limitless field to the imagination of utopian thinkers.

This is obvious. Once we establish the principle that property takes its existence from the law, there are as many possible means of organizing production as there are possible laws in the minds of dreamers. Once we establish the principle that the legislator is responsible for arranging, combining, and molding both people and property at will, there is no limit to the imaginable means by which people and property can be arranged, combined, and molded. Right now, there are certainly more than five hundred projects on the organization of production circulating in Paris, not counting an equal number of projects on the organization of credit. Doubtless these plans contradict Edition: current; Page: [50] one another, but they have in common the fact that they are based on this consideration: the law has created the right of property; the legislator is the absolute master in disposing of workers and the fruits of their work.

Among these projects, those that have attracted the greatest public attention are those by Fourier, Saint-Simon, Owen, Cabet, and Louis Blanc. However, it would be madness to think that these five methods of organization are the only ones possible. Their number is boundless. Every morning a new one may be hatched, more attractive than yesterday’s, and I leave you to imagine what would happen to the human race if, when one of these inventions was imposed on it, another more-specious one was suddenly revealed. The human race would be reduced to the choice of either changing its way of carrying on every morning or continuing forever down a path known to be erroneous, just because it had once set out on this path.

A second consequence is to arouse the thirst for power in all dreamers. Let us suppose that I have thought out a system for organizing work. Setting out my system and expecting people to adopt it if it is a good one would be to suppose that the prerogative of action lies with them. However, in the system that I am examining the principle of action lies with the legislator. “The legislator,” as Rousseau says, “must feel that he has the strength to transform human nature.”8 This being so, my ambition should be to become a legislator in order to impose the social order of my devising.

It is also clear that systems based on the idea that the right to property is a social institution all lead either to the most highly concentrated privilege or the most fundamental communism, depending on the good or bad intentions of the inventor. If he has sinister designs, he will make use of the law to enrich a few at the expense of all. If he obeys philanthropic impulses, he will want to equalize the level of well-being, and to do this he will think of stipulating that each person should legally share equally of the products created. It remains to be seen whether, under these conditions, it is possible to engage in production.

With regard to this, the Luxembourg Palace9 recently offered us an extraordinary sight. A few days after the February revolution, in the middle of the nineteenth century, did we not hear a man who was more than a minister, a member of the provisional government, a civil servant invested with Edition: current; Page: [51] unlimited revolutionary authority speak in the name of liberty and coldly ask whether, in distributing salaries, it was a good thing to take account of the strength, talent, activity, and skill of the worker, that is to say the wealth he produced, or whether it was not better to disregard these personal virtues and their beneficial effect and in future give everyone the same pay. The question amounts to this: will a meter of cloth sold by a lazy man be sold for the same price as two meters offered by someone who is industrious? And, something that beggars belief, this man has proclaimed that he preferred profits to be uniform, whatever the work offered for sale, and in his wisdom he has decided that although two equals two by nature, they would in future be by law only one.

That is what happens when we act on the basis that the law is stronger than nature.

His audience apparently grasped the fact that the very constitution of man rose up against such an arbitrary decision and that people would never allow one meter of cloth to claim the same remuneration as two meters. If this were to be so, the competition that he wished to abolish would be replaced by another form of competition a thousand times more deadly: everyone would compete to work the least and demonstrate the least activity since, by law, the reward would be always guaranteed and equal for all.

However, Citizen Blanc had foreseen the objection and, to prevent this sweet do-nothing, alas so natural to man when work is not rewarded, he had thought of setting up a post in each commune on which would be inscribed the names of those who were lazy. However, he did not say whether there would be inquisitors to uncover the sin of laziness, courts in which to judge it, and gendarmes to execute the sentence. It should be noted that utopians never concern themselves with the huge machine of government indispensable for putting their legal machinery in motion.

Since the delegates in the Luxembourg Palace were rather incredulous, Citizen Vidal, Citizen Blanc’s secretary, appeared to complete his master’s thought. Using Rousseau’s example, Citizen Vidal suggested nothing less than changing the nature of man and the laws of Providence.10

It has pleased Providence to place within each individual certain needs and their consequences and faculties and their consequences, thus creating Edition: current; Page: [52] personal interest, in other words, an instinct for preservation and a love of development that is the mainspring of the human race. M. Vidal will be changing all that. He has looked at the work of God and seen that it was not good. Consequently, starting from the principle that the law and the legislator can do anything, he will be abolishing personal interest by decree and replacing it by point of honor.

Men will no longer work to live, to provide for and raise their families, but to obey a point of honor, to avoid the hangman’s noose, as though this new motive were not still a personal interest of another kind.

M. Vidal constantly refers to what the question of honor encourages armies to do. But alas! Everything must be stated clearly, and if the wish is to regiment workers we should be told whether the military code, with its thirty transgressions carrying the death penalty, would become the labor code!

An even more striking effect of the disastrous principle which I am endeavoring to combat here is the uncertainty it always holds suspended, like the sword of Damocles, over production, capital, trade, and industry. This is so serious that I dare to claim the reader’s entire attention.

In a country like the United States, where the right of property is placed above the law, and where the sole mission of the forces of public order is to have this natural right respected, every individual may with total confidence devote his capital and strength to production. He has no need to fear that his plans and arrangements will be upset by the legislative power from one minute to the next.

But when on the contrary, on the principle that it is not work but the law that is the basis of property, all the creators of utopias are allowed to impose their arrangements generally and through the authority of decrees, who can fail to see that all the farsightedness and prudence that nature has implanted in men’s hearts are being turned against industrial progress?

Where is the bold speculator now who would dare to set up a factory or take on a business? Yesterday, it was decreed that people would be allowed to work for only a given number of hours.11 Now it is being decreed that the payment for this type of work will be fixed, and who can predict what will be decreed tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, and the days after that? Once the legislator has set himself at such an incommensurable distance from other Edition: current; Page: [53] men and in all conscience thinks that he can dispose of their time, work, transactions, everything that is property, what man in all the land will have the slightest knowledge of what constraints he and his profession will be placed under tomorrow by the law? And in such circumstances, who will be able or want to undertake anything?

I certainly do not deny that, among the innumerable systems to which this erroneous principle will give rise, many and perhaps the majority will be based on benevolent and generous intentions. But what is to be feared is the principle itself. The manifest aim of each individual arrangement is to equalize well-being. But the even more manifest effect of the principle on which these arrangements are based is to equalize deprivation; I cannot put this too plainly, it will reduce affluent families to the ranks of the poor and decimate poor families through illness and starvation.

I admit that I am afraid for the future of my country when I consider the gravity of the financial difficulties that this dangerous precedent will make even worse.

On 24 February, we found a budget that exceeds the proportions that France can reasonably achieve and what is more, according to the current minister of finance, with nearly a billion francs in debts that are for immediate repayment.

Because of this situation, already alarming enough, expenditure has steadily increased and revenue steadily decreased.

That is not all. Two types of promises have been tossed with a boundless prodigality to the general public. According to one lot, they are going to be given a countless mass of institutions that are beneficial but expensive. According to the second lot, all taxes will be reduced. In this way, on the one hand the numbers of day nurseries, asylums, primary schools, free secondary schools, workshops, and industrial pensions will be increased. The owners of slaves will be indemnified and the slaves themselves paid damages. The state will found credit institutions, lend workers their instruments of work, double the size of the army, reorganize the navy, etc., etc., and on the other hand it will abolish the salt tax, city tolls, and all the most unpopular contributions.

Certainly, whatever idea one has of the resources of France, it has at least to be admitted that such resources must increase if they are to meet twin aspirations that are so vast in scale and so contradictory in appearance.

But, in the midst of this extraordinary movement, which might be considered beyond human strength even when the entire energy of the country is being directed toward productive work, a cry can be heard: the right to Edition: current; Page: [54] property is a creation of the law. Consequently, the legislator can issue, at any time and in accordance with the theoretical systems with which he is imbued, decrees that overturn all the arrangements made by industry. Workers are not the owners of any object or thing of value because they have created these through their work but because the laws in effect today guarantee this. Tomorrow’s law may withdraw this guarantee, at which time property will no longer be legitimate.

I ask you, what is bound to happen? Capital and production are terrified; they can no longer count on the future. Under the influence of a doctrine like this, capital will hide, flee, and be reduced to nothing. And what will then happen to the workers, these very workers for whom you profess such a lively, sincere, but so unenlightened affection? Will they be better fed when farming production has ceased? Will they be better clothed when no one dares start up a factory? Will they be more fully occupied when capital has vanished?

And taxes, where will you obtain these? And the financial position, how will this be restored? How are you going to pay the army? How will you pay your debts? What money will there be to lend for investment in machinery? With what resources will you support the charitable institutions whose existence it is so easy to decree?

I hasten to abandon these somber considerations. It remains for me to examine the consequences of the opposite principle that prevails today, namely, the “economists’ principle,”12 the principle that attributes the right of property to labor [travail] and not to the law; the principle that says that property existed before the law; the sole mission of the law is to ensure respect for property wherever it is and wherever it is formed, in whatever manner in which the worker has created it, either in isolation or in association, provided that he respects the rights of others.

First, just as the jurists’ principle virtually implies slavery, that of the economists espouses liberty. Property, the right to enjoy the fruit of your labor, the right to work, develop yourself, and exercise your faculties as you please without the intervention of the state except in its protective role, that is liberty. And I still cannot understand why the many partisans of opposing persuasions allow the word liberty to remain on the republican flag. It is said Edition: current; Page: [55] that some of them have removed it and substituted the word solidarity. Such people are more frank and consistent. However, they should have put communism, not solidarity, since the solidarity of interests, like property, exists outside the law.

It also implies unity. We have already seen this. If the legislator creates the right to property, there are as many ways for property to exist as there may be errors in the minds of utopians, that is to say, an infinite number. If, on the other hand, the right to property is a providential fact that predates any human legislation and the aim of human legislation is to ensure its respect, there is no place for any other arrangements.

It is also security, and this is perfectly clear: if a people fully acknowledge that each person has to provide for his means of existence but also that each person has a right to the fruit of his work that predates and is higher than the law, also that human law has been necessary and has intervened only to guarantee to all the freedom to work and the property of the fruit of that work, it is clearly evident that a totally secure future opens out before human activity. It no longer has to fear that legislative power will through successive decrees stop its efforts, disrupt its arrangements, and bring to nothing its forecasts. Within the shelter of this security capital will spring up rapidly. The rapid increase in capital, for its part, is the sole reason for growth in the value of labor. The working classes will therefore become better off and will themselves contribute to providing new sources of capital. They will be increasingly capable of freeing themselves from wage-labor,13 becoming partners in the businesses, founding their own businesses, and recovering their dignity.

Last, the eternal principle that the state should not be a producer but should provide security for producers would inexorably lead to economy and order in public finances. The implication is that only this principle makes it possible to establish a good foundation and just distribution for taxes.

In fact, we should never forget that the state has no resources of its own. It has nothing and it owns nothing that it does not take from workers. Therefore, when it interferes in everything, it substitutes the grim and expensive activity of its agents for private activity. If, as happens in the United States, people came to realize with regard to this matter that the mission of the state is to provide a perfectly safe context for all, the state would be able to Edition: current; Page: [56] accomplish this mission with a few hundred million. This saving, combined with economic prosperity, would at last make it possible to establish a single direct tax which would bear only on actual property, of whatever kind.

But for this contingency we would have to wait until a few experiences, sometimes cruel ones, had somewhat diminished our faith in the state and increased our faith in humanity.

I will end with a few words on the Free Trade Association. It has oft en been reproached for this title. Its opponents have rejoiced, and its supporters have regretted, what both have considered to be a fault.

“Why cause alarm in this way?” say its partisans. “Why emblazon a principle on your flag? Why do you not limit yourselves to demanding those wise and prudent alterations to the customs tariff that time has made necessary and experience has shown to be opportune?”

Why? First, because, in my view at least, free trade has never been a matter of customs and tariffs but a question of right, justice, public order, and property. Second, because privilege, in whatever form it is manifested, implies a negation or scorn for property. Third, because state intervention to level out fortunes, increasing some shares at the expense of others, is communism, just as one drop of water is water just as the entire ocean is water.

Fourth, because I foresaw that once the principle of property has been undermined in one form, it would soon be attacked in a thousand different forms. Fifth, because I did not quit my solitude to pursue a partial amendment of the tariffs, which would have implied my adherence to the false notion that law predates property, but to fly to the aid of the opposite principle, compromised by protectionism. Finally, because I was convinced that the landowners and capitalists had themselves, with the tariff, sown the seed of the communism that terrifies them now, since they were demanding additional profits from the law at the expense of the working classes. I could see clearly that the working classes would not be slow to demand, in the name of equality, the benefits of the law applied to leveling out well-being, which is communism.

Let people read the first statement of principles issued by our Association, the program drawn up in a preparatory session on 10 May 1846; this will convince them of our central approach.

Trade is a natural right, like property. Every citizen who has created or acquired a product should have the option either of using it immediately or of selling it to someone anywhere in the world who is willing to give him what he wants in exchange. Depriving him of this faculty, when Edition: current; Page: [57] he is not using it for a purpose contrary to public order or morals and solely to satisfy the convenience of another citizen, is to justify plunder and violate the laws of justice.

It also violates the conditions of order, since what order can exist within a society in which each economic activity, with the assistance of the law and the powers of government, seeks success by oppressing all the others?

We placed this question so far above that of tariffs that we added the following:

The undersigned do not dispute society’s right to establish, on goods that cross the border, taxes intended to meet common expenditure, provided that they are determined by the needs of the treasury.

However, as soon as the tax loses its fiscal nature and is aimed at discouraging foreign products—to the detriment of the tax authorities themselves—in order to raise the price of a similar home product artificially and thus hold the community to ransom for the benefit of a particular class of people, it then becomes protection or rather plunder, and these are the ideas and practices that the Association is seeking to discredit and remove totally from our laws.

Of course, if we had pursued only the immediate modification of the tariffs, if we, as was claimed, had been the agents only of a few commercial interests, we would have taken care not to emblazon on our flag a word that implies a principle. Does anyone believe that I did not foresee the obstacles that this declaration of war against injustice would raise for us? Did I not know full well that by scheming, concealing our aim, and hiding half of our thought we would arrive more quickly at this or that partial victory? But how would these triumphs, which are fleeting anyway, have identified and safeguarded the great principle of property which we ourselves would have kept in the shadows and ruled out?

I repeat, we were asking for the abolition of the protectionist regime, not as a good government measure but as justice, as the achievement of freedom, as the rigorous consequence of a right that is higher than the law. We should not conceal behind its outward form that which we most desire.14

The time is coming when it will be recognized that we were right in not agreeing to insert a catch, a trap, a surprise, or an ambiguity in the title of our Edition: current; Page: [58] Association but rather a frank expression of an eternal principle of order and justice, since only principles have power. They alone are the flame of intelligent minds or the rallying point for misguided convictions.

Recently, a universal shiver of terror has run through the entire territory of France. At the single word communism, every soul has become alarmed. Seeing the strangest systems appear in broad daylight and almost officially, and subversive decrees issued in succession, which may be followed by even more subversive ones, everyone has asked himself where we are all going. Capital has become terrified, credit has fled, work has been suspended, and the saw and hammer have been stopped in mid task as though a disastrous and universal electric current had suddenly paralyzed both mind and arm. Why? Because the principle of property, whose essence has already been compromised by the protectionist regime, has suffered further violent shocks as a consequence of the first. Because the intervention of the law with regard to industry and as a way of adjusting values and redistributing wealth, an intervention of which the protectionist regime was the first manifestation, is threatening to reveal itself in a thousand known or unknown forms. Yes, I say it loud and clear; it is the landowners, those who are considered to be property owners par excellence, who have undermined the principle of property, because they have called upon the law to give their lands and products an artificial value. It is the capitalists who have suggested the idea of leveling out wealth by law. Protectionism was the forerunner of communism; I will go even further, it was its first manifestation. For what are the suffering classes asking for now? Nothing other than what the capitalists and landowners have asked for and obtained. They are asking for the intervention of the law to balance, adjust, equalize wealth. What the capitalists and landowners have done by means of customs, the poor want to do by way of other institutions, but the principle is always the same: to take from some people on the basis of legislation to give the proceeds to others, and certainly, since it is you, property owners and capitalists, who have had this disastrous principle accepted, you should not complain if those more unfortunate than you claim the benefit. They have at least a right to it that you did not.15

But at last our eyes are being opened, and we see toward what abyss this initial blow against the essential conditions of public safety is driving Edition: current; Page: [59] us. Is this not a terrible lesson, clear proof of the chain of cause and effect through which at long last the justice of providential retribution is appearing, when we now see the rich terrified out of their wits by the invasion of a false doctrine whose iniquitous foundations they themselves laid and whose consequences they thought they could peacefully turn to their own profit? Yes, protectionists, you have been the promoters of communism. Yes, landowners, you have destroyed in people’s minds the true concept of property. It is political economy that disseminates this concept; and you have proscribed political economy because, in the name of the right to property, it opposed your unjust privileges.16 And when they have seized power, what has also been the first thought of these modern schools of thought that so terrify you? It is to eliminate political economy, since economic science is a constant protestation against the legal leveling out that you have sought and others are seeking today, following your example. You have asked the law for things that are far and away beyond what may be demanded of the law. You have asked it not for security (which would have been your right) but for added value on what belongs to you, which could not be given to you without damaging the rights of others. Now the folly of your claims has become universal folly. And if you wish to stave off the storm that threatens to engulf you, you have just one means left. Acknowledge your mistake; renounce your privileges; restrict the law to its own powers and limit the legislator to his role. You have abandoned us and you have attacked us, probably because you did not understand us. At the sight of the abyss you have opened up with your own hands, make haste to come over to our side and adopt our propaganda in favor of the right to property by, I repeat, giving this word its widest meaning, including in it both the faculties of man and all that they are able to produce, whether in production or trade!

The doctrine that we are defending arouses a certain mistrust because of its extreme simplicity; it limits itself to asking the law for security for all. People find it hard to believe that the mechanics of government can be reduced to these proportions. What is more, since this doctrine encloses the law within the limits of universal justice, some reproach it for excluding fraternity. Political economy does not accept this accusation. That will be the subject of another article.

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5: Justice and Fraternity1

[vol. 4, p. 298. “Justice et fraternité.” Originally published in the 15 June 1848 issue of Le Journal des économistes.]

On a great many points the Economists2 are in opposition to a number of schools of socialism, which claim to be more advanced and which are, I readily agree, more active and popular. Our adversaries (I do not wish to call them detractors) are the communists; the followers of Fourier and Owen; MM Cabet, Louis Blanc, Proudhon, and Pierre Leroux; and many others.

What is very strange is that these schools differ among themselves at least as much as they differ from us. It is therefore necessary (1) that they admit a common principle that we do not admit and (2) that this principle lends itself to the infinite diversity among them that we observe.

I believe that what radically divides us is this:

Political economy reaches the conclusion that only universal justice should be demanded of the law.

Socialism, in its various branches and through applications whose number Edition: current; Page: [61] is of course unlimited, demands in addition that the law should put into practice the dogma of fraternity.

Well, what is the result? Following Rousseau, socialism accepts that the entire social order is encompassed by the law. We know that Rousseau based society on a contract. On the very first page of his book on the Revolution,3 Louis Blanc says: “The principle of fraternity is that which, viewing the members of the extended family as interdependent, at some point tends to organize various forms of society, the work of man, on the model of the human body, the work of God.”4

Starting from this point, that society is the work of man, the work of the law, socialists are inevitably led to the conclusion that nothing exists in society that has not been ordered and arranged in advance by the legislator.

Therefore, seeing that political economy limits itself to demanding from the law justice everywhere and for all, that is, universal justice, they have concluded that it did not acknowledge fraternity in social relationships.

The reasoning for this is strict. “Since society is contained in law,” they say, “and since you ask the law only for justice, you are therefore excluding fraternity from the law and consequently from society.”

From this have come the imputations of rigidity, coldness, hardness, and lack of feeling that have been heaped on economic science and those who profess it.

But is the leading premise admissible? Is it true that all of society is encompassed in the law? It can be seen immediately that if it is not, then all these imputations collapse.

Now! To say that positive law, which always acts with authority, through constraint, resting on the force of coercion, with the bayonet and dungeon as sanctions and ending with some laid-down penalty; to say that law, which cannot decree affection, friendship, love, self-denial, selflessness, or sacrifice therefore cannot decree that which epitomizes them, namely fraternity: is this to wipe out or deny these noble attributes of our nature? Certainly not; it is to say only that society is wider than the law; that a number of acts take place and a host of feelings are stirring outside and above the law.

For my part, in the name of science, I protest with all my strength at this wretched interpretation, according to which, because we acknowledge that the law has limits, we are accused of denying everything that is outside Edition: current; Page: [62] these limits. Ah! Whether people believe or not, we too salute with ardor the word fraternity which came down from the peak of the sacred mountain eighteen centuries ago and is emblazoned forever on our republican flag. We too wish to see individuals, families, and nations come together, help one another, and come to each other’s assistance in the difficult journey through mortal life. We too feel our hearts beat faster and our tears flow at the recounting of generous acts, whether they shine in the lives of simple citizens or bring together and mingle different classes and especially when they precipitate predestined peoples to occupy pioneering positions in progress and civilization.

And will we be reduced to talking about ourselves? Well, then! Let our actions be scrutinized. Certainly, we are very willing to admit that the host of political writers, who these days wish to stifle everything, including the sentiment of personal self-interest, in people’s hearts and who show themselves to be so merciless toward what they call individualism, whose mouths are so incessantly filled with words like selflessness, sacrifice, and fraternity, exclusively adhere to the sublime motives they advise others to observe, that they give examples as well as advice and are careful to align their conduct with their doctrine. We are very pleased to take their word for it that they are full of disinterestedness and charity, but finally we should be allowed to say that from this point of view we are not afraid of comparison.

Each one of these Deciuses5 has a plan that intends to achieve the happiness of humanity, and all appear to say that if we oppose them it is because we fear either for our wealth or for other social advantages. No, we oppose them because we hold their ideas to be false and their projects to be as puerile as they are disastrous. Because if it were proved to us that it is possible to bring down happiness on earth permanently through an artificial organization or by decreeing fraternity, there are those among us who, although they are economists, would joyfully sign such a decree with their last drop of blood.

However, it has not been proved to us that fraternity can be imposed. Whenever and wherever it occurs, it arouses such lively sympathy in us because it acts outside any legal constraint. Fraternity is either spontaneous or it does not exist. To decree it is to annihilate it. The law may indeed oblige men to remain just; in vain will it endeavor to oblige them to be devoted to others.

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It is not I, incidentally, who have invented this distinction. As I said just now, eighteen centuries ago these words were uttered by the divine founder of our religion:

The law says: Do not unto others as you would not have them do unto you.

And I say to you: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

I believe that these words set the limits that divide justice from fraternity. I believe that they also trace the demarcation line, one that I will not say is absolute and impassable but theoretical and rational, between the circumscribed field of the law and the limitless region of human spontaneity.

When a large number of families, all of which in order to live, develop, and improve themselves need to work either in isolation or in association, pool part of their strengths, what can they demand of this common strength other than the protection of all the individuals, all their work, all their property, all their rights and interests? Is this anything other than universal justice? Obviously the rights of each person are limited by the absolutely identical rights of all the others. The law cannot therefore do anything other than to recognize this limit and see that it is respected. If it allowed some people to infringe it, this would be to the detriment of some of the others. The law would be unjust. It would be even more unjust if, instead of tolerating this infringement, it ordered it.

Let us take property, for example. The principle is that what each person achieves through his work belongs to him, whether this work is comparatively more or less clever, persevering, or apposite and consequently more or less productive. If two workers wish to combine their strengths in order to share the product in accordance with agreed proportions or exchange their products with each other, or if one wishes to make the other a loan or a gift, what does the law have to do with this? Nothing, I think, other than require the fulfilling of agreements and prevent or punish misrepresentation, violence, or fraud.

Does this mean that the law will forbid acts of selflessness and generosity? Who could even think this? But will it go so far as to order them? This is precisely the point that separates economists from socialists.

If the socialists mean that, in extraordinary circumstances and emergencies, the state has to store up a few resources, assist in certain misfortunes, and smooth over certain transitions, for God’s sake, we would agree. This has been done and we would like it done better; however, there is a point Edition: current; Page: [64] along this path that should not be exceeded, the point at which governmental foresight destroys individual foresight by taking its place. It is perfectly clear that organized charity would, in such a case, do much more permanent harm than temporary good.

But we are not dealing here with exceptional measures. What we are investigating is this: is the mission of the law, viewed from a general and theoretical position, to determine the limits of preexisting mutual rights and see that they are respected, or to provide happiness to people directly by provoking acts of selflessness, self-denial, and mutual sacrifice?

What strikes me in this last theoretical viewpoint (and it is to this issue that I will be frequently returning in this hastily written article) is the uncertainty that it causes to hover over human activity and its results, the unknown before which it places society, an unknown whose nature is to paralyze all of its strength.

We know what justice is and where it is. It is a fixed and immovable point. Let the law take it as its guide, and everyone knows what is expected of him and acts accordingly.

But what is the fixed point of fraternity? What are its limits? What form does it take? Obviously it is infinite. Fraternity, in sum, consists in making a sacrifice for another, working for another. When it is free, spontaneous, and voluntary I can understand it and I applaud it. My admiration for sacrifice is all the greater where it is total. But when this principle, that fraternity will be imposed by law, is propounded within society, that is to say in good French, that the distribution of the fruits of work will be made through legislation, with no regard for the rights of the work itself, who knows to what extent this principle will operate, what form a caprice of the legislator will give it and in what institutions a decree will bring it into existence from one day to the next? Well, I ask whether society can continue to exist in these conditions.

Note that sacrifice, by its very nature, is not, like justice, something that has a limit. It can extend from the gift of a small coin thrown into a beggar’s plate to the gift of life, usque ad mortem, mortem autem crucis.6 The Gospels, which taught fraternity to men, explained it through its counsels. It tells us: “When someone strikes you on the right cheek, offer the left cheek. If Edition: current; Page: [65] someone wants to take your jacket give him your coat as well.”7 It went further than just explaining fraternity to us; it has given us the most complete, touching, and sublime example of it on the summit of Golgotha.

Well then! Will it be said that legislation has to push the achievement of the dogma of fraternity through administrative measures to this point? Or will it stop somewhere along the way? But to what extent will it stop and in accordance with what rule? Today, this will depend on one vote, tomorrow on another.

The same uncertainties hover over the form. It is a question of imposing sacrifices on some for the benefit of all or on all for the benefit of some. Who can tell me how the law will deal with this? For it cannot be denied that the number of formulae for fraternity is infinite. Not a day goes past when five or six appeals do not reach me through the post and all of them, please note, are completely different. Truly, is it not folly to believe that a nation can experience a degree of moral tranquillity and material prosperity when the principle is admitted that, from one day to the next, the legislator can toss the nation in its entirety into the one of the hundred thousand molds of fraternity that has gained its favor momentarily?

May I be allowed to contrast the most striking consequences of the economic and socialist systems?

First of all, let us imagine a nation that adopts justice, universal justice, as the basis for its legislation.

Let us suppose that its citizens tell their government: “We will take responsibility for our own lives. We will take charge of our work, our transactions, our education, our progress, and our religion. For your part, your sole mission will be to contain us within the limits of our rights in all respects.”

In truth, we have tried so many things that I would like the whim to take hold of my country, or any country around the globe, to try this at least. Certainly, it cannot be denied that the mechanics are of amazing simplicity. Each individual will exercise all of his rights as he sees fit, provided that he does not infringe the rights of others. The test would be all the more interesting if, in point of fact, the peoples that came the closest to each other under this system exceeded all the others in security, prosperity, equality, and Edition: current; Page: [66] dignity. Yes, if ten years of life were left to me, I would willingly give nine of them to witness for a year an experiment of this nature in my country. For here, it seems to me, is what I would be fortunate enough to witness.

In the first place, each individual would be certain of his future as far as this could be affected by the law. As I have pointed out, literal justice is something that is so constraining that legislation that had only this in view would be almost immutable. It could be changed only with regard to the means of achieving a single aim ever more closely: to ensure that people and their rights were respected. Thus each person could undertake all sorts of honest enterprises without fear or uncertainty. All careers would be open to all; each person would be free to exercise his faculties freely, according to his self-interest, liking, aptitude, or circumstances. There would be no privileges or monopoly, nor restrictions of any sort.

Next, since all the forces of government would be applied to preventing and redressing willful misrepresentations, frauds, misdemeanors, crimes, and violence, it is to be believed that government forces would achieve these all the more since they would not be dispersed as they are today over a host of objects that are foreign to their essential prerogatives. Our opponents themselves will not deny that preventing and eliminating injustice is the principal mission of the state. Why then is it that the valuable art of prevention and elimination has made so little progress in our country? It is because the state neglects it in favor of the thousand other functions for which it has been made responsible. This is why security is far from being the distinctive characteristic of French society. It would be total under the regime which I am for the moment analyzing: security in the future, since no utopia could impose itself by means of government power; security in the present, since this power would be exclusively devoted to combating and abolishing injustice.

I must at this point say something about the consequences that security engenders. First of all, property will be totally guaranteed in its variety of forms: land and movable assets; industrial, intellectual, and manual property. It is now protected from attack by wrongdoers and, what is more, from attack by the law. Whatever the nature of the services rendered by workers to society or between themselves, or traded externally, these services will always have their natural value. This value will still be much affected by events, but at least it can never be affected by the whims of the law or the needs of taxation, intrigues, claims, or parliamentary entanglements. The price of things and work will thus suffer minimally from fluctuations, and when all of these conditions obtain simultaneously it would be impossible for industry not to Edition: current; Page: [67] develop, wealth not to increase, or capital not to accumulate with prodigious rapidity.

Now, when capital increases, its uses compete among themselves; its remuneration decreases, or in other words interest rates fall. They bear less and less on the price of products. The share of capital in the national product decreases continuously. This factor of production, now being more widely distributed, comes within the reach of a greater number of men. The price of consumer goods is relieved of the whole part no longer set aside for capital; things become cheaper and this is an essential and prime condition for the liberating of the working classes.8

At the same time and for the same reason (the rapid accumulation of capital), earnings will of necessity rise. Capital, in fact, yields absolutely nothing if it is not put to use. The larger this source of earnings is and the more it is put to use in relation to a given number of workers, the more earnings will rise.

In this way, the necessary result of this clear-cut regime of strict justice, and consequently of freedom and security, is to raise the suffering classes in two ways, first of all by making life cheaper and second by raising the level of earnings.

It is impossible for the fate of workers to be naturally and doubly improved without their moral condition being elevated and purified. We are therefore proceeding along the path of equality. I am not talking only about equality before the law, which is obviously implied since it excludes any form of injustice, but actual equality, both physical and moral, that results from the fact that the remuneration of labor increases in the same proportion as the income from capital decreases.

If we cast an eye on the relationships of this people with other nations, we will see that they all favor peace. Arming itself against any form of aggression is its sole policy. It does not threaten nor is it threatened. It has no diplomatic service and still less any armed diplomatic force. Since by virtue of the principle of universal justice no citizen is able to call upon the law in his own self-interest to intervene to prevent another citizen from buying or selling abroad, the commercial relationships enjoyed by these people will be free and extensive. No one will argue that such relationships are not a Edition: current; Page: [68] contributory factor to maintaining peace. They are a genuine and valuable system of defense, which will make arsenals, fortresses, navies, and standing armies almost pointless. Thus, all the forces of this people will be directed toward productive work, an additional cause of an increase in capital with all its consequences.

It is easy to see that within this people, the government has been reduced to very slender proportions and the wheels of administration to their simplest form. What does this mean? Giving government the sole mission of maintaining justice between the citizens. Well, this can be done at little cost, and even in France today it costs only twenty-six million. Therefore this nation will to all intents and purposes not pay any taxes. It is even certain that civilization and progress will tend to make the government ever more simple and economic, since the more justice results from sound social habits, the more it will be apposite to reduce the force organized to impose it.

When a nation is crushed by taxes, nothing is more difficult, and I might even say impossible, than to distribute them equitably. Statisticians and financiers no longer aspire to do so. However, there is something that is even more impossible, and that is to restrict the taxes to the rich. The state can have a great deal of money only by draining everybody’s resources, especially those of the masses. But in the simple regime to which I am devoting this humble argument, a regime that requires only a few tens of millions, nothing is easier than an equitable distribution. A single contribution, proportional to the property realized, raised in the family and at no cost within municipal councils, will be enough. There will be no more of the tenacious tax system or voracious bureaucracy that are the dank moss and vermin of the social body, no more of the indirect contributions, the money snatched by force or guile, the tax traps set on all the paths of work, the harassments that hurt us even more because of the freedoms they withdraw from us than because of the resources of which they deprive us.

Do I need to show that order would be the inevitable result of a regime like this? Where would disorder come from? Not from destitution; it would probably be unknown in the country at least as a chronic occurrence; and where temporary and accidental suffering did on occasion occur, no one would dream of turning against the state, the government, or the law. At present, when it is accepted in principle that the state has been set up to distribute wealth to everyone, it is natural that it should be asked to account for this commitment. To fulfill it, the state increases the number of taxes and causes more destitution than it relieves. New demands from the public, new Edition: current; Page: [69] taxes from the state, and we can go only from one revolution to the next. But if it was fully understood that the state should take from workers only what was absolutely essential to protect them from all forms of fraud and violence, I cannot see from what quarter disorder would arise.

There are some who will think that society would be very dismal and gloomy under such a simple regime that is so easy to set up. What would become of great political action? What use would statesmen be? Would not national representation itself, reduced to improving the civil and penal codes, cease to offer the spectacle of passionate debates and dramatic combats to the avid curiosity of the public?

This curious reservation comes from the idea that government and society are one and the same thing, an erroneous and disastrous idea if ever there was one. If they were really identical, simplifying government would in effect be to demean society.

But would the mere fact that government would limit itself strictly to maintaining justice take something away from the initiative of the citizens? Is their action even today restricted within limits set by the law? Would it not be possible for them, provided that they did not depart from the principles of justice, to form an infinite variety of alliances or associations of all kinds—religious, charitable, industrial, farming, and intellectual, indeed not excluding even political associations like those of the followers of Fourier and Cabet? On the contrary, is it not certain that a wealth of capital would encourage all these activities? The only thing would be that each person would join voluntarily at his own risk. What people want, through the intervention of the state, is to share in the risks and expenses of the public.

It will doubtless be said: “In this sort of regime, we can clearly see justice, economy, freedom, wealth, peace, order, and equality, but we do not see fraternity.”

Once again, does the human heart contain only what the legislator has put there? Was it necessary for fraternity to issue from the electoral urn for it to appear on earth? Does the law forbid you to practice charity because it imposes only justice on you? Do you believe that women would cease to be selfless and have a heart open to pity because selflessness and pity were not commanded by the Code? And which is the article of the Code that tears young girls from the embraces of their mothers and propels them toward the distressing asylums in which the hideous wounds of the body and even more hideous wounds of the mind are displayed? Which is the article of the Code that determines vocations to the priesthood? To which written law or Edition: current; Page: [70] government intervention are we to relate the founding of Christianity, the zeal of the apostles, the courage of the martyrs, the good deeds of Fénelon or Francis de Paule,9 the self-denial of so many men who in our time have risked their lives for the triumph of the popular cause.10

Every time we judge an act to be good and fine, we want it to become more widespread, and this is natural. However, when we see within society a force before which everything bows down, our first thought is to have it collude with us in decreeing and imposing the act in question. But what is important is to know whether we are not in this way depreciating both the nature of this force and the nature of the act which from being voluntary has been made obligatory. As far as I am concerned, I cannot get into my head that the law, which is a force, can usefully be employed for anything other than curbing wrongs and maintaining rights.

I have just described a nation in which this would be so. Let us now suppose that within this people the opinion became prevalent that the law Edition: current; Page: [71] would no longer be limited to imposing justice but would aim to impose fraternity as well.

What would happen? It will not take me long to tell you since the reader has only to redo the scenario by reversing the foregoing picture.

First of all, a terrible uncertainty and a deadly insecurity would hang over the entire domain of private activity since fraternity can take on thousands of unknown forms and consequently thousands of decrees that cannot be anticipated. A host of draft regulations will threaten established relationships each day. In the name of fraternity some will demand the uniformity of earnings, and at a stroke the working classes will be reduced to the condition of Indian castes. Skill, courage, assiduity, and intelligence will not be enough to redress their situation; the lead weight of the law will weigh down upon them. This world will be for them like Dante’s Inferno: “Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate chi!”11 In the name of fraternity, another will demand that work be reduced to ten, eight, six, or four hours, and production will grind to a halt. As there will be no more bread to assuage hunger or cloth to keep out the cold, a third inspiration will demand the missing bread and cloth be replaced by obligatory paper money. “Is it not with écus that we buy these things? Increasing the number of écus,” he will say, “will increase the amount of bread and cloth. Increasing the amount of paper will increase the number of écus. Let us do this.” A fourth will demand that competition be abolished, a fifth that personal self-interest be abolished. Someone else wants the state to provide work; another, education; and yet another, pensions for every citizen. Yet another person wants to bring down every king on this earth and decree universal war in the name of fraternity. I will stop there. It is perfectly clear that going down this road we will find an inexhaustible source of utopias. They will be rejected, people will say. This may be so, but it is possible that they will not, and this would be enough to create uncertainty, the greatest scourge of work.

Under this regime, it will be impossible to build up capital. It will become scarce, expensive, and concentrated. This means that earnings will decrease and that inequality will create an ever-deepening abyss between the classes.

Public finances will not be slow to descend into total confusion. How could it be otherwise when the state is responsible for supplying everything to everyone? The people will be crushed by taxes, and loan upon loan will be taken out. Once the present has been exhausted, the future will be devoured.

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Finally, since it will be accepted in principle that the state is responsible for producing fraternity in favor of its citizens, the entire people will be seen to be transformed into supplicants. Landed property, agriculture, industry, commerce, the merchant navy, and industrial companies will all clamor to receive favors from the state. The treasury will literally be pillaged. Each individual will have good reason to prove that legal fraternity has to be seen from the following angle: the advantages for me and the burdens for others. Everyone will devote his efforts to extracting some shred of fraternal privilege from the legislature. Despite having the best founded claims, the suffering classes will not always have the most success; their numbers will constantly increase, however, which will lead to our being able to go nowhere save from one revolution to the next.

In a word, we will witness the progress of the entire sad spectacle of which a few modern societies are offering us a foretaste since they have adopted this disastrous idea of legal fraternity.

I have no need to say that this notion is rooted in generous sentiments and pure intentions. It is indeed because of this that it attracted the sympathy of the masses so quickly and also that it opens an abyss beneath our feet if it is wrong.

I add that I personally would be happy if someone proved to me that it is not wrong. Good heavens, if universal fraternity could be decreed and this decree effectively given the sanction of government; if, as Louis Blanc would wish it, the spring of personal self-interest could be made to disappear from this world through the vote; if, through legislation, that article in the program of La Démocratie pacifique titled No More Egoism could be achieved; and if we could organize for the state to give everything to everyone without receiving anything from anyone, then let all this be done. I would certainly vote for the decree and rejoice that humanity had achieved perfection and happiness via such a short and easy route.

But, it has to be said, such notions appear illusory and futile to the point of puerility. It is not surprising that they have awakened hopes in the classes that work, suffer, and have no time to reflect. But how can they mislead leading political writers?

At the sight of the sufferings that overwhelm many of our brothers, these political writers thought that they could be laid at the door of the freedom that is justice. They started with the idea that the system of freedom and strict justice had been tested legally and had failed. They concluded that the time had come to make legislation take a further step forward and that Edition: current; Page: [73] it ought, in a word, to become imbued with the principle of fraternity. This has given rise to the schools of the followers of Saint-Simon, Fourier, communism, and Owen; to attempts to organize work; to declarations that the state owes subsistence, well-being, and education to all its citizens; that it should be generous, charitable, involved in everything, and devoted to all; that its mission is to give milk to babies, educate young people, ensure work for the able-bodied and pensions for the weak; in a word, that it should intervene directly to alleviate all forms of suffering, satisfy and anticipate every need, supply capital to all enterprises, enlightenment to all minds, balm to every wound, asylums to all misfortunes, and even help end the sacrifice of French blood to all the oppressed around the world.

Once again, who would not wish to see all these benefits flow over the world from the law as though from an everlasting source? Who would not be happy to see the state assume responsibility for every trouble, every precaution, every responsibility, every duty, and every arduous and weighty burden that the impenetrable design of Providence has placed on humanity, and reserve for the individuals who make it up the attractive and easy side of things: the satisfactions, enjoyments, certainties, peace, rest, a present that is always assured and a future full of gaiety, wealth without care, a family without responsibility, credit without surety, and an existence without effort?

Certainly, we would all like that, if it were possible. But is it possible? That is the question. It is not easy to grasp what people mean by the state. I find, in the perpetual personification of the state, the strangest and most humiliating mystification of all. What in fact is this state that takes on itself all virtues, all duties, and all liberalities? From where does it draw these resources that we urge it to shower such bounty on individual people? Is it not from the individuals themselves? How then can these resources grow when they pass through the hands of a parasitic and voracious intermediary? It is not clear, on the contrary, that this system is such that it will absorb a great deal of useful effort and reduce the workers’ share of income by an equivalent amount? Do we not also see that workers will abandon to it, along with part of their well-being, part of their freedom?

From whatever point of view I consider human law, I cannot see that we can reasonably ask of it anything other than justice.

Take religion, for example. Certainly, it would be desirable for there to be just one belief, one faith, and one religion in the world, on condition that it was the true faith. But however desirable unity may be, diversity, that is to say research and discussion, is even better for as long as the infallible sign Edition: current; Page: [74] by which this true faith will be recognized does not shine out before men’s intelligence. The intervention of the state, even where it took fraternity as a pretext, would therefore be an oppression, an injustice if it claimed to be establishing unity, for who would guarantee that the state, unbeknown to itself perhaps, would not work to stifle truth in favor of error? Unity must result from the universal consent of freely held convictions and the natural attraction that truth exercises over the minds of men. All that we can therefore ask of the law is freedom for all forms of belief, whatever anarchy may result in the thinking world. For what does this anarchy prove? That unity is not at the origin but at the end of intellectual evolution. It is not the point of departure; it is a result. The law that would impose it would be unjust, and if justice does not necessarily imply fraternity, it will at least be agreed that fraternity excludes injustice.

The same is true of teaching. Who will not agree that, if we could reach consensus on the best form of teaching possible with regard to the subject and method, then a single methodology or one imposed by government would be preferable since, on this assumption, only error could be excluded by law. But for as long as this criterion has not been found, as long as the legislator or the minister of public education does not bear the irrefutable sign of infallibility on his forehead, the best chance for the true method to be discovered and absorb the others lies in diversity, tests, experience, and individual effort, all directed by the concern for success, in a word, freedom. The worst option is a uniform system of education by decree since, under this regime, error will be permanent, universal, and irremediable. Therefore, those who, spurred on by a sentiment of fraternity, demand that the law should direct and impose a system of education should be aware that they are running the risk that the law will direct and impose only error and that legal prohibition may attack truth by way of the intelligent minds who believe that they possess it. Well, I ask you, is it genuine fraternity that has recourse to force to impose or at least risk imposing error? Diversity is feared and stigmatized as anarchy, but it is the inevitable result of the very diversity of intelligent minds and convictions and besides, it tends to be reduced by discussion, study, and experience. In the meantime, by what right is one system valued above the others by law or political fiat? Here again, we find that this alleged fraternity, which invokes the law or legal constraint, is in opposition to justice.

I could make the same remarks with regard to the press, and in truth I find it hard to understand why those who demand a uniform education Edition: current; Page: [75] imposed by the state do not also demand the same thing for the press. The press is a form of education too. The press allows discussion because it lives by it. It therefore also contains diversity and anarchy. Why not, in accordance with these ideas, create a ministry of publicity and make it responsible for inspiring all the books and journals in France? Either the state is infallible, in which case we could not do better than to submit to it the entire domain of intelligent thought, or it is not, in which case it is no more rational to hand over education to it than to the press.

If I consider our relationships with foreigners, in this case, too, I see no rule except justice, so prudent, solid, and acceptable to all that it is capable of becoming a law. To submit these relationships to the principle of legal, obligatory fraternity is to decree perpetual and universal war, for it would become an obligation for us to place our forces and the blood and treasure of our citizens at the service of anyone who claimed them with regard to any cause that arouses the sympathy of the legislator. What a singular form of fraternity! A long time ago Cervantes personified its ridiculous vanity.

But it is above all with regard to work that the dogma of fraternity seems to me to be dangerous, where, contrary to the idea that is the essence of this sacred word, plans are made to incorporate it into our codes, accompanied by the penal dispositions that sanction any positive law.

Fraternity always implies the idea of selflessness and sacrifice, and because of this it arouses tears of admiration whenever it occurs. If it is said, as some socialists do say, that acts of fraternity are profitable to their author, there is no need to decree them; men do not need a law to induce them to make a profit. Besides, this point of view degrades and much tarnishes the notion of fraternity.

Let us therefore leave it its character, summed up in these words: a voluntary sacrifice inspired by fraternal sentiment.

If you make fraternity a legal prescription, whose acts are prescribed and made obligatory by the industrial code, what remains of this definition? Only one thing: sacrifice, but an involuntary sacrifice, one that is forced, determined by a fear of punishment. And in good faith, what is a sacrifice of this nature, imposed on one person for the benefit of another? Is this fraternity? No, it is injustice. The word must be spoken; it is legal plunder, the worst form of plunder, since it is systematic, permanent, and unavoidable.

What was Barbès doing when in the session on 15 May he introduced a tax of a billion in favor of the suffering classes? He was putting your principle into practice. This is so true that the proclamation by Sobrier, which Edition: current; Page: [76] comes to the same conclusion as the speech by Barbès, starts with this preamble: “The consideration that fraternity must no longer be an empty word but must be revealed through actions entails the following: capitalists, identified as such, will pay, etc.”

You who are protesting, what right have you to blame Barbès and So-brier? What have they done apart from being slightly more consistent than you and taking your own principle a little further?

I say that when this principle is introduced into legislation, even when it first makes just a timid appearance, it paralyzes capital and labor, for nothing guarantees that it will not develop further indefinitely. Do we need so many reasoned arguments to show that where men are no longer certain of enjoying the fruit of their work they no longer work or work less? You should be fully aware that insecurity is the major cause of paralysis of investment. It drives investment away and prevents it from building up, and then what happens to those very classes whose sufferings are allegedly being relieved? I sincerely think that this phenomenon alone is enough to make the most prosperous of nations descend rapidly to a level below that of Turkey.

The sacrifice imposed on some in favor of others through the operation of taxes obviously loses its fraternal character. Who therefore gains the merit for it? Is it the legislator? The only cost to him is casting a ball into an urn. Is it the tax collector? He obeys for fear of losing his job. Is it the taxpayer? He pays in self-defense. To whom therefore will be attributed the merit that selflessness implies. Where is the morality to be found?

Extralegal plunder arouses total aversion and turns against itself all the forces of public opinion, making them agree with the notions of justice. Legal plunder, on the other hand, is accomplished without disturbing consciences, which leads only to a weakening of a moral sense within a people.

With courage and prudence, we can avoid the plunder that is contrary to law. Nothing can protect us from legal plunder. If someone tries it, what dreadful sight is set before society? A plunderer armed by the law against a victim resisting the law.

When on the pretext of fraternity the law imposes mutual sacrifices on citizens, human nature does not for this reason lose its rights. Each person strives to contribute little to the sacrificial heap and to receive a great deal from it. However, in this struggle, are the most unfortunate the ones that gain most? Certainly not, those who gain the most are the most influential and the greatest schemers.

Are union, agreement, and harmony at least the fruit of fraternity as we Edition: current; Page: [77] have understood it? Doubtless, fraternity is the divine chain that in the long run will bind in unity all individuals, families, nations, and races. But this is on condition that it remains as it is, that is to say, the most free, spontaneous, voluntary, meritorious, and religious of sentiments. Its mask will not accomplish the prodigy, and it will be in vain that legal plunder adopts the name of fraternity with its features, formulae, and insignia. Legal plunder will always be just a principle of discord, confusion, unjust claims, terror, deprivation, inertia, and hatred.

A serious objection is made. We are told: “It is true that freedom and equality before the law constitute justice. But strict justice remains neutral between the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak, the scholar and the ignorant, the owner and the proletarian, the fellow countryman and the foreigner. However, since self-interests are by nature antagonistic, leaving men their freedom and allowing only just laws to intervene between them is to sacrifice the poor, the weak, the ignorant, the proletarian, and the athlete who presents himself unarmed for the combat.”

“What could result from this freedom of production on which so much hope had been banked,” said M. Considérant, “from this celebrated principle of free competition, which was thought to be so strongly endowed with the characteristics of democratic organization? The only result would be collective enthrallment of the propertyless masses, who are also without manufactured weapons or the wherewithal of production or education, in a word, their general subservience to the class that is well endowed with power over production and well armed to boot. It is said that ‘the lists are open, each individual is called to combat and the conditions are the same for all combatants.’ Very well, only one thing has been forgotten, and that is that on this great battlefield some are educated, seasoned, equipped, and armed to the teeth, that they possess a major procurement system, equipment, ammunition, and weapons of war and occupy all the positions; whereas the others are deprived, naked, ignorant, and famished and, in order to scrape a daily living for themselves and their wives and children, are obliged to implore their opponents themselves to give them work of sorts and a meager wage.”12

What, are we comparing work with war? These arms that are being called capital, which consist in procurements of all sorts and which can never be Edition: current; Page: [78] employed for other than conquering rebellious nature, are being assimilated through a deplorable sophism with the bloody weapons which in combat men turn against one another! It is obvious that it is too easy to calumniate the industrial order by using the vocabulary of war to decry it.

The profound and irreconcilable disagreement on this point between socialists and economists consists in this: The socialists believe in the inherent antagonism of self-interests. The economists believe in natural harmony or rather in the necessary and progressive harmonization of self-interests. This sums it all up.

From the premise that self-interests are naturally antagonistic, socialists are led by the force of logic to seek an artificial organization for self-interests or even to stifle the sentiment of self-interest in the hearts of men if they can. This is what they tried to do in the Luxembourg Palace. However, although they are crazy enough, they are not strong enough and it goes without saying that, having ranted against individualism in their books, they sell their books and behave exactly like common mortals in ordinary daily life.

Well, if interests were naturally antagonistic, then justice, freedom, and equality before the law probably should be trampled underfoot. The world would need to be remade or, as they say, society would need to be reconstructed, according to one of the innumerable plans they are always inventing. Self-interest, an unruly principle, should be replaced by legal, imposed, involuntary, and obligatory selflessness, in a word, organized plunder, and since this new principle would arouse only infinite repugnance and resistance, attempts would first be made to have it accepted under the dishonest misnomer of fraternity, after which the law would be invoked, which would mean force.

But if Providence has not erred, if it has arranged things in such a way that personal interests under the law of justice naturally achieve perfectly harmonious agreements, if, as M. de Lamartine says, they arrive through freedom at a form of justice with which despotism could never supply them, if the equality of rights is the most certain and direct way to equality in fact, well then, all that we can ask of the law is to provide justice, freedom, and equality, just as all that we ask is the removal of obstacles so that the drops of water that make up the ocean find their own level.13

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And that is the conclusion reached by political economy. It does not seek this conclusion, it finds it, but it is happy to find it since, in the end, is it not highly satisfactory for the spirit to see harmony in freedom where others are reduced to demanding it from despotism?

The words full of hatred with which socialists oft en address us are really very strange! What then! If by mischance we were mistaken, should they not deplore this? What are we saying? We say: After mature consideration, it has to be acknowledged that God has done well, so that the best conditions under which progress can occur are justice and freedom.

Socialists think we are mistaken; that is their right. But they should at least be sorry about this, for if our error is proved it implies that it is urgent to substitute the artificial for the natural, arbitrary systems for freedom, and contingent and human inventions for eternal and divine design.

Let us imagine that a chemistry professor comes and tells us: “The world is threatened with a major catastrophe; God has not taken sufficient precautions. I have analyzed the air escaping from human lungs and seen that it is no longer fit to breathe, so that, calculating the volume of the atmosphere, I can predict the day when it will be totally corrupted and when humanity will perish by consumption unless it adopts the artificial means of respiration that I have invented.”

Another professor comes forward and says: “No, humanity will not perish in this way. It is true that the air that is used for animal life is no longer fit for this use, but it is fit for plant life and that exhaled by plants is fit for humans to breathe. An incomplete study led people to believe that God made a mistake; more detailed research has shown that He included harmony in His work. Men can continue to breathe as nature intended.”

What would people have said if the first professor had covered the second with insults, saying: “You are a chemist with a heart that is hard, dry, and cold. You are preaching a dreadful laissez-faire; you do not like humanity, as is shown in your demonstrating the uselessness of my breathing apparatus”?

This encapsulates our entire quarrel with the socialists. Both our camps want harmony. They seek it through the countless theoretical systems they want imposed on people by law; we find it in the nature of people and things.

This would be the right place to demonstrate that self-interest leads to Edition: current; Page: [80] harmony, since this is the entire question, but to do this would require me to give a course in political economy and the reader will forgive me for not doing so right now.14 I will say only this: If political economy succeeds in recognizing the harmony of personal interests, it is because, unlike socialism, it does not stop at the immediate consequences of phenomena, but proceeds to their subsequent and final effects. That is its whole secret. The two schools differ exactly as the two chemists I have just mentioned do; one sees part of the picture and the other the whole. For example, when the socialists are prepared to take the trouble to follow the effects of competition right to the end, that is, right up to the consumer, instead of stopping at the producer, they will see that competition is the most powerful agent for equality and progress, whether it occurs inside the country or comes from abroad. And it is because political economy finds what constitutes harmony in this definitive effect that it says: In my field, there is a lot to learn and little to do. A lot to learn because the sequence of effects can be followed only with great application; little to do since the harmony of the entire phenomenon comes from the final effect.

I have had the opportunity of discussing this question with the eminent man that the revolution has raised to such great heights.15 I told him: As the law acts through constraint we can ask only justice of it. He thought that nations could also expect fraternity of it. Last August, he wrote to me: “If ever in a crisis I find myself at the helm of events, your idea will be half of my creed.” I sent him this reply: “The second half of your creed will stifle the first, since you cannot establish legal fraternity without establishing legal injustice.”16

I will end by saying to the socialists: If you believe that political economy rejects association, organization, and fraternity, you are mistaken.

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Association! And do we not know that this is society itself in the constant throes of improvement?

Organization! And do we not know that it makes all the difference between a heap of heterogeneous elements and nature’s masterpieces?

Fraternity! And do we not know that this is to justice what impulses of the heart are to cold calculations of the mind?

We agree with you on this; we applaud your efforts to spread on the field of humanity the seed that will bear fruit in the future.

But we oppose you from the instant you call the law and taxes, that is to say, constraint and plunder, into play, since, apart from the fact that this recourse to force shows that you have more faith in yourselves than in the genius of humanity, this recourse is enough, in our view, to change the very nature and essence of the teaching that you are endeavoring to put into practice.17

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6: Individualism and Fraternity

[vol. 7, p. 328. “Individualisme et fraternité.” Possibly June 1848. n.p.]

A systematic view of history and the destiny of mankind, which seems to me to be as erroneous as it is dangerous, has recently been produced.1

According to this system, the world is divided into three principles: authority, individualism, and fraternity.

Authority relates to the aristocratic eras, individualism to the reign of the bourgeoisie, and fraternity to the triumph of the people.

The first of these principles is above all incarnated in the pope. It leads to oppression by stifling personality.

The second, inaugurated by Luther, leads to oppression through anarchy.

The third, announced by the thinkers in La Montagne, has given birth to true freedom by shrouding men in the ties of harmonious association.

As the people have been the masters in only one country, France, and for a short period, in’93, we still know the theoretical value and practical attractions of fraternity only through the attempt so noisily made at it at that time. Unfortunately, union and love, personified in Robespierre, were only half able to stifle individualism, which reappeared the day after 9 Thermidor.2 It still prevails.

What is individualism, then? The author of the work to which we are referring defines it as follows:

“The principle of individualism is that which, taking man out of society, makes him the sole judge of what surrounds him and of himself, gives him Edition: current; Page: [83] an exalted view of his rights without indicating his duties, abandons him to his own resources, and, with regard to all matters of government, proclaims the system of laissez-faire.”3

That is not all. Individualism, the driving force of the bourgeoisie, was bound to invade the three major branches of human activity: religion, politics, and industry. From this sprang three major individualist schools: the school of philosophy, with Voltaire as its leading light, which by demanding freedom of thought led us to a profound moral anarchy; the school of politics, founded by Montesquieu, which, instead of political freedom, brought us an oligarchy based on a property franchise; and the school of economists, represented by Turgot, which, instead of economic freedom, bequeathed us competition between rich and poor to the advantage of the rich.4

We see that up to now humanity has been very poorly inspired and that it has gone wrong at every turn. This has not, however, been through lack of warnings, since the principle of fraternity has always issued its protests and reservations through the voices of Jean Huss,5 Morelli, Mably, and Rousseau and through the efforts of Robespierre.

But what is fraternity? “The principle of fraternity is that which, considering the members of the extended family as being interdependent, tends to organize the various forms of society, the work of man, in line with the model of the human body, the work of God, and bases the power of government on persuasion and the voluntary acquiescence of the heart.6

This is M. Blanc’s system. What makes it dangerous in my view, apart from the brilliance with which it is set out, is that in it the true and the false are intermingled in proportions that are difficult to determine. I have Edition: current; Page: [84] no intention of studying it in all its symmetrical ramifications. In order to respect the requirements of this booklet, I will consider it principally from the point of view of political economy.

I must admit that when it is a question of setting out the principles which, in a given era, were the driving force of the social body, I would like them expressed in terms less vague than individualism and fraternity.

Individualism7 is a new word that has been simply substituted for egoism. It is an exaggeration of the concept of personality.

Man is essentially a sympathetic creature. The more his powers of sympathy are concentrated on himself, the more of an egoist he is. The more they embrace his fellow men, the more of a philanthropist he is.

Egoism8 is thus like all other vices, like all other prevarications; that is to say, it is as old as man himself. This can also be said of philanthropy. In all eras, under all regimes, and in all classes, there have been men who were hard, cold, self-centered, and who related everything to themselves, and others who were good, generous, humane, and selfless. I do not think that we can make one of these states of mind the basis of society any more than we can anger or gentleness, energy or weakness.

It is therefore impossible to accept that from a fixed date in history, for example, from the time of Luther, all the efforts of the human race have been systematically, and so to speak providentially, devoted to the triumph of individualism.

On what basis can it be held that an exaggerated sense of self was born in modern times? When ancient people pillaged and ravaged the world, reducing those they conquered to slavery, were they not acting under the influence of an egoism of the highest degree? If, in order to ensure victory, overcome resistance, and escape the frightful fate they reserved for those they called savages, alliances of warriors felt the need to join forces, if individuals were even disposed to make genuine sacrifices to this end, was egoism thereby any less egoism for being collective?

I would say the same thing with regard to domination by theological authority. Whether force or guile is used to achieve the servitude of men, whether their weakness or credulity is exploited, does not the very fact of unjust domination reveal a feeling of egoism in those who dominate? Did not Egyptian priests who imposed false beliefs on their fellow men in order Edition: current; Page: [85] to make themselves masters of their actions and even of their thought seek personal advantage through the most immoral means?

As nations became stronger they rejected plunder achieved by force. They progressed toward moral propriety and the production and economic freedom attending it, and yet some people profess to find in freedom of production the primal manifestation of selfishness!

But you who do not want production to be free must want it constrained, for there is no halfway house. Yes, there is, you say, association. This is to misunderstand words, for as long as association is voluntary, production remains free. It is not an abandonment of freedom to enter into agreements or voluntary associations with your fellow men.

As men became more enlightened, they reacted against superstition, false beliefs, and opinions that were imposed. And there you go again discovering in free inquiry a second sign of selfishness.

But you who do not accept either authority or free examination, what would you put in its place? Fraternity, you say. Will not fraternity put into my mind either totally preconceived ideas or ones it has itself elaborated?

So you do not want men to examine opinions critically! I can understand this intolerance in theologians. They are logically consistent. They say: Seek the truth in everything, traditus est mundus disputationibus eorum,9 when God has not revealed it. Where He has said: This is the truth, it would be absurd for you to want to examine it critically.

However, by what right do modern socialists refuse us the free inquiry they use so widely? They have just one means of curbing our minds and that is to claim to be inspired. A few of them have tried, but up to now they have not shown us their qualifications to be prophets.

Without calling into question their intentions, I say that at the basis of these doctrines there is the most irrational of all despotisms and consequently of all individualisms. What is more tyrannical than to want to regiment our work and minds, leaving aside, indeed not even invoking, any supernatural authority? It is not surprising that we end up seeing in Robespierre the archetype, the hero, and the apostle of fraternity.

If selfishness is not the exclusive motivation of a period in modern history, no more is it the principle that guides one class to the exclusion of all the others.

In moral sciences a certain symmetry in presentation is oft en taken for the truth. Let us be wary of superficial appearance.

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This is how the notion that modern nations are made up of three classes—the aristocracy, the bourgeoisie, and the common people—has gained credibility. Therefore, it is concluded that there is the same antagonism between the two lower classes as between the two upper ones. The bourgeoisie, it is said, has overthrown the aristocracy and taken its place. With regard to the common people, it constitutes another form of aristocracy and will, in turn, be overthrown by it.

For my part, I see only two classes in society: conquerors who fall on a country, taking possession of the land, the wealth, and legislative and judiciary power; and a common people that has been overcome, that suffers, works, grows, breaks its chains, reconquers its rights, and governs itself more or less well, or very badly, for a long time, is taken in by a great many charlatans, is oft en betrayed by its own members, learns through experience, and gradually achieves equality through freedom and fraternity through equality.10

Each of these two classes obeys an indestructible sense of itself. But if this disposition deserves the name “selfishness,” it is certainly in the case of the conquering and dominating class.

It is true that within the common people there are men who are more or less rich in infinite variation. But the difference in wealth is not enough to make up two classes. As long as a man of the common people does not turn against the common people themselves to exploit them, as long as he owes his wealth only to work and an ordered and economic life, despite the few riches he acquires and the limited influence that these riches give him, he will remain a member of the common people and it is a misuse of terminology to claim that he has entered another class, an aristocratic class.

If this were so, see what the consequences would be. An honest artisan who works hard and plans for the future, who imposes severe privations on himself, who increases the number of his customers because of the confidence he inspires, who gives his son a rather fuller education than the one he received himself, would be on the way to joining the bourgeoisie. This is a man to be distrusted, a nascent aristocrat, an egoist.

If, on the contrary, he is lazy, dissipated, improvident, if he totally lacks the dynamism necessary for making a few savings, we can then be certain that he will remain one of the common people. He will adhere to the principle of fraternity.

And now, how will all these men retained in the ranks of the lowest of Edition: current; Page: [87] society through improvidence, through vice, and only too oft en, I admit, because of misfortune understand the principle of equality and fraternity? Who will be their defender, their idol, their apostle? Do I need to name him? . . .

Abandoning the theater of polemics, I will endeavor, as far as my strength and time allow, to consider egoistical individualism and fraternity from the point of view of political economy.

I will begin by declaring very frankly that the concept of the individual, of self-love, the instinct of self-preservation, the indestructible desire within man to develop himself, to increase the sphere of his action, increase his influence, his aspiration to happiness, in a word, individuality, appears to me to be the point of departure, the motive and universal dynamic to which Providence has entrusted the progress of humanity. It is absolutely in vain that this principle arouses hostility in modern socialists. Alas! Let them look into themselves; let them go deep into their consciences and they will rediscover this drive, just as we find gravity in all the molecules of matter. They may reproach Providence for having made man as he is and, as a pastime, seek to find out what would happen to society if the divinity, accepting them as counselors, changed his creatures to suit another design. These are dreams for distracting the imagination, but it is not on these that social sciences are founded.

There is no feeling that is so constantly active in man or so dynamic as the sense of self.

We can differ in the way we conceive happiness or seek it in wealth, power, and glory or the terror we inspire, in the responsiveness of our fellow men, in the satisfaction of vanity or the crown of election, but continue to seek it we do and we cannot stop ourselves from doing so.

From this it must be concluded that egoistic individualism, which is the sense of self taken in its unfavorable meaning, is as old as the concept itself, since there is not one of his qualities, above all the one most inherent in its nature, that man cannot abuse and has not abused through the ages. To claim that the sense of self has always been held within just limits, except since the time of Luther and among the bourgeoisie, can be considered only a form of wit.

I think that the contrary thesis, in any case a more consoling one, could with more reason be held, and here are my arguments.

It is a sad truth, but one born of experience, that men in general give full rein to the sense of self and consequently abuse it up to the point at which they can do so with impunity. I say in general, since I am far from claiming Edition: current; Page: [88] that the inspiration of conscience, natural benevolence, or religious prescriptions have not oft en been enough to prevent personality from degenerating into egoism. However, it can be stated that the general obstacle to the exaggerated development or abuse of the sense of self is not in us but outside us. It is in the other personalities who surround us and react when we upset them to the point of keeping us in check, if you will excuse the expression.

This having been said, the more a gathering of men finds itself surrounded by weak or credulous beings and the less it finds obstacles in them, the more the concept of personality has to grow stronger in them and break the bounds that reconcile it with the general good.

Thus we see the peoples in classical times desolated by war, slavery, superstition, and despotism, all manifestations of egoism in men stronger or more enlightened than their fellows. It is never through action on itself in obedience to the moral laws that the concept of personality is confined within its just limits. To restrict it to these, it has been necessary for force and enlightenment to become the common heritage of the masses; and it is just as necessary that individualism, when manifested through force, is brought to a halt by a superior force, and when manifested through deceit, perishes through lack of support from public credulity.

Perhaps it will be thought that the representation of personalities as in a state of virtually perpetual antagonism containable only by a balance of force and enlightenment constitutes a very gloomy doctrine. It would follow that, as soon as this balance is disturbed, as soon as a people or a class realizes that they are endowed with irresistible force or an intellectual superiority that might make other peoples or classes subservient to them, the sense of self is always ready to exceed its limits and degenerate into egoism and oppression.

It is not a question of knowing whether this doctrine is gloomy, but whether it is true and whether the constitution of man is not such that he has to win his independence and security by the development of his strength and intelligence. Life is a conflict. This has been true up to now, and we have no reason to believe that that will ever cease to be the case as long as man carries within his heart this sense of self that is so ready to exceed its limits.

The socialist schools endeavor to fill the world with hopes that we cannot prevent ourselves from considering to be illusory, precisely because they take no account, in their trivial theories, of this indelible disposition and the unchangeable nature that drives it, if it is not contained, toward its own exaggeration.

We search in vain in their mathematical systems of series and harmonies Edition: current; Page: [89] for the obstacle to the abuse of personality, for we will never find it. The socialists appear to us to be revolving ceaselessly in this vicious circle: if all men wish to be selfless, we have found social forms that will maintain fraternity and harmony between them.

For this reason, when they come to propose something which appears to be practical, we always see them dividing humanity into two parts: on the one hand, the state, the ruling power which they take to be infallible, impeccable, and free from any egoistic character; on the other, the people who no longer need plans for the future or any guarantees as to their security.

To carry out their plans, they are reduced to entrusting the ruling of the world to a power that is drawn, so to speak, from outside humanity. They invent a word: the state. They suppose that the state is a being that exists in itself, that possesses an inexhaustible amount of wealth independent from society’s wealth, and that by means of this wealth the state can provide work for everyone and ensure everyone’s existence. They take no heed of the fact that the state can only give back to society goods that it started off taking from it, and that it can actually give back only a part of these; nor furthermore, that the state is made up of men endowed with the sense of self, which in them just as in those being governed is inclined to degenerate into abuse; nor that one of the greatest temptations enticing one personality to offend others occurs when the man concerned is powerful and able to overcome resistance. In truth, although they have never expressed many views on this subject, the socialists probably hope that the state will be supported by institutions, by education, by foresight, and by close and severe supervision of the masses. However, if this is to be so, the masses have to be enlightened and farsighted, and the system of governance that I am examining tends precisely to destroy the foresight of the masses since it makes the state responsible for supplying all necessities, combating all obstacles, and providing for everyone.

But, people will say, if the sense of self is indestructible, if it has the disastrous tendency to degenerate into abuse, if the force that represses it is not within us but exterior to us, if it is contained within just limits only by the resistance and reaction of other selves, if the men who exercise power do not escape this law any more than those on whom power is exercised, so that society can be maintained in good order only by the constant vigilance of all its members over each other and in particular by those governed over those who govern, then radical antagonism is irremediable. We have no other safeguards against oppression than a sort of balance among all the Edition: current; Page: [90] egoisms that keep one another in check; and fraternity, the principle that is so comforting, whose very name touches and softens hearts, that is capable of realizing all the hopes of all men of goodwill, uniting men through the bonds of friendship, this principle, proclaimed eighteen centuries ago by a voice that almost all of humanity has held to be divine, would be banished forever from the world.

God forbid that this should be our thought. We have ascertained that the sense of individuality is a general human law, and we believe that this fact is beyond doubt.

It is now a matter of knowing whether the fully understood and constant interest of a man, a class, or a nation is radically opposed to the interest of another man, class, or nation. If this is so, it has to be stated with sorrow but truthfully that fraternity is just a dream, since it must not be expected that each person will sacrifice himself for others, and if this happened, we cannot see how humanity would gain, since the sacrifice of each one would be equivalent to the sacrifice of the entire human race; this would constitute universal misfortune.

But if, on the contrary, by studying the action that men exercise over one another, we discover that their general interests concur, that progress, morality, and the wealth of all are conditions for the progress, morality, and wealth of each individual, we will then understand how the concept of individuality is reconciled with that of fraternity.

There is one condition, however. It is that this agreement does not consist in a vain proclamation but is clearly, rigorously, and scientifically demonstrated.

When this happens, as this demonstration is better understood and inculcated in a greater number of intelligent minds, that is to say, as enlightenment and moral science progress, the principle of fraternity will extend further and further throughout the human race.

Well, this is the comforting demonstration that we think we can make.

First of all, what should we understand by the word fraternity?

Should we, as it is said, take this word literally? And does it imply that we should love everyone currently living on the surface of the globe as we love the brother who was conceived in the same womb and fed on the same milk and whose cradle, games, emotions, sufferings, and joys we have shared? Obviously this is not the meaning of the word that we should accept. No man could exist for more than a few minutes if each sorrow, each setback, or each death that occurred around the world had to arouse in him the same emotion Edition: current; Page: [91] as if it concerned his brother, and if the socialist gentlemen are adamant on this point (and they are very adamant . . . when it applies to others), they have to be told that nature is much less demanding. It is useless for us to beat our breasts or indulge in the affectation of words, so commonly seen these days; we will never, fortunately, be able to raise our sensitivity to this height. If nature does not allow this, morality forbids it, too. We all have to fulfill our duties toward ourselves, those close to us, our friends, our colleagues, and all those whose existence depends on us. We are also responsible to our profession and for the functions entrusted to us. For most of us these duties take up all our time, and it is impossible for us to be able always to have a thought for and make our immediate aim the general interests of humanity.

The question is to establish whether the scheme of things, resulting from the way men organize themselves and their perfectibility, does not lead to individual interests becoming increasingly merged with the general interest, and whether we are not brought by observation and perhaps by experience to desire the general good and consequently to contribute to it. In this case, the code of fraternity would arise from the very sense of self to which at first sight it is opposed.

Here, I need to return to a fundamental idea, one I have already discussed in this book11 in the articles titled “Competition” and “Population.”

With the exception of blood relationships and acts of pure selflessness and self-sacrifice, I think it can be said that the whole economy of a society is based on exchanged services.

However, to anticipate any misinterpretation, I have to say a word on self-sacrifice, which is the voluntary sacrifice of the sense of self.

Economists are accused of not taking self-sacrifice into account and perhaps despising it. Please God, we will never fail to recognize the power and grandeur in self-sacrifice. Nothing that is great and generous, nothing that arouses fellow feeling and admiration in men can be accomplished except Edition: current; Page: [92] through selflessness. Man is not just an intelligent mind, and he is not merely a calculating being. He has a soul, and in this soul there is a germ of fellow feeling which may be developed until it attains universal love, to the point of the most absolute sacrifice, at which point it produces the generous actions that, when narrated, bring tears to our eyes.

However, economists do not think that everyday events in our lives, the daily and constant actions that men carry out to keep themselves alive and fed and to develop themselves can be based on the principle of self-sacrifice. Well, these acts and transactions that are freely negotiated are the very ones that are the subject of political economy. The field is sufficiently large to constitute a science. Men’s actions relate to a variety of sciences: when they give rise to dispute, they are subject to the science of law; when they are subject to the direct influence of the established authority, they relate to politics; and when they call for the effort we consider virtue, they concern morality or religion.

None of these sciences can do without the others and even less contradict them. However, we should not require one of them to embrace the others totally. And although economists have little to say about self-sacrifice since this is not their subject, we dare to assert that their biographies in this respect can bear comparison with those of writers who have embraced other doctrines. In the same way as priests have little to say about value and competition because these things are only indirectly concerned with the sphere of their predications, they buy and sell just like common mortals. This can also be said of socialists.

Let us say, then, that in human actions, those that form the subject of economic science involve the exchange of services.

Perhaps people will find that this is to disparage the science. However, I sincerely believe that it is substantial, although simpler than is supposed, and that it is entirely based on these vulgar notions: give me this and I will give you that; do this for me and I will do that for you. I cannot conceive of any other forms of human transaction. The intervention of cash, merchants, and middlemen may complicate this elementary system and obscure our view of it. It is nonetheless typical of all economic acts.

Edition: current; Page: [93]

7: The State

[vol. 4, p. 327. “L’État.” Originally published in the 25 September 1848 issue of Le Journal des débats.]

I would like someone to sponsor a prize, not of five hundred francs but of a million, with crowns, crosses, and ribbons for whoever can provide a good, simple, and understandable definition of the words “the state.”

What a huge service this person would be doing to society!

The state! What is this? Where is it? What does it do? What ought it to be doing?

All we know about it is that it is a mysterious being and is definitely the one that is most solicited and most tormented and is the busiest; the one to whom the most advice is given; the one most accused, most invoked, and most provoked in the world.

For, sir, I do not have the honor of knowing you, but I will bet ten to one that for the last six months you have been constructing utopias; and if you have been doing so, I will bet ten to one that you are making the state responsible for bringing them into existence.

And you, madam, I am certain that in your heart of hearts you would like to cure all the suffering of humanity and that you would not be in the slightest put out if the state just wanted to help in this.

But alas! The unfortunate being, like Figaro, does not know whom to listen to nor which way to turn. The hundred thousand voices of the press and the tribune are all calling out to this being at once:

  • Organize work and the workers.
  • Root out selfishness.
  • Repress the insolence and tyranny of capital.
  • Carry out experiments on manure and eggs.
  • Criss-cross the country with railways.
  • Irrigate the plains.Edition: current; Page: [94]
  • Reforest the mountains.
  • Set up model farms.
  • Set up harmonious workshops.
  • Colonize Algeria.
  • Provide children with milk.
  • Educate the young.
  • Succor the elderly.
  • Send the inhabitants of towns to the country.
  • Bear hard on the profits of all industries.
  • Lend money interest free to those who want it.
  • Liberate Italy, Poland, and Hungary.
  • Breed and improve saddle horses.
  • Encourage art and train musicians and dancers for us.
  • Prohibit trade and at the same time create a merchant navy.
  • Discover truth and toss into our heads a grain of reason. The mission of the state is to enlighten, develop, expand, fortify, spiritualize, and sanctify the souls of peoples.1

“Oh, sirs, have a little patience,” the state replies pitifully. “I will try to satisfy you, but I need some resources to do this. I have prepared some projects relating to five or six bright, new taxes that are the most benign the world has ever seen. You will see how pleased you will be to pay them.”

At that, a great cry arises: “Just a minute! Where is the merit in doing something with resources? It would not be worth calling yourself the state. Far from imposing new taxes on us, we demand that you remove the old ones. You must abolish:

  • The tax on salt;2
  • The tax on wines and spirits;
  • Postage tax;Edition: current; Page: [95]
  • City tolls;3
  • Trading taxes;4
  • Mandatory community service.”5

In the middle of this tumult, and after the country has changed its state two or three times because it has failed to satisfy all these demands, I wanted to point out that they were contradictory. Good heavens, what was I thinking of? Could I not keep this unfortunate remark to myself?

Here I am, discredited forever, and it is now generally accepted that I am a man without heart or feelings of pity, a dry philosopher, an individualist, a bourgeois, and, to sum it up in a single word, an economist of the English or American school.

Oh, excuse me, you sublime writers whom nothing stops, not even contradictions. I am doubtless mistaken, and I most willingly retract my statements. I do not ask for more, you may be sure, than that you have genuinely discovered, independently from us, a bountiful and inexhaustible being that calls itself the state, which has bread for every mouth, work for every arm, capital for all businesses, credit for all projects, oil for all wounds, balm Edition: current; Page: [96] for all suffering, advice for all perplexities, solutions for all doubts, truths for all intelligent minds, distractions for all forms of boredom, milk for children, wine for the elderly, a being that meets all our needs, anticipates all our desires, satisfies all our curiosity, corrects all our errors and all our faults, and relieves us all henceforth of the need for foresight, prudence, judgment, wisdom, experience, order, economy, temperance, and activity.

And why would I not desire this? May God forgive me, but the more I reflect on this, the more the convenience of the thing appeals to me, and I too am anxious to have access to this inexhaustible source of wealth and enlightenment, this universal doctor and infallible counsellor that you are calling the state.

This being so, I ask you to show it to me and define it for me, and this is why I am proposing the establishment of a prize for the first person who discovers this phoenix. For in the end, people will agree with me that this precious discovery has not yet been made, since up to now all that has come forward under the name of the state has been overturned instantly by the people, precisely because it does not fulfill the somewhat contradictory conditions of the program.

Does this need to be said? I fear that we are, in this respect, the dupes of one of the strangest illusions ever to have taken hold of the human mind.

Man rejects pain and suffering. And yet he is condemned by nature to the suffering privation brings if he does not embark upon the pain of work. All he has, therefore, is a choice between these two evils. How can he avoid both? Up to now, he has only found and will only ever find one means, that is, to enjoy the work of others, to act in such a way that pain and satisfaction do not accrue to each person in accordance with natural proportions, but that all pain accrues to some and all satisfaction to the others. From this we get slavery or even plunder, in whatever form it takes: wars, imposture, violence, restrictions, fraud, etc., all monstrous forms of abuse but in line with the thought that has given rise to them. We should hate and combat oppressors, but we cannot say that they are absurd.

Slavery is receding, thank heaven, and on the other hand, our aptitude for defending our property means that direct and crude plunder is not easy to do. However, one thing has remained. It is this unfortunate primitive tendency within all men to divide into two our complex human lot, shifting pain onto others and keeping satisfaction for themselves. It remains to be seen in what new form this sorry tendency will manifest itself.

Oppressors no longer act directly on the oppressed using their own Edition: current; Page: [97] forces. No, our conscience has become too scrupulous for that. There are still tyrants and victims certainly, but between them has placed itself the intermediary that is the state, that is to say, the law itself. What is more calculated to silence our scruples and, perhaps more appealing, to overcome our resistance? For this reason, we all make calls upon the state on one ground or pretext or another. We tell it, “I do not consider that there is a satisfactory relation between the goods I enjoy and my work. I would like to take a little from the property of others to establish the balance I desire. But this is dangerous. Can you not make my task easier? Could you not provide me with a good position? Or else hinder the production of my competitors? Or else make me an interest-free loan of the capital you have taken from its owners? Or raise my children at public expense? Or award me subsidies? Or ensure my well-being when I reach the age of fifty? By these means I will achieve my aim with a perfectly clear conscience, since the law itself will have acted on my behalf and I will achieve all the advantages of plunder without ever having incurred either its risks or opprobrium!

As it is certain, on the one hand, that we all address more or less similar requests to the state and, on the other, it is plain that the state cannot procure satisfaction for some without adding to the work of the others, while waiting for a new definition of the state I think I am authorized to give my own here. Who knows whether it will not carry off the prize? Here it is:

The state is the great fiction by which everyone endeavors to live at the expense of everyone else.

For today, as in the past, each person more or less wants to profit from the work of others. We do not dare display this sentiment; we even hide it from ourselves, and then what do we do? We design an intermediary, we address ourselves to the state, and each class in turn comes forward to say to it, “You who can take things straightforwardly and honestly, take something from the general public and we will share it.” Alas! The state has a very ready tendency to follow this diabolical advice as it is made up of ministers and civil servants, in short, men, who like all men are filled with the desire and are always quick to seize the opportunity to see their wealth and influence increase. The state is therefore quick to understand the profit it can make from the role that the general public has entrusted to it. It will be the arbiter and master of every destiny. It will take a great deal; therefore a great deal will remain to it. It will increase the number of its agents and widen the circle of its attributions. It will end by achieving crushing proportions.

But what we should clearly note is the astonishing blindness of the general Edition: current; Page: [98] public in all this. When happy soldiers reduced the conquered to slavery, they were barbaric, but they were not absurd. Their aim, like ours, was to live at someone else’s expense, but they did not fail to do so like us. What ought we to think of a people who do not appear to have any idea that reciprocal pillage is no less pillage because it is reciprocal, that it is no less criminal because it is executed legally and in an orderly fashion, that it adds nothing to public well-being, and that, on the contrary, it reduces well-being by everything that this spendthrift of an intermediary that we call the state costs us?

And we have placed this great illusion at the forefront of the Constitution to edify the people. These are the opening words of the preamble:

France has set itself up as a republic in order to . . . call all its citizens to an increasingly higher level of morality, enlightenment, and well-being.

Thus, it is France, an abstraction, that calls French citizens, real persons, to morality, well-being, etc. Is it not wholeheartedly going along with this strange illusion that leads us to expect everything from some energy other than our own? Does it not give rise to the idea that there is, at hand and outside the French people, a being that is virtuous, enlightened, and rich that can and ought to pour benefits over them? Is it not to presume, quite gratuitously of course, that there is between France and the French, between the simple, abbreviated, abstract name of all these unique individuals and these individuals themselves, a relationship of father and child, tutor and pupil, teacher and schoolchild? I am fully aware that it is sometimes metaphorically said that the fatherland is a tender mother. However, to catch a constitutional proposition in flagrant inanity, you need to show only that it can be inverted, not without inconvenience but even advantageously. Would accuracy have suffered if the preamble had said:

The French people have set themselves up as a republic in order to call France to an increasingly higher level of morality, enlightenment, and well-being?

Well, what is the value of an axiom in which the subject and attribute can change places without causing trouble? Everyone understands that you can say: “Mothers suckle their children.” But it would be ridiculous to say: “Children suckle their mothers.”

The Americans had another concept of the relationship between citizens Edition: current; Page: [99] and the state when they placed at the head of their Constitution these simple words:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain, etc.6

Here we have no illusions, no abstraction from which its citizens ask everything. They do not expect anything other than from themselves and their own energy. They place no expectations on anything other than themselves and their own energy. Or they place their expectations only on themselves and their own energy.

If I have taken the liberty of criticizing the opening words of our Constitution, it is because it is not a question, as one might believe, of wholly metaphysical subtlety. I claim that this personification of the state has been in the past and will be in the future a rich source of calamities and revolutions.

Here are the public on one side and the state on the other, considered to be two distinct beings, the latter obliged to spread over the former and the former having the right to claim from the latter a flood of human happiness. What is bound to happen?

In fact, the state is not and cannot be one-handed. It has two hands, one to receive and the other to give; in other words, the rough hand and the gentle hand. The activity of the second is of necessity subordinate to the activity of the first. Strictly speaking, the state is able to take and not give back. This has been seen and is explained by the porous and absorbent nature of its hands, which always retain part and sometimes all of what they touch. But what has never been seen, will never be seen, and cannot even be conceived is that the state will give to the general public more than it has taken from them. It is therefore a sublime folly for us to adopt toward the state the humble attitude of beggars. It is radically impossible for the state to confer a particular advantage on some of the individuals who make up the community without inflicting greater damage on the community as a whole.

The state therefore finds itself, because of our demands, in an obvious vicious circle.

If the state refuses to supply the services being demanded of it, it is accused of impotence, lack of willpower, and incapacity. If it tries to provide them, Edition: current; Page: [100] it is reduced to inflicting redoubled taxes on the people, doing more harm than good, and attracting to itself general dislike from the other direction.

Thus there are two hopes in the general public and two promises in the government: a host of benefits and no taxes. Hopes and promises that, since they are contradictory, can never be achieved.

Then is this not the cause of all our revolutions? For between the state, which is hugely generous with impossible promises, and the general public, which has conceived unattainable hopes, have come two classes of men, those with ambition and those with utopian dreams. Their role is clearly laid out by the situation. It is enough for these courtiers of popularity to shout into the people’s ears: “The authorities are misleading you; if we were in their place, we would shower you with benefits and relieve you of taxes.”

And the people believe this, and the people hope, and the people stage a revolution.

No sooner are their friends in power than they are required to fulfill these promises. “So give me work, bread, assistance, credit, education, and colonies,” say the people, “and notwithstanding this, deliver me from the clutches of the tax authorities as you promised.”

The new state is no less embarrassed than the former state since, when it comes to the impossible, promises may well be made but not kept. It tries to play for time, which it needs to bring its huge projects to fruition. First of all, it tries a few things timidly: on the one hand, it expands primary education a little; second, it makes slight modifications to the tax on wines and spirits.7 But the contradiction still stands squarely before it; if it wants to be philanthropic it is obliged to maintain taxes, and if it renounces taxation it is also obliged to renounce philanthropy.

These two promises always, and of necessity, block each other. Making use of borrowing, in other words consuming the future, is really a current means of reconciling them; efforts are made to do a little good in the present at the expense of a great deal of evil in the future. However, this procedure evokes the specter of bankruptcy, which chases credit away. What is to be done then? The new state in this case takes its medicine bravely. It calls together forces to keep itself in power, it stifles public opinion, it has recourse to arbitrary decisions, it calls down ridicule on its former maxims, and it declares that administration can be carried out only at the cost of being unpopular. In short, it proclaims itself to be governmental.

Edition: current; Page: [101]

And it is at this point that other courtiers of popularity lie in wait. They exploit the same illusion, go down the same road, obtain the same success, and within a short time are engulfed in the same abyss.

This is the situation we reached in February.8 At that time, the illusion that is the subject of this article had penetrated even further into the minds of the people, together with socialist doctrines. More than ever, the people expected the state, in its republican robes, to open wide the tap of bounty and close that of taxation. “We have oft en been misled,” said the people, “but we ourselves will see to it that we are not misled once again.”

What could the provisional government do? Alas, only what has always been done in a like situation: make promises and play for time. The government did not hesitate to do this, and to give their promises more solemnity they set them in decrees. “An increase in well-being, a reduction of work, assistance, credit, free education, farming colonies, land clearance, and at the same time a reduction in the tax on salt, on wine and spirits, on postage, on meat, all this will be granted . . . when the National Assembly meets.”

The National Assembly met, and since two contradictory things cannot be achieved, its task, its sad task was to withdraw as gently as possible and one after the other all the decrees of the provisional government.

However, in order not to make the disappointment too cruel, a few compromises simply had to be undertaken. A few commitments have been maintained, and others have been started to a small degree. The current government is therefore endeavoring to dream up new taxes.

At this point, I will move forward in thought to a few months in the future and ask myself, with iron in my soul, what will happen when a new breed of agents goes into the countryside to raise the new taxes on inheritance, on income, and on farming profits. May the heavens give the lie to my presentiments, but I can still see a role in this for the courtiers of popularity.

Read the latest Manifesto of the Montagnards,9 the one they issued regarding the presidential elections. It is a bit long, but in the end it can be briefly summarized thus: The state must give a great deal to its citizens and Edition: current; Page: [102] take very little from them. This is always the same tactic, or if you prefer, the same error.

The state owes “free instruction and education to all its citizens.”

It owes:

“General and vocational education that is as appropriate as possible to the needs, vocations, and capacities of each citizen.”

It must:

“Teach him his duties toward God, men, and himself; develop his sensibilities, aptitudes, and faculties; and in short, give him the knowledge needed for his work, the enlightenment needed for his interests, and a knowledge of his rights.”

It must:

“Make available to everybody literature and the arts, the heritage of thought, the treasures of the mind, and all the intellectual enjoyment that elevates and strengthens the soul.”

It must:

“Put right any accident, fire, flood, etc. (this et cetera says far more than its small size would suggest), experienced by a citizen.”

It must:

“Intervene in business and labor relations and make itself the regulator of credit.”

It owes:

“Well-founded encouragement and effective protection to farmers.”

It must:

“Buy back the railways, canals, and mines,” and doubtless also run them with its legendary capacity for industry.”

It must:

“Stimulate generous initiatives, encourage them, and help them with all the resources needed to make them a triumphant success. As the regulator of credit, it will sponsor manufacturing and farming associations liberally in order to ensure their success.”

The state has to do all this without prejudicing the services which it currently carries out; and, for example, it will have to maintain a constantly hostile attitude toward foreigners since, as the signatories of the program state, “bound by this sacred solidarity and by the precedents of republican France, we send our promises made on high and our hopes soaring across the barriers that despotism raises between nations: the right we wish for Edition: current; Page: [103] ourselves we also wish for all those oppressed by the yoke of tyranny. We want our glorious army to continue to be, if necessary, the army of freedom.”

As you can see, the gentle hand of the state, that sweet hand that gives and spreads benefits widely, will be fully occupied under the Montagnard government. Might you perhaps be disposed to believe that this will be just as true of the rough hand that goes rummaging and rifling in our pockets?

Don’t you believe it! The courtiers of popularity would not be masters of their trade if they did not have the art of hiding an iron fist in a velvet glove.

Their reign will certainly be a cause for celebration for taxpayers.

“Taxes must reach the superfluous, not the essentials,” they say.

Would it not be a fine day if, in order to shower us with benefits, the tax authorities were content to make a hole in our superfluous assets?

That is not all. The aim of the Montagnards is that “taxes will lose their oppressive character and become just a fraternal act.”

Good heavens! I was well aware that it is fashionable to shove fraternity in everywhere, but I did not think it could be inserted into the tax collector’s notice.

Coming down to detail, the signatories of the program say:

“We want the taxes levied on objects of first necessity, such as salt, wines and spirits, et cetera, to be abolished immediately;

“The land tax, city tolls, and industrial licenses to be reformed;

“Justice free of charge, that is to say, a simplification of the forms and a reduction in the fees” (this is doubtless intended to milk the stamp duty).

Thus, land tax, city tolls, industrial licenses, stamp duty, salt tax, tax on wine and spirits,10 and postage would all go. These gentlemen have found the secret of giving feverish activity to the gentle hand of the state while paralyzing its rough hand.

Well then, I ask the impartial reader, is this not childishness and, what is more, dangerous childishness? What is to stop the people mounting revolution after revolution once the decision has been taken not to stop doing so until the following contradiction has been achieved: “Give nothing to the state and receive a great deal from it”?

Do people believe that if the Montagnards came to power they would not be victims of the means they employed to seize it?

Fellow citizens, since time immemorial two political systems have confronted Edition: current; Page: [104] one another and both have good arguments to support them. According to one, the state has to do a great deal, but it also has to take a great deal. According to the other, its twin action should be little felt. A choice has to be made between these two systems. But as for the third system, which takes from the two others and which consists in demanding everything from the state while giving it nothing, this is illusionary, absurd, puerile, contradictory, and dangerous. Those who advocate it to give themselves the pleasure of accusing all forms of government of impotence, and of thus exposing them to your blows, those people are flattering and deceiving you, or at the very least they are deceiving themselves.

As for us, we consider that the state is not, nor should it be, anything other than a common force, instituted not to be an instrument of mutual oppression and plunder between all of its citizens, but on the contrary to guarantee to each person his own property and ensure the reign of justice and security.11

Edition: current; Page: [105]

8: The State (draft)

[vol. 7, p. 238. “L’État.” Originally published as a draft dated 11–15 June 1848, in the first issue of Jacques Bonhomme.1

“There are those who say, ‘A financial man, such as Thiers, Fould, Goudchaux, or Girardin, will get us out of this.’ I think they are mistaken.”

“Who, then, will get us out of this?”

“The people.”


“When the people have learned this lesson: since the state has nothing it has not taken from the people, it cannot distribute largesse to the people.”

“The people know this, since they never cease to demand reductions in taxes.”

“That is true, but at the same time they never cease to demand handouts of every kind from the state.

They want the state to establish nursery schools, infant schools, and free schools for our youth, national workshops for those that are older, and retirement pensions for the elderly.

They want the state to go to war in Italy and Poland.

They want the state to found farming colonies.

They want the state to build railways.

They want the state to bring Algeria into cultivation.

They want the state to lend ten billion to landowners.

Edition: current; Page: [106]

They want the state to supply capital to workers.

They want the state to replant the forests on mountains.

They want the state to build embankments along the rivers.

They want the state to make payments without receiving any.

They want the state to lay down the law in Europe.

They want the state to support agriculture.

They want the state to give subsidies to industry.

They want the state to protect trade.

They want the state to have a formidable army.

They want the state to have an impressive navy.

They want the state to . . .”

“Have you finished?”

“I could go on for another hour at least.”

“But what is the point you are trying to make?”

“This. As long as the people want all of this, they will have to pay for it. There is no financial man alive who can do something with nothing.”

Jacques Bonhomme is sponsoring a prize of fifty thousand francs to be given to anyone who provides a good definition of the word state, for that person will be the savior of finance, industry, trade, and work.

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9: The Law

[vol. 4, p. 342. “La Loi.” Bastiat wrote this pamphlet while vacationing with his family in Mugron. June 1850. n.p.]

The law corrupt? The law—and in its train all the collective forces of the nation—the law, I repeat, not only turned aside from its purpose but used to pursue a purpose diametrically opposed to it! The law turned into an instrument of all forms of cupidity instead of being a brake on them! The law itself accomplishing the iniquity it was intended to punish! This is certainly a serious occurrence if it is true, and one to which I must be allowed to draw the attention of my fellow citizens.

We hold from God the gift that encompasses them all: life; physical, intellectual, and moral life.

However, life is not self-supporting. He who has given it to us has left us the job of looking after it, developing it, and improving it.

To do this, He has provided us with a set of exceptional faculties and immersed us in a milieu of diverse elements. It is through the application of our faculties to these elements that the phenomena of assimilation and appropriation take place, through which life proceeds along the circle allocated to it.

Existence, faculties, and assimilation—in other words, personality, freedom, and property—this is man in a nutshell.

It may be said that these three things, leaving aside any demagogical hair-splitting, precede and supersede all human legislation.

It is not because men have enacted laws that personality, freedom, and property exist. On the contrary, it is because personality, freedom, and property are already in existence that men enact laws.

What is the law, then? As I have said elsewhere, it is the collective organization of the individual right of legitimate defense.1

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Each of us certainly holds from nature and God the right to defend our person, our freedom, and our property, since these are the three elements that constitute or preserve life, elements that are mutually complementary and that cannot be understood independently of one another. For what are our faculties if not an extension of our personality, and what is property if not an extension of our faculties?

If each person has the right to defend, even by force, his person, his freedom, and his property, several people have the right to join together, to form an understanding and organize themselves into a common force in order to provide lawfully for this defense.

Collective right therefore roots its principle, its raison d’être, and its legitimacy in individual right, and common force cannot rationally have any other aim or mission than those of the individual forces for which it is a substitute.

Thus, since force on the individual level cannot legitimately be aimed at the person, freedom, or property of another individual, by the same argument force cannot legitimately be used collectively to destroy the person, freedom, or property of either individuals or classes.

This is because such misuse of force would in either case be a contradiction of our premises. Who would dare to say that we were given such power not to defend our rights, but to reduce the equal rights of our fellows to nothing? And if this is not true for each individual acting in isolation, how can it be true for collective power, which is nothing other than the organized union of the power of individuals?

Therefore, if there is one thing that is clear, it is this: law is the organization of the natural right of legitimate defense. It is the substitution of collective for individual power to facilitate action in the area in which individuals have the right to act, that is to say, to do what they have the right to do. It serves to guarantee the integrity of persons, freedoms, and property; to maintain each person within his right; and to ensure the reign of justice among all.

And if there were a people constituted on this basis, I consider that order would prevail both in fact and in theory. I consider that this people would have the simplest, the most economical, the least heavy, the least felt, the least culpable, the most just, and hence the most solid government imaginable, whatever its political form.

For, under such a regime, each person would fully understand that he had full enjoyment as well as full responsibility for his existence. Provided that each person was respected, work was free, and the fruits of work protected Edition: current; Page: [109] against any unjust infringement, no one would have any cause to take issue with the state. So long as we were happy, we would not, it is true, have to thank it for our success; however, should we be unhappy, we would no more attribute this to the state than our farmers would attribute hail and frost to it. Its only effect on us would be the inestimable benefit of security.

We can also state that, thanks to the noninterference of the state in private affairs, needs and satisfactions would develop naturally. We would not see poor families seeking literary education before they had bread. We would not see towns growing in population at the expense of the countryside or the countryside at the expense of towns. We would not see those large-scale migrations of capital, labor, or populations triggered by legislative measures, migrations that render the very sources of existence so uncertain and precarious and which increase the responsibility of governments to such a great extent.

Unfortunately, the law is far from being limited to its proper role. It is far from deviating from it only according to neutral and questionable opinions. It has done worse: it has acted against its own purposes; it has destroyed its own aim; it has concentrated on abolishing the justice which it should have put in command and effacing the boundaries between various rights that its mission was to uphold. It has placed collective power at the disposal of those who wish to exploit persons, freedom, or the property of others without risk or scruple; it has converted plunder into right in order to protect it and legitimate defense into crime in order to punish it.

How has this corruption of the law come about? What have its consequences been?

The law has become corrupt under the influence of two very different causes: unintelligent selfishness and bogus philanthropy.

Let us take the first of these.

Protecting and developing oneself is an aspiration common to all men to the extent that if each person enjoyed the free exercise of his faculties and the free disposition of his attendant products, social progress would be constant, uninterrupted, and unerring.

However, there is another disposition that is just as common to them. That is to live and grow, when they can, at the expense of others. This is not a fortuitous allegation from someone with a bitter and pessimistic turn of mind. History gives examples of such a disposition through the constant wars, migrations of populations, oppression by religious leaders, universal slavery, industrial fraud, and monopolies with which its annals are filled.

This disastrous disposition arises from the very constitution of man, in Edition: current; Page: [110] the primitive, universal, and invincible sentiment that propels him toward well-being and makes him flee suffering.

Man can live and enjoy life only by assimilation and personal appropriation, that is to say, by a constant application of his faculties to things or by work. Hence property.

However, in practice, he can live and enjoy life by assimilating or appropriating to himself the product of the faculties of his fellow men. Hence plunder.

Well, since work is in itself a burden and since man by his nature is drawn to escape burdens, it follows, and history is there to prove it, that wherever plunder is less burdensome than work, it triumphs over work. This happens without religion or morality being able to stop it.

When, then, will plunder cease? When it becomes more of a burden or more dangerous than work.

It is very clear that the aim of the law has to be to oppose the powerful obstacle of collective power to this disastrous tendency and that it has to be on the side of property against plunder.

But the law is, in the majority of cases, established by one man or a class of men. And since the law has no existence without the sanction or support of an overwhelming force, the very probable result is that this force is finally placed in the hands of those who make the laws.

This inevitable phenomenon, combined with the disastrous tendency we have noted in men’s hearts, explains the almost universal corruption of the law. It can be seen how, instead of being a brake on injustice, the law becomes an instrument and the most invincible instrument of injustice. It can be seen that, depending on the power of the legislator, to his profit and to varying degrees, the law destroys personality by slavery, freedom by oppression, and property by plunder among the bulk of mankind.

It is in the nature of men to react against the iniquity of which they are the victims. Therefore, when plunder is organized by law for the benefit of the classes that make it, all the classes that have been plundered attempt, by either peaceful or revolutionary means, to have a say in the making of laws. Depending on the level of enlightenment which they have attained, these classes may set themselves two very different aims when they pursue the acquisition of their political rights; they may either wish to stop legal plunder or they may aspire to take part in it.

Woe and misery three times over to any nation in which this last thought dominates the masses at the time when they in turn take the helm of the legislative power!

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Up to now, legal plunder has been exercised by the minority over the majority as can be seen in those peoples in which the right to pass laws is concentrated in just a few hands. However, it has now become universal and equilibrium is being sought in universal plunder. Instead of the injustice existing in society being rooted out, it has become generalized. As soon as underprivileged classes recover their political rights, their first thought is not to rid themselves of plunder (that would suppose that they had an enlightenment that they cannot have) but to organize a system of reprisals against other classes and to their own detriment, as though it is necessary for a cruel retribution to strike them all, some for their iniquity and others for their ignorance, before the reign of justice is established.

No greater change or misfortune could therefore be introduced into society than this: to have a law that has been converted into an instrument of plunder.

What are the consequences of an upheaval like this? Volumes would be needed to describe them all. Let us content ourselves with pointing out the most striking.

The first is to erase from people’s consciences the notion of the just and the unjust.

No society can exist if respect for the law does not prevail to some degree, but the surest means of ensuring that laws are respected is for them to be worthy of respect. When law and morality contradict one another, citizens find themselves in the cruel quandary of either losing their notion of morality or losing respect for the law, two misfortunes that are equally great and between which it is difficult to choose.

It is so deeply ingrained in the nature of law to ensure that justice reigns, that law and justice are inseparable in the eyes of the masses. We all have a strong disposition to consider what is legal to be legitimate, to the extent that many people mistakenly consider all forms of justice to be founded in law. It is therefore enough for the law to order and consecrate plunder for plunder to appear just and sacred in the understanding of many. Slavery, restrictions, and monopoly find their defenders not only in those who benefit from them but even in those who suffer from them. Try to put forward a few doubts about the morality of these institutions, and you will be told, “You are a dangerous innovator, a utopian, a theoretician, and a despiser of laws; you are undermining the base on which society is built.” Do you give courses on morals or political economy? Official bodies will be found to express the following resolution to the government:

“That such subjects should be taught in the future no longer from the sole Edition: current; Page: [112] point of view of free trade (of freedom, property, and justice), as has been done so far, but also and above all from the point of view of the facts and the legislation (contrary to freedom, property, and justice) which govern economic life in France.

“That in the chairs in public universities whose salaries are paid for by the treasury, the professor should rigorously refrain from undermining in the slightest the respect due to the laws in force,2 etc.”

So that if there is a law that sanctions slavery or monopoly, oppression or plunder in any form, it cannot even be mentioned, since how can it be discussed without undermining the respect it inspires? What is more, it will be mandatory to teach morals and political economy from the point of view of this law, that is to say, on the premise that it is just merely because it is the law.

Another effect of this deplorable corruption of the law is that it gives an exaggerated weight to political passions and conflicts and in general to politics itself.

I could prove this proposition in a thousand ways. I will limit myself to comparing it, as an example, with a subject that has recently been in the minds of all: universal suffrage.

Whatever the disciples of Rousseau think, those who say that they are very advanced and whom I believe to be retarded by twenty centuries, universal suffrage (taking this word in its strictest sense) is not one of the sacred dogmas with regard to which any examination or even doubt is a crime.

Major objections may be made to it.

First of all, the word universal hides a crude sophism. There are in France thirty-six million inhabitants. In order for the right of suffrage to be universal it would have to be recognized for thirty-six million electors.3 The most Edition: current; Page: [113] generous account recognizes only nine million. Three out of four people are therefore excluded, and what is more they are excluded by the fourth. On what basis is this exclusion founded? On the principle of incapacity. Universal suffrage means the universal suffrage of those capable. There remains this practical question: who is capable? Are age, sex, and criminal record the only signs from which we can recognize incapacity?

If we look closely, we quickly see the reason the right of suffrage rests on the presumption of capacity, since the widest system differs in this respect from the most restricted system only by the appreciation of the signs from which this capacity can be recognized, which does not constitute a difference of principle but of degree.

This reason is that the elector does not stipulate for himself but for everybody.

If, as republicans of Greek and Roman hue claim, the right of suffrage was granted to us with life, it would be iniquitous for adults to prevent women and children from voting. Why should they be prevented from doing so? Because they are deemed to be incapable. And why is incapacity a reason for exclusion? Because the elector is not alone when given responsibility for his vote; because each vote commits and affects the entire community; because the community has the perfect right to demand a few guarantees with regard to the acts on which their well-being and existence depend.

I know what a possible answer might be. I also know what a possible reply to it might be. This is not the place to settle a controversy of this nature. What I want to draw attention to is that this controversy (as well as most political questions), one that so agitates whole nations, inflaming them and causing such distress, would lose almost all its importance if the law had always been what it ought to have been.

In fact, if the law limited itself to ensuring that all persons, freedoms, and properties were respected, if it were merely the organization of the individual right of legitimate defense, the obstacle, brake, and punishment that opposed all forms of oppression and plunder, would you believe that we would argue much, between citizens, as to whether suffrage was more or less universal? Do you believe that it would call into question the greatest of our benefits, public peace? Do you believe that the excluded classes would not wait patiently for their turn? Do you believe that the admitted classes would guard their privilege jealously? And is it not clear that, since personal interest is identical and common, some would take action without very much inconvenience on behalf of the others?

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But if this fatal principle were to be introduced, if under the pretext of organization, regulation, protection, and subsidy the law would be able to take from some to give to others, to draw upon the wealth acquired by all classes to increase that of one class—sometimes that of farmers or manufacturers, traders, shipowners, artists, or actors—then, to be sure, in this case, there is no class that would not claim with reason that it too should have a hand in making the law, that would not fervently demand the right to vote and demand its eligibility to receive benefits and that would not overthrow society rather than be denied those benefits. Beggars and vagabonds themselves will prove to you that they have incontestable rights to it. They will say to you, “We never buy wine, tobacco, or salt without paying the tax, and part of this tax is given by law as premiums and subsidies to men who are richer than we are. Others use the law to raise the price of bread, meat, iron, and cloth artificially. Since each one exploits the law to his advantage, we want to exploit it too. We want it to enact the right to assistance, which is the share of plunder for the poor. To do this, we have to be electors and legislators in order to organize widespread alms for our class, just as you have organized widespread protectionism for yours. Do not tell us that you will provide our share and that, in accordance with M. Mimerel’s proposal, you will throw us the sum of six hundred thousand francs to keep us quiet and as a bone to gnaw. We have other claims, and in any case we wish to decide for ourselves, just as the other sectors have decided for themselves!”

What can we say in reply to this argument? Yes, as long as the accepted principle is that the law can be diverted from its proper mission, that it can violate property instead of upholding it, each class will want to make the law, either to defend itself against plunder or to organize it for its own benefit. The political question will always be prejudicial, dominant, and absorbing; in a word, people will be beating on the door of the legislative palace. The conflict will be no less bitter within it. To be convinced of this, it is scarcely necessary to look at what is going on in the debating chambers in France and England; all you need to know is how the question is being put.

Is there any need to prove that this odious perversion of the law is a constant source of hatred and discord, which may go so far as to cause social disruption? Just look at the United States. This is one country in the world in which the law most faithfully fulfills its role to uphold the freedom and property of each person. It is therefore the one country in the world in which social order appears to be based on the most stable foundations. However, within the United States itself there are two questions, and Edition: current; Page: [115] only two questions, which have threatened political order from the outset. What are these two questions? Slavery and tariffs, that is to say, precisely the only two questions in which, contrary to the general spirit of that republic, the law has taken on the character of a plunderer. Slavery is a violation of the rights of the person sanctioned by the law. Protectionism is a violation of the right of property perpetrated by the law. Certainly it is very remarkable that, in the middle of so many other discussions, this twin legal scourge, a sorry inheritance from the old world, is the only one that may lead and perhaps will lead to the breakup of the Union. Indeed, no more significant fact can be imagined within society than this: The law has become an instrument of injustice. And if this fact leads to such momentous consequences in the United States, where it is just an exception, what will it lead to in this Europe of ours, where it is a principle, a system?

M. de Montalembert, referring to the reasoning behind a famous proclamation by M. Carlier, said, “We must make war on socialism.” And by socialism, according to the definition by M. Charles Dupin, we have to understand that he meant plunder.

But what form of plunder was he wishing to talk about? For there are two forms. There is plunder outside the law and there is legal plunder.

As for plunder against the law, which we call theft or fraud and which is defined, provided for, and punished by the Penal Code, I really do not think this can be cloaked in the name of socialism. It is not this that systematically threatens the very foundations of society. Besides, the war against this sort of plunder has not waited for a signal from M. de Montalembert or M. Carlier. It has been waged since the beginning of time. France had already provided for it a long time before the February revolution, long before the apparition of socialism, by a whole apparatus of magistrates, police, gendarmes, prisons, convict settlements, and scaffolds. It is the law itself that wages this war, and what we should be hoping for, in my opinion, is that the law will always retain this attitude with regard to plunder.

But this is not the case. Sometimes the law takes the side of plunder. Sometimes it plunders with its own hands, in order to spare the blushes, the risk, and the scruples of its beneficiary. Sometimes it mobilizes the whole system of magistrates, police, gendarmes, and prisons to serve the plunderer and treats the victim who defends himself as a criminal. In a word, there is legal plunder, and it is doubtless to this that M. de Montalembert is referring.

Such plunder may be just an exceptional stain on the legislation of a people; and in this case the best thing to do, without undue oratory and Edition: current; Page: [116] lamentation, is to remove it as quickly as possible, in spite of the outcry from those it favors. How do we recognize it? That is easy; we need to see whether the law takes property owned by some to give to others what they do not own. We need to see whether the law carries out an act that a citizen cannot carry out himself without committing a crime, for the benefit of one citizen and at the expense of others. Make haste to repeal a law like this; it is not only an iniquity, it is a fruitful source of iniquity, for it generates reprisals, and if you are not careful an exceptional act will become widespread, more frequent, and part of a system. Doubtless, those who benefit from it will make a loud outcry; they will invoke acquired rights. They will say that the state owes their particular product protection and support. They will claim that it is a good thing for the state to make them richer because, as they are richer, they spend more and thus rain down earnings on their poor workers. Be careful not to listen to these sophists for it is exactly by the systematizing of such arguments that legal plunder becomes systematic.

This is what has happened. The illusion of the day is to make all sectors richer at each other’s expense; this is generalizing plunder on the pretext of organizing it. Well, legal plunder can be carried out in an infinite number of ways. This gives rise to an infinite number of plans for organizing it, through tariffs, protectionism, premiums, subsidies, incentives, progressive taxes, free education, the right to work, the right to assistance, the right to tools for work, free credit, etc., etc. And all of these plans, insofar as they have legal plunder in common, come under the name of socialism.

Well, what type of war do you wish to wage against socialism, thus defined and as it forms a body of doctrine, if not a doctrinal war? Do you find this doctrine wrong, absurd, or abominable? Refute it. This will be all the easier the more erroneous, absurd, or abominable it is. Above all, if you wish to be strong, start by rooting out from your legislation everything relating to socialism that has managed to creep into it—no small task.

M. de Montalembert has been reproached for wanting to turn brute force against socialism. This is a reproach from which he should be cleared, since he formally stated, “The war against socialism should be in accordance with the law, honor, and justice.”

But how has M. de Montalembert not seen that he has placed himself in a vicious circle? Do you want to oppose socialism by means of the law? But it is precisely socialism that invokes the law. It does not aim to carry out plunder against the law, but legal plunder. It is of the law itself that socialism claims to be the instrument, like monopolists of all stripes, and once it Edition: current; Page: [117] has the law on its side, how do you hope to turn the law against it? How do you hope to bring it within striking power of your courts, your gendarmes, or your prisons?

So what do you do? You want to prevent socialism from having any say in making laws. You want to keep it out of the legislative chamber. I dare to predict that you will never succeed in this while laws are being passed inside the chamber on the principle of legal plunder. It is too iniquitous and too absurd.

It is absolutely necessary for this question of legal plunder to be settled, and there are just three alternatives:

  • That the minority plunders the majority;
  • That everyone plunders everyone else;
  • That no one plunders anybody.

You have to choose between partial plunder, universal plunder, and no plunder at all. The law can pursue one of these three alternatives only.

Partial plunder. This is the system that prevailed for as long as the electorate was partial and is the system to which people return to avoid the invasion of socialism.

Universal plunder. This is the system that threatened us when the electorate became universal with the masses having conceived the idea of making laws along the same lines as their legislative predecessors.

Absence of plunder. This is the principle of justice, peace, order, stability, conciliation, and common sense that I will proclaim with all my strength, which is, alas, very inadequate, and with my lungs until my final breath.

And sincerely, can anything else be asked of the law? Can the law, with compulsion as its essential sanction, be reasonably employed for anything other than ensuring everyone his right? I challenge anyone to cause the law to step outside this circle without diverting it and consequently without turning compulsion against right. As this would be the most disastrous, the most illogical social upheaval imaginable, we really have to acknowledge that the true solution of the social problem, so long sought after, is encapsulated in these simple words: law is organized justice.

Well, we should note this clearly: to organize justice by law, that is to say, by compulsion, excludes the idea of organizing by law or compulsion Edition: current; Page: [118] any manifestation of human activity: labor, charity, agriculture, trade, industry, education, the fine arts, or religion, for it is impossible for any of these secondary organizations not to destroy the essential organization. In effect, how can we imagine compulsion impinging on the freedom of citizens without undermining justice, without acting against its own goal?

Here I am coming up against the most popular preconception of our age. Not only do we want the law to be just, we also want it to be philanthropic. We are not content for it to guarantee each citizen the free and inoffensive exercise of his faculties as they apply to his physical, intellectual, and moral development; we require it to spread well-being, education, and morality directly across the nation. This is the seductive side of socialism.

However, I repeat, these two missions of the law are contradictory. A choice has to be made. A citizen cannot simultaneously be free and not free. M. de Lamartine wrote to me one day, “Your doctrine is only half of my program. You have stopped at freedom; I have reached fraternity.” I replied to him, “The second half of your program will destroy the first.” And in effect it is totally impossible for me to separate the word fraternity from the word voluntary. It is impossible for me to conceive a fraternity that is enforced by law without freedom being destroyed by law and justice trampled underfoot by law.

Legal plunder is rooted in two things: the first, we have seen, is human selfishness, the other bogus philanthropy.

Before going any further, I think I have to explain myself as to the word plunder.

I do not take it to mean, as is only too oft en the case, something that is vague, undetermined, approximate, or metaphorical; I am using it in its properly scientific meaning, and as expressing the opposite idea to that of property. When a portion of wealth passes from the person who has earned it, without his consent and without compensation, to one who has not created it, whether this is by force or fraud, I say that property is undermined and that there is plunder. I say that it is exactly this that the law should be repressing everywhere and always. If the law is carrying out the very act that it should be repressing, I say that there is plunder nonetheless and even, socially speaking, with aggravating circumstances. Only in this case it is not the beneficiary of the plunder who is responsible for it, it is the law, the legislator, or society; and that is what constitutes the political danger.

It is unfortunate that this word has offensive overtones. I have tried in vain to find another, for at no time and still less today do I wish to cast Edition: current; Page: [119] an irritating word into the cauldron of our disagreements. For this reason, whether you believe it or not, I declare that I do not intend to query either the intentions or the morality of anyone whomsoever. I am attacking an idea that I consider to be false and a practice that appears to me to be unjust, and all this is so far beyond our intentions that each of us takes advantage of it unwittingly and suffers from it unknowingly. It is necessary to write under the influence of the party spirit or out of fear to cast doubt on the sincerity of protectionism, socialism, or even communism, which are only one and the same plant at three different stages of its development. All that can be said is that plunder is more visible in protectionism4 because of its partiality and in communism because of its universality. From this it follows that of the three systems socialism is still the most vague, the most indecisive, and consequently the most sincere.

Be that as it may, agreeing that legal plunder has one of its roots in bogus philanthropy is obviously to exonerate its intentions.

This being understood, let us examine what the popular ambition that claims to achieve the general good through general plunder is worth, where it comes from, and where it will lead.

Socialists tell us, “Since the law organizes justice, why should it not also organize labor, education, or religion?”

Why? Because it could not organize labor, education, or religion without disorganizing justice.

Note therefore that law is compulsion, and that consequently the domain of the law cannot legitimately exceed the legitimate domain of compulsion.

When the law and compulsion hold a man in accordance with justice, they impose on him nothing other than pure negation. They impose only an abstention from causing harm. They do not interfere with his personality, his freedom, or his property. All they do is safeguard the personality, freedom, and property of others. They remain on the defensive; they defend the equal rights of all. They carry out a mission whose harmlessness is obvious, whose usefulness is palpable, and whose legitimacy is uncontested.

This is so true that, as one of my friends brought to my notice, to say that Edition: current; Page: [120] the aim of the law is to ensure the reign of justice is to use an expression that is not strictly true. What should be said is: The aim of the law is to prevent injustice from reigning. In reality it is not justice that has its own existence, it is injustice. The one results from the absence of the other.

But when the law, through the offices of its essential agent, compulsion, imposes a way of working, a method of teaching or the contents of the latter, a faith or a creed, it is no longer acting negatively but positively on men. It substitutes the will of the legislator for their own will. Their role is no longer to question themselves, make comparisons, or plan for the future; the law does all that for them. Intelligence becomes a superfluous attribute; they cease to be men and lose their personality, their freedom, and their property.

Try to imagine a form of labor compulsorily imposed that does not infringe freedom or a transmission of wealth forcibly imposed that does not infringe property. If you do not succeed, then you must agree that the law cannot organize economic production without organizing injustice.

When, from the confines of his office, a political writer surveys society, he is struck by the spectacle of inequality that greets him. He weeps over the sufferings that are the lot of so many of our brothers, sufferings that appear even more saddening when contrasted with luxury and opulence.

Perhaps he should ask himself whether such a state of society has not been caused by former plunder carried out by conquest and by current plunder carried out by means of the law. He should ask himself whether, given that all men aspire to well-being and improving their lot, the reign of justice is not enough to achieve the greatest activity of progress and the greatest amount of equality that are compatible with the individual responsibility ordained by God, as the just reward for virtue and vice.

He does not even give this a thought. His thoughts go to deals, agreements, and organizations that are either legal or artificial. He seeks a remedy in perpetuating or exaggerating the situation that has produced the misfortune.

The fact is, outside justice, which, as we have seen, is just a genuine negation, is there a single one of these legal agreements that does not include the principle of plunder?

You say, “Here are men who lack wealth,” and you turn to the law. But the law is not a breast that fills by itself or whose milk-bearing ducts draw from elsewhere than society. Nothing enters the public treasury in favor of a citizen or a class other than that which other citizens and other classes have been forced to put in. If each person draws out only the equivalent of what Edition: current; Page: [121] he has put in, it is true that your law is not plunderous, but it does nothing for those men that lack wealth, it does nothing for equality. It can be an instrument for equality only to the extent that it takes from some to give to others, and in this case it becomes an instrument of plunder. If you look at the protection of tariffs, production subsidies, the right to profit, the right to work, the right to assistance, the right to education, progressive taxes, free credit, or social workshops from this point of view, you will always find at their root legal plunder and organized injustice.

You say, “Here are men who lack enlightenment,” and you turn to the law. But the law is not a torch that spreads its own light far and wide. It hovers over a society in which there are men with knowledge and others without, citizens who need to learn and others who are willing to teach. It can do only one of two things: either it allows this type of transaction to operate freely and permits this type of need to be freely satisfied, or it can constrain people’s wishes in this respect and take from some to pay teachers who will be responsible for educating the others free of charge. But in the second case it cannot do this without freedom and property being violated, signifying therefore legal plunder.

You say, “Here are men who lack morality or religion,” and you turn to the law. But the law is compulsion and do I need to say how violent and crazy it is to use force in this connection?

For all its theories and strivings it appears that socialism, however indulgent it is toward itself, cannot avoid catching a glimpse of the fiend that is legal plunder. But what does socialism do? It cleverly shrouds the legal plunder from all eyes, even its own, under the seductive names of fraternity, solidarity, organization, and association. And because we do not ask so much of the law since we require only justice of it, socialism presumes that we are rejecting fraternity, solidarity, organization, and association and hurls the epithet “Individualist!” at us.

Socialism ought to know, therefore, that what we are rejecting is not natural organization, but forced organization.

It is not free association, but the forms of association that socialism claims to have the right to impose on us.

It is not spontaneous fraternity, but legal fraternity.

It is not providential solidarity, but artificial solidarity, which is only an unjust displacement of responsibility.

Socialism, like the old politics from which it stems, confuses government with society. For this reason, each time we do not want something to be Edition: current; Page: [122] done by the government, socialism concludes that we do not want this thing to be done at all. We reject education by the state; therefore we do not want education. We reject state religion; therefore we do not want religion. We reject equality established by the state; therefore we do not want equality, etc., etc. It is like accusing us of not wanting men to eat because we reject the growing of wheat by the state.

How in the world of politics has the strange idea become dominant of having the law generate things that it does not encompass: Good in its positive aspect, wealth, science, and religion?

Modern political writers, particularly those of the socialist school, base their various theories on a common hypothesis, definitely the strangest and most arrogant hypothesis that the human brain has ever devised.

They divide humanity into two parts. All men minus one form the first and the political writer all on his own forms the second and by far the most important part.

In effect, they begin with the premise that men do not have within themselves either a principle of action or any means of discernment; that they lack initiative; that they are made of inert matter, passive molecules, and atoms deprived of spontaneity; and that they are at most a form of plant life that is indifferent to its own mode of existence and willing to accept an infinite number of more or less symmetrical, artistic, and developed forms from an external initiative and hand.

Each of them then quite simply supposes that he is himself, wearing the hats of organizer, prophet, legislator, teacher, and founder, this driving force and hand, this universal dynamo and creative power whose sublime mission is to gather together in society the scattered stuff of humanity.

From this given starting point, just as each gardener according to his whim prunes his trees into pyramids, umbrellas, cubes, cones, vases, fruit-tree shapes, distaffs, or fans, each socialist, according to his vision, prunes poor humanity into groups, series, centers, subcenters, honeycombs, and social, harmonious, or contrasting workshops, etc., etc.

And just as the gardener needs axes, saws, sickles, and shears in order to prune his trees, the political writer needs forces that he can find only in the laws in order to marshal his society: customs laws, tax laws, laws governing assistance or education.

It is so true that the socialists consider humanity to be material that can be modeled to fit social templates that if by chance they are not certain of the success of these arrangements, they claim at least a part of humanity as Edition: current; Page: [123] material for experimentation. We know just how popular the idea of trying out all their systems is among them, and we have already seen one of their leaders5 come in all seriousness to ask the Constituent Assembly to give them a commune with all its inhabitants in order for them to carry out tests.

In this way, every inventor makes a small-scale model of his machine before making it full scale. In this way, chemists sacrifice a few reagents and farmers a little seed and a corner of a field in order to test an idea.

But what incommensurable distance there is between a gardener and his trees, the inventor and his machine, the chemist and his reagents, and the farmer and his seed! This is the very distance that the socialist quite sincerely believes separates him from humanity.

We should not be surprised that nineteenth-century political writers consider society to be an artificial creation resulting from the genius of the legislator.

This idea, the fruit of a classical education, has dominated all the thinkers and great writers of our country.

All have seen the same relationship between humanity and the legislator as there is between clay and the potter.

What is more, while political writers have agreed to acknowledge a principle of action in the hearts of men and a principle of discernment in their intelligence, they have thought that this was a fatal gift from God and that humanity, under the influence of these two stimuli, was progressing inexorably toward its downfall. They have assumed that left to its own devices humanity would concern itself with religion only to end up with atheism, with education only to achieve ignorance, and with work and trade only to end up in destitution.

Fortunately, according to these same writers, there are a few men known as rulers and legislators who have received contrary tendencies from heaven not only for themselves but also on behalf of all the others.

Although human propensity is toward evil, the propensity of these few is toward good; although humanity marches on toward darkness, they aspire to the light; and although humanity is drawn to vice, they are attracted to virtue. And assuming this, they lay claim to force to enable them to substitute their own propensities for those of the human race.

All you have to do is to open at random a book on philosophy, politics, or history to see how deeply rooted in our country is the idea that humanity Edition: current; Page: [124] is mere inert matter that receives alike life, organization, morality, and wealth from government, an idea born of study of the classics and having socialism for its offspring—or, what is worse, that humanity itself is drawn toward degradation and is saved from this slippery slope only by the mysterious hand of the legislator. Classic conventionalism shows us everywhere that behind a passive society there is an occult power that, going by the names of the law and the legislator, or under the cloak of the more convenient, vaguer word one,6 moves humanity, brings it to life, enriches it, and infuses it with morality.


One of the things that one (who?) imprinted most strongly on the minds of the Egyptians was love of their country. . . . No one was allowed to be of no use to the state; each person had his work assigned to him by law and this was passed from father to son. No one could have two employments or change his own . . . but there was one obligatory communal activity, namely the study of the laws and conventional wisdom. Ignorance of the religion and policies of the country was not excused under any circumstances. Besides, each occupation had its own coinage assigned to it (by whom?). . . . Among good laws, the best was that everyone was fed (by whom?) with a view to his being observed. Their traveling traders filled Egypt with marvelous inventions and saw to it that they were aware of almost everything that might make life easier and more peaceful.

According to Bossuet, therefore, men draw nothing from themselves whether it be patriotism, wealth, activity, wisdom, inventions, agriculture, or science; all these they received by way of the laws or from their kings. All they had to do was to let themselves go. Bossuet takes his argument to such a pitch that he corrects Diodorus for having accused the Egyptians of rejecting wrestling and music. How could that be possible, he says, since these arts had been invented by Trismegistus?

Similarly, in Persia:

One of the principal cares of the prince was to ensure that agriculture flourished. . . . Just as there were specific responsibilities laid down for directing the armies, so there were specific responsibilities for supervising Edition: current; Page: [125] agrarian labor. . . . The respect for royal government that was inspired among the Persians reached excessive proportions.

Although the Greeks had highly developed minds, they were no less powerless as to their lot in life, to the point that, left to their own devices, they would not have risen, as do dogs or horses, to the heights of the simplest games. The agreed classical tradition is that everything comes from outside the people.

The Greeks, naturally full of intelligence and courage, had been developed from the start by the kings and colonies that came from Egypt. It is from them that they learned to exercise their bodies, run races on foot, on horseback, or in chariots . . . The best thing the Egyptians taught them was to be docile and to let themselves be formed by laws enacted for the public good.


Brought up on the study and admiration of antiquity and a witness to the power of Louis XIV, Fénelon could scarcely escape from the idea that humanity is passive and that both its misfortunes and prosperity, its virtues and vices came to it because of external action exercised on it by the law or by the person who makes the law. Thus, in his utopian Salente,7 he subjects men with all their personal interests, faculties, desires, and goods to the absolute discretion of the legislator. Whatever the circumstances, they never judge for themselves; it is the prince who judges for them. The nation is just a formless entity of which the prince is the soul. In him are united the thought, the foresight, the very principles of all forms of organization and progress, and consequently all responsibility.

To prove this assertion, I would need to copy the entire tenth book of Télémaque.8 I refer the reader to this and am content to quote a few passages taken at random from this famous poem, the quality of which, in every other respect, I am the first to acknowledge.

With that surprising credulity that characterizes the classics, Fénelon accepts the general happiness of the Egyptians, in spite of the authority of Edition: current; Page: [126] reason and facts, and attributes it not to their own wisdom but to that of their kings.

We cannot look at the two banks without glimpsing opulent towns, country houses with pleasant situations, land that each year is covered with a golden harvest without any fallow period, grasslands full of herds, farmers bowed under the weight of the fruit that overflows from the bosom of the land, or shepherds who cause the sweet sounds of their flutes and pipes to be echoed round about. Happy are the people, said Mentor, who are led by a wise king.

Mentor then pointed out to me the joy and abundance that extended over the entire country of Egypt in which up to twenty-two thousand towns could be counted, the justice exercised in favor of the poor against the rich, the proper education of children who were trained in obedience, work, sobriety, and love of arts and letters, the exact observance of all religious ceremonies, disinterestedness, a desire for honor, fidelity to men, and fear of the gods that every father inculcated into his children. He never tired of admiring such fine order. Happy are the people, he said to me, whom a wise king leads thus.

Fénelon creates an idyll of Crete that is even more attractive. Then he adds, through the words of Mentor:

All that you see in this marvelous island is the fruit of Minos’s laws. The education whose provision he ordered for children makes the body healthy and strong. The laws make them accustomed first of all to a life that is simple, frugal, and physically taxing. They assume that all sensual pleasure makes body and mind soft. They never offer them any other pleasure than that of being invincible through virtue and gaining a great deal of glory. Here, they punish three vices that go unpunished in other peoples: ingratitude, dissimulation, and greed. They never need to repress ostentation and dissipation since these are unknown in Crete. They do not allow valuable furniture, magnificent clothes, delicious feasts, or gilded palaces.9

This is how Mentor prepares his pupil to grind down and manipulate the people of Ithaca, doubtless with the most philanthropic of intentions, and for greater safety he gives him an example of this in Salente.

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This is how we are given our first notions of politics. We are taught to treat men almost in the way Olivier de Serres teaches farmers to treat and mix their soil.


To maintain the spirit of trade, all laws need to encourage it, and the details of these same laws should be framed to divide up wealth as trade increases it, in such a way as to put each poor citizen in sufficient comfort to be able to work like the others, and each rich citizen in such a state of mediocrity that he needs to work to conserve or acquire.

The laws thus dispose of all wealth.

Although in democracy genuine equality is the soul of the state, this is, however, so difficult to establish that an extreme punctiliousness in this respect is not always suitable. It is sufficient that one establishes a quota that reduces or sets the differences at a certain level. After this, it is up to particular laws to equalize inequality, so to speak, through the charges they impose on the rich and the relief they give to the poor.

This again advocates the equalization of wealth by the law and by force.

In Greece, there were two forms of republic. One form was military, exemplified by Sparta; the other was commercial, exemplified by Athens. In the former, they wanted its citizens to be idle; in the latter, they sought to instill a love of work.

I would ask people to give some attention to the extent of the genius these legislators demonstrated in seeing that by upsetting all the accepted customs, by confusing all the virtues, they would be demonstrating their wisdom to the universe. Lycurgus, combining robbery with a spirit of justice, the most severe slavery with the heights of freedom, the most atrocious sentiments with the greatest moderation, gave his town stability. He appeared to remove from it all resources, arts, trade, money, and city walls. There was ambition with no hope of being better off. The Spartans had natural sentiments and were neither child, husband, nor father. Even modesty was removed from chastity. It is along this route that Sparta was led to greatness and glory. . . .

We have also seen this extraordinary situation that was observed in the institutions in Greece in the dregs and corruption of modern times.

An honest legislator has formed a people in which probity appears to be as natural as bravery was in the Spartans. Mr. Penn is a genuine Lycurgus and, while Mr. Penn’s object was peace in the same way that Lycurgus’s Edition: current; Page: [128] was war, they resemble one another in the singular path in which they set their people, in the influence they had on free men, in the preconceptions they overcame, and in the passions they subdued.

Another example is Paraguay.10 Those who regard the pleasure of governing as the sole good thing in life have wished to make it a crime against society, but it will always be a fine thing to govern men while making them happy. . . .

Those who wish to establish similar institutions will set up the communality of assets of Plato’s republic, the respect for the gods that he demanded, the separation from foreigners in order to preserve customs, with the city, not the citizens, carrying out trade. They will give us our arts without our luxury and our needs without our desires.”

However much popular enthusiasm cries, “It is by Montesquieu, so it is marvelous! It is sublime!” I will have the courage of my convictions and say:

What? You have the effrontery to find that beautiful?

It is dreadful! Abominable! And these quotations that I could increase in number show that in Montesquieu’s view people, freedom, property, and the entire human race are just materials suited to the exercise of the legislator’s sagacity.


Although this political writer, the supreme authority for democrats, bases the social edifice on the general will, no one has accepted as completely as he does the hypothesis of the total passivity of the human race in the presence of the legislator.

While it is true that a great prince is a rare person, how much more so is a great legislator? The former has only to follow the model that the latter has to put forward. The latter is the mechanic who invents the machine, while the former is the worker who gets on it and makes it go.11

And what is the role of men in all this? The machine that you get on and make go, or rather the raw material out of which the machine is made!

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Thus, between the legislator and the prince and between the prince and his subjects there is the same relationship as between the agronomist and the farmer and the farmer and the soil. At what height above humanity, therefore, do we place the political writer who governs the legislators themselves and teaches them their job in such imperative terms as the following?

Do you want to give consistency to the state? Reduce the distance between the extreme levels as far as is possible. Do not allow either wealthy people or paupers.

Is the soil hard to till or infertile or the country too small to hold its inhabitants? Turn toward industry and the arts whose productions you can trade for the goods you lack. . . . Do you lack inhabitants where the land is good? Concentrate on farming, which increases the number of men, and turn away from the arts, which will succeed only in reducing the population of the country. . . . Are you concerned with shorelines that are broad and accessible? Cover the sea with ships and you will have a brilliant and short existence. Does the sea bathe only inaccessible rocks on your shoreline? Remain savages and eaters of fish; your life will be more peaceful, perhaps better, and certainly happier. In a word, apart from the maxims common to all, each people carries within it a cause that orders it in a particular way and makes its legislation proper to it alone. This is why in former times the Hebrews and more recently the Arabs have had religion as their principal object, the Athenians letters, Carthage and Tyre trade, Rhodes naval matters, Sparta war, and Rome virtue. The author of the Spirit of the Laws12 has shown with what art the legislator directs the system of institutions toward these objects. But if the legislator makes a mistake and takes a principle other than that which arises from the nature of things and one tends toward slavery while the other tends toward freedom, one toward wealth and the other toward population, one to peace and the other to conquests, the laws will be seen to become imperceptibly weaker, the constitution will be changed, and the state will not cease to suffer agitation until it is either destroyed or changed and invincible nature has regained its empire.

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But if nature is sufficiently invincible to regain its domination, why does Rousseau not admit that it did not need such a legislator to take this domination from the outset? Why does he not admit that by obeying their own initiative men will of their own accord turn toward trade on broad and accessible shorelines without a Lycurgus, a Solon, or a Rousseau interfering at the risk of making a mistake?

Be that as it may, we can understand the awesome responsibility that Rousseau places on inventors, teachers, leaders, legislators, and the manipulators of societies. This is why he is very demanding with regard to them.

He who dares to undertake to teach a people must feel that he is, so to say, capable of changing human nature and transforming each individual who, of himself, is a perfect and solitary whole, into a part of a greater whole from which this individual receives totally or in part his life and being; he must be capable too of changing the constitution of man in order to strengthen it and substituting an incomplete and moral existence for a physical and independent one which we have all received from nature. In a word, he needs to remove from man his own forces in order to give him some that are foreign to him. . . .

Poor human race, what will Rousseau’s disciples do with your dignity?


The climate, that is to say the sky and the soil, is the first rule of the legislator. Its resources dictate his duty to him. First of all, it is its local situation that he must consult. A people cast upon a seacoast will have laws that relate to navigation. . . . If the colony is concerned with the land, a legislator must provide for both its type and level of fertility. . . .

It is above all in the distribution of property that the wisdom of the legislation will shine through. In general and in all the countries of the world, when a colony is founded, land must be given to each man, that is to say, a sufficient amount to each person to provide for a family. . . .

In an uncivilized island that one would people with children, one would only have to leave the seeds of truth to blossom in the development of reason. . . . But when one establishes a people that is already old in a new country, the art lies in leaving to it only those harmful opinions and habits from which it cannot be cured and corrected. If one wants to prevent them from being passed on, one will supervise the second generation through the communal and public education of its children. A prince or legislator should never found a colony without sending wise men in advance to educate the young. . . . In a new colony every facility Edition: current; Page: [131] is open to the precautions of the legislator who wishes to purify the blood and manners of a people. If he has genius and virtue, the lands and men he will have in his hands will inspire in his soul a plan for society which a writer would outline only in a vague manner subject to unstable hypotheses that vary and complicate one another with an infinite number of circumstances that are too difficult to forecast and combine.

Does he not appear to hear a teacher of agriculture say to his pupils, “The climate is the farmer’s first rule? Its resources dictate his duties. It is its local situation that he has to consult. If the farm is on a clay soil, he has to take these steps. If he has to deal with sand, this is what he has to do. All facilities are available to the farmer who wishes to clear and improve his soil. If he is clever, the land and fertilizers he has in his hands will inspire in him an operating plan that a teacher will be able to outline only in a vague manner subject to unstable hypotheses that vary and complicate one another with an infinite number of circumstances that are too difficult to forecast and combine.”

But, O sublime writers, please remember on occasion that this clay or sand, this compost of which you so arbitrarily dispose, is made up of men, your equals, who are intelligent and free beings like you, who, like you, have received from God the faculty of sight, foresight, thought, and making judgments for themselves!


(He takes the laws to be rusty from age, security to be neglected, and continues thus:)

In these circumstances, you have to be convinced that the springs of government have been loosened. Give them renewed tension [Mably is addressing the reader] and the ill will be cured. . . . Think less of punishing faults than of encouraging the virtues you need. This way, you will restore the vigor of youth to your republic. Free peoples have lost their freedom because they did not know this! But if the ill has progressed so far that ordinary magistrates cannot remedy it effectively, turn to an extraordinary group of magistrates with a short tenure and considerable power. The citizens’ imagination in such circumstances needs to be struck.

And more in this vein for twenty volumes.

There was a time when, under the influence of such teaching, which is the foundation of classical education, everyone wanted to place himself outside and above humanity in order to arrange it, organize it, and set it up according to his views.

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My Lord, make yourself out to be a Lycurgus or a Solon. Before continuing to read further, amuse yourself by giving laws to some uncivilized tribe in America or Africa. Settle these nomadic men in sedentary houses; teach them to feed their herds and work at developing the social qualities that nature has given them. Order them to start practicing the duties of humanity. Use punishment to poison the pleasures promised by passion and you will see that these savages will lose a vice and gain a virtue with each article of your legislation.

All peoples have had laws. But few of them have been happy. Why is this so? It is because legislators have almost always ignored the fact that the object of society is to unite families through a common interest.

The impartiality of laws lies in two things: establishing equality in the wealth and equality in the dignity of citizens. . . . As your laws establish greater equality, they will become dearer to each citizen. . . . How will avarice, ambition, sensuality, laziness, idleness, envy, hatred, and jealousy operate in men who are equal in fortune and dignity and in whose eyes the laws will give no opportunity of disrupting equality? [The idyll follows.]

What you have been told about the republic of Sparta should give you greater enlightenment on this question. No other state has ever had laws that conformed more to the order of nature and equality.14

It is not surprising that the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries considered the human race to be inert matter that waits, receives everything—form, face, stimulus, movement, and life—from a great prince, a great legislator, or a great genius. These centuries were fed on the study of antiquity and antiquity effectively offers us everywhere—in Egypt, Persia, Greece, and Rome—the sight of a few men manipulating at will a human race that is subjugated by force or imposture. What does that prove? It shows that because man and society can be improved, error, ignorance, despotism, slavery, and superstition must have existed in greater quantity at the dawn of time. The mistake of the writers I have quoted is not to have noted the fact but to have offered it as though it were a rule to be admired and imitated by future races. Edition: current; Page: [133] Their mistake is to have accepted with an inconceivable lack of critical analysis and on the faith of puerile conventionalism what is unacceptable, that is to say, the grandeur, dignity, morality, and well-being of these artificial forms of society in the ancient world; to have failed to understand that time produces and propagates light; and that, as the light grows brighter, the force takes the side of the right and society takes possession of itself again.

And in fact, what is the political work we are witnessing? It is none other than the instinctive effort of all peoples to achieve liberty.15 And what is liberty, this word that has the power of making all hearts beat faster and causing agitation around the world, if it is not the sum of all freedoms: freedom of conscience, teaching, and association; freedom of the press; freedom to travel, work, and trade; in other words, the free exercise of all inoffensive faculties by all men and, in still other terms, the destruction of all despotic regimes, even legal despotism, and the reduction of the law to its sole rational attribution, which is to regulate the individual law of legitimate defense or to punish injustice.

This tendency in the human race, it must be agreed, is grossly countered, particularly in our country, by the fatal disposition—the fruit of classical teaching—that is common to all political writers, to put themselves in a Edition: current; Page: [134] position outside the human race in order to sort it out, organize it, and institute it according to their lights.

For while society agitates to achieve freedom, the sole thought of the great men who put themselves at its head and who are imbued with the principles of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is to bend it to suit the philanthropic despotism of their social inventions and to have it, as Rousseau says, bear docilely the yoke of public felicity as they have conceived it.

We saw this clearly in 1789. Scarcely had the legal former regime been destroyed when the new form of society was made to bear other artificial systems all based on the agreed concept: the omnipotence of the law.


The legislator holds sway over the future. It is up to him to want what is good. It is up to him to make men what he wants them to be.


The function of the government is to direct the physical and moral forces of the nation toward the purpose behind its institution.


It is necessary to re-create the people to whom we wish to restore freedom. Since it is necessary to destroy former prejudices, change long-standing habits, improve depraved affections, restrict superfluous needs, and root out inveterate vices, strong action and a fervent drive are needed. . . . Citizens, in Sparta the inflexible austerity of Lycurgus became the unshakeable foundation for the republic; the weak and trusting character of Solon plunged Athens once again into slavery. This parallel encapsulates the entire science of the government.

Le Peletier:

Considering how far the human race has degenerated, I am convinced of the need to carry out total regeneration and, if I may put it this way, to create a new people.

As you can see, men are nothing other than vile material. It is not up to them to want what is good; they are incapable of this. It is up to the legislator, according to Saint-Just. Men are only what he wants them to be.

According to Robespierre, who echoes Rousseau literally, the legislator begins by designating the purpose for which the nation is established. There-after, all the government has to do is to direct all physical and moral forces Edition: current; Page: [135] toward this aim. The nation itself always remains passive in all this, and Billaud-Varennes teaches us that it should have only the prejudices, habits, affections, and needs that are authorized by the legislator. He goes so far as to say that the inflexible austerity of one man is the foundation of the republic.

We have seen that, where evil is so great that ordinary magistrates cannot remedy it, Mably recommended dictatorship in order to make virtue flourish. “Turn to an extraordinary group of magistrates,” he says, “whose tenure will be short and whose power will be considerable. They need to have a strong impact on citizens’ imaginations.” This doctrine has not been lost. Listen to what Robespierre says:

The principle of republican government is virtue, and its means, while it is becoming established, is terror. In our country, we want to substitute morality for selfishness, probity for honor, principles for customs, duty for the proprieties, the empire of reason for the tyranny of fashion, a scorn of vice for a scorn of misfortune, pride for insolence, greatness of spirit for vanity, a love of glory for a love of money, good people for good company, merit for intrigue, genius for a finely turned phrase, truth for brilliance, the attraction of happiness for the boredom of sensuality, the greatness of man for the small-mindedness of the great, a people that is magnanimous, powerful, and happy for a people that is likable, frivolous, and wretched, in a word, all the virtues and all the miracles of a republic for all the vices and absurdities of the monarchy.16

At what height above the rest of humanity Robespierre sets himself here! And note the circumstance in which he is speaking. He does not limit himself to expressing a wish for a major regeneration of the human heart; he does not even expect that this will be the result of a proper system of government. No, he wants to achieve this by himself, and through terror. The speech from which this puerile and plodding heap of antitheses is taken aimed to set out the moral principles that ought to direct a revolutionary government. Note that when Robespierre comes forward to request a dictatorship, it is not just to repel foreigners and combat factions but really to achieve the triumph of his own moral principles through terror, and this prior to the application of the Edition: current; Page: [136] Constitution. His pretension is to root out from the country, through terror, nothing less than selfishness, honor, customs, the proprieties, fashion, vanity, a love of money, good society, intrigue, brilliance of mind, sensuality, and wretchedness. It is only after he, Robespierre, has accomplished these miracles, as he quite rightly calls them, that he will allow the law to regain its empire. Oh, you poor people who think you are so great, who hold humanity to be so insignificant, who want to reform everything, reform yourselves and that task will suffice.

However, in general, reformers, legislators, and political writers do not ask to exercise an immediate despotism over the human race. No, they are too moderate and philanthropic for that. They demand only the despotism, absolutism, and omnipotence of the law. The only thing is that they aspire to make the law.

To show how universal this strange disposition of minds has been in France, not only would I have had to copy out the entire works of Mably, Raynal, Rousseau, and Fénelon, and long quotations from Bossuet and Montesquieu, I would also have had to copy the entire minutes of the sessions of the Convention. I will refrain from doing so and merely refer the reader to them.

We can be sure that this idea was very attractive to Bonaparte. He embraced it with fervor and put it energetically into practice. Since he considered himself to be a chemist, all he saw in Europe was a source of material on which to experiment. However, this material showed itself to be a powerful reagent. When he was three quarters disillusioned on Saint Helena, Bonaparte appeared to acknowledge that there was a certain amount of initiative in peoples and he seemed to be less hostile to freedom. However, this did not stop him from giving the following lesson to his son in his will, “To govern is to spread morality, education, and well-being widely.”

Is it still necessary to use fastidious quotations to show where Morelly, Babeuf, Owen, Saint-Simon, or Fourier takes his source? I will limit myself to offering the reader a few extracts of the book by Louis Blanc on the organization of work.17

“In our project, society receives its drive from government.” (Page 126)

In what does the drive that authority gives society consist? In imposing the project of M. Louis Blanc.

On the other hand, society is the human race.

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Therefore, in the end, the human race receives its inspiration from M. Louis Blanc.

Let him get on with it, people will say. Doubtless the human race is free to follow the advice of no matter whom. But this is not how M. Louis Blanc sees things. He thinks that his project should be converted into law and consequently be imposed by force by the government.

In our project, the state gives only a legislative structure for labor production (excuse the only) in virtue of which productive activity can and ought to accomplish its task in total freedom. It (the state) merely places freedom on a slope (that is all) which it descends once it has been put there simply through the force of things and by a natural consequence of the established mechanism.

But what is this slope? “The one indicated by M. Louis Blanc.” Does it not lead to an abyss? “No, it leads to happiness.” Why then does society not put itself on the slope of its own accord? “Because it does not know what it wants and needs a stimulus.” Who will give it this stimulus? “The government.” And who will give a stimulus to the government? “The inventor of the mechanism, M. Louis Blanc.”

We will never escape this circle, that of a passive human race and one great man who sets it in motion through the intervention of the law.

Once on this slope, will society at least enjoy a measure of freedom? “Doubtless.” And what is freedom?

Let us say this once and for all: freedom consists not only in the right awarded but in the power given to man to develop and exercise his faculties under the rule of justice and the safeguard of the law.

And this is not a worthless distinction: its meaning is profound and its consequences immense. For, when it is admitted that, in order to be truly free, man needs the power to exercise and develop his faculties, it follows that society owes a suitable education to each of its members, without which the human mind cannot flourish, together with the instruments of work, without which human activity cannot be given full scope. However, by whose intervention will society give each of its members a suitable education and the necessary tools of work if it is not through the intervention of the state?

Thus freedom is power. In what does this power consist? “In taking possession of education and the tools of work.” Who will dispense education and hand out the tools? “Society, which owes them to its members.” Through whose intervention will society hand out tools to those who lack Edition: current; Page: [138] them? “Through the intervention of the state.” From whom will the state take them?

It is up to the reader to reply and to see where all this will lead.

One of the strangest phenomena of our time, which will probably astonish our descendants a great deal, is that the doctrine based on this triple hypothesis—the radical inertia of humanity, the omnipotence of the law, and the infallibility of the legislator—is the sacred cow of the party that proclaims itself exclusively democratic.

It is true that the party also calls itself social.

Insofar as it is democratic, it has boundless faith in the human race.

Since it is social, it ranks the human race lower than mud.

Is it a question of human rights, or of producing a legislator from its bosom? In this case, indeed, in its view the people know everything instinctively; they have admirable tact. Their will is always right and the general will cannot err. Suffrage cannot be too universal. No one owes society any guarantees. The will and capacity to make a good choice is always assumed. Can the people make a mistake? Are we not in the century of enlightenment? Well, then! Will the people always remain in a state of guardianship? Have they not won their rights by enough effort and sacrifice? Have they not provided sufficient proof of their intelligence and wisdom? Have they not become mature? Are they not in a position to judge for themselves? Do they not recognize their own interests? Is there a man or a class that dares to claim the right to take the people’s place and make decisions and act on their behalf? No, no, the people want to be free and will be free. They want to run their own affairs and will do so.

However, once the legislator has freed himself from electoral meetings through the elections, oh, how he changes his language! The nation reverts to passiveness, inertia, and nothingness, and the legislator enters into possession of omnipotent powers. Invention, direction, inspiration, and organization are all up to him! All humanity has to do is go along with it; the hour of despotism has rung. And note that this is fatal; for the people who only recently were so enlightened, moral, and perfect now have no propensities, or if they have any, these are leading them all to degradation. And they should be left a shred of freedom! Are you not aware that, according to M. Considérant, freedom inexorably leads to monopoly? Are you not aware that freedom is competition and that competition, according to M. Blanc, is a system of extermination for the people and a cause of ruin for the bourgeoisie? That it is for this reason that peoples have been all the more exterminated and ruined Edition: current; Page: [139] the freer they are, as Switzerland, Holland, England, and the United States show? Are you not aware that, still according to M. Louis Blanc, competition leads to monopoly and that for the same reason, a good bargain leads to high prices? That competition leads to the drying up of sources of consumption and propels production to become a devouring activity? That competition forces production to increase and consumption to decrease? From which it follows that free peoples produce in order not to consume and that competition is simultaneously oppression and dementia and that it is absolutely essential for M. Louis Blanc to meddle with it.

What freedom, besides, can we leave men? Will it be freedom of conscience? But we will see them all take advantage of permissiveness to become atheists. Freedom of education? But fathers will hasten to pay teachers to teach their sons immorality and error; what is more, according to M. Thiers, if education were left to national freedom, it would cease to be national and we would raise our children according to the views of the Turks or Hindus, instead of which, through the legal despotism of the university, they have the good fortune to be raised according to the noble views of the Romans. Freedom to work? But this is competition, which leaves products unconsumed, exterminates the people, and ruins the middle classes. Freedom to trade? But we know only too well, and protectionists have demonstrated this ad nauseam, that men are ruined when they carry out free trade and that in order to become rich they should trade without freedom. Freedom of association? But according to socialist doctrine, freedom and association are mutually exclusive precisely because one takes freedom away from men only in order to force them to form associations.

You can thus see clearly that social democrats cannot, in all conscience, leave men any freedom, since by their very nature, and if these fine gentlemen did not put it right, they would all tend everywhere toward all forms of degradation and demoralization.

We are left guessing, if this is so, on what basis universal suffrage is being demanded so insistently on their behalf.

The pretensions of the organizers raise another question, which I have oft en asked them and to which, as far as I know, they have never replied. Since the natural tendencies of man are sufficiently bad for their freedom to have to be removed, how is it that those of the organizers are good? Are the legislators and their agents not part of the human race? Do they think they are formed from a different clay from the rest of mankind? They state that society, left to itself, rushes inexorably toward the abyss because its instincts Edition: current; Page: [140] are perverse. They claim to be able to stop society on this slope and redirect it to a better goal. They have therefore received from heaven a level of intelligence and virtues that place them outside and above humanity; let them show the justification for this. They wish to be shepherds and want us to be sheep. This arrangement assumes that they have superior natures, and we have every right to demand prior proof of this.

Note that what I am questioning is not their right to invent social combinations and propagate them, recommend them, and try them out on themselves at their own risk, but in particular their right to impose them on us through the law, that is to say, using public compulsion and finance.

I demand that the followers of Cabet, Fourier, and Proudhon, the academics and protectionists, renounce, not their specific ideas, but the idea that is common to them, which is to subject us by force to their causes and writings, to their social workshops, their “free” banks, their Greek and Roman systems of morality, and their hindrances to trade. What I demand from them is for us to be allowed to judge their plans and to refuse to join them, whether directly or indirectly, if we find that they run counter to our interests or are repugnant to our consciences.

For, apart from the fact that it is oppressive and plunderous, the call for bringing in the government and more taxes implies once again this damaging hypothesis, the infallibility of the organizer, and the incompetence of humanity.

And if humanity is incapable of making its own judgments, why are people talking to us about universal suffrage?

The contradiction in these ideas is unfortunately reflected in events, and while the French people have led all the others in winning their rights, or rather their political guarantees, they nevertheless remain the most governed, directed, administered, taxed, hobbled, and exploited of all peoples.

They are also the people where revolutions are most likely to happen, and this should be so.

As soon as you start with the idea, accepted by all our political writers and so energetically expressed by M. Louis Blanc in the following words, “Society receives its motive force from the government”; as soon as men consider themselves to be sensitive but passive, incapable of lifting themselves up by their own discernment and energy to any form of morality or well-being and reduced to expecting everything to be provided by the law; in a word, when they accept that their relationship with the state is that of sheep with their shepherd, it is clear that the responsibility of the government is immense. Good and evil, virtues and vices, equality and inequality, wealth Edition: current; Page: [141] and poverty all flow from it. It is responsible for everything, it undertakes everything, and it does everything, so therefore it answers for everything. If we are happy, the state rightfully claims our gratitude, but if we are unhappy we can blame only it. Does it not, in principle, dispose of our persons and our belongings? Is not the law omnipotent? When the state created the university monopoly, it undertook to meet the hopes of heads of families who were deprived of their freedom, and if these hopes have been dashed, whose fault is this? By regulating industry, the state undertook to make it prosper; otherwise the state would have been absurd to remove freedom from industry, and if industry suffers, whose fault is it? By interfering in adjusting the balance of trade by playing with the tariffs, the state undertook to make the stale trade flourish and if, far from flourishing, it dies, whose fault is that? By awarding the shipbuilders protection in exchange for their freedom, the government undertook to make them generate wealth, and if they become a financial burden, whose fault is this?

Thus, there is no suffering in the nation for which the government has not voluntarily made itself responsible. Should we be surprised therefore that each cause of suffering is a cause for revolution?

And what remedy are they proposing? They propose the indefinite widening of the domain of the law, that is to say, the responsibility of the government.

But if the government makes itself responsible for raising and regulating all earnings and cannot do this, if it makes itself responsible for giving assistance in every misfortune and cannot do this, if it makes itself responsible for ensuring all the pensions of all the workers and cannot do this, if it makes itself responsible for supplying all the workers with their working tools and cannot do this, if it makes itself responsible for allocating free credit to all those craving loans and cannot do this, if, according to the words we have with regret seen escape from the pen of M. de Lamartine, “The state has set itself the mission of enlightening, developing, enlarging, fortifying, spiritualizing, and sanctifying the souls of peoples,” and it fails, do we not see with each disappointment, alas, that it is more than likely that a revolution is inevitable?

I repeat my thesis and say: the overriding question to be asked is where the dividing line between economic and political science18 lies. It is this:

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What is the law? What ought it to be? What domain does it cover? What are its limits? Consequently, where do the attributions of the legislator cease?

I have no hesitation in replying: the law is the common power organized to obstruct injustice and, in short, the law is justice.

It is not true that the legislator has absolute power over our persons and property, since they existed before him and his task is to surround them with guarantees.

It is not true that the mission of the law is to rule over our consciences, our ideas, our will, our education, our feelings, our work, our trade, our gift s, and our enjoyment.

Its mission is to ensure that in none of these areas does the right of one person override the right of another.

Because it wields the necessary sanction of coercion, the law can have as its legitimate domain only the legitimate domain of force, that is to say, justice.

And as each individual has the right to have recourse to force only in the case of legitimate defense, collective force, which is just the union of individual forces, cannot reasonably be applied in any other case.

Therefore, the law is solely the organization of the pre-existing individual right of legitimate defense.

The law is justice.

It is entirely wrong for it to be able to oppress persons or plunder their property, even for a philanthropic reason, since its mission is to protect them.

And let it not be said that it can at least be philanthropic provided that it refrains from any oppression or plunder; that is contradictory. The law cannot fail to act with regard to our persons or our property; if it does not guarantee them, it violates them by the very fact that it acts, the very fact that it exists.

The law is justice.

This is a statement that is clear, simple, perfectly defined and delimited, easy to understand, and easy to see, for justice is a given quantity that is unmovable and inalterable and does not allow any ifs or buts.

If you exceed these bounds, and make the law religious, fraternal, egalitarian, philanthropic, industrial, literary, or artistic, you will immediately be in the realm of the infinite, uncertainty, and the unknown and in an imposed utopia or, what is worse, in the host of utopias struggling to take over the law and impose themselves, for fraternity and philanthropy, unlike justice, do Edition: current; Page: [143] not have established limits. Where will you stop? Where will the law stop? One person, like M. de Saint-Cricq, will extend his brand of philanthropy only to certain sectors of industry and will demand of the law that it disadvantage consumers in favor of producers. Another, like M. Considérant, will take up the cause of the workers and claim from the law on their behalf an assured minimum, by way of clothing, accommodation, food, and everything necessary for the preservation of life. A third, M. Louis Blanc, will say, correctly, that this is just a rough outline of fraternity and that the law ought to provide all the tools for work and education. A fourth will call to our attention that such an arrangement will still leave an opening for inequality and that the law should ensure that luxury, literature, and the arts reach the most far-flung hamlet. You will thus be led right up to communism, or rather, the legislation will be . . . what it already is: a battlefield for all forms of dreams and cupidity.

The law is justice.

Within this circle a simple, unshakable government is conceived. And I defy anyone to tell me how the thought of revolution or insurrection, or even a simple riot, could arise against a public authority that is limited to repressing injustice. Under a regime like this, there would be greater fulfillment, well-being would be spread more evenly, and as for the suffering that is endemic to the human race, no one would think of attributing it to the government, which would have had as little effect over suffering as it has on variations in the weather. Has anyone ever seen the people rise up against the court of appeal or burst into the chamber of a justice of the peace to demand a minimum wage, free credit, tools for work, favorable tariffs, or social workshops? They are fully aware that these arrangements are beyond the judge’s powers and will learn at the same time that they are beyond the powers of the law.

But if you make the law based on the principle of fraternity and proclaim that all benefits and misfortunes flow from it, that it is responsible for all individual suffering and all social inequality, you will open the floodgates to an unending flow of complaints, hatred, unrest, and revolution.

The law is justice.

And it would be very strange if it could in fairness be anything else! Does justice not encapsulate right? Are all rights not equal? How then could the law intervene to subject me to the social designs of MM Mimerel, de Melun, Thiers, and Louis Blanc rather than subject these gentlemen to my designs? Does anyone believe that I have not received sufficient imagination from Edition: current; Page: [144] nature to invent a utopia of my own? Is it the role of the law to choose among so many illusions and assign public compulsion to serve just one of these?

The law is justice.

And let nobody say, as is constantly said, that if the law were thus designed to be atheist, individualistic, and with no substance it would make the human race in its image. That is an absurd deduction, only too worthy of this government obsession with seeing humanity in the law.

What then! Once we are free, does it follow that we would cease to act? Once we no longer receive our animation from the law, does it follow that we will be devoid of any stimulus? Once the law limits itself to guaranteeing us the free exercise of our faculties, does it follow that our faculties will be struck by inertia? Once the law no longer imposes forms of religion, systems of association, methods of teaching, procedures for working, instructions for trading, or rules for charitable work on us, does it follow that we will rush into atheism, isolation, ignorance, deprivation, and selfishness? Does it follow that we will no longer be capable of recognizing the power and goodness of God, form associations, help each other, love and assist our brothers in misfortune, examine the secrets of nature, and aspire to achieving the perfection of our being?

The law is justice.

And it is under the law of justice, under the regime of right, under the influence of freedom, security, stability, and responsibility that each person will attain his full value, the full dignity of his being, and that humanity will accomplish with order and calmness, doubtless with slowness but certainty, the progress which is its destiny.

I think that I have theory on my side, for whatever question I subject to reason—whether it concerns religion, philosophy, politics, or economics; whether it relates to well-being, morality, equality, right, justice, progress, responsibility, solidarity, property, work, trade, capital, earnings, taxes, population, credit, or government; at whatever point on the scientific horizon I place the point of departure of my research—I invariably reach this conclusion: the solution to the social problem is to be found in freedom.

And have I not also experience on my side? Take a look at the globe. What countries have the happiest, most moral, and most peaceful peoples? Those countries in which the law intervenes the least in private activity; in which the government is the least felt; in which individuality has the most vigor and public opinion the greatest influence; in which the administrative Edition: current; Page: [145] systems are the least in number and degree of complexity, the taxes the least heavy and the least unfair, popular discontent the least heated and the least justifiable; in which the responsibility of individuals and classes is the most active and, consequently, where habits are imperfect, they tend most indefatigably to improve; in which transactions, agreements, and associations are the least hindered; in which labor, capital, and the population are subject to the fewest artificial displacements; in which humanity obeys its proper leanings most readily; in which the thought of God prevails the most over the designs of men; those in a word that come the closest to the following state of affairs: all things to be achieved through man’s free and perfectible spontaneous action, within the limits of what is right; nothing to be achieved by the law or by force other than universal justice.

It has to be said: there are too many great men in the world. There are too many legislators, organizers, founders of society, leaders of peoples, fathers of nations, etc., etc. Too many people put themselves above humanity in order to rule it and too many people think their job is to become involved with it.

People will say to me: you yourself are becoming involved, you who talk about it. That is true. But they will agree that it is for a very different reason and from a very different point of view, and while I am taking on those who wish to reform, it is solely to make them abandon their effort.

I am becoming involved with it not like Vaucanson with his automaton but like a physiologist with the human organism, in order to examine it and admire it.

I am becoming involved with it in the same spirit as that of a famous traveler.

He arrived among a savage tribe. A child had just been born and a host of fortune-tellers, warlocks, and quacks were crowding around it, armed with rings, hooks, and ties. One said, “This child will never smell the aroma of a pipe if I do not lengthen his nostrils.” Another said, “He will be deprived of the sense of hearing if I do not make his ears reach down to his shoulders.” A third said, “He will never see the light of the sun unless I make his eyes slant obliquely.” A fourth said, “He will never stand upright if I do not make his legs curve.” A fifth said, “He will never be able to think if I do not squeeze his brain.” “Away with you,” said the traveler. “God does His work well. Do not claim to know more than He does and, since He has given organs to this frail creature, leave those organs to develop and grow strong through exercise, experimentation, experience, and freedom.”

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God has also provided humanity with all that is necessary for it to accomplish its destiny. There is a providential social physiology just as there is a providential human physiology. The social organs are also constituted so as to develop harmoniously in the fresh air of freedom. Away with you, therefore, you quacks and organizers! Away with your rings, chains, hooks, and pincers! Away with your artificial means! Away with your social workshop, your phalanstery, your governmentalism, your centralization, your tariffs, your universities, your state religion, your free credit or monopolistic banks, your constraints, your restrictions, your moralizing, or your equalizing through taxes! And since the social body has had inflicted on it so many theoretical systems to no avail, let us finish where we should have started; let us reject these and at last put freedom to the test, freedom, which is an act of faith in God and in His work.

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10: Property and Plunder1

[vol. 4, p. 394. “Propriété et spoliation.” Originally published in the 24 July 1848 issue of Le Journal des débats.]

M. Considérant
Considérant, M.
Frédéric Bastiat
Bastiat, Frédéric
July 1848
Victor Considérant
Considérant, Victor

First Letter

The National Assembly has been set an immense question, the answer to which is of the greatest interest to the prosperity and peace of France.2 A new right is knocking on the door of the Constitution: the right to work. Not only is it demanding a place for itself, but also it claims to take, in all or in part, the place of the right to property.

M. Louis Blanc has already provisionally proclaimed this new right with the success we have seen.3

M. Proudhon claims the right to work in order to put paid to property.

M. Considérant claims it in order to strengthen it by making it legitimate.

Thus, according to these political writers, property carries within it something that is unjust and wrong, a germ of death. I pretend to demonstrate that it is truth and justice itself and that what it carries within itself is the very basis of progress and life.

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They appear to believe that, in the combat about to take place, the poor have an interest in the triumph of the right to work and the rich in the defense of the right to property. I believe I can prove that property rights are essentially democratic and that everything that denies or violates them is fundamentally aristocratic and anarchical.

I hesitated to ask for space in a journal for a dissertation on social economy. The following may perhaps justify this attempt:

First of all, there is the seriousness and topicality of the subject.

Second, MM Louis Blanc, Considérant, and Proudhon are not merely political writers. They are also the heads of schools with a number of enthusiastic disciples, as is shown by their presence in the National Assembly. Their doctrines today exercise considerable influence, which I think disastrous, on the world of business; and, what is no less serious, they may be strengthened by concessions at odds with the orthodoxy of the masters of political economy.

Last, and why should I not admit it, something in the depths of my conscience tells me that at the heart of this burning controversy it might be given to me to cast an unexpected ray of light to illuminate the terrain on which the schools most in opposition may sometimes be reconciled.

This is enough, I hope, for these letters to be accepted by their readers.

First of all, I have to set out the criticism made of property.

In short, this is how M. Considérant explains it. I do not think I am distorting his theory by summarizing it.4

All men legitimately possess the thing that their activity has created.

They may consume it, give it, exchange it, and transmit it without any person, even the whole of society, having any concern with it.

Landowners therefore legitimately possess not only the products they have created on the land but also the added value they have given to the land itself through farming.

However, there is one thing that they have not created, which is the fruit of no work, and that is the ground in its natural state, the original capital and the productive power of the agents of nature. However, landowners have taken over this capital. In this lie usurpation, confiscation, injustice, and constant illegitimacy.

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The human race has been put on this globe in order to live and develop itself. The species is therefore the usufructuary of the surface of the globe. However, this surface has now been confiscated by the minority at the expense of the majority.

It is true that this confiscation was inevitable, for how can it be cultivated if each person can exercise, as he sees fit and in total freedom, his natural rights, that is to say, the rights of savagery?

We should therefore not destroy property but legitimize it. How? We should do it by recognizing the right to work.

In fact, savages exercise their four rights (to hunt, fish, grow crops, and graze animals) only provided they work. It is therefore under the same proviso that society owes the proletariat the equivalent of the usufruct of which it has robbed them.

To sum up, society owes all the members of humanity, on condition that they work, a wage that puts them in a situation that can be reckoned equally favorable to that of savages.

Property will then be legitimate from all points of view, and the poor and the rich will be reconciled.

This is M. Considérant’s entire theory.5 He asserts that this question of property is very simple, since it can be solved with just a little common sense, but nevertheless no one before him had understood it at all.

This is not much of a compliment to the human race, but in compensation I can only admire the extreme modesty expressed in the author’s conclusions.

What in effect is he asking of society?

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That it acknowledge the right to work as equivalent for humanity’s well-being to a usufruct of the land in its natural state.

And what value does he place on this equivalent?

He reckons it equivalent to the level at which the land in its natural state can keep savages alive.

Since there is approximately one inhabitant per square league, the owners of land in France can certainly legitimize their usurpation at very little cost. All they have to do is to undertake that thirty to forty thousand nonowners will continue to live side by side with them at the full level of the Eskimos.

But what am I saying? Why are we talking about France? In this system there is no longer any France and no longer any national property, since the life tenancy of the land belongs as of right to the whole human race.

Besides, I have no intention of examining M. Considérant’s theory in detail, since that would take me too far. I wish only to attack what is weighty and consequential at the core of this theory, that is to say, the question of rent.

M. Considérant’s system can be summarized thus:

An agricultural product exists through the combination of two actions:

The action by a man, or work, which creates the right to property,

And the action of nature, which ought to be free and which landowners can arrange to be turned unjustly to their advantage.

This is what constitutes the usurpation of the rights of humanity.

If, therefore, I were to prove that men, in the course of their transactions, are mutually paid only for their work and that they do not contrive to have the action of nature included in the price of the items being exchanged, M. Considérant should consider himself to be totally satisfied.

M. Proudhon’s complaints against property are absolutely identical.6 “Property,” he says, “will cease to be abusive through the mutual sharing of services.” Therefore, if I demonstrate that men exchange only services with each other, never charging each other a sou for the use of the forces of nature that God has given to everyone free of charge, M. Proudhon, for his part, should agree that his utopia has been achieved.

These two political writers are not entitled to claim the right to work. It does not matter that they consider this famous right in such a diametrically Edition: current; Page: [151] opposed light that, in M. Considérant’s view, it ought to legitimize property while according to M. Proudhon it ought to put paid to it. It is still true that there will no longer be any question of this right, provided that it is clearly proved that, under the regime of property, men will exchange hardship for hardship, effort for effort, work for work, and service for service, with the contribution made by nature always provided in addition to the bargain struck, so that the forces of nature, intended to be free of charge, continue to be free of charge through all human transactions.

We can see that what is being contested is the legitimacy of rent, since it is supposed that this is, in whole or in part, an unjust payment that the consumer makes to the landowner, not for a personal service but for the advantages supplied by nature free of charge.

I have said that modern reformers can base themselves on the opinion of the leading economists.7

In fact, Adam Smith says that rent is oft en a reasonable interest payment for the capital spent on improving the land, and also that this interest is oft en just a part of the rent.

To which McCulloch makes this positive declaration:

That which is properly called rent is the sum paid for the use of the forces of nature and the inherent power of the land. It is totally distinct from the sum paid for the buildings, fences, roads, and other improvements made to the land. Rent is therefore always a monopoly.

Buchanan goes so far as to say that “rent is a part of the revenue from consumers that goes into the pockets of landowners.”

Ricardo says:

A part of the rent is paid for the use of the capital that has been used to improve the quality of the land, constructing buildings, etc.; the rest is paid for the use of the latent and indestructible powers of the land.

Scrope says:

The value of the land and the ability to draw a rent from it are the result of two circumstances: 1. the appropriation of its natural powers, and 2. the work devoted to improving it.

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With regard to the first circumstance, rent is a monopoly. It is a restriction to the usufructor of the gift s that the Creator has made to men to satisfy their needs. This restriction is just only to the extent that it is necessary for the common good.

Senior says:

The instruments of production are labor and the agents of nature. Once the agents of nature are appropriated, landowners have themselves paid for their use in the form of rent, which is compensation for no sacrifice whatever and is received by those who have neither worked nor made any advance payments, but who limit themselves to holding out their hands to receive the offerings of the community.

After having said that part of rent is the interest on capital, Senior adds:

The rest is taken by the owner of the agents of nature and consists of his reward, not for having worked or saved but simply for not having kept to himself what he could have kept to himself and for having allowed the gift s of nature to be used by others.

Certainly, when entering into an argument with men who proclaim a doctrine that is specious in itself, which is likely to give rise to hopes and favorable reactions from the suffering classes and which is based on authorities like these, it is not enough to close your eyes to the seriousness of the situation. It is not enough to cry disdainfully that you are facing dreamers, utopians, people that are crazy, or even members of factions. You have to study the question and settle it once and for all. It is worth a moment of dull work.

I believe that it will be settled satisfactorily for all if I prove that property not only leaves those that are labeled the proletariat the free usufruct of the agents of nature but even increases it by ten or a hundredfold. I dare to hope that the result of this demonstration will be a clear view of a few harmonies likely to satisfy intelligent minds and calm the pretensions of all the schools of economists, socialists, or even communists.8

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M. Considérant
Considérant, M.
Frédéric Bastiat
Bastiat, Frédéric
Victor Considérant
Considérant, Victor

Second Letter

What inflexible power logic has!

Rough conquerors share an island. They live from rent in leisure and luxury among hard-working and poor vanquished people. According to political economy, there is, therefore, a source of value other than work.

This being so, political economy sets about breaking down rent and floats this theory on the world:

“Rent is partly interest on capital spent. Another part stems from the monopoly of the agents of nature that have been usurped and confiscated.”

This strain of political economy from the English school very rapidly crossed the Channel. Socialist logic caught hold of it and told the workers, “Watch out! There are three elements in the price of the bread you eat. There is the labor of the workers, you owe them for this; there is the work of the landowners, you owe them for this; and there is the work of nature, for which you do not owe anything. What is being taken from you under this heading is a monopoly, as Scrope says; it is a tax imposed on the gift s that God has given you, as Senior says.”

Political economy sees the danger of this distinction. In spite of this, political economy does not withdraw it but explains it: “True, in the social mechanism the role of the landowner is useful and necessary. People work for him and he pays them with the heat of the sun and the coolness of the dew. This has to be the way; otherwise there would be no crops grown.”

“Never mind that,” logic replies; “I have a thousand types of organization in reserve with which to eliminate injustice, which incidentally is never necessary.”

Therefore, because of a false principle gathered from the English school, logic has breached landownership. Will it stop there? Do not be too ready to believe this. It would not be logic if this were so.

As logic said to farmers, “The law governing plant life cannot be property and generate profit”; it will say to manufacturers of woolen cloth, “The law of gravity cannot be property and generate profit.”

To manufacturers of cotton sheeting, “The law of the elasticity of steam cannot be a property and generate profit.”

To ironmasters, “The law of combustion cannot be property and generate profit.”

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To seamen, “The laws of hydrostatics cannot be property and generate profit.”

To roofers, carpenters, and lumberjacks, “You use saws, axes, and hammers; you also contribute to your work the hardness of bodies and the resistance of environments. These laws belong to everyone and should not generate profit.”

Yes, logic will go this far at the risk of overturning the entire system of society. Once it has denied landownership, it will deny the productivity of capital, continuing to use as its basis the fact that landowners and capitalists are charging payment for the use of the force of nature. For this reason it is important to prove that logic is starting from a false premise, that it is not true that in any art, trade, or industry the forces of nature are being charged for and that in this respect agriculture is not receiving special treatment.

There are things that are useful without any work intervening, such as the earth, the air, water, the light and heat of the sun, and the materials and forces that nature provides.

There are others, which become useful only because work has been carried out on these materials and has taken over these forces.

Utility is therefore sometimes due to nature alone, sometimes due to work alone, but nearly always due to the combined activity of work and nature.

Let others lose their way in definitions. For my part, I understand utility to be what everyone understands by this word whose etymology shows its meaning exactly, namely, that everything that serves a purpose, whether by its nature, by work, or by both, being useful, constitutes utility.

I call value the only part of utility that is communicated or added by work, so that two things are of equal value when those who have worked on them exchange them freely with each other. The following are my reasons for this:

What makes a man refuse an exchange? It is his knowledge that the item being offered to him would require less work from him than the item demanded from him. It is absurd to say to him, “I have worked less than you, but gravity helped me and I have included it in the calculation.” He will reply, “I can also use gravity with work that is equal to yours.”

When two men are isolated, if they work, it is to provide a service to themselves. Where an exchange is involved, each person is providing a service to the other and receives an equivalent service in return. If one of them is helped by some force of nature that is at the disposal of the other, this force will not be included in the bargain as the right to refuse will oppose this.

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Robinson hunts and Friday fishes. It is clear that the quantity of fish exchanged for game will be determined by the work involved. If Robinson said to Friday, “Nature goes to a lot more trouble in making a bird than a fish, so give me more of your work than I will give you of mine since I am trading you in return a greater effort by nature. . . .” Friday would not fail to reply, “It is no more up to you than me to judge the efforts of nature. What should be compared is your work to mine, and if you wish to establish our relationship on the footing that I will work more than you on a regular basis, I will start to hunt and you can fish if you want to.”

You can see that the generosity of nature in this hypothesis cannot become a monopoly unless violence is involved. You can also see that, while it is a significant factor in utility, it is not a factor in value.

I have pointed out in the past that metaphors are an enemy of political economy. Here I accuse metonymy of the same misdeed.9

Are people using language accurately when they say, “Water is worth two sous”?

It is said that a famous astronomer could not bring himself to say, “Ah, what a fine sunset!” Even in the presence of ladies he cried, in a strange form of enthusiasm, “Ah, what a fine sight is the rotation of the earth when the sun’s rays strike it tangentially!”

This astronomer was accurate and ridiculous. An economist would be no less ridiculous if he said, “The work needed to go to fetch water from the spring is worth two sous.”

The strange character of the paraphrase does not prevent its accuracy.

In effect, water is not worth anything. It has no value although it is useful. If we all had a constant spring near our doorstep, obviously water would have no value because it would not give rise to any exchange. But if it is a quarter of a league away and you have to go to fetch it, this is work and here you have the origin of value. If it is half a league away, it is double the work and therefore double the value, although its utility remains the same. In my view, water is a free gift of nature on condition that you go to fetch it. If I do it for myself, I am doing myself a service involving some work. If I entrust this to another, I am giving him the bother and I owe him a payment for service rendered. There are thus two occasions of work and two services that have to be compared and discussed. The gift of nature continues to be free. Edition: current; Page: [156] In fact, I consider that the value lies in the work and not in the water and that metonymy is being used as much when people say, “Water is worth two sous” as when they say, “I have drunk a bottle.”

Air is a free gift of nature and has no value. Economists say, “It has no exchange value, but it has a use value.” What language! Well, sirs, have you made it your work to turn people off science? Why not simply say, “It has no value, but it is useful.” It is useful because it serves a purpose. It has no value because nature has done everything and work nothing. If work has not entered into it, no one has any service to return, receive, or pay for. There is no effort involved nor any exchange to be made. There is nothing to compare; therefore there is no value.

But if you enter a diving bell and entrust a man with transmitting air to you by using a pump for two hours, he will be exerting himself by providing you with a service and you will have to pay for this. Will you be paying for the air? No, you will be paying for the work. Therefore, has the air acquired value? You can say so to abbreviate, if you like, but do not forget that it is metonymy. The air remains free and no human intelligence is capable of attributing value to it. If it has a value, it is that measured by the effort taken compared with the effort required to make the exchange.

A launderer is obliged to dry washing in a large building using the action of fire. Another is content to hang it out in the sun. This launderer takes less trouble; he is not nor can he be as demanding. He therefore does not make me pay for the heat of the sun’s rays and I, as the consumer, benefit from this.

Therefore the major economic law is this:

Services are traded for other services.

Do ut des; do ut facias; facio ut des; facio ut facias (do this for me and I will do that for you). This is very trivial and common but is nonetheless the beginning, the middle, and the end of political economy.10

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From these three examples we can draw the following general conclusion: the consumer pays for all the services received by him, all the trouble he is saved, and all the work he generates, but he enjoys free of charge the free gift s from nature and its powers that the producer has put to use.

Here are three men who have placed air, water, and heat at my disposal with only their work being paid for.

What then has been able to make people think that farmers who also make use of the air, water, and heat are making me pay the so-called intrinsic value of these agents of nature? That they are charging me alike for utility created and utility not created? That, for example, the price of wheat sold at 18 francs is broken down as follows:

12 fr. for the actual work } legitimate property
3 fr. for the preceding work }
3 fr. for the air, rain, sun, and plant life, which are illegitimate property?

Why do all the economists in the English school believe that this last element has crept surreptitiously into the value of wheat?

M. Considérant
Considérant, M.
Frédéric Bastiat
Bastiat, Frédéric
Victor Considérant
Considérant, Victor

Third Letter

Services are traded for other services. I am obliged to make a heroic effort to resist the temptation of showing how simple, true, and fertile this axiom is.

Faced with it, what are all these subtle notions, use-value and exchange-value, material and immaterial products, or the productive and unproductive classes? Industrialists, lawyers, doctors, civil servants, bankers, merchants, seamen, soldiers, artists, workers, whichever of these we are, with the exception of rapacious men, we provide and receive services. However, as these mutual services are commensurate only with each other, it is in them alone that value resides and not in the free material and the free agents of nature they set in motion. Let nobody say, therefore, as is currently fashionable, that merchants are parasitical intermediaries. Does he or does he not have to make an effort? Does he or does he not save us work? Does he or does he not provide us with services? If he provides services, he creates value just as much as the manufacturer does.11

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Just as the manufacturer by means of his steam engine uses the weight of the atmosphere and the expansion of gas to turn his thousand spindles, the merchant uses the direction of the wind and the fluidity of water to transport his products. But neither of these makes us pay for the forces of nature since the more they are assisted the more they are obliged to lower their prices. These things therefore remain what God wanted them to be, a free gift for the whole of humanity, except for the work put in.

Is this not equally true for farming? This is what I have to examine.

Let us suppose that there is a huge island inhabited by a few savages. One of these has the bright idea of concentrating on growing crops. He prepares for this at length as he knows that the enterprise will take up a great many days of work before it shows the slightest yield. He gathers provisions and manufactures crude instruments. At last he is ready and fences and clears a tract of land.

Two questions arise:

Does this savage contravene community rights?

Does he contravene his own interests?

Since there is a hundred thousand times more land than the community is capable of cultivating, he no more contravenes its interests than I contravene those of my fellow countrymen when I take a glass of water from the Seine to drink or a cubic foot of air from the atmosphere to breathe.

He does not contravene his own interests either. On the contrary, since he no longer hunts or hunts less, his companions have proportionally more space. What is more, if he produces more crops than he can consume, he will have a surplus to trade.

In trading, will he be exercising the slightest pressure on his fellow men? No, because they will be free to accept or refuse.

Will he be charging for the contribution of the earth, sun, and rain? No, because everyone, like him, has recourse to these agents of production.

Should he wish to sell his tract of land, what could he obtain for it? The equivalent of his work, that is all. If he said, “First of all, give me as much of your time as I have devoted to the operation and then another amount of your time for the value of the land in its natural state,” people would answer, “There is land in its natural state next to yours; I can only repay you for your Edition: current; Page: [159] time, since, for an equal amount of time, nothing stops me from putting myself in a position similar to yours.” This is exactly the reply we would give to the water carrier who asks us for two sous for the value of his service and two for the value of the water, from which we can see that the earth and water have this in common: both are very useful but neither has any value.

If our savage wished to rent out his land, he would never obtain anything other than payment for his work in another form. The more exaggerated of his demands would always meet this inexorable reply, “There is more land on the island,” a reply more decisive than that of the miller of Sans-Souci,12 “There are judges in Berlin.”13

Thus, at least at the beginning, the landowner who either sells the products of his land or his land itself or leases it is doing nothing more than provide and receive services on an equal footing. It is the services that are compared, and consequently have value, the value being attributed to the land only by abbreviation or metonymy.

Let us see what happens as the island becomes increasingly populated and farmed.

It is quite clear that the ease of procuring raw materials, subsistence, and work is increasing for everyone, without privileged advantage for anyone, as we can see in the United States. There, it is absolutely impossible for landowners to put themselves in a position that is more favorable than that of other workers since, because of the abundance of land, each person has the choice of taking up agriculture if it becomes more lucrative than other jobs. Edition: current; Page: [160] This freedom is enough to maintain the balance between services. It is also enough to ensure that the agents of nature, used in a great many industries as well as in agriculture, do not benefit producers as such but the general public who are the consumers.

Two brothers take leave of each other; one is going whaling, the other to clear land in the far west. They then trade oil for wheat. Does one take the value of the land more into account than the value of the whale? Comparison can be made only between services received and given. These services therefore are the only ones to have value.

This is so true that, when nature has been very generous with regard to the soil, that is to say, when the harvest is plentiful, the price of wheat decreases and it is the fisherman who benefits from this. When nature is generous with produce from the ocean, in other words, when catches are large, oil is cheap and farmers benefit from this. Nothing proves better that the free gift s of nature remain free for the masses than the fact that producers who bring goods to market are paid solely for the service they provide in doing so.

Therefore, for as long as there is an abundance of uncultivated land in the country, the balance will be maintained between mutual services; and any exceptional advantage to the landowner will be refused.

This would not be so if landowners succeeded in prohibiting any new land clearance. In this case, it is perfectly clear that they would be laying down the law to the rest of the community. As the population is growing, the need for subsistence is increasingly being felt and it is clear that they would be in a position to have their services remunerated at a higher price, which in normal speech would be expressed by the metonymy, land has increased in value. However, the proof that this iniquitous privilege would be conferring an artificial value, not to the matter but to the services, is the situation we are witnessing in France and in Paris itself. Through a procedure similar to the one we have just described, the law limits the number of brokers, currency exchange agents, notaries, and butchers, and what is the result? By enabling them to put a high price on their services, it creates for their benefit a capital that is not included in any material. The need for brevity produces the following statement, “This project, this practice, or this patent is worth so much,” and the metonymy is obvious. The same applies to the land.

We have reached the final hypothesis, that in which the land in the entire island is subject to individual appropriation and farming.

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In this case, it appears that the relative position of the two sectors will change.

In effect, the population continues to grow. It will take up all the occupations except for the one that has been filled. The latter’s owner will then operate the law of trade! What limits the value of a service is never the goodwill of the person supplying it; it is when the person to whom it is being offered can either do without it, supply it himself, or ask for it from others. The propertyless man no longer has any of these alternatives. In former times, he would say to a landowner, “If you ask me for more than the payment for your work, I will grow my own crops!” and the landowner would be forced to give way. These days, a landowner would reply, “There is no more land in the country.” Thus, whether we see value in things or in services, farmers will take advantage of the lack of any competition and, like landowners, will lay down the law to sharecroppers and farm laborers and in the long run to everyone.

This new situation has obviously one single cause, the fact that those who do not own land can no longer stem the demands of those that do by stating, “There is still land left to clear.”

What, therefore, is needed to ensure that the balance between services is maintained and that the situation according to the current hypothesis immediately concurs with that of the previous one? One single thing: that another island rises up next to our island, or even better new continents that are not totally covered by agriculture.

If this happened, production would continue to develop and be distributed in fair proportions between agriculture and other industries without any possible oppression on either side, since if landowners said to craftsmen, “I will sell you my wheat at a price that exceeds the normal payment for the work,” craftsmen would be quick to reply, “I will work for the landowners on the continent who are unable to make such demands.”

Once this situation has happened, the proper guarantee for the masses lies in free exchange, that is, in the right of labor.14

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The right of labor constitutes freedom and property. Craftsmen are the owners of their labor, their services, or the price they earn from them in the same way that landowners own the soil. So true is this that, by virtue of this right, craftsmen can exchange their labor and services around the world for agricultural products and are bound to keep landowners in the position of equality I have previously described in which services are exchanged for other services, without the possession of the land itself conferring any more of a benefit independently of the land’s being put to work than does the ownership of a steam engine or the simplest tool.

However, if by usurping legislative power, landowners prohibit the landless farm laborers15 from working away from the land in return for subsistence, the equilibrium between services is broken. Out of respect for accuracy in political economy, I will not say that in this way they are artificially increasing the value of the land or agents of nature, but I will say that that they are artificially increasing the value of their services. With less work themselves, they are buying more work. They are committing oppression. They are behaving like all the monopolists with patents. They are behaving like all the landowners in the earlier period who prohibited land clearance. They are introducing into society a cause of inequality and poverty. They are changing the notions of justice and property and are digging an abyss under their feet.16

But what relief can nonlandowners draw from the proclamation of the right to work? How does this new right increase subsistence or the work distributed to the masses? Are not all forms of capital devoted to making work for people? Do they increase by passing through the coffers of the state? When it purloins capital from the people through taxes, does the state not eliminate as many sources of work on the one hand as it opens up on the other?

Furthermore, in whose favor are you claiming this right? According to the theory that revealed it to you, it would be to the advantage of anyone who no longer has a share in the usufruct of the land in its original state. But bankers, merchants, manufacturers, lawyers, doctors, civil servants, artists, Edition: current; Page: [163] and craftsmen are not landowners. Do you mean that those who own the land will all be required to provide work for all these citizens? But all participants create openings for one another. Is it your view that only the rich, whether landowners or not, have to come to the assistance of the poor? In this case, what you are talking about is assistance and not a right that takes its source from an appropriation of the land.

With regard to rights, the one that has to be insisted on, because it is incontestable, rigorous, and sacred, is the right to work. It is freedom and ownership, not only of the land but also of bodily strength, intelligent minds, faculties, and personality, that are violated if one class can forbid to others the free exchange of services, both domestic and foreign. As long as this freedom exists, landownership is not a privilege; like all the others, it is just the ownership of a form of work.

I need only to deduce a few consequences of this doctrine.

M. Considérant
Considérant, M.
Frédéric Bastiat
Bastiat, Frédéric
Victor Considérant
Considérant, Victor

Fourth Letter

The physiocrats used to say, “Only the land is productive.” Certain economists have said, “Only work is productive.”

When you see laborers bent over the furrow that they drench with their sweat, you can scarcely deny their contribution to the work of production. On the other hand, nature never rests. And the ray of sunshine that pierces the clouds and the clouds that the wind chases away and the wind that brings rain and the rain that dissolves fertilizing substances and these substances that develop the mystery that is life in young plants—all the known and unknown powers of nature—prepare the harvest while laborers seek solace from their weariness in sleep.

It is therefore impossible not to recognize that work and nature join forces in accomplishing the phenomenon of production. Utility, which is the basis on which the human race survives, results from this cooperation, and this is as true of almost all forms of industry as it is of agriculture.

However, in the exchanges carried out between men, there is one thing only that is and can be compared, and that is human labor, the services received and rendered. These services alone are mutually commensurable and therefore they alone can elicit payment. In them alone lies value and it is precisely accurate to say that in the final analysis man is the sole owner of his own work.

As for the portion of utility due to the contribution of nature, although Edition: current; Page: [164] this is genuine, although it is immensely greater than anything that man can accomplish, it is free. It is transmitted from hand to hand over and above the market and is properly speaking without value. And who could assess, measure, and determine the value of the natural laws that, since the world began, have acted to produce an effect when work solicits them? With what should they be compared? How should we evaluate them? If they had a value, they would be included in our accounts and inventories; we would have ourselves reimbursed for their use. And how could we manage to do this, since they are at the disposal of all under the same condition, that of work?17

Thus all useful production is the work of nature, which acts free of charge, and of labor, which is paid for.

However, in achieving the production of a given utility, these two elements, human labor and the forces of nature, are not in fixed and immutable proportions. Far from it. Progress consists in ensuring that the proportion of the contribution from nature increases constantly and reduces in the same proportion that of human work by taking its place. In other words, for a given quantity of utility, the free cooperation of nature increasingly tends to replace the burdensome cooperation of work. The common portion grows at the expense of the portion remunerated and appropriated.

If you had to transport a burden weighing one hundred kilograms from Paris to Lille without the intervention of any force of nature, that is to say, on the backs of men, you would need one month of hard labor. If, instead of taking this work on yourself, you gave it to another person, you would have to compensate him for an equal effort; otherwise he would not do it. The sled came on the scene, followed by the cart and then the railway. At each stage of progress part of the work is entrusted to the forces of nature with a corresponding reduction of the labor to be taken or paid for. Well, it is clear that any remuneration eliminated is a victory, not in favor of the person providing the service but of him who receives it, that is to say, the human race.

Before the invention of printing, a scribe could not copy the Bible in less than one year, and that was the measure of the remuneration he was entitled to claim. Today we can procure a Bible for five francs, which is scarcely the reward for one day’s work. The free forces of nature have thus taken the Edition: current; Page: [165] place of paid force in the proportion of 299 parts out of 300. One part still represents human labor and remains personal property; 299 parts represent the contribution of nature, no longer paid for, and consequently are relegated to that which is free and common.

There is no tool, instrument, or machine that does not result in reducing the contribution of human labor, which can be seen either as the value of the product or as the basis of property.

This observation, which I agree is only imperfectly set out here, ought to rally the schools of thought, which so bitterly divide the arena of public opinion today, on the common ground of property and liberty.

Each school can be summarized in one axiom:

  • Economists’ axiom: laissez-faire, laissez-passer.
  • Egalitarians’ axiom: the mutuality of services.
  • Saint-Simonians’ axiom: to each according to his ability, to each ability according to its works.
  • Socialists’ axiom: the equal sharing of capital, talent, and work.
  • Communists’ axiom: the common ownership of goods.

I will indicate (for I cannot do otherwise here) that the doctrine set out in the preceding lines meets all these priorities.

Economists. It is scarcely necessary to prove that economists are obliged to welcome a doctrine that comes so obviously from Smith and Say and is only a consequence of the general laws they discovered. Laissez-faire, laissez-passer,18 is summarized by the word freedom, and I ask whether it is possible to conceive the notion of property without freedom. Am I the owner of my work, faculties, or physical powers if I cannot use them to provide services voluntarily undertaken? Do I not need to be free either to exercise my forces in isolation, which involves the need for exchange, or to join them with those of my fellows, which is association or exchange under another form?

And if freedom is hampered, is not property itself assailed? On the other hand, how will mutual services all have their full relative value if they are not exchanged freely and if the law forbids labor from being drawn to those best remunerated? Property, justice, equality, and the proper balance of services can obviously result only from freedom. It is also freedom that causes the contribution made by the forces of nature to become a common benefit, for Edition: current; Page: [166] as long as a legal privilege grants me the exclusive exploitation of one of nature’s powers, I ensure that I am remunerated not only for my work but also for the use of this power. I know how fashionable it is today to curse freedom. The century appears to have taken seriously the ironic refrain of our great songwriter:

  • My heart in a burst of hatred
  • Has taken its freedom.
  • To hell with freedom!
  • Down with freedom!19

For my part, since I have always instinctively loved freedom, I will always defend it through reason.

Egalitarians. The mutuality of services they aspire to is exactly that resulting from a property-owning regime.

In appearance, men are the owners of the whole, the entire thing, of all the utility that this thing holds. In reality, they own only its value, that portion of utility communicated by work, since by selling it they can obtain payment only for the service they are providing. The representative of the egalitarians condemned property from the rostrum recently, restricting this word to what he called usury, the use of the soil, money, houses, credit, etc. But this usury is production and cannot be anything other than production. Receiving a service implies the obligation of reciprocating it. It is in this that the mutuality of services exists. When I lend something I have produced by the sweat of my brow and from which I might draw benefit, I am providing a service to the borrower, who also owes me a service. He will not provide me with one if he limits himself to giving me back the thing one year later. During this interval, he would have benefited from my labor to my detriment. Edition: current; Page: [167] If I obtained payment for something other than my work, the objection of the egalitarians would be specious. But this is not so. Therefore, once they are assured of the truth of the theory set out in these articles, if they are consistent, they will join us to support property and claim what completes or rather what constitutes it, freedom.

Saint-Simonians. To each according to his ability, to each ability according to its works.

This is also what the property-owning regime achieves.

We provide each other with services mutually, but these services are not proportional to the length or intensity of the work. They are not measured using a dynamometer or chronometer. Whether I have been busy for one hour or one day, it is of little concern to the person to whom I provide my service. What he looks at is not the trouble I go to but the trouble I save him.20 To save effort and time, I seek to obtain help from some power in nature. As long as no one except me is capable of taking advantage of this power, I am giving others, for an equal amount of time, more output than they could provide for themselves. I am well paid and grow rich without damaging anyone. The natural power is used for my benefit alone and my ability is remunerated. To each according to his capacity. However, my secret is soon divulged. Imitators take over my process and competition obliges me to reduce my demands. The price of the product is decreased until my work receives only the normal pay for any similar work. The natural power is not thereby lost; it escapes my control but is recuperated by the entire human race which, from now on, will gain equal satisfaction from less work. Whoever exploits this power for his own use will need to take less trouble than in former times, and consequently anyone who exploits it on behalf of others will be entitled to less payment. If he wishes to increase his well-being, he will have no other option than to increase the amount of his work. To each ability according to its works. In the end, it is a question of working better or working more, which is the literal translation of the axiom for followers of Saint-Simon.

Socialists. The equal sharing of capital, talent, and work.

Equitable sharing results from the law: Services are exchanged for other services, provided that these exchanges are free, that is to say, provided that property is acknowledged and respected.

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First of all, it is perfectly clear that the person with the most talent provides more services for a given amount of work. From this it follows that he is readily paid more handsomely.

As for capital and labor, this is a subject that, I regret, I cannot discuss in detail here, since no other has been presented to the general public under more false and disastrous colors.

Capital is oft en represented as a devouring monster, as the enemy of labor. In this way, an irrational sort of antagonism has been fostered between two powers that, basically, have the same origin and the same nature and that contribute to and help each other and cannot do without each other. When I see labor growing angry with capital, I seem to be seeing starvation rejecting food.

I define capital thus: materials, instruments, and provisions, whose use is free, let us not forget, to the extent that nature has contributed to producing them and for which only the value, the fruit of work, is paid for.

To execute a useful work, you need materials. If it is at all complicated, you need instruments. If it takes a long time, you need provisions. For example, for a railway line to be built, society must have saved enough means of existence to keep thousands of men alive for several years.

Materials, instruments, and provisions are themselves the fruit of previous work, which has not yet been paid for. Therefore, when previous work and current work are combined for an end, a common work, they pay for each other; there is an exchange of work, an exchange of services in accordance with agreed conditions. Which of the two parties will obtain the better conditions? The one that needs the other less. We are faced here with the inexorable law of supply and demand, and complaining about it is puerile and contradictory. To say that work should be highly paid when there are many workers and a limited level of capital is to say that each person has to be paid all the more when capital resources are smaller.

For work to be in demand and well paid, it is therefore necessary for there to be a great deal of materials, instruments, and provisions in the country, in other words, a great deal of capital.

It follows from this that the basic interest of the workers is that capital should be built up quickly, that as a result of its prompt accumulation, materials, instruments, and provisions should be in active competition. Only this can improve the lot of the workers. And what is the essential condition for the accumulation of capital? It is that each person should be sure of being genuinely the owner, in the fullest sense of the word, of his work and savings. Edition: current; Page: [169] Property, security, freedom, order, peace, and economy are the things that interest everybody—above all and to the greatest extent, the workers.

Communists. In every age, honest and benevolent hearts have been found—Thomas Mores,21 Harringtons,22 and Fénelons—who, distressed by the sight of human suffering and the inequality of living conditions, sought refuge in a communist utopia.

As strange as it may appear, I claim that the regime of property is increasingly achieving this utopia under our very eyes. This is why I said at the start that property is essentially democratic.

On what foundation does humanity live and develop? On everything that serves a purpose, on everything that is useful. Among the useful things, there are those in which there is no human work, air, water, or sunlight. For these, there is a total absence of payment and full communal ownership. There are others that become useful only following a combination of work and nature. Utility can therefore be broken down into parts. One part is provided by labor and only this is to be paid for, has value, and constitutes property. The other part is contributed by the agents of nature, and this remains free of charge and common to all.

Well, of these two forces that contribute to producing utility the second, the part that is free of charge and common to all, is increasingly replacing the first, which requires work and consequently is to be paid for. This is the law of progress. There is no man on earth who does not seek help from the forces of nature, and when he finds it he shares it with the entire human race by proportionally reducing the price of the product.

Thus, in each given product, the portion of utility that is free of charge gradually replaces the other portion which is to be paid for.

The commonly owned base thus tends to surpass the appropriated base in indefinite proportions, and it can be said that within humanity the domain of common ownership is expanding unceasingly.

On the other hand, it is clear that, under the influence of freedom, the portion of utility that remains to be paid for or that can be appropriated tends to be distributed in a way that is, if not rigorously equal, at least in proportion to the services supplied, since these services themselves are the measure of the payment.

It can thus be seen with what irresistible power the principle of property Edition: current; Page: [170] tends to achieve equality between men. First of all, it establishes a common basis that is constantly increased by each stage of progress and with regard to which equality is perfect, since all men are equal in the face of value that has been eliminated, in the face of a utility that has ceased to generate payment. All men are equal in the face of the portion of the price of books that the publisher has eliminated.

Subsequently, with regard to the portion of utility that corresponds to human work, care that must be taken, or skill, competition tends to establish a balance in the flow of payments and all that remains is the inequality that is justified by the actual inequality of the effort, fatigue, work, or skill, in a word, of the services supplied. And apart from the fact that inequality of this sort will always be just, who does not understand that without it all effort would instantly cease?

I can see the objection coming! People will say: “This is an example of economists’ optimism. They live in a world of theory and do not deign to cast a glance at the facts. Where in reality are these egalitarian tendencies? Can we not see all over the world the lamentable sight of opulence side by side with poverty, ostentation with destitution, idleness with fatigue, and satiety with starvation?”

I do not deny this inequality, this destitution, this suffering. Who could deny them? However, I say, “Far from being the result of the principle of property, they can be attributed to the principle of plunder.”

It remains for me to prove this.

M. Considérant
Considérant, M.
Frédéric Bastiat
Bastiat, Frédéric
Victor Considérant
Considérant, Victor

Fifth Letter

No, economists do not think that we are in the best of all worlds, as they are reproached for doing. They do not shut their eyes to the afflictions of society nor their ears to the groans of those who suffer. But they seek the causes of these sufferings and believe that they have discovered that among those on which society is capable of taking action, there is none more active or generalized than injustice. This is why what they call for in particular and above all is universal justice.

Men wish to improve their lot; that is their first law. In order for this improvement to take place, a prior task or effort is required. The same principle that propels men toward their well-being also incites them to avoid the effort that is its means. Before addressing their own work, they all too oft en have recourse to the work of others.

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We can therefore apply to personal interest what Aesop said of language: nothing on earth has done more good or more evil. Personal interest creates everything that enables men to live and develop themselves; it stimulates work and gives rise to property. But at the same time it introduces to the earth all forms of injustice that, depending on their form, take a variety of names and can be summarized in one word, plunder.

Property and plunder, sisters with the same father, the savior and scourge of society, a genius for good and a genius for evil, powers that, right from the start, have been in conflict over the empire and the fate of the world!

It is easy to use this common origin of property and plunder to explain the facility with which Rousseau and his modern disciples have been able to calumniate and undermine the social order. All they needed to do was to show just one of the aspects of personal interest.

We have seen that men are by nature the owners of their work and that by transmitting this work from one to another they provide mutual services to each other.

This having been said, the general character of plunder consists in employing force or guile to change the equivalent value of services in our favor.

The variations of plunder are boundless, as are the resources of human sagacity. Two conditions are needed for services that are exchanged to be considered legitimately equivalent. The first is that the judgment of one of the contracting parties is not distorted by the maneuvers of the other. The second is that the transaction must be free. If a man succeeds in extorting a genuine service from a fellow man by making him believe that what he is giving him in return is also a genuine service whereas it is in fact illusory, there is plunder. This is all the more true if he has recourse to force.

We are initially led to believe that plunder takes place only in the guise of those forms of theft defined and punished by the Code. If this were so, I would be in effect giving too great a social importance to exceptional events that public conscience condemns and the law punishes. But sad to say, there is plunder that takes place with the consent of the law and that is carried out by the law with the consent and oft en the applause of society. It is this form of plunder alone that can take on enormous proportions sufficient to change the distribution of wealth in the body of society, paralyze for a considerable time the force for leveling which lies in freedom, create permanent inequality in living conditions, open the abyss of destitution, and spread around the world the flood of evil that superficial minds attribute to property. This is the plunder of which I am speaking when I say that it has been in conflict Edition: current; Page: [172] with its opposing principle for empire over the world since the beginning. Let us point out briefly just a few of its manifestations.

First of all, what is war, especially as it was understood in antiquity? Men formed an alliance, the nation as a body, and did not deign to apply their faculties to exploiting nature in order to obtain from it the means of existence. On the contrary, after waiting for other peoples to establish properties, they attacked them with fire and sword and stripped them periodically of their goods. The conquerors then gained not only the booty but also the glory, the songs of poets, the acclaim of women, national reward, and the admiration of posterity! It is true that a regime like this and universally accepted ideas of this nature were bound to inflict a great deal of torture and suffering and result in extreme inequality between men. Is this the fault of property?

Later, the plunderers became more refined. Putting the vanquished to the sword was, in their eyes, to destroy a treasure. Plundering only property was a transitory form of plunder; plundering men along with property was to organize permanent plunder. This led to slavery, which is plunder extended to its ideal limit, since slavery plundered the vanquished of all their current and future property, their work, their arms, their minds, their faculties, their affections, and their entire personality. It can be summarized thus: requiring man to provide all the services that force can wrench from him while rendering him none. This was the state of the world until an era that is not all that far from ours. This was the situation in particular in Athens, Sparta, and Rome, and it is sad to think that it is the ideas and customs of these republics that education is offering for our enjoyment and that we are absorbing through our every pore. We are like the plants that growers force to absorb colored water and that thus receive an artificial tint that cannot be effaced. And then we are surprised that generations educated in this way are incapable of founding an honest republic! Be that as it may, it can be agreed that here there was a cause of inequality that can certainly not be imputed to the regime of property as it has been defined in the preceding articles.

I will pass over serfdom, the feudal regime, and what followed it up to 1789. But I cannot prevent myself from mentioning the plunder exercised for so long through the abuse of religious influence. Receiving positive services from men and supplying them in return only with imaginary, fraudulent, illusionary, and derisory services is to rob them of their consent, it is true, an aggravating circumstance since it implies that the plunderers have begun by perverting the very source of all progress, human judgment. I will Edition: current; Page: [173] not stress this any further. Everybody knows that the exploitation of public credulity through the abuse of true or false religions has placed distance between the priesthood and the laity in India, Egypt, Italy, and Spain. Is this also the fault of property?

We come to the nineteenth century following great social iniquities that have imprinted a profound trace on the soil, and who can deny that time is needed to efface that trace even when through all our laws and relationships we now give prominence to the principle of property, which is none other than freedom, which is none other than the expression of universal justice? We should remember that serfdom these days covers half of Europe, that in France the feudal system received its death blow scarcely half a century ago, that it is in full splendor in England, that all nations are making unheard-of efforts to keep powerful armies in operation, which implies either that they are mutually threatening each other’s property or that these armies are themselves just a large-scale plunder. Let us remember that all peoples succumb to the weight of debts whose origin lies in past folly. We should not forget that we ourselves are paying millions each year to prolong artificially the lives of colonies with slaves and more millions to prevent slave trading along the coasts of Africa (which has involved us in one of our greatest diplomatic problems) and that we are on the point of delivering one hundred million to planters to crown the sacrifices which this type of plunder has inflicted on us in so many forms.23

This is how the past binds us, no matter what we may say. We can disengage ourselves from it only gradually. Is it surprising that there is inequality between men, since the egalitarian principle, property, has been so little respected up to now? Where will the leveling of living conditions that is the ardent wish of our era and that characterizes it so honorably come from? It will come from simple justice, from the achievement of this law: a service in return for a service. In order for two services to be exchanged according to their genuine value, two things are needed by the contracting parties: enlightened judgment and freedom of transaction. If the judgment is not enlightened, people will accept, even freely, derisory services in return for genuine services. It is even worse if force intervenes in the contract.

This having been said, and acknowledging that there exists inequality between men whose causes are historic and that only time will efface, let us see Edition: current; Page: [174] whether our century at least by giving prominence to justice everywhere will finally banish force and guile from human transactions, allow the equivalent nature of services to establish itself naturally, and cause the democratic and egalitarian cause of property to triumph.

Alas! I can see here so many incipient abuses, so many exceptions, and so many direct and indirect deviations appearing on the horizon of the new social order that I do not know where to begin.

First of all, we have privileges of all sorts. No one can become a lawyer, doctor, lecturer, currency exchange agent, broker, notary, solicitor, pharmacist, printer, butcher, or baker without encountering legal prohibitions. These are so many services that you are forbidden to provide; consequently those to whom authorization is given will charge a higher price for them to the extent that this privilege alone, without any work, oft en has a great deal of value. My complaint here is not that guarantees are required from those who supply these services, although truth to tell the effective guarantee is found in those who receive and pay for it. What is also necessary is for these guarantees not to have any exclusivity. You may demand of me that I know what you need to know to be a lawyer or doctor, but do not demand that I should have learned it in a particular town, in so many years, etc.

Next there is the artificial price, the additional value that people try to add to the majority of essential things such as wheat, meat, fabrics, iron, tools, etc., by playing with the tariffs.

Here there is obviously an effort to destroy the equivalence of services, a violent attack on the most sacred of all properties, that of men’s strength and faculties. As I have already shown, when the soil of a country has been successively occupied, if the working population continues to grow, its right is to limit the claims of the landowner by working elsewhere or by importing its subsistence from abroad. This population has only work to give in exchange for products, and it is clear that if the former increases unceasingly, then should the second remain stationary, more work has to be provided in return for fewer products. This effect is shown by the decrease in earnings—the greatest misfortune when it is due to natural causes and the greatest crime when it results from the law.

Next come taxes. Tax-funded jobs have become a highly sought means of livelihood. We know that the number of positions in government services has always increased and that the number of candidates increases faster than the number of openings. Well, where is the candidate who asks himself if he will be providing the public with services equivalent to those he is expecting Edition: current; Page: [175] from them? Is this scourge anywhere near its end? How can we believe it when we see that public opinion itself presses to have everything done by the fictitious being we call the state, which means a collection of salaried agents? After judging all men without exception to be capable of governing the country, we declare them to be incapable of governing themselves. Soon there will be two or three salaried agents around each Frenchman, one to prevent him from working too much, a second to educate him, a third to supply him with credit, perhaps a fourth to hinder his transactions, etc., etc. Where will this illusion, the illusion that has led us to believe that the state is a person with an inexhaustible fortune independent of ours, take us?

People are beginning to realize that the government machine is expensive. But what they do not know is that the burden inevitably falls on them. They are led to believe that although up to now their share has been heavy, the Republic, while increasing the general burden, has the means of at least shifting the greater part of it to the shoulders of the rich. A disastrous illusion! Doubtless the situation may be reached where the tax collector calls upon one person rather than another and physically receives money from the hands of the rich. But all is not at an end once the tax has been paid. Work is done subsequently in society, there are reactions to the respective value of services, and it is unavoidable for this charge not to be distributed to everybody, including the poor, in the long run. The latter’s real interest, therefore, is not that one class alone is afflicted, but that all classes are treated with consideration because of the solidarity that binds them.

Now, are there any signs that the time has come when taxes will be reduced?

I say this most sincerely: I believe that we are going down a path in which, under very gentle, very subtle, and very ingenious aspects, clad in the fine names of solidarity and fraternity, plunder is going to take on dimensions, the extent of which the imagination scarcely dares to envisage. This is how it will appear: under the denomination of the state, the massed group of citizens will be considered a real being with its own life and wealth, independent of the life and wealth of the citizens themselves. Each person will then call upon this fictional being to ask, one for education, one for work, one for credit, one for food, etc., etc. However, the state cannot give anything to citizens unless it has taken it from them to start with. The only effect of this intermediary is first of all a great waste of effort and then the complete destruction of the equivalence of services, for the effort of each person will be devoted to giving as little as possible to the treasury of the state and taking as Edition: current; Page: [176] much from it as possible. In other words, the public treasury will be pillaged. And can we not see something of this sort happening today? Which class is not clamoring for the favors of the state? It appears in itself to be the principle of life. Setting aside the countless hordes of its own agents, agriculture, factories, trade, the arts, theaters, the colonies, and shipping are expecting everything from it. It is required to clear land, irrigate it, set up colonies, teach, and even amuse us. Everyone is begging for a premium, a subsidy, a motivating payment, and above all for certain services, like education and credit, to be free of charge. And why not ask the state to make all services free of charge? Why not require the state to feed, quench the thirst of, provide lodgings for, and clothe all citizens free of charge?

One class had not been included in these mad pretensions,

  • One poor servant girl at least remained to me
  • Who was not infected with this foul air;24

and that was the people itself, the countless working class. However, here they are now in the crowd. They pay heavily to the treasury; by all that is just and in virtue of the principle of equality, they have the same rights to this universal dilapidation for which the other classes have fired the starting signal. We should profoundly regret that on the day on which their voices were heard it was to demand their share of the pillage and not that it be stopped. But was it possible for this class to be more enlightened than the others? Might it not be excused for being taken in by the illusion that is blinding us all?

However, because of the very fact that the number of applicants for government positions is now equal to the number of citizens, the error I am pointing out here cannot last long and people will soon, I hope, come to ask from the state only the services it is competent to provide: justice, national defense, public works, etc.

We are facing another cause of inequality, which is perhaps more active Edition: current; Page: [177] than all the others, and that is the war against capital. The working class has only one way to free itself, through an increase in the nation’s capital. Where capital increases faster than the population, two results infallibly occur, both of which contribute to improving the lot of the workers: products decrease in price and earnings rise. However, for capital to increase, it must above all have security. If it is frightened, it hides, takes flight abroad, is dissipated, and is destroyed. At this point, production stops and labor is offered at a knockdown price. The greatest of all misfortunes for the working class is therefore to let itself be carried along by beguilers into a war against capital, which is as absurd as it is disastrous. It is a constant threat of plunder, worse than plunder itself.

In short, if it is true, as I have endeavored to show, that freedom, the free disposal of property, and consequently the supreme consecration of the right to property; if it is true, as I have said, that this freedom invariably tends to bring about a just equivalence of services, and little by little equality, to bring everyone closer to the same constantly rising level, it is not property that is responsible for the distressing inequality that can still be seen around the world; it is its opposing principle, plunder, that has triggered wars, slavery, serfdom, the feudal system, the exploitation of public ignorance and credulity, privilege, monopolies, restrictions, public borrowings, commercial fraud, excessive taxes, and lastly the war against capital and the absurd pretension of each person to live and develop at the expense of all.

Victor Considérant
Considérant, Victor
28 July 1848
M. Considérant
Considérant, M.

Claim Made by M. Considérant and F. Bastiat’s Reply


In the serious discussions to come on the social question, I am determined to prevent the public from being given, as coming from me, opinions that are not mine, and to prevent my opinions being presented in a way that distorts and disfigures them.

I have not defended the principle of property for twenty years against the followers of Saint-Simon who denied the right of inheritance, against the disciples of Babeuf and Owen, and against all the varieties of communism, to let myself be depicted as being in the ranks of those who oppose the rights of property, whose logical legitimacy I believe I have established on foundations that are difficult to undermine.

Edition: current; Page: [178]

I have not fought in the Luxembourg Palace against the doctrines of M. Louis Blanc, I have not on numerous occasions been attacked by M. Proudhon as one of the fiercest defenders of property only to allow M. Bastiat to paint me in your columns as forming, with these two socialists, a sort of triumvirate against property, without my protesting.

Besides, since I do not wish to be obliged to claim your indulgence in inserting lengthy tracts of my prose in your columns, and you doubtless agree with me in this, I am asking your permission to make a few observations to M. Bastiat before he goes any further, which will cut short the replies that he may oblige me to give him and perhaps even to eliminate them completely.

1. I would not like M. Bastiat, even when he thinks he is analyzing my thought accurately, to use, in inverted commas and as though quoting textually from my pamphlet on the right of property and the right to work or any other of my writings, phrases of his own that, especially in the penultimate of the quotations he attributes to me, convey my ideas inaccurately. This is not a proper way to proceed, and it may even lead the person who uses it much further than he himself would wish. Abbreviate and analyze as you wish, that is your right, but do not give your analytical abbreviation the character of a verbatim quotation.

2. M. Bastiat says: “They (the three socialists among whom I am included) appear to think that in the combat that is about to take place, the poor have an interest in the triumph of the right to work and the rich in defending the right of property.” For my part, I do not believe and do not even believe that I appear to believe anything of the sort. On the contrary, I believe that the rich now have a more serious interest than the poor in the recognition of the right to work. This is the thought that dominates my entire article, published for the first time not today, but ten years ago, and written to give the men in government and landowners a salutary warning and at the same time defend property against the redoubtable logic of its opponents. Moreover, I believe that the right of property is just as much in the interests of the poor as of the rich, since I regard the denial of this right as a denial of the principle of individuality and would consider its elimination, in whatever form of society, to be the signal for a return to the primitive state, which to my knowledge I have never shown myself to favor.

3. Last, M. Bastiat says:

“Besides, I have no intention of examining M. Considérant’s theory in detail. . . . I wish only to attack what is weighty and consequential at the Edition: current; Page: [179] basis of this theory, that is to say, the question of rent. M. Considérant’s theory can be summarized thus. An agricultural product exists through the combination of two actions: the action by a man, or labor, which generates the right of property; and the action of nature, which ought to be free and which landowners turn unjustly to their advantage. This is what constitutes the usurpation of the rights of humanity.”

I ask a thousand pardons of M. Bastiat, but there is not one word in my pamphlet that authorizes him to attribute to me the opinions that he so freely does here. As a rule I do not hide my thought, and when I think it is midday it is not my habit to say it is two o’clock. Therefore, let M. Bastiat, if he wishes to do me the honor of disparaging my pamphlet, oppose what I have written and not what he attributes to me. I have not written one word against rent; the question of rent, with which I am as familiar as everyone, does not appear at all in any shape or form, and when M. Bastiat quotes me as saying “that the action of nature ought to be free and that landowners turn it unjustly to their advantage and that is what, according to me, constitutes the usurpation of the rights of the human race,” he again remains stuck in a domain of thought that I have not referred to in the slightest. He is attributing to me an opinion that I consider to be absurd and that is even diametrically opposed to the entire doctrine of my article. I am not complaining at all, in fact, that landowners enjoy the action of nature, what I am asking for, in the name of those who do not enjoy this, is the right to work that will enable them to be able, alongside landowners, to create products and to live by working, when property (whether agricultural or industrial) fails to give them the means to do so.

Besides, sir, I have no intention of indulging in a debate on my opinions with M. Bastiat in your columns. This is a favor and an honor not reserved to me. Let M. Bastiat therefore reduce my system to dust and ruin; I will think myself entitled to claim your hospitality for my comments only when, through a lack of understanding, he attributes to me doctrines for which I am not responsible. I am well aware that it is oft en easy to bring down people by attributing to them what you want instead of what they have said, and in particular one is more readily right when opposing socialists when one opposes them in a confused way and in general than when one takes each one to task for what he has put forward. But, whether right or wrong, I for my part insist on taking responsibility for no one other than myself.

M. Editor, the discussion that M. Bastiat has undertaken in your columns bears on subjects that are too sensitive and weighty for you not to be in Edition: current; Page: [180] agreement with me on this at least. I am confident therefore that you will agree that I am right to be upset and that you will in fairness give my complaint a clear and legible place in your columns.

V. Considérant
Representative of the people
Frédéric Bastiat
Bastiat, Frédéric
24 July 1848
Victor Considérant
Considérant, Victor

M. Considérant is complaining that I have altered or distorted his opinion on property. If I have committed this fault I have done so involuntarily, and I can do no more in reparation than to quote his words.

After having established that there are two sorts of rights—natural rights, which express the relationships resulting from the very nature of beings or things, and conventional or legal rights, which exist only to regulate false relationships—M. Considérant continues thus:

“This having been said, we will say clearly that property as it has generally been constituted in all the hardworking nations up to now, is tarnished by illegitimacy and is contrary to right. . . . The human race has been placed on earth to live and develop there. The species is thus a usufructuary of the surface of the globe. . ..

“However, under the regime that constitutes property in all civilized nations, the common basis on which the species has right of usufruct has been invaded. It has been confiscated by the minority to the exclusion of the majority. Well then! If there were in fact one single man deprived of his right to a usufruct of the common fund by the nature of the regime of property, this deprivation on its own would constitute an infringement of rights, and the regime of property that endorsed it would certainly be unjust and illegitimate.

“Might not any man who was born into a civilized society with no possessions and who found the land around him confiscated say to those who preached respect for the existing regime of property by affirming the respect due to the rights of property, “My friends, let us understand one another and set things straight a little; I am much in favor of the rights of property and very ready to respect it with regard to others, on the sole condition that others respect it with regard to me. However, as a member of the human race, I am entitled to a usufruct of the fund that is the common property of the race and that nature, as far as I know, has not given to some to the detriment of others. In virtue of the regime of property that I found established on my Edition: current; Page: [181] arrival here, the common fund has been confiscated and is well guarded. Your regime of property is therefore founded on the plunder of my right to a usufruct. Do not confuse the right of property with the particular regime of property that I find is established by your artificial right.

“The current regime of property is therefore illegitimate and is based on fundamental plunder.”

M. Considérant finally manages to set out the fundamental principle of the right of property in these terms:

“Every man possesses the thing that his work, intelligence, or more generally his activity has created.”

To show the extent of this principle, Considérant gives the example of the first generation of men who farm an isolated island. The results of the work of this generation are divided into two categories.

“The first includes the products of the land that belonged to this first generation as usufructuaries, and that were increased, refined, or manufactured by its work and industry. These products, in their raw state or manufactured, consist either of consumer products or instruments of work. It is clear that these products belong in total and legitimate property to those who have created them through their activity. . . .

“Not only has this generation created the products we have just designated . . . but it has also created added value to the original value of the land through cultivation, the buildings, and all the basic and construction work it has carried out.

“This added value obviously constitutes a product, a value due to the activity of the first generation.”

M. Considérant acknowledges that this secondary value is also a legitimate property. Then he adds:

“We can thus totally accept that, when the second generation comes onto the scene, it will find two types of capital on the earth:

“A. The original or natural capital, which has not been created by the men of the first generation, that is to say, the value of the land in its natural state.

“B. The capital created by the first generation, which includes 1. the products, goods, and instruments that have not been consumed and worn out by the first generation; 2. the added value that the work done by the first generation has added to the value of the land in its natural state.

“It is thus obvious and results clearly and essentially from the fundamental Edition: current; Page: [182] principle of the right of property established just now, that each individual of the second generation has an equal right to the original or natural capital, whereas he has no right to the other form of capital, the capital created by the first generation. Each individual of this first generation can thus dispose of his part of the created capital in favor of the particular individuals of the second generation of his choice, his children, friends, etc.”

Thus, in this second generation, there are two types of individuals, those who inherit created capital and those who do not. There are also two types of capital, original or natural capital and created capital. The latter legitimately belongs to the heirs but the former legitimately belongs to everyone. Each individual of the second generation has an equal right to the original capital. Well, it has happened that the heirs to created capital have also seized the capital not created; they have invaded it, usurped it, and confiscated it. This is why and how the current regime of property is illegitimate, contrary to right and based on a fundamental plunder.

I may certainly be mistaken, but it seems to me that this doctrine exactly echoes, though in other terms, the doctrine of Buchanan, McCulloch, and Senior on rent. They too acknowledged the legitimate ownership of what has been created by work. However, they regard as illegitimate the usurpation of that which M. Considérant calls the value of the land in its natural state and what they call the productive force of the land.

Let us now see how this injustice can be put right.

“Primitive men in forests and savannahs enjoy four natural rights: hunting, fishing, the gathering of fruit, and grazing. That is the initial form taken by rights.

“In all civilized forms of society, men of the people, the working classes who inherit nothing and who own nothing, are purely and simply deprived of these rights. We thus cannot say that the initial right has changed its form here, since it no longer exists. The form has disappeared along with the substance.

“But under what form might the right be reconciled with the conditions of a hardworking society? The answer is easy. In primitive forms of society, in order to make use of his rights, man is obliged to act. The work of hunting, fishing, gathering fruit, and grazing is the condition governing the exercise of his rights. The initial right is thus only the right to these forms of work.

“Well then! Let a hardworking society that has taken possession of the land and removed from men their faculty of exercising their four rights at Edition: current; Page: [183] random and freely over the surface of the land, recognize the right to work of each individual in compensation for these rights that it has taken away from him. Then, in principle and subject to proper application, no individual would have anything to complain about. In effect, his initial right was the right to work exercised in what was the poor workshop constituted by nature in its natural state. His current right would be the same right exercised in a better equipped and richer workshop in which individual activity has to be more productive.

“The condition sine qua non for property to be legitimate is thus that society should recognize the right to work of the proletariat and that it should ensure that it has at least as much of the means of subsistence for the exercise of a given activity as this exercise would have procured for it in the natural state.”

Now I leave the reader to judge whether I have changed or distorted M. Considérant’s opinions.

M. Considérant considers himself to be a fierce defender of the right to property. Doubtless he is defending this right as he understands it, but he understands it in his own way and the question is to establish whether it is the right way. In any case, it is not the way of everybody.

He himself says that, although it needed only a modicum of good sense to settle the question of property, it has never been properly understood. I am fully allowed not to agree with this condemnation of human intelligence.

It is not only the theory that M. Considérant is accusing. I would yield it to him, thinking like him that in this matter as in many others, it has oft en been on the wrong track.

However, he also attacks the universal practice. He says clearly:

“Property, as generally constituted in all hardworking nations up to the present, is tarnished with illegitimacy and sins spectacularly against rights.”

If, therefore, M. Considérant is a fierce defender of property, it is at least of a mode of property that is different from the one recognized and practiced by men since the dawn of time.

I am fully convinced that M. Louis Blanc and M. Proudhon also claim to defend property as they understand it.

I myself have no other pretension than to give an explanation of property that I believe to be true but that is perhaps false.

I believe that the ownership of land, as it is formed naturally, is always the fruit of work, that consequently it is based on the very principle established Edition: current; Page: [184] by M. Considérant, that it does not exclude the working classes from enjoying the usufruct of the land in its natural state but on the contrary it multiplies ten and a hundredfold this usufruct for them and thus is not tarnished with illegitimacy, and that all that undermines it in fact and in belief is as great a calamity for those who do not possess the land as for those who do.

This is what I would like to devote myself to proving, to the extent that this can be done in the columns of a journal.

F. Bastiat
Edition: current; Page: [185]

11: Baccalaureate and Socialism1

[vol. 4, p. 442. “Baccalaureate et socialisme.” 1850. This article was written in early 1850 for a parliamentary commission looking into the question of the freedom of education. n.p.]

Citizen Representatives

I have submitted an amendment to the Assembly the object of which is to eliminate university degrees.2 My health does not allow me to develop it from the rostrum. Allow me to have recourse to the pen.3

The question is extremely serious. As faulty as the law drawn up by your commission is, I believe that it would mark a signal improvement on the current condition of state education if it were amended as I propose.

University degrees have the triple disadvantage of making teaching uniform (uniformity is not unity) and of freezing it after having imprinted it with the most disastrous orientation.

If there is anything in the world that is progressive by nature it is teaching. What is it, in fact, other than the transmission from generation to generation Edition: current; Page: [186] of the knowledge acquired by society, that is to say, a treasure that is relieved of its dross and increased every day?

How has it happened that teaching in France has remained uniform and stationary in medieval obscurity? Because it has been monopolized and enclosed by university degrees in an impassable circle.

There was a time when, to acquire any sort of knowledge, it was as necessary to learn Latin and Greek as it is for people in the Basque and lower Brittany regions to begin by learning French. Living languages had not been settled, printing had not been discovered, and the human spirit had not applied itself to penetrating the secrets of nature. To be educated was to know what Epicurus and Aristotle thought. In the higher ranks, people boasted that they could not read. One single class possessed and imparted education, the clergy. What could this education be like under these circumstances? Obviously it had to be limited to a knowledge of the dead languages, principally Latin. There were only Latin books; people wrote only in Latin; Latin was the language of religion, and the clergy could teach only what they themselves had learned, Latin.

We can understand, therefore, that in the Middle Ages teaching was limited to the study of the dead languages, most improperly called scholarly.

Is it natural, is it right that this should be so in the nineteenth century? Is Latin an essential instrument for the acquisition of knowledge? Is it in the writings left to us by the Romans that we can learn about religion, physics, chemistry, astronomy, physiology, history, law, morality, industrial technology, or social science?

To know a language, like knowing how to read, is to possess an instrument. And is it not strange that we should spend our entire youth mastering an instrument that is no longer any use, or very little use, since there is nothing we are more in a hurry to do, once we have begun to know it, than to forget it? Alas, why can we not forget the impressions left on us by this disastrous study just as quickly?

What would we say if, at Saint-Cyr, while initiating our young people into modern military science, we taught them only to throw stones with a sling?

The law of our land has decided that the most honorable careers will be closed to anyone who has not obtained a baccalaureate. What is more, it has decided that in order to obtain it students have to stuff their heads with Latin texts to such an extent that nothing else enters. So, what is the result according to common agreement? It is that our young people have calculated Edition: current; Page: [187] the minimum work strictly required to gain a pass mark and they stop there. You object to this and you complain bitterly about it. Well, do you not see that this is the cry of public awareness, a public that refuses to have a useless effort imposed on it?

Teaching an instrument that, as soon as you know it, no longer gives out any sound, is a very strange anomaly! How has it lasted up to our time? The explanation lies in a single word: monopoly. Monopoly is constructed in such a way that it renders immobile everything it touches.

For this reason, I would have liked the Legislative Assembly to achieve freedom, that is to say, progress in teaching. It has now been decided that this will not happen. We will not have total freedom. May I be allowed to make an effort to save a shred of it?

Freedom may be considered from the point of view of people and in relation to subjects taught—ratione personae et ratione materiae4—as lawyers say, to eliminate the competition between methods is no less an attack on freedom than to eliminate competition between men.

There are those who say: “The teaching profession will be free, since anyone may enter it.” That is a great illusion.

The state, or more precisely the party, the faction, the sect, or the man who briefly and even very legally takes control of government influence, may give teaching any direction he pleases and fashion at will all intelligent minds through the single mechanism of degrees.

Give a man the power to confer degrees and, while leaving yourself free to teach, the teaching will in fact be carried out in servitude.

I, as the father of a family, and the teacher with whom I join forces for the education of my son may well believe that a proper education consists in knowing what things are and what they produce, both in the realm of physics and in the realm of morals. We may think that a person is best educated if he has the most accurate knowledge of phenomena and is most conversant with the cycle of cause and effect. We would like to base teaching on this foundation. But the state thinks otherwise. It thinks that to be learned is to be able to scan the verses of Plautus and to quote the opinions of Thales and Pythagoras with regard to fire and air.

So what does the state do? It tells us: “Teach your pupil whatever you like, but when he is twenty, I will have him interrogated on the opinions of Edition: current; Page: [188] Pythagoras and Thales, I will have him scan the verses of Plautus, and if he is not schooled enough in these matters to prove to me that he has devoted his entire youth to them, he cannot be a doctor, lawyer, magistrate, consul, diplomat, or teacher.”

This being so, I am obliged to bow to the state, since I cannot take the responsibility on myself to bar my son from such fine professions. You may well say that I am free; I insist that I am not, since you reduce me to making my son, at least in my opinion, a pedant, perhaps a frightful little orator, and most certainly a turbulent troublemaker.

It would be bearable if only the knowledge required for the baccalaureate related in some slight way to the needs and interests of our era, if only it was merely useless; but what is required is deplorably disastrous! Distorting the human mind is the problem that seems to have been set and that the bodies to which the monopoly of teaching has been allocated have settled on. This is what I will try to demonstrate.

Since the start of this debate, the university and the clergy have been throwing accusations at each other like so many balls. “You are perverting our youth with your philosophical rationalism,” say the clergy. “You are dulling its wits with your religious dogmatism,” replies the university.

Arbitrators then come forward and say: “Religion and philosophy are sisters. Let us merge free examination and authority. University and clergy, you have taken turns in having the monopoly. Share it and let us have an end to this.”

We have heard the venerable bishop of Langres5 rudely identify the university thus: “It is you who have given us the socialist generation of 1848.”

And M. Crémieux hastened to respond to the chastisement in these words: “It is you who have raised the revolutionary generation of 1793.”

If there is any truth in these allegations, what should we conclude from them? That the two forms of teaching have been disastrous not because of what separates them but because of what they have in common.

Yes, I am convinced of this. There is one common factor in these two forms of teaching, the abuse of classical studies, and it is in this that both have perverted the judgment and morality of the country. They differ in that one emphasizes the religious element while the other emphasizes the philosophical one, but these elements, far from having caused the harm they are Edition: current; Page: [189] reproached for, have lessened it. We are indebted to them for not being as barbaric as the barbarians unceasingly put up by Latinism for us to imitate.

Let me make a supposition that is a bit stretched, but that will help my thought to be understood.

I imagine, then, that somewhere in the Antipodes there is a nation that, because it hates and despises work, has based its entire means of existence on the successive pillage of all the neighboring tribes and on slavery. This nation has established a policy, a moral code, a religion, and public opinion in line with the cruel purpose that is sustaining and developing it. Since France has given the clergy the monopoly on education, the clergy finds nothing better to do than to send all French young people to visit this nation, to live its way of life, be inspired by its sentiments, share its enthusiasms, and breathe its ideas as their own air. The thing is that the clergy takes care to ensure that each student goes with a small volume titled The Gospels. The generations brought up in this way return to their home country and a revolution breaks out; I leave you to imagine the role they will play in it.

When it sees this, the state snatches the monopoly on teaching from the clergy and hands it over to the university. Faithful to its traditions, the university also sends its young people to the Antipodes to visit the nation that pillages others and possesses slaves, after supplying them, however, with a small volume titled Philosophy. Scarcely have five or six generations raised this way returned to their native soil than a second revolution breaks out. Trained in the same school as their predecessors, they show themselves their worthy emulators.

In this way, war breaks out between the monopolists. “It is your small book that did all the damage,” says the clergy. “It is yours,” replies the University.

Well no, sirs, your small books had nothing to do with all of this. What did the damage was the strange idea, thought out and carried out by both of you, of sending young French people whose future lay in work, peace, and freedom, to become imbued and permeated with and saturated in the sentiments and opinions of a nation of brigands and slaves.

My contention is this: The subversive doctrines that have been given the name of socialism or communism are the fruit of classical teaching, whether it is dispensed by the clergy or by the university. I add that the baccalaureate imposes classical teaching by force even on the so-called free schools that will, people say, arise as a result of the law. It is for this that I demand that university degrees be eliminated.

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Much praise has been heaped on Latin as a means of developing intelligence; this is pure conventionalism. The Greeks, who did not learn Latin, did not lack intelligence, and we do not see that French women lack it any more than they lack common sense. It would be strange if the human spirit could gain strength only by deforming itself; and will people never understand that the highly problematic advantage that is alleged, if it exists, is very dearly bought with the redoubtable disadvantage of having the soul of France penetrated by the language of the Romans, their ideas, their sentiments, their opinions, and a caricature of their behavior?

Since the time when God pronounced this decree over men: “By the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread,” they have found existence to be so great and absorbing an affair that, depending on the means they use to achieve it, their behavior, habits, opinions, moral code, and social systems necessarily manifest wide-ranging differences.

A people that lives by hunting cannot resemble one that lives by fishing, nor can a pastoral nation resemble a nation of seafarers.

However, these differences are nothing in comparison with that which has to characterize two peoples, one of which lives from work and the other from theft.

For between huntsmen, fishermen, shepherds, farm laborers, traders, and manufacturers, there is this common factor, that they all seek to satisfy their needs through the action they carry out on things. What they wish to subject to their rule is nature.

But the men who base their means of existence on pillage exercise their action on other men; what they ardently aspire to dominate are their fellow men.

For men to exist, it is absolutely necessary for this action on nature, which we call work, to be carried out.

It may be that the fruits of this action benefit the nation that carries it out. It is also possible that they come across another people, either indirectly or through force, who rule over the people who do the work.

I cannot develop this line of thinking in detail here, but if you care to think about it, you will be convinced that between two conurbations of men situated in such opposing conditions, everything has to be different: behavior, habits, judgments, organizations, moral codes, and religions, and this is so far true that the very words intended to express the most basic relationships, such as those for family, property, freedom, virtue, society, government, republic, or people, cannot represent the same ideas in both cases.

A nation of warriors will soon understand that the family will weaken Edition: current; Page: [191] military devotion (we feel this ourselves since we forbid our soldiers to have families). However, the population must not die out. How do we solve the problem? As Plato did in theory and Lycurgus in practice, by promiscuity. Plato and Lycurgus, however, are names we are accustomed to pronounce only with reverence.

As for property, I challenge you to find an acceptable definition of this in the whole of antiquity. We, for our part, say: “Men are the owners of themselves and consequently of their faculties and, following this, of the products of their faculties.” But could the Romans conceive of such a notion? As the owners of slaves, were they able to say: “Man belongs to himself”? As they despised work, were they able to say: “Man is the owner of the product of his faculties”? This would have been to base a whole society on collective suicide.

On what then did antiquity base property? On the law, a disastrous idea, the most disastrous ever introduced into the world, since it justifies the use and abuse of anything it pleases the law to declare property, even the fruits of theft and even the theft of men.

In these barbaric present times, freedom could not be better understood. What is freedom? It is the sum total of freedoms. To be free, under one’s own responsibility, to think and act, to speak and write, to work and trade, to teach and learn, that alone is to be free. Can a disciplined nation with the prospect of an endless battle conceive freedom thus? No, the Romans prostituted the word to mean a certain audaciousness in the internecine struggles that the sharing of plunder triggered between them. The leaders wanted everything, and the people demanded their share. This gave rise to storms in the Forum, the retreats to the Aventine Mountain, the agrarian laws, the interventions by the tribunes, and the popularity of conspirators. This also gave rise to this maxim: Malo periculosam libertatem,6 etc., which has passed into our language and which I inscribed in adornment on all my schoolbooks:

  • O Freedom! How your storms
  • Attract great hearts!

Fine example, sublime precepts, precious seed to be sown in the souls of French youth!

What should we say about Roman morals? And I am not referring here Edition: current; Page: [192] to relationships between father and son, husband and wife, shop owner and customer, master and servant, or man and God, relationships that slavery all on its own could not fail to transform into a tissue of turpitude; all I wish to concentrate on here is that which is called the estimable side of the republic, patriotism. What is this patriotism? The hatred of foreigners. To destroy all civilization, stifle all progress, put the entire world to fire and the sword, and chain women, children, and the elderly to the triumphal chariots: in that lay glory and virtue. It is to these atrocities that the marble of sculptors and the songs of poets were devoted. How many times have our young hearts beat with admiration and alas with emulation at this sight! This is how our teachers, venerable priests full of years and charity, prepared us for a Christian and civilized life; so great is the power of conventionalism!

The lesson has not been lost, and doubtless it is from Rome that we have this maxim that is right for theft and wrong for work: One people loses what another gains, a maxim that still governs the world.

To give us an idea of the Roman moral code, let us imagine an association of men in the center of Paris. The association hates work and is intent on procuring possessions for itself through guile and force, and is thus at war with society. There is no doubt that within this association a certain moral code and even a high degree of virtue will soon evolve. Courage, perseverance, dissimulation, prudence, discipline, constancy in misfortune, profound secrecy, cultivation of points of honor, and devotion to the community will doubtless be the virtues that necessity and general opinion would develop in these brigands. This was true of buccaneers and also true of the Romans. It will be said of the Romans that the grandeur of their enterprise and its immense success has shrouded their crimes in a sufficiently glorious veil to transform them into virtues. And it is for this very reason that this school is so pernicious. It is not abject vice but vice crowned with splendor that pleases the spirit.

Finally with regard to society, the ancient world has bequeathed to the new world two erroneous notions that undermine it and that will continue to undermine it for a long time.

The first: that society is a state separate from nature and born of a contract. This idea was not as erroneous in past times as it is currently. Rome and Sparta were indeed two associations of men with a common and determined goal, pillage, and they were not exactly societies, but rather armies.

The second, a corollary of the first: that law creates rights and that, consequently, the legislator and humanity have the same relationship with each Edition: current; Page: [193] other as the potter and clay. Minos, Lycurgus, Solon, and Numa constructed the systems of society in Crete, Sparta, Athens, and Rome. Plato was the constructor of imaginary republics that were to serve as models for future teachers of peoples and fathers of nations.

So, and note this well, these two ideas form the special character and distinctive stamp of socialism in the unfavorable sense of the word and as a common label for all social utopias.

Whoever, not knowing that the social body is a set of natural laws, like the human body, dreams of creating an artificial form of society, and sets out to manipulate the family, property, rights, and humanity to suit his will, is a socialist. He is not engaging in physiology but in statuary. He does not observe; he invents. He does not believe in God but in himself. He is not a scholar; he is a tyrant. He is not serving mankind; he is making use of it. He is not studying its nature; he is changing it in accordance with Rousseau’s advice.7 He is drawing inspiration from antiquity and following on from Lycurgus and Plato. And, to sum it up, he has certainly obtained his baccalaureate.

People will tell me that I am exaggerating, that it is not possible for our studious youth to draw such deplorable opinions and sentiments from glorious antiquity.

And what do you want them to draw there, other than what is there? Make an effort of memory and remind yourself of your turn of mind when you left school and entered the wide world. Did you not burn with a desire to imitate the ravagers of the land and the agitators in the Forum? For my part, when I see the society of today cast young people in the tens of thousands into the mold of the Brutuses and the Gracchi, only to launch them, incapable of any honest work (opus servile), into the crowd and onto the street, I am astonished that they withstand the test. For a classical education is not only reckless enough to plunge us into Roman life, it does so while accustoming us to becoming enthusiastic about it, to considering it as a fine ideal for humanity, a sublime type that is placed too high for modern souls but which we should strive to imitate without ever claiming to attain it.8

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Is the objection raised that socialism has permeated the classes who do not aspire to the baccalaureate?

I will reply, with M. Thiers:9

Secondary education teaches ancient languages to the children of the affluent classes. . . . It is not just the words that are being taught to children when they are taught Greek and Latin, it is noble and sublime things (plunder, war, and slavery), it is the history of humanity through images that are simple, great, and indelible. . . . Secondary education shapes what are known as the enlightened classes of a nation. But, while the enlightened classes are not the nation in its entirety, they characterize it. Their vices, qualities, and good and evil tendencies are very soon those of the entire nation; they create the people themselves through the contagion of their ideas and sentiments.10

(Very good.)

Nothing is more true and nothing explains better the disastrous and artificial deviations of our revolutions.

“Antiquity,” adds M. Thiers, “let us dare to say to a century proud of itself, is the most beautiful thing in the world. Let us leave children in antiquity, sirs, as in a calm, peaceful, and healthy refuge that is destined to keep them fresh and pure.”

The calm of Rome! The peace of Rome! The purity of Rome! Oh! If the lengthy experience and remarkable good sense of M. Thiers has not been able to preserve him from such a strange fascination, how do you expect our ardent youth to stand up to it?11

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In the last few days, the National Assembly has witnessed a comic dialogue, certainly worthy of Molière’s brush.

M. Thiers, addressing M. Barthélemy Saint-Hilaire from the rostrum without a smile: “You are wrong, not from the artistic but from a moral point of view, to prefer Greek to Latin, in particular for the French nation, which is a Latin nation.”

M. Barthélemy Saint-Hilaire, also without a smile: “What about Plato!”

M. Thiers, still without a smile: “It has been a good thing and is a good thing to nurture Greek and Latin studies. I prefer Latin for a moral reason. But people have also wanted these poor young people to learn German, English, the exact sciences, physical sciences, history, etc.”

To know what is the case, that is evil. To become imbued with Roman behavior, that is morality!

M. Thiers is neither the first nor the only one to have succumbed to this illusion, I almost said to his mystification. May I be allowed to point out in a few words the deep-rooted impression (and what an impression!) that a classical education has made on literature, the moral code, and the politics of our country?

It is a picture that I have neither the leisure nor the aspiration to complete, for which writer would not have to be summoned to appear? Let us be content with a sketch.

I will not go back as far as Montaigne. Everybody knows that he was as Spartan in his vague intentions as he was far from this in his tastes.

As for Corneille, of whom I am a sincere admirer, I think he has rendered a sad service to the minds of the century by shrouding in fine verses and giving an appearance of sublime grandeur to sentiments that are forced, extravagant, fierce, and antisocial, such as the following:

  • But to wish to immolate the thing you love in public,
  • To devote oneself to combating another part of oneself
  • . . . . . . .
  • Such virtue belongs only to us . . .
  • Rome has chosen my arm, I ask no questions,
  • Edition: current; Page: [196]
  • With a joy that is as full and sincere
  • As when I married the sister, I will fight the brother.12

And I admit that I feel disposed to share Curiace’s sentiment by applying it not to a particular fact but to the entire history of Rome, when he says:

  • I thank the gods that I am not Roman
  • To retain still some remnant of humanity.

Fénelon: These days communism horrifies us because it frightens us, but did not a long-standing attention to the ancients make a communist of Fénelon, a man whom modern Europe rightly regards as the finest example of moral perfection? Read his Telemachus, the book that people are quick to put into the hands of children. In it you will see Fénelon adopting the traits of wisdom itself to teach legislators. And along what lines does he organize his model form of society? On the one hand, the legislator thinks, invents, and acts; on the other, society, impassive and inert, allows itself to be acted upon. The moral motivation, the principle of action, is thus wrested from all men to be vested in a single man. Fénelon, the precursor of the boldest of our modern organizers, decides on the food, accommodation, clothing, games, and occupations of all the inhabitants of Salente. He tells them what they will be allowed to eat and drink, on what plan their houses should be built, how many rooms they should have, and how they will be furnished.

He says . . . but I will allow him to use his own words:

Mentor set up magistrates to whom merchants accounted for their assets, profits, expenditure, and enterprises. . . . Besides, there was total freedom of trade . . . He forbade all the goods from foreign countries that might introduce opulence and ease. . . . He cut off a remarkable number of merchants who sold fashioned fabrics. . . . He regulated the clothes, food, furniture, size, and decoration of houses for all the different statuses.

Arrange social condition by birth, he told the king . . . those of first rank after you will be clad in white, . . . those in the second rank in blue, . . . the third, in green, . . . the fourth in dawn yellow, . . . the fifth in pale red or pink, . . . the sixth in linen gray . . . and the seventh, who will be the lowest of the people in a color that is a mixture of yellow and white. These will be the clothes of the seven different conditions of free men. All Edition: current; Page: [197] the slaves will be clad in brownish gray. One13 will never allow any change, either of the nature of the fabric or of the lines of the clothes.

He regulated the food eaten by citizens and slaves in the same way.

He then eliminated all soft and effeminate music.

He provided examples of simple, graceful architecture. He wanted each house of a certain standing to have a drawing room and peristyle with small rooms for all the people who were free.

Where other things were concerned, Mentor’s moderation and frugality did not stop him from authorizing all the large buildings intended for horse and chariot racing, or for wrestling and boxing.

Mentor considered that painting and sculpture were arts that could not be abandoned, but he did not wish many men in Salente to devote themselves to them.

Do we not recognize in this an imagination inflamed by the reading of Plato and the example of Lycurgus that is amusing itself by carrying out experiments on men as though they were base matter?

And let no one justify such wild fancies by saying that they are the fruit of excessive benevolence. This is just as true of all constructors and undoers of society.

Rollin: There is another man, almost equal to Fénelon in intellect and feeling and more involved than Fénelon in education, and that is Rollin. Well then! To what abject intellectual and moral depths did a lengthy study of the classics reduce this good man, Rollin! We cannot read his books without being overcome by sadness and pity. We do not know whether he is a Christian or a pagan, so impartial is he between God and the gods. The miracles of the Bible and the legends of heroic times evoke the same credulity in him. On his placid face we see the shadows of warlike passion constantly flicker; all he can speak of are javelins, swords, and catapults. For him, as for Bossuet, one of the most interesting social problems is knowing whether the Macedonian phalanx was better than the Roman legion. He praises the Romans for pursuing only sciences that had domination as their objective: eloquence, politics, and war. In his eyes, all other forms of knowledge are sources of corruption and are good only for turning men toward peace. For this reason he banishes them carefully from his colleges, to the applause of Edition: current; Page: [198] M. Thiers. His only objects of veneration are Mars and Bellona, with just a passing thought for Christ. He is a sad plaything of the conventionalism that a classical education has caused to be predominant; he is so predisposed to admire the Romans that, where they are concerned, simply refraining from the greatest abominations is considered by him to be on a par with the greatest virtues. Alexander for having regretted that he assassinated his best friend and Scipio for not having enticed a wife from her husband are proof in his eyes of inimitable heroism. In short, while he has made a walking contradiction of each of us, he is certainly the perfect example of this.

It is clear that Rollin was enthusiastically in favor of communism and Spartan institutions. We should do him justice, however; his admiration is not total. He takes this legislator to task, with appropriate circumspection, for having stamped his work with four minor blemishes:

  • 1. Idleness
  • 2. Promiscuity
  • 3. Infanticide
  • 4. The mass murder of slaves

These four reservations once entered, this gentleman returns to the path of classical conventionalism and sees in Lycurgus not a man but a god, and finds his policy perfect.

The intervention of the legislator in everything appears to Rollin to be so essential that in all seriousness he congratulates the Greeks for the fact that a man named Pelasge came to teach them to eat acorns. Before that, he says, they grazed on grass like animals.

Elsewhere, he says:

“God was obliged to give the Romans a world empire as a reward for their great virtues, which only appear to be real. He would not have been just if He had awarded a lesser prize to these virtues, which are not actually real.”

Do we not clearly see conventionalism and Christianity in conflict in Rollin, a poor soul in torment? The spirit of this utterance is the spirit of all the works of the founder of teaching in France. Contradicting oneself, making God contradict himself, and teaching us to contradict ourselves is Rollin in a nutshell, and the baccalaureate in a nutshell.

If promiscuity and infanticide awaken Rollin’s scruples with regard to Lycurgus’s institutions, he is enthusiastic about everything else and even finds the means of justifying theft. This is how he does it. The stroke employed is curious and close enough to my subject to be worth mentioning.

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Rollin begins by stating in principle that the law creates property—a disastrous principle common to all constructors of society, and one that we will soon be finding in the mouths of Rousseau, Mably, Mirabeau, Robespierre, and Babeuf. Well, since the law is the justification for property, can it not also be the justification for theft? What can be opposed to this reasoning?

“Theft was allowed in Sparta,” says Rollin, while “it was severely punished by the Scythians. The reason for this difference is clear; it is because the law, which alone decides on the ownership and use of assets, in the case of the Scythians, had granted an individual no rights over the assets of another, whereas the law, in the case of the Spartans, did the exact opposite.”

Next, this good fellow, Rollin, in the heat of his plea in favor of theft and Lycurgus, invokes the most incontestable of authorities, that of God:

“Nothing is more commonplace,” he says, “than similar rights awarded over the assets of others; this is how God not only gave the poor the authority to pick grapes in the vineyards and glean in the fields and carry off entire sheaves, but He also gave any passersby without distinction the freedom to enter the vineyards of others as oft en as they chose and to eat as many grapes as they wanted in spite of the vineyard owner. God Himself gave the first reason for this. It is that the land of Israel was His and that the Israelites enjoyed the use of it only on this burdensome condition.”

People will doubtless say that this was Rollin’s personal doctrine. That is exactly what I am saying. I am trying to show to what state of moral infirmity the habitual study of the frightful form of society in classical times can reduce the finest and most honest minds.

Montesquieu: It has been said of Montesquieu that he rediscovered the just credentials of the human race. He is one of the great writers whose every sentence has the force of authority. God forbid that I should wish to diminish his fame! But what should we not think of a classical education if it has succeeded in misleading this noble intelligence to the extent of causing him to admire the most barbarous of institutions in antiquity?

The ancient Greeks, imbued with the need for the peoples who lived under a popular government to be raised in virtue, established singular institutions to inspire it. The laws of Crete were the origin for those of Sparta and those of Plato corrected them.

I would ask people to give some attention to the extent of the genius needed by these legislators to see that, by upsetting all the accepted customs, by confusing all the virtues, they were revealing their wisdom to the universe. Lycurgus, combining robbery with the spirit of justice, the most Edition: current; Page: [200] severe slavery with the heights of freedom, the most atrocious sentiments with the greatest moderation, gave stability to his city. He appeared to remove all its resources from it, its arts, trade, money, and city walls. People had ambition there with no hope of being better off; they had natural sentiments and they were neither child, husband, nor father there. Even modesty was removed from chastity. It is along these paths that Sparta was led to greatness and glory, but with such infallibility in its institutions that nothing was obtained from it by winning battles if it was not possible to remove its policies. (Spirit of Laws, book 4, chapter 8)14

Those who will wish to found similar institutions will establish the common ownership of assets as in Plato’s republic, the respect that he demanded for the gods, the separation from foreigners in order to preserve behavior, and with the city carrying out trade and not the citizens. They will supply our arts without our luxury and our needs without our desires. . . .

Montesquieu explains in these words the great influence that the ancients attributed to music:

I believe that I can explain this: You have to get it into your head that in Greek towns, especially those whose principal object was war, all work and all the occupations that might lead to earning money were regarded as unworthy of a free man. “Most arts,” said Xenophon, “corrupt the body of those that exercise them. They oblige people to sit in the shade or close to the fire; such people have no time either for their friends or for the republic.” It was only in the corruption of some democracies that craftsmen managed to become citizens. This is what Aristotle teaches us, and he claims that a good republic will never give them the right of citizenship.

Agriculture was still a servile activity, and it was normally a conquered people that carried it out: the Helots in Sparta, the Periecians in Crete, the Penestes in Thessalonia, and other enslaved peoples in other republics.

In sum, all commercial exchange was infamous in the eyes of the Greeks. It would have implied that a citizen had rendered services to a Edition: current; Page: [201] slave, a tenant, or a foreigner, and the very idea shocked the spirit of freedom in Greece. Thus Plato, in his Laws, wanted a citizen who engaged in commercial exchange to be punished.

The situation in the Greek republics was therefore very embarrassing: it was thought improper for citizens to work in trade, agriculture, or the arts, yet also wrong for them to be idle. An acceptable occupation was identified in the exercises relating to gymnastics and to war. The polity gave them no other choices. The Greeks, therefore, have to be regarded as a society of athletes and warriors. However, these activities, so suited to producing people that were hard and barbarous, needed to be tempered by others that made their behavior gentler. Music, which reaches the spirit through the organs of the body, was very suited to this. (Spirit of Laws, book 5)15

This is the notion that a classical education gives us of freedom. This is now how it teaches us to understand equality and thrift:

Although in a democracy genuine equality is the soul of the state, this is, however, so hard to establish that punctilious conformity in this regard is not always suitable. All that is necessary is for a tax to be established that reduces or sets the differences at a given level, following which it is up to specific laws to equalize, so to speak, inequalities, through the charges it imposes on the rich and the relief it grants to the poor. (Spirit of Laws, book 5, chapter 6)16

In a good democracy, it is not enough for tracts of land to be equal; they have to be small as in Roman times. . . .

Since equality in wealth encourages thrift, thrift maintains equality in wealth. Although these things are different, they are such that one cannot exist without the other. (Spirit of Laws, chapter 6)17

The Samnites had a custom which, in a small republic, and especially in a situation like theirs, was bound to produce admirable effects. All the young men were gathered together and judged. The one declared the best of all took any girl he wanted as his wife, the runner-up then made his choice, and so on down the line. . . . It would be difficult to imagine a reward that was nobler or greater, less of a burden to a small state, and more capable of affecting either sex.

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The Samnites were descendants of the Spartans, and Plato, whose institutions are simply the perfection of the laws of Lycurgus, produced a law that was more or less similar. (Spirit of Laws, book 7, chapter 16)18

Rousseau: No man has had such influence on the French Revolution as Rousseau. “His work,” says Louis Blanc, “was on the table of the Committee of Public Safety.” “These paradoxes,” he says elsewhere, “which his century took to be literary daring, were shortly to resound in the nation’s assemblies in the form of dogmatic truths that cut like a sword.” And in order for the moral bond linking Rousseau to antiquity not to be overlooked, the same panegyrist adds, “His style recalled the touching and fiery language of a son of Cornelia.”

Besides, who does not know that Rousseau was the most fervent admirer of the ideas and behavior conventionally attributed to the Romans and Spartans? He himself said that reading Plutarch made him what he was.

His first article was directed against human intelligence. In the very first pages he exclaimed:

Can I forget that it was in the bosom of Greece that this city, as famous for its happy ignorance as for the wisdom of its laws, was seen to rise, this republic of demigods rather than men, so superior did their virtues seem to be over those of humanity? Oh Sparta! The eternal opprobrium of a vain doctrine! While the vices encouraged by the fine arts were introduced into Athens, while a tyrant so carefully assembled the works of the prince of poets, you cast out from your walls the arts and artists, the sciences and scholars! (Discourse on the Re-establishment of the Sciences and Arts)19

In his second work, Discourse on the Inequality of Conditions, he railed with even greater vehemence against all the bases of society and civilization. This is why he believed himself to be the mouthpiece of ancient wisdom:

I will picture myself in the Lyceum in Athens, repeating my masters’ lessons, with Plato and Xenocrates as my judges and the human race as my audience.20

The predominant idea in this famous discourse may be summarized thus: The most terrible fate awaits those who, unfortunate enough to be born after Edition: current; Page: [203] us, add their knowledge to ours. The development of our faculties has already made us very unhappy. Our fathers were less unhappy, as they were more ignorant. Rome was close to perfection; Sparta had achieved it, as far as perfection is compatible with a social state. But the real good fortune for man is to live in the woods, alone, naked, with no bonds, no affections, no language, no religion, no ideas, no family, and in short in a state in which he is so close to an animal that it is highly unlikely that he stands upright and that his hands are not feet.

Unfortunately, this golden age has not lasted. Men have gone through an intermediate phase, which nevertheless has not been without its charms:

For as long as they were content with their rustic cabins, for as long as they were content with sewing their clothes of skins with bone needles, adorning themselves with feathers and shells, painting their bodies in a variety of colors . . . for as long as they occupied themselves only with work that a single person could do, they lived free, healthy, good, and happy.21

Alas, they were not able to stop at this first degree of culture:

From the moment that a man needed help from another [here is society making its disastrous appearance]; as soon as it was seen to be useful for one person to have enough provisions for two, equality disappeared, property was introduced, and work became necessary. . . .

Metallurgy and agriculture were the two arts whose invention brought about this great revolution. For the poet, it is gold and silver, for the philosopher, it is iron and wheat that civilized men and caused the perdition of the human race.22

It was therefore necessary to escape from the state of nature to enter into society. This gave rise to the third of Rousseau’s works, the Social Contract.

It is not part of my subject to analyze this work here. I will limit myself to pointing out that Greek and Roman ideas are echoed on each page.

Since society is a pact, each person has the right to make his own stipulations.

It is up to those who associate, and to them alone, to regulate the conditions of society.23

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But that is not easy.

How will they regulate them? Will it be by common accord, by sudden inspiration? . . . How will a blind throng, who oft en do not know what they want, carry out on their own such a grand and difficult enterprise as a system of legislation? . . . This is why a legislator is needed.24

Thus, universal suffrage is conjured away in practice as soon as it is acknowledged in theory.

For how will this legislator act, when in all respects, he has to be an extraordinary man who, since he is daring to undertake the establishment of a people, has to consider himself capable of changing human nature and of modifying man’s physical and moral constitution, who must, in short, invent the machine of which men are the material.

Rousseau clearly proves here that the legislator cannot count either on force or persuasion. How does he solve this problem? By deception.

This is what forced the fathers of nations of all eras to have recourse to the intervention of heaven and to honor the gods for their own wisdom . . . This sublime reason, which rises above common souls, is the one whose decisions are placed by the legislator in the mouths of the immortals in order for divine authority to sweep along those whom human prudence might not move. But it is not given to everyone to make the gods speak.25 (The gods! The immortals! A classical reminiscence)

Like Plato and Lycurgus, his masters, like the Spartans and Romans, his heroes, Rousseau gave the words work and freedom a meaning that expressed two incompatible ideas. In the social state a choice had to be made, either to renounce freedom or to die of hunger. There was, however, a solution to the problem and that was slavery.

As soon as a people provides itself with representatives, it is no longer free, it no longer exists!

In Greece, all the people had to do, they did it themselves. They were constantly assembled on the square; slaves did their work; their great preoccupation was freedom. Once they no longer had the same advantages, how were they to retain the same rights? You value your material advantage more than your freedom and you fear slavery far less than destitution.

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What! Freedom is maintained only with the support of servitude? Perhaps. The two extremes meet. Everything outside nature has its disadvantages, and civil society more than the rest. There are situations so unfortunate that you can save your freedom only at the expense of that of others, and in which citizens can be in the fullest sense free only if slaves are in the fullest sense enslaved. This was the situation in Sparta. For you, a modern people, you do not have slaves, you are yourselves slaves, etc.

This is genuine classical conventionalism. The ancients were propelled into procuring slaves for themselves by their brute instincts. But since it is a rank preconception, a college tradition, to find everything they did beautiful, subtle reasoning on the quintessence of freedom is attributed to them.

The contrast that Rousseau established between the state of nature and the social state is as disastrous to private as to public morals. According to this mode of thinking, society is the result of a pact that gives rise to the law which, in turn, creates justice and morality out of nothing. In the state of nature there is neither morality nor justice. Fathers have no duty to their sons nor sons to their fathers, husbands to their wives nor wives to their husbands.

It follows from this that if the social pact, once concluded, is dissolved, every thing collapses with it: society, law, morality, justice, and duty. “Each person,” says Rousseau, “is entitled to his original rights and regains his natural freedom while losing the conventional freedom for which he renounced it.”26

However, it should be noted that very little is needed to dissolve the social pact. This happens every time an individual breaks his undertakings or refuses the jurisdiction of a particular law. If a condemned man escapes when society tells him, “It is expedient for you to die,” if a citizen refuses to pay taxes, if an accountant puts his hand into the public till, at that very instant the social contract is broken, all moral duty ceases, justice no longer exists, and fathers, mothers, children, and spouses owe nothing to each other. Each person has an unlimited right to anything that takes his fancy; in short, the entire population reverts to a state of nature.

I leave you to imagine the ravages that doctrines like this would have in revolutionary times.

They are no less disastrous for private morals. What young man entering the world with enthusiasm and ambition does not say to himself, “The impulses Edition: current; Page: [206] of my heart are the voice of nature, which is never wrong. The institutions that bar my route come from men and are only arbitrary conventions to which I have not contributed. By crushing these institutions underfoot, I will have the twin pleasure of satisfying my leanings and thinking myself a hero.”

Do I have to remind you here of this sad and painful page of the Confessions?27

My third child was therefore placed in the orphanage along with the two others. This also happened for the next two, since I have had five in all. This arrangement seemed to me to be so good that if I did not boast about it, it was solely out of deference to their mother . . . By entrusting my children to state education . . . I considered myself to be a member of Plato’s republic!

Mably: No quotations are needed to demonstrate the Greek and Roman mania of Abbé Mably. A narrow-minded man, with a soul more straight-laced and a less-sensitive heart than Rousseau, he also had ideas that allowed for a reduced range of temperaments and of intellectual content. This made him overtly platonic, that is to say, communistic. Convinced, like all the classicists, that humanity is the raw material for manufacturers of institutions, he preferred to be one of the manufacturers rather than part of the raw material. Consequently he set himself up to be a legislator. As such, he was first called upon to establish Poland and he does not appear to have succeeded in this. Next, he offered Anglo-Americans the black broth of the Spartans, which he could not persuade them to adopt. Outraged by this blindness, he foretold the fall of the Union and gave it no more than five years of existence.

May I be allowed to interject a reservation here? By quoting the absurd and subversive doctrines of such men as Fénelon, Rollin, Montesquieu, and Rousseau, I certainly do not wish to state that we do not owe pages full of reason and morality to these great writers. However, what is mistaken in their books arises from classical conventionalism and what is true arises from another source. It is precisely my thesis that teaching which is exclusively based on Greek and Latin literature makes us all living contradictions. It draws us violently back to a past that it glorifies down to its very horrors, Edition: current; Page: [207] while Christianity, the spirit of the century, and a fund of good sense that never loses its rights show us an ideal for the future.

I will spare you Morelly, Brissot, and Raynal, who justify—what am I saying?—who praise to the skies war, slavery, clerical imposture, the community of possessions, and idleness. Who could fail to see the impure source of such doctrines? This source, I really must name it again, is the classical education that is imposed on us all by the baccalaureate.

It is not only into literary works that the calm, peaceful, and pure ancient world has poured its poison, but also into those of legal experts. I defy anyone to find in any of our lawyers anything that approaches a reasonable notion of the right to property. And what can legislation from which such a notion is absent be like? Recently I happened to open the Treatise on the Law of Nations by Vattel.28 I saw that the author had devoted a chapter to examining the following question: Is it permissible to carry off women? It is clear that the legend of the Romans and Sabines has bequeathed to us this precious morsel. After having weighed the pros and cons with the utmost seriousness, the author opted for the affirmative. He owed this to the glory of Rome. Were the Romans ever wrong? A form of conventionalism forbids us to think this; they are Romans and that is enough. Burning, pillaging, or kidnapping, anything that comes from them is calm, peaceful, and pure.

Will it be claimed that these are only personal opinions? Our society would be very fortunate if the uniform action of a classical education reinforced by the approbation of Montaigne, Corneille, Fénelon, Rollin, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Raynal, and Mably did not contribute to shaping the general opinion. This is what we will see.

In the meantime, we have proof that the communist idea took hold not only of a few individuals but also of certain public bodies, wholesale, including the most learned and influential. When the Jesuits wanted to organize a social order in Paraguay,29 what plans did their previous studies suggest to them? Those of Minos, Plato, and Lycurgus. They established communism, which in turn did not fail to produce its sorry consequences. The Indians were reduced to several degrees below the state of savages. In spite of this, such was the inveterate predisposition of the Europeans in favor of communist institutions, constantly presented as being examples of perfection, that Edition: current; Page: [208] the happiness and virtue of these nameless beings (for they were no longer men) who were vegetating under the wing of the Jesuits were praised far and wide.

Did Rousseau, Mably, Montesquieu, and Raynal, these great extollers of ideological crusades, check the facts? Not in the slightest. Could Greek and Latin literature be mistaken? Could anyone go wrong with Plato as a guide? Therefore, the Indians in Paraguay were happy or ought to have been, under pain of being unhappy against all the rules. Azara, Bougainville, and other travelers set off under the influence of these preconceived ideas to admire these marvels. First of all, in spite of the sorry reality being glaringly obvious, they could not believe it. They nevertheless had to accept the evidence and finally recorded, to their great regret, that communism, an attractive illusion, is an appalling reality.

The logic is rock solid. It is perfectly clear that the authors I have just quoted did not dare to take their doctrine to its limit. Morelly and Brissot took it upon themselves to repair their inconsistency. As true followers of Plato, they openly preached the community of possessions and women and this, let us note, by constantly quoting the examples and precepts of this fine ancient world that everyone is supposed to admire.

Such was the state to which education as imparted by the clergy had reduced public opinion in France with regard to family, property, freedom, and society when the Revolution broke out. The causes of the Revolution probably had no connection with a classical education, but can we doubt that this form of education contributed a host of mistaken ideas, sadistic feelings, subversive utopias, and deadly experimentation? Read the speeches made in the Legislative Assembly and the Convention. They are in the language of Rousseau and Mably. They are just tirades in favor of, and invocations and exclamatory addresses to, Fabricius,30 Cato, the two Brutuses, the Gracchi, and Catiline. Is an atrocity going to be committed? There is always the example of a Roman to glorify it. What education has instilled in the mind is translated into act. Sparta and Rome are agreed on as models and so they must be imitated or parodied. One person wants to establish the Olympic Games, another the agrarian laws, and a third black broth in the streets.

I cannot hope to make a comprehensive commentary here on a question worthy of an accomplished pen devoting something more to it than a pamphlet: Edition: current; Page: [209] “On the influence of Greek and Latin literature on the spirit of our revolutions.” I have to limit myself to a few outlines.

Two great figures dominate the French Revolution and appear to personify it, Mirabeau and Robespierre. What was their doctrine on property?

We have seen that peoples who, in antiquity, had based their means of existence on depredation and slavery were unable to give property its proper principle. They were obliged to consider it a conventional fact and based it on the law, which enabled them to include slavery and theft in it, as Rollin so naively explains.

Rousseau had also said, “Property is a human convention and institution, whereas freedom is a gift of nature.”

Mirabeau professed the same doctrine: “Property,” he said, “is a social creation. Laws do not just protect or maintain property; they give rise to it, determine it, and give it the rank and scope that it occupies in the rights of citizens.”31

And when Mirabeau expressed himself thus, it was not to establish a theory. His real aim was to commit the legislator to limiting the exercise of a right that was within his discretion, since he had created it.

Robespierre echoed Rousseau’s definitions.

In defining freedom, this primary need of man, the most sacred of the rights he holds from nature, we have rightly said that its limit is the right of others. Why have you not applied this principle to property, which is a social institution, as though the laws of nature were less inviolable than the conventions of men?32

Following this preamble, Robespierre moves on to the definition.

Property is the right held by each citizen to enjoy and dispose of possessions that are guaranteed to him by the law.33

Here then is the clear opposition between freedom and property. They are two rights whose origin is different. One comes from nature; the other is a social institution. The first is natural, the second conventional.

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But who makes the law? The legislator. He can therefore give the exercise of the right to property the conditions that suit him, since he confers it.

Robespierre also hastens to deduce the rights of labor, the right to assistance, and progressive taxes from his definition.

Society is obliged to provide for the subsistence of all of its members, either by procuring work for them or by assuring the means of existence for those who cannot work.

The assistance required for indigence is a debt of the rich to the poor. It is up to the law to determine the manner in which this debt must be settled.

Citizens whose income does not exceed what is necessary for their subsistence are exempted from contributing to public expenditure. The others have to support them progressively, in accordance with the extent of their wealth.34

Robespierre, said M. Sudre, thus adopted all the measures that, in the minds of their inventors as in reality, constitute the transition from property to communism. By applying Plato’s Treatise on Laws, he was unconsciously moving toward the achievement of the social state as described in Plato’s book called the Republic.

(We know that Plato wrote two books, one—the Republic—to point out ideal perfection, the community of possessions and women, and the other—the Treatise on Laws—to teach the means of transition.)

Robespierre may be considered, besides, as an admirer of the calm, peaceful, and pure ancient world. His speech, even on property, abounds in such declamations as “Aristide would not have envied the treasures of Crassus!”35 “Fabricius’s thatched cottage is no whit less enviable than Crassus’s palace!” etc.36

In principle, once Mirabeau and Robespierre decided to give the legislator the power to determine the extent of the right of property, it mattered little where they decided it was appropriate to draw the line. It might have suited them to go no further than the right to work, the right to assistance, and progressive taxes. However, others, more consistent, did not stop there. If the law that creates property and disposes of it can move one step toward Edition: current; Page: [211] equality, why can it not move two? Why would it not achieve absolute equality?

For this reason, Robespierre was surpassed by Saint-Just, as had to happen, and Saint-Just by Babeuf, as had to happen too. This path has just one logical terminus. It was highlighted by the divine Plato.

Saint-Just, . . . but I am becoming mired in the question of property and forgetting that I have undertaken to show how a classical education has perverted all moral notions. Assuming that the reader will believe me when I say that Saint-Just surpassed Robespierre along the path to communism, I will return to my subject.

First of all, you have to know that Saint-Just’s errors were due to a study of the classics. Like all men of his time and ours, he was imbued with classicism. He thought he was a Brutus. Kept far from Paris by his party, he wrote:

Oh god! Must Brutus languish, forgotten, far from Rome? My decision has been made, however, and if Brutus does not kill the others, he will kill himself.37

Kill! It appears that this is the destiny of man here below.

All Greek and Latin scholars agree that the principle of a republic is virtue and God alone knows what they mean by this word! This is why Saint-Just wrote:

A republican government has virtue as its principle, if not terror.38

There is another dominant opinion in the ancient world: that work is something squalid. Saint-Just condemned it in these words:

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Having a job is not the attribute of a proper citizen. The hand of man is made only for the land and for arms.

And it was so that no one would be able to abase himself by carrying out a trade that Saint-Just wished to distribute land to everyone.

We have seen that, according to the views of the ancients, the legislator is to humanity what the potter is to clay. Unfortunately when this idea dominates, everyone wants to be the potter and no one wants to be clay. We can well imagine that Saint-Just saw himself in the leading role:

The day I am convinced that it is impossible to give the French manners that are gentle, sensitive, and inexorable toward tyranny and injustice, I will stab myself.

If there were manners, all would be well. Institutions are needed to purify them. To reform manners, we have to begin by meeting the requirements of need and personal interest. Some land has to be given to everyone.39

The children are clothed in cotton all the year round. They sleep on rush mats for eight hours. They are fed in the community and live only on roots, fruit, vegetables, bread, and water. They are allowed to eat meat only after the age of sixteen.

Men aged twenty-five will be obliged to declare each year in the temple the names of their friends. He who abandons his friend without good reason will be banished!40

In this way, Saint-Just, echoing Lycurgus, Plato, Fénelon, and Rousseau, attributes to himself more rights and powers over the manners, feelings, wealth, and children of the French than all the French have as a group. How small humanity is compared to him! Or rather it lives only in him. His brain is the brain and his heart the heart of the human race.

This was, therefore, the course stamped on the revolution by Greek and Latin conventionalism. Plato pointed out the ideal. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, both clergy and laity began to celebrate this marvel. When the time came for action, Mirabeau took the first step, Robespierre the second, Saint-Just the third, Antonelle the fourth, and Babeuf, more logical than all his predecessors, stood to attention at the final step, absolute communism, pure Platonism. I ought to quote his writings here but will Edition: current; Page: [213] limit myself to saying that he signed them Caius Gracchus,41 which is highly characteristic.

The spirit of the Revolution from the point of view that concerns us can be summed up in a few quotations. What did Robespierre want? “To raise men’s souls to the height of the republican virtues of the peoples of the ancient world” (3 nivôse year III).42 What did Saint-Just want? “To offer us the happiness of Sparta and Athens” (23 nivôse year III). He also wanted “all citizens to carry beneath their tunic Brutus’s dagger” (idem). What did the bloodthirsty Carrier want? “That all young men in future should envisage the live coals of Scaevola, the hemlock of Socrates, the death of Cicero, and the sword of Cato.” What did Rabaut Saint-Etienne43 want? “Following the principles of the Cretans and Spartans, the state should take control of man from the cradle and even before birth” (16 December 1792). What did the Quinze-vingts44 section want? “A church to be consecrated to freedom and an altar to be raised on which a perpetual fire would burn, maintained by young vestals” (21 November 1794 nivôse). What did the entire Convention want? “Our communes to include only Brutuses and Publicolas in the future” (19 March 1794).

All these sectarians were nevertheless of good faith, and this made them all the more dangerous, since sincerity in error is fanaticism and fanaticism is a formidable power, especially when it acts upon masses prepared to suffer its action. Widespread enthusiasm in favor of a social stereotype cannot always be without issue, and public opinion, whether enlightened or misled, is nonetheless the ruler of the world. When one of these fundamental errors, such as the glorification of the ancient world lodged through teaching in all brains with the first glimmers of intelligence, is established there in a state of conventionalism, it tends to pass from minds to actions. Should a revolution then ring out the time to undertake experiments, who knows under what terrible name the person who appeared a hundred years earlier under the name of Fénelon would appear? Had he set his ideas out in a novel he would die for them on the scaffold; were he a poet, he would make himself a martyr; had he amused society, he would overturn it.

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However, in reality, there is a power that is superior to the most universal conventionalism. When education has deposited in the social body a disastrous seed, the social body has in it a force for self-preservation, a vis medicatrix,45 which makes it rid itself over time, and through suffering and tears, of the harmful germ.

Therefore, when communism had sufficiently terrified and compromised society, a reaction became inevitable. France started to retreat into despotism. In its ardor it might have made little even of the legitimate conquests of the Revolution. It had the consulate and the empire. But alas! Do I need to show that the infatuation with Rome followed France into this new phase? The ancient world is forever there to justify all forms of violence. From Lycurgus to Caesar, how many models there are to choose from! Therefore, and I am here borrowing M. Thiers’s language, “We who, after being Athenians with Voltaire and fleetingly wishing to be Spartans under the Convention, became the soldiers of Caesar under Napoléon.” Can we fail to see the stamp that our devotion to Rome has left on this period? And, goodness me, this stamp is everywhere. It is in the edifices, the monuments, the literature, and the very fashions of imperial France. It is in the ridiculous names imposed on all our institutions. It is doubtless not an accident that we saw consuls, an emperor, senators, tribunes, prefects, senatus-consultes, eagles, Trajan columns, legions, Champs de Mars [Martian fields], prytaneums [military schools], and lycées spring up everywhere.

The conflict between the revolutionary and counterrevolutionary principles seemed to be bound to end with the July Days in 1830. Since that time, the intellectual forces of this country have turned toward the study of social matters, which is nothing if not natural and useful. Unfortunately, the university gives the first impetus to the progress of the human mind, and it is still directing the mind toward the poisoned sources of the ancient world, to the extent that our unfortunate country is reduced to repeating its past and experiencing the same trials. It seems that it is condemned to go round in the circle of utopia, experimentation, reaction—literary Platonism, revolutionary communism, military despotism—Fénelon, Robespierre, Napoléon! Can things be any different? Instead of seeking to discover and reveal the natural laws of society, the young generation from whom the ranks of literature and journalism are recruited is content to take over as a basis this Greco-Roman axiom: Social order is a creation of the legislator. A dreadful Edition: current; Page: [215] point of departure, which opens a career of unlimited scope to the imagination and is nothing but the eternal spawning of socialism. For, if society is an invention, who would not want to be the inventor? Who would not want to be Minos, Lycurgus, Plato, Numa, Fénelon, Robespierre, Babeuf, Saint-Simon, Fourier, Louis Blanc, or Proudhon? Who does not think it glorious to establish a people? Who does not delight in the title of Father of the Nations? Who does not aspire to combine the family and property like chemical elements?

But to give rein to fantasy elsewhere than in the columns of a journal, you have to hold power and occupy the focal point to which all the threads of public power lead. It is the essential preamble to any experimentation. Each sect, each school, will therefore do its utmost to remove the dominant school or sect from the government, and thus, under the influence of classical teaching, social life can be only an interminable sequence of struggles and revolutions whose object is to settle the question of which utopian will have the power to carry out experiments on the people as though they were base material!

Yes, I accuse the baccalaureate of shaping, as though wantonly, all French youth for socialist utopias and social experimentation. And doubtless that is the reason for a very strange phenomenon, the incapacity to refute socialism shown by the very people who think they are threatened by it. Men from the bourgeoisie, landowners and capitalists, the systems of Saint-Simon, Fourier, Louis Blanc, Pierre Leroux, and Proudhon, are only doctrines, after all. You say they are wrong. Why do you not refute them? Because you have drunk from the same cup, because frequent reading of the ancients and your conventional liking for everything that is Greek or Roman has inoculated you with socialism.

“Your mind is somewhat infatuated with it.”

The leveling of your wealth as a result of tariffs, your law on government assistance, your calls for free education, your subsidies to encourage industry, your centralization, your faith in the state, your literature, your theater, everything demonstrates that you are socialists. You differ from the apostles in degree but you are on the same slope. This is why, when you feel yourself to be outdistanced, instead of refuting these beliefs—which you do not know how to do and which you cannot do without condemning yourselves—you wring your hands, tear out your hair, call for retrenchment, and exclaim piteously, “France is going to the dogs.”

No, France is not going to the dogs. What is happening is that while Edition: current; Page: [216] you are concentrating on your sterile lamentations, the socialists are refuting themselves. Their sages are in open warfare. We have seen the end of the Fourierist phalanxes, and of the triad, and of the national workshop, and your leveling of conditions by law will die in the same way. What will still be there? Free credit. Why do you not show how absurd it is? Alas, it is you who invented it. You preached it for a thousand years. When you were unable to stifle personal interest, you regulated it. You taxed it to the maximum, giving rise to the thought that property is a creation of the law, which is exactly the view of Plato, Lycurgus, Fénelon, Rollin, and Robespierre and which is, and I am not afraid to state this, the essence and quintessence not only of socialism but of communism. Do not sing the praises to me therefore of a form of education that has taught you nothing of what you need to know and which leaves you astounded and struck dumb when faced with the first illusion it has pleased a madman to imagine. You are not capable of opposing error with truth; at least let the errors mutually destroy each other. Be careful not to gag the utopians, thus placing their propaganda on the pedestal of persecution. The minds of the working masses, if not the middle classes, have become absorbed with the major social questions. They will solve them. They will eventually find other definitions for family, property, freedom, justice, and society than those your education has given you. They will overcome not only the socialism that speaks its name but also the socialism that is unaware of what it is. They will kill off your universal intervention of the state, your centralization, your artificial unity, your system of protection, your official philanthropy, your laws on usury, your barbarous diplomacy, and your monopolized system of education.

This is why I state that France is not going to the dogs. It will emerge from the combat happier, more enlightened, better organized, greater, freer, more moral, and more religious than you have made it.

After all, and note this well, when I rail against classical studies, I am not asking for them to be forbidden; I am asking only that they should not be imposed. I am not calling on the state to align everyone with my views but to say, “Do not subject me to the opinion of others.” There is a great difference, and everyone should be quite clear on this.

M. Thiers, M. de Riancey, M. de Montalembert, and M. Barthélemy Saint-Hilaire consider that the Roman atmosphere is excellent for shaping the hearts and minds of the young. So be it. Let them immerse their children in it; I leave them free to do this. But they should leave me free also to keep my children away from it as from pestilent air. You gentleman who Edition: current; Page: [217] would regulate us, what you consider to be sublime I consider odious; what satisfies your consciences frightens mine. Well then, follow your inspirations but allow me to follow mine. I am not constraining you; why do you constrain me?

You are perfectly convinced that from the social and moral point of view, the finest ideal is in the past. For my part, I see it in the future. “Let us dare to say this to a century that is proud of itself,” said M. Thiers. “The ancient world is what is finest in the world.” For my part, I have the good fortune not to share this sorry opinion. I use the term sorry because this opinion implies that, because of a fatal law, humanity is constantly deteriorating. You situate perfection at the dawn of time while I situate it at the end. You believe society to be retrograde; I consider it to be progressive. You believe that our opinions, ideas, and manners should be cast in the classical mold as far as possible; in vain do I study the social order of Sparta and Rome, all I find in it are violence, injustice, imposture, perpetual wars, slavery, turpitude, erroneous policy, erroneous morals, and an erroneous religion. What you admire, I abhor. But in the end, you keep your judgment and leave me mine. We are not here as lawyers, on the one hand pleading in favor of a classical education and on the other against, before an assembly responsible for making a decision that will conflict either with my conscience or with yours. I am asking the state only for neutrality. I am asking for freedom both for you and for me. I have at least the advantage of impartiality, moderation, and modesty over you.

Three sources of education are going to open up: the state, the clergy, and the teachers who claim to be free.

What I am asking for is that these teachers should be free in effect to try out new and fruitful avenues in their career. Let the university teach what is dear to it, Greek and Latin. Let the clergy teach what it knows, Greek and Latin. Let them both produce Platonists and tribunes, but do not let them stop us from forming, through other processes, men for our country and our century.

For if this freedom is forbidden to us, what bitter derision it will be when you come forward to say to us at every moment, “You are free!

During the session on 23 February, M. Thiers came to tell us for the fourth time:

I will forever repeat what I have already said: The freedom established by the law we have drafted is freedom in accordance with the Constitution.

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I challenge you to prove otherwise. Prove to me that it is not freedom; for my part I uphold the view that no other is possible.

In former times, no one could teach without the authority of the government. We have eliminated prior authorization; anyone can teach.

In former times it was said: “Teach this, do not teach that.” Today we say: “Teach anything you wish to teach.”

It is a painful thing to hear such a challenge addressed to us and to be condemned to silence. If the weakness of my voice did not forbid me to take the rostrum, I would have replied to M. Thiers.

Let us then see what this freedom that you say is so sincere amounts to, from the point of view of teachers, fathers of families, and society in general.

By virtue of your law, I found a college. With the cost of board and lodging, I have to purchase or rent premises, provide for feeding the students, and pay the teachers. However, next door to my college there is a lycée. It does not have to concern itself with premises and teachers. The taxpayers, including me, pay for these. It can therefore lower the cost of board and lodging to the extent that it makes my enterprise impossible. Is this freedom? One resource remains to me, however; that is to give instruction that is so much better than yours, so sought after by the public that it comes to me in spite of the relative expensiveness that you have forced on me. But now we meet and you say to me, “Teach whatever you like, but if you stray from my syllabus, all forms of professional career will be closed to your pupils.” Is this freedom?

Now I am imagining that I am the father of a family and enroll my sons in a free institution. Into what position am I put? As a father, I pay for the education of my children without any help from anyone. As a taxpayer and Catholic, I am paying for the education of other people’s children since I cannot refuse to pay the tax that subsidizes the lycées; nor can I even excuse myself during Lent from casting a coin into the friar’s collection box to support the seminaries. In this, at least, I am free; but am I free with regard to taxes? No, no, tell me that you are acting in solidarity in the socialist meaning of the word, but do not pretend to be furthering freedom.

And that is just the short side of the question. Here is something more serious. I give preference to free education since your official type of education (to which you make me contribute without drawing any benefit from it) appears to me to be communist and pagan. My conscience is averse to my sons’ being indoctrinated with Spartan and Roman ideas which, in my view at least, are nothing other than glorified violence and robbery. Consequently, Edition: current; Page: [219] I am obliged to pay board and lodging for my sons and taxes for the sons of others. And what do I then find? I find that your mythological and warlike teaching has been indirectly imposed on free colleges through the ingenious mechanism of your degrees and that I have to bend my conscience to suit your views under pain of making my children pariahs of society. You have told me four times that I am free. You may tell me this a hundred times, and a hundred times I will answer, “I am not.”

Be inconsistent since you cannot avoid it, and I will concede that in the current state of public opinion, you will not be able to close the official colleges. But set a limit to your inconsistency. Do you not complain every day about the attitudes of the young? About their socialist tendencies? About their estrangement from religious ideas? About their passion for warlike expeditions, a passion so fierce that, in our deliberating assemblies, it is scarcely permissible to utter the word peace, and the most ingenious oratorical precautions have to be taken to mention justice when it comes to foreign parts? Such deplorable dispositions doubtless have a cause. At the worst, is it not possible that your mythological, platonic, warlike, and factious form of education has something to do with this? I am not telling you to change it, however; that would be to expect too much of you. But I tell you: Since you allow so-called free schools to spring up next to your lycées in conditions that are already very difficult, allow them, at their risk and peril, to try the paths of Christianity and science. The experiment is worth trying. Who knows? Perhaps it will mark progress. And you want to snuff it out at birth!

Last, let us examine the question from the point of view of society, and first of all let us note that it would be strange for society to be free with regard to teaching if teachers and fathers of families were not.

The first sentence of M. Thiers’s report on secondary education in 1844 proclaimed this terrible truth:

“State education is perhaps the greatest interest of a civilized nation and, for this reason, is the greatest object of the ambition of the parties.”46

It appears that the conclusion to be drawn from this is that a nation that does not want to be the prey of the parties has to hasten to suppress state education, that is to say, by the state, and to proclaim freedom of education. If Edition: current; Page: [220] there is a form of education entrusted to the government, the parties would have one more reason to seek to take hold of power since, at the same time, they would be taking hold of education, the greatest object of their ambition. Does the hunger to rule not arouse enough covetousness already? Does it not engender enough conflicts, revolutions, and disorders? And is it wise to stir it up further through the bait of such high influence?

And why do the parties seek to direct study? Because they know this saying by Leibnitz, “Make me the master of education and I will take charge of changing the face of the world.” Education by government is therefore education by one party, by a sect that is temporarily triumphant; it is education for the benefit of one idea, one exclusive approach. “We have fashioned the Republic,” said Robespierre; “It remains for us to fashion republicans,” an attempt that was repeated in 1848. Bonaparte wanted to fashion only soldiers, Frayssinous fanatics, and Villemain mere talkers. M. Guizot would fashion only Doctrinaires, Enfantin mere followers of Saint-Simon, and someone who resented seeing humanity degraded in this way, if ever he were in the position of saying “I am the state,” would perhaps be tempted to fashion only economists. What then! Will we never see the danger of giving parties the opportunity of imposing their views, I mean their errors, by force, universally and uniformly, whenever they snatch power? For forbidding by law any view other than the one with which you yourself are infatuated is indeed coercion.

Claims and intentions of this nature are essentially monarchical, although no one has more resolutely displayed them than the republican party, since they are based on the premise that those governed are made by those who govern, that society belongs to the government, which has to fashion it in its image, whereas, according to our citizen rights, so dearly bought, power is only an emanation of society, one of the manifestations of its thought.

For my part, I cannot conceive a vicious circle more absurd, especially in the mouths of republicans, than this: As the years go by, through the mechanism of universal suffrage, national thought will be incarnate in the magistrates and then these magistrates will fashion national thought to suit their will.

This doctrine implies the following two assertions: National thought wrong, governmental thought infallible.

And if this is so, you republicans, immediately restore autocracy, state education, legitimacy, divine right, and irresponsible and infallible absolute Edition: current; Page: [221] power, all institutions that have a common basis and that emanate from the same source.

If there is in the world one infallible man (or sect), let us hand over to him not only education but all the powers and make an end of it. If not, let us become enlightened as best we can, but let us not give up.

Now, I will repeat my question: from the social point of view, does the law we are discussing achieve freedom?

In former times, there was one university. Its permission was needed in order to teach. It imposed its ideas and methods, and people were obliged to operate through it. In Leibnitz’s view it was thus the ruler over generations, and doubtless this was the reason that its head took the revealing title grand master.

Now all of this has been overturned. The university will henceforward have just two attributions: 1. the right to dictate what knowledge is needed to obtain degrees, and 2. the right to block innumerable careers to those who do not follow this avenue.

People will say that such power is almost nothing. I, on the other hand, say that this nothing is all.

This leads me to say something about a word that has oft en been used in this debate: unity, since many people consider the baccalaureate as a means of stamping a single direction on all minds that, if not reasonable and useful, is at least uniform, and for this reason a good thing.

Those who admire unity are very numerous, and this is understandable. Providence has decreed that we all have faith in our own judgment, and we believe that there is just one valid opinion, that is to say, ours. We therefore think that the legislator can do no better than to impose this on all, and for greater safety we all want to be the legislator. However, legislators succeed one another in office, and what happens? At each changeover one form of unity replaces another. State education thus favors uniformity by taking each period into consideration in isolation, but if successive periods are compared—for example, the Convention, the Directoire, the empire, the restoration, the July Monarchy, and the Republic—we find diversity and, what is worse, the most subversive of all forms of diversity, that which produces visible changes in the intellectual field, as though on a stage, depending on the caprices of the person controlling the effects. Will we forever allow national intelligence and public awareness to descend to this level of degradation and indignity?

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There are two types of unity. One is a point of departure. It is imposed by force by those who temporarily control it. The other is a result, the supreme consummation of human perfectibility. It is the result of the natural gravitation of human intelligence toward truth.

The principle of the first type of unity is scorn for the human race, and its instrument is despotism. Robespierre was a unitarian when he said, “I have fashioned the Republic, I will set out to fashion republicans.” Napoléon was a unitarian when he said, “I love war and will make all Frenchmen into warriors.” Frayssinous was a unitarian when he said, “I have one belief and will bend all consciences to this belief through education.” Procrustes was a unitarian when he said, “Here is a bed; I will shorten or stretch anyone who exceeds or does not reach its dimensions.” The baccalaureate is unitarian when it says, “Life in society will be forbidden to anyone who has not followed my syllabus.” And let no one claim that the Supreme Council can change this syllabus each year, since we certainly cannot imagine a circumstance that would make matters worse. What then! The entire nation is to be considered as clay that the potter smashes when he is not happy with the shape he has given it?

In his report in 1844, M. Thiers showed that he was a fervent admirer of this type of unity, while at the same time regretting that it conformed little to the genius of modern nations.

A country in which freedom of education does not reign would be one in which the state, driven by absolute determination and wishing to cast its young people in the same mold and strike them in its effigy as though they were coins, would not permit any diversity in the system of education and, for a period of several years, would make all children wear the same type of clothes, eat the same type of food, and subject them to the same type of studies and the same type of exercises, bend them, etc.47

Let us refrain from speaking ill of this claimed prerogative of the state to impose unity of character on the nation and from regarding it as inspired by tyranny. It might almost be said, on the contrary, that this strong determination of the state to make all its citizens conform to a common type is in proportion to the patriotism of each country. It was in the ancient republics in which the fatherland was most adored and best served that it displayed the most stringent exactions with regard to the behavior and spirit of its citizens. . . . And we who, in the past century, have displayed all the aspects of human society, we who, having Edition: current; Page: [223] been Athenians with Voltaire, fleetingly wished to be Spartans under the Convention and the soldiers of Caesar under Napoléon, if there was one moment during which we thought of imposing the yoke of the state on education in an absolute manner, it was under the National Convention at the time of the greatest exaltation of patriotism.48

Let us give credit to M. Thiers. He does not suggest that we follow such examples. “We should not,” he said, “either imitate them or undermine them. It was a delirium but one arising from patriotism.”

It remains no less true that M. Thiers here shows that he continues to adhere to the judgment he made. “The ancient world is what is finest in the world.” He shows a secret predilection for absolute state despotism, an instinctive admiration for the institutions of Crete and Sparta, which gave the legislator the power to cast all young people in the same mold, to strike them in its effigy of the state, like coins, etc., etc.

And I cannot refrain from pointing out at this juncture, as it is fully part of my subject, the traces of classical conventionalism which make us admire as virtue in the ancient world that which was the result of the hardest and most immoral of necessities. The ancients whom we exalt, and I cannot repeat this too oft en, lived from piracy and would not have touched a tool for anything in the world. The entire human race was their enemy. They had condemned themselves to perpetual warfare and to the situation of always having to conquer or perish. This being so, there was and could be only one occupation, that of a soldier. The community had to devote itself to developing military qualities uniformly in all of its citizens, and its citizens subjected themselves to this unity, which guaranteed their existence.49

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But what is there in common between these barbarous times and modern times?

With what precise and clearly determined aim would all citizens be struck in the same effigy, like so many coins, today? Is it because they are all destined to follow a variety of careers? What would be the reason for casting them in the same mold? And who will hold the mold? This is a terrible question, which should make us think. W ho will hold the mold? If there is a mold (and the baccalaureate is one), everyone will want to hold the handle: M. Thiers, M. Parisis, M. Barthélemy Saint-Hilaire, me, the Reds, the Whites, the Blues, and the Blacks.50 We would therefore have to fight to Edition: current; Page: [225] settle this initial question, which would constantly resurface. Is it not easier to break the fatal mold and proclaim freedom honestly?

Especially since freedom is the terrain in which genuine unity germinates and is the environment that makes it fertile. The effect of competition is to stimulate good methods, reveal them and make them universal, and eliminate bad ones. It has to be admitted that the human mind is naturally more disposed to the truth than to error, to good than to evil, to what is useful than to what is harmful. If this were not true, if a fall were to be naturally reserved for the truth and triumph for the false, all our efforts would be in vain; humanity would be inevitably propelled, as Rousseau believed, toward a fatal and progressive degradation. We would have to say, with M. Thiers, “The ancient world is what is finest in the world,” which is not only an error but blasphemy. Properly understood, the interests of men are harmonious and the light that enables men to understand them shines with an ever more brilliant glow. Therefore, individual and collective efforts, experience, stumbling and even deceptions, competition—in a word, freedom—make men gravitate toward this form of unity that is an expression of the laws of their nature and the achievement of the general good.

What has made the liberal party fall into this strange contradiction of failing to recognize freedom, dignity, and the ability of man to grow in perfection and instead preferring an artificial unity that is static, degrading, and imposed in turn by all the despotic regimes to the benefit of the most diverse dispensations?

There are several reasons for this. First, the party itself has also received the Roman impress of a classical education. Are its leaders not holders of the baccalaureate? Second, it hopes that this precious instrument, this intellectual mold, the object of all desires, according to M. Thiers, will fall, by way of political vicissitudes, into its hands. Last, the requirements of defense against unjust aggression from Europe in’92 have not inconsiderably contributed to making the idea of a powerful unity popular in France.

However, of all the motives that have persuaded liberalism to sacrifice Edition: current; Page: [226] freedom, the most powerful is the fear that the encroachments of the clergy have inspired in liberalism with regard to education.

I do not share this fear but I understand it.

Consider, says liberalism, the situation of the clergy in France, its scholarly hierarchy, its strong discipline, its militia of forty thousand members, all unmarried and occupying the leading role in each commune in the country. Consider the influence that the clergy owes to the nature of its functions, which it draws from the word that it causes to resound without contradiction and with authority from the pulpit and which it murmurs in the confessional. Consider the links that bind it to the state through the religious budget, the links that subject it to a religious head who is simultaneously a foreign king, the help it receives from a fervent and devoted congregation, the resources it gains from the alms it distributes. Consider the fact that it regards as its first duty to take control of education and tell me whether, under these conditions, freedom of education is not just a delusion.

A volume would be needed to discuss this mighty question and all those questions relating to it. I will limit myself to one consideration and say this:

Under a free regime, it is not the clergy who will conquer education but education that will conquer the clergy. It is not the clergy who will strike the century in its effigy, but the century that will fashion the clergy in its image.

Can we have any doubt that education stripped of university shackles and divorced, through the elimination of degrees, from classical conventionalism, will launch itself down new and fruitful paths under the spur of rivalry? Free institutions, which will laboriously start up between lycées and seminaries, will feel the need to give the human mind its proper food, that is to say, the science of what things are and not the science of what was said about them two thousand years ago. “Ancient times are the childhood of the world,” said Bacon, “and in truth it is our time that is ancient, since the world has acquired knowledge and experience as it has grown old.” The study of the works of God and nature in the moral and physical order, this is true education; this is what will be dominant in free institutions. The young people who receive this education will show themselves to be superior through the force of their intelligence, the sureness of their judgment, and their practical aptitude in life to the frightful little talkers that the university and clergy will have saturated with doctrines that are as false as they are outmoded. While the first group will be prepared to assume the social functions of our time, the others will be reduced at first to forgetting what they have learned, if they can, and then learning what they ought to know. Edition: current; Page: [227] When faced with these results, fathers of families will tend to prefer free schools, full of sap and life, to these other schools, which are succumbing to the slavery of routine.

What will happen then? The clergy itself, still wishing to retain its influence, will have no other recourse than to substitute the teaching of things for the teaching of words, the study of positive truths for that of conventional doctrines, and substance for the superficial.

However, in order to teach you have to know, and in order to know you have to learn. The clergy will thus be obliged to change the direction of its own studies, and this renovation will be introduced all the way up to the seminaries. Well, do you think that a different diet will not produce different temperaments? For, let us be clear, it is not a question here of changing the subject only but also the method of clerical teaching. Knowledge of the works of God and nature is acquired by other intellectual processes than that of theogony. Observing facts and their sequence is one thing; admitting a text that is taboo without examination and drawing its consequences is quite another. When science replaces intuition, examination is substituted for authority and the philosophical method for the dogmatic. A different aim requires a different procedure, and other procedures give the mind other habits.

There is therefore no doubt that the introduction of science into the seminars, the infallible result of the freedom of teaching, will have the effect of modifying these institutions, right down to their intellectual habits. And I am convinced that therein lies the dawn of a great and desirable revolution, which will achieve religious unity.

I said not long ago that classical conventionalism made us into living contradictions, French by necessity and Romans by education. Could it not also be said that from the religious point of view we are living contradictions?

We all feel in our heart of hearts an irresistible magnet that draws us toward religion, and at the same time we feel intellectually a no less irresistible force that repels us from it; and it is a point of fact that this is all the more true the more the mind is cultured, so that a great doctor was able to say: Litterati minus credunt.51

Oh what a sad sight it is! For some time now, above all, we have heard deep groans on the dilution of religious beliefs and, what is strange, the very people who have let the last spark of faith die out in their soul are the most Edition: current; Page: [228] willing to find doubt impertinent . . . in others. “Submit your reason,” they told the people, “or all will be lost. It is right for me to defer to mine since it is of a particular temper, and to observe the Decalogue I do not need to believe it has been revealed. Even when I drift away from it a little, not much harm is done; for you on the other hand it is different, you cannot infringe it without imperiling society . . . and my peace of mind.”

This is how fear seeks refuge in hypocrisy. People do not believe but pretend to do so. While skepticism forms the basis, calculated religiosity rises to the surface and here is a new form of conventionalism, of the worst kind, to dishonor the human mind.

However, not everything in this language is hypocritical. Although people do not believe everything or practice anything, there is deep in people’s hearts, as Lamennais said, a root of faith that never dries up.

Where has this bizarre and dangerous situation come from? Might it not be that institutions, practices, and rites that intelligent reflection cannot admit, whatever people say, have been mingled over time with the religious, primordial, and fundamental truths to which all sects and schools by common consent have adhered? And have these human additions no other support in the actual minds of the clergy than the dogmatism through which they attach them to the primordial and uncontested truths?

Religious unity will come about, but only when every sect has abandoned the parasitic institutions to which I am referring. Let us remember that Bossuet made good use of them when he debated with Leibnitz on the means of bringing all the various Christian confessions back to unity. Will what appeared to be possible and good to the great seventeenth-century doctor be seen as being too daring by the doctors of the nineteenth century? Whatever happens, by implanting other intellectual habits in the clergy, freedom of teaching will doubtless be one of the most powerful instruments of the great religious renovation that alone can satisfy consciences and save society.52

So great is the need of societies for a moral code that the body that makes itself the guardian and dispenser of this code in the name of God acquires unlimited influence over them. However, experience has shown that nothing perverts men more than unlimited influence. There comes a time, therefore, when far from the priesthood remaining merely the instrument of religion, Edition: current; Page: [229] it is religion that becomes the instrument of the priesthood. At this point a fatal antagonism comes into the world. Faith and intelligence, from opposing sides, pull everything over to them. Priests unceasingly add to sacred truths errors that they proclaim as no less sacred, thus offering the lay opposition solid reasons and arguments that are increasingly serious. The former seeks to pass on falsehood with truth while the latter undermines the truth by falsehood. Religion becomes superstition and philosophy incredulity. Between these two extremes, the masses are shrouded in doubt, and it can be said that humanity is going through a critical period. Nevertheless, the abyss becomes ever deeper and the struggle continues not only between individuals but also within the conscience of every man, with a variety of outcomes. If political upheaval strikes terror into society, it finds refuge in faith, out of fear; a sort of hypocritical religiosity gains the upper hand, and priests consider themselves the victors. But no sooner has calm returned, no sooner have priests tried to turn victory to their advantage than intelligence reclaims its rights and resumes its work. When will this anarchy end then? When will intelligence and faith form an alliance? When faith is no longer a weapon, when priests return to what they ought to be, an instrument of religion, and abandon the outward show that interests them in favor of the fundamentals that interest humanity. When this happens, it will not be enough to say that religion and philosophy are sisters; they will have to be said to be merged in unity.

But I will come down from these elevated heights and, returning to university degrees, I ask myself whether the clergy will be very averse to abandoning the routine paths of classical teaching, which, incidentally, they are in no way obliged to do.

It would be amusing if Platonic communism, paganism, the ideas and behavior shaped by slavery and piracy, Horace’s Odes, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses were to find their ultimate defenders and teachers in the priests of France! It is not my place to give them advice, but they will doubtless allow me to quote an excerpt from a journal which, unless I am mistaken, is written by ecclesiastics:

Who then, among the doctors of the church, are the apologists of pagan teaching? Is it Saint Clement, who wrote that secular science is like fruit and jam that should be served only at the end of a meal? Is it Origen, who wrote that in the golden cups of pagan poetry there is deadly poison? Is it Tertullian, who called the pagan philosophers the patriarchs of the heretics, Patriarchae hereticorum? Is it Saint Irenaeus, who declared Edition: current; Page: [230] that Plato was the seasoning for all heresies? Is it Lactantius, who noted that the well-read men of his day were those who had the least faith? Is it Saint Ambrose, who said that it was very dangerous for Christians to be concerned with lay oratory? Finally, is it Saint Jerome, who in his letter to Eustochia strongly condemned the study of the pagans, saying: “What is there in common between light and darkness? What agreement can there be between Christ and Baal? What has Horace to do with the Psalms or Virgil with the Gospels?” Saint Jerome, who so bitterly regretted the time he devoted in his youth to the study of pagan letters: “How unfortunate I was, I denied myself food in order not to abandon Cicero; as soon as morning broke, I had Plautus in my hands. If on occasion, withdrawing into myself, I began to read the prophets, their style seemed to me to be crude and, because I was blind, I denied the light.”

But let us listen to Saint Augustine:

The studies through which I came to read the writings of others and to write what I think, were nevertheless much more useful and much more solid than those that I was later obliged to pursue, which concerned the adventures of I do not know which Aeneas and which made me weep over the fate of Dido, dying of love, while, forgetting my own faults, I was myself finding death in this disastrous literature. . . . However, these are the follies that are called fine and honest letters: Tales dementiae honestiores et uberiores litterae putantur.53 . . . Let these merchants of fine literature upbraid me. I am not afraid of them, and I am concentrating on extricating myself from the evil paths I have followed. . . . It is true that from these studies I have retained many expressions that are useful to know, but all of this can be learned elsewhere than in such frivolous literature and children should be led down less dangerous paths. But who dares resist you, you cursed torrent of custom! Is it not to follow your course that I was made to read the story of Jupiter who simultaneously held the thunderbolt and committed adultery? We know that this cannot be reconciled, but with the help of this false thunderbolt we reduce the horror inspired by adultery and encourage young people to imitate the actions of a criminal god.

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And notwithstanding this, oh infernal torrent, every child is cast into your waters, and this culpable custom is made into a great event. This is carried out publicly under the gaze of magistrates for an agreed salary. . . . It is the wine of error that drunken teachers offered us in our childhood; they chastised us when we refused to drink it and we could not appeal against their sentence to any judge who was not as drunk as they were. My soul was thus the prey of impure minds, for there is not just one way of offering sacrifice to devils.54

Adds the Catholic article, are not this eloquent lamentation, this bitter criticism, these unbending reproaches, these touching regrets, and this judicious advice as relevant to our century as to the century for which Saint Augustine was writing? Have we not retained in the name of classical education the same system of study against which Saint Augustine speaks out with such force? Has this torrent of paganism not flooded the world? Do we not cast thousands of children into its waters each year, children who lose their faith, their code of behavior, human feelings and dignity, their love of freedom, and a knowledge of their rights and duties, and who emerge imbued with false ideas of paganism, its false moral code, and its virtues no less than with its vices and profound scorn for humanity?

And this frightful moral disorder does not arise from the corruption of individual will abandoned to its own devices. No, it is imposed by law through the mechanism of university degrees. M. de Montalembert himself, while regretting that the study of the literature of the ancient world was not sufficiently intense, quoted the reports of university inspectors and deans. They were unanimous in recording the resistance, and I would almost say revolt, of public feeling against such an absurd and disastrous tyranny. All note that French young people calculate with mathematical accuracy what they are obliged to learn and what they are allowed not to know in terms of classical studies, and they stop just at the limit at which they will gain their required grades. Is this also true of other branches of human knowledge, and is it not common knowledge that, for ten places, there are a hundred candidates, all of whom have degrees superior to those required for Edition: current; Page: [232] the courses? Let the legislator therefore take into account public reason and current views.

Is it a savage, a tribesman from the Vosges or one of the Gepids, who would dare to speak up here? Does he fail to see the supreme beauty of the literary monuments bequeathed to us by the ancient world or the services rendered to the cause of civilization by Greek democracies?

Certainly not; he would not fail to repeat that he was not requiring the law to ban but just not to impose. Let it leave citizens free. They would be capable of recasting history in its true colors, admiring what is worthy of admiration, attenuating that which warrants scorn, and freeing themselves of the classical conventionalism that is the disastrous scourge of modern society. Under the influence of freedom, natural sciences, and secular literature, Christianity and paganism will be able to occupy their rightful share in education; and in this way, harmony, which is the condition for the establishment of order in both consciences and society, will be established between ideas, the code of behavior, and personal interest.

Liberty, Equality55

Words have their changing fortunes just as men do. Here are two that man has made divine or cursed in turn, so that it is very difficult for philosophers to speak about them calmly. There was a time when he who dared to examine the sacred syllables would have risked his head, since examination implies doubt or the possibility of doubt. Today, on the contrary, it is not prudent to mention them in a certain place, and that place is the one from which the laws that govern France are issued! Thank heaven I have to deal only with liberty and equality from the economic point of view. That being so, I hope that the title of this chapter will not have too painful an effect on the reader’s nerves.

But how has it happened that the word liberty sometimes makes hearts beat faster, arouses enthusiasm in peoples, and is the signal for actions of the utmost heroism, while in other circumstances it appears to emerge from the hoarse throats of the populace only to spread discouragement and terror far Edition: current; Page: [233] and wide? Doubtless it does not always have the same meaning and does not whip up the same idea.

I cannot stop myself believing that our entirely Roman education has something to do with this anomaly. . . .

For many years, the word liberty has struck our young ears, bearing a meaning that cannot be adjusted to modern behavior. We make it the synonym of national supremacy abroad and of a certain equity at home for the sharing of conquered loot. This sharing was in effect a great subject of dissent between the Roman people and the Senate and, when this dissent is recited, our young people always take the side of the people. Thus it is that the combats between the Forum and liberty end by forming an indissoluble association of ideas in our minds. To be free is to struggle and the region of liberty is that of storms. . . .

Were we not slow to leave school to thunder in public places against foreign savages and avaricious nobles?

How can liberty when understood this way fail to be in turn an object of enthusiasm or terror for a working population? . . .

Peoples have been and are still so oppressed that they have not been able to achieve liberty except through struggle. They resign themselves to it when they feel oppression clearly, and they surround the defenders of liberty with their homage and gratitude. However, the struggle is oft en long and bloody, a blend of triumphs and defeats; it can generate scourges that are worse than oppression. . . . When this happens, the people, tired of combat, feel the need to draw breath. They turn against the men who exact from them sacrifices beyond their strength and start to doubt the magic word in the name of which they are being deprived of security and even liberty. . . .

Although struggle is necessary to achieve liberty, let us not forget that liberty is not a struggle, any more than soldiers presenting arms is a maneuver. Writers, politicians, and speakers imbued with the Roman philosophy make this mistake. The masses do not. Combat for its own sake repels them, and it is in this that they justify the profound saying: There is someone with more wit than the witty, and this person is everyone. . . .

A common fund of ideas links the words liberty, equality, property, and security to one another.

Liberty, whose etymology is weights and scales, implies the ideas of justice, equality, harmony, and balance, which excludes combat and which is exactly the opposite of the Roman interpretation.

On the other hand, liberty is generalized property. Do my faculties belong Edition: current; Page: [234] to me if I am not free to make use of them, and is not slavery the most total negation of property as it is of liberty?

Finally, liberty is security, since security is also property that is guaranteed not only in the present but also in the future.

Since the Romans, and I stress this, lived from plunder and cherished liberty, since they had slaves and cherished liberty, it is clear that the idea of liberty was in their eyes in no way incompatible with the ideas of theft and slavery. This must therefore be true of all our generations who have been to school, and these are the ones who are governing the world. In their minds the ownership of the product of our faculties or the ownership of the faculties themselves has nothing to do with liberty and is an asset that is infinitely less precious. For this reason theoretical attacks on property scarcely move them. Far from it; so long as the laws go about this with a certain symmetry and with an aim that is overtly philanthropic, this form of communism attracts them. . . .

You should not believe that these ideas disappear when the first fires of youth die down and when you have grown out of the urge to upset the tranquillity of the city as the Roman tribunes used to do, when you have had the good fortune to take part in four or five insurrections and have ended up choosing a state, working, and acquiring property. No, these ideas do not pass away. Doubtless, people value their property and defend it with energy but take little account of the property of others. If it is a case of violating it, provided that this is carried out through the intervention of the law, they have not the slightest scruple in doing so. The concern of us all is to curry favor with the law, to attempt to put ourselves in its good graces, and if it smiles on us we ask it quickly to violate the property or the liberty of others for our benefit. This is done with charming naïveté, not only by those who proclaim themselves to be communists or communitarians but also by those who claim to be fervent devotees of property, by those who are roused to fury by the mere mention of the word communism, by brokers, manufacturers, shipowners, and even by the archetypal property owners, those who own land. . . .

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12: Protectionism and Communism

[vol. 4, p. 504. “Protectionisme et communisme.” January 1849. This article is Bastiat’s response to Adolphe Thiers’s book De la propriété, which appeared in the fall of 1848. n.p.]

To M. Thiers1


Do not be ungrateful to the February revolution. It surprised you, offended you perhaps, but it also prepared you as an author, orator, and privy councillor2 for unexpected triumphs. Among these successes, there is one that is certainly very extraordinary. In the last few days the following appeared in La Presse:

“The association for the defense of national work (formerly the Mimerel Committee) has just sent a circular to all its correspondents to announce that a subscription had been set up to support the distribution in the workshops of M. Thiers’s book on property. The association itself is buying five thousand copies.”

I would have liked to have been present when your eyes saw this flattering announcement. A flash of malicious joy must have shone in them.

It is very true to say that the ways of God are as unerring as they are mysterious. For if you are ready for a moment to agree that when it is generalized, protectionism becomes communism (something which I will shortly endeavor to demonstrate), just as carp fry become adult carp provided that God keeps them alive, it is already very strange that a champion of protectionism Edition: current; Page: [236] poses as a destroyer of communism; but what is even more strange and consoling is that a powerful association, which was formed to propagate the communist principle both theoretically and practically (to the extent that the association considered it profitable for its members), should now devote half of its resources to destroy the evil that it has done with the other half.

I repeat, this is a consoling sight. It reassures us that the truth will inevitably triumph, since it reveals that the first and true propagators of subversive doctrines, terrified by their success, are now concocting both the antidote to the poison and the poison in the same dispensary.

It is true that the latter assumes that the communist and prohibitionist principles are identical, and perhaps you do not accept this identity, although to tell the truth I cannot think it possible that you could have written four hundred pages on property without being struck by this. Perhaps you think that a little effort devoted to commercial freedom or rather free trade, impatience with sterile discussion, the ardor of combat, and the energy of the struggle have shown me the errors of my adversaries under a magnifying glass, as happens only too oft en to us polemicists. Doubtless it is my imagination that is inflating the theory of Le Moniteur industriel to the dimensions of that of Le Populaire, in order to more easily be right about it. Is it likely that major manufacturers, honest landowners, rich bankers, and clever statesmen unwittingly and unintentionally made themselves the initiators and apostles of communism in France?

Why not, may I ask? There are many workers, brimming with a sincere belief in the right to work, who are consequently communists without knowing it or wishing it and who would not allow people to consider them such. The fact is that in all classes interest directs the will, and the will, as Pascal said, is the major organ of credit. Under another name, many industrialists, highly honest people incidentally, treat communism as it is always treated, that is to say, on the condition that only other people’s property will be shared out. But as soon as this principle is gaining ground and it becomes a matter of releasing their own assets to be shared out, then, oh dear! communism repels them! They distributed Le Moniteur industriel, and now they are distributing the book on property. To be surprised by this, you would need to have no knowledge of the human heart and its secret recesses and of how easily it makes itself a skillful deceiver.

No, sir, it is not the heat of the struggle that has caused me to see the prohibitionist doctrine in this light, since, on the contrary, it is because I Edition: current; Page: [237] saw it in this light before the struggle that I became involved.3 Please believe me, expanding our foreign trade a little, an incidental result that is certainly not to be sniffed at, has never been my decisive reason for this. I believed and still believe that property is involved in this question. I believed and still believe that our customs duties, because of the spirit in which they were drawn up and the arguments used to defend them, have made a breach in the very principle of property through which all the rest of our legislation threatens to drive.

Considering the state of people’s minds, it seemed to me that a form of communism that—I have to say this to be fair—is unaware of itself and its effects was about to overwhelm us. It seemed to me that this form of communism (for there are several forms) was taking advantage very logically of the prohibitionist arguments and limiting itself to insisting on its implications. It is therefore in this domain that I considered it useful to combat this form of communism, since it was arming itself with the sophisms put about by the Mimerel Committee and since there was no hope of overcoming this form of communism as long as these sophisms were left unrefuted and triumphant in the public outlook. It is from this point of view that we took our stance in Bordeaux, Paris, Marseilles, and Lyons when we founded the Association pour la liberté des échanges (free-trade association). Commercial freedom, considered in its own right, is doubtless a precious asset for nations, but all in all if we had had only this in view, we would have given our association the title of Association for Commercial Freedom, or even more politically apposite, for the gradual reform of duties. But the term free trade implies the freedom to dispose of the fruits of your work, in other words, property, and this is the reason that we preferred it.4 Of course we knew that this term would raise difficulties. It affirmed a principle, and this being so it was bound to cause all the advocates of the opposing principle to join the ranks of our opponents. What is more, it was extremely repugnant to people, even those best disposed to support us, that is to say, the merchants, who were then more concerned with reforming the tariffs than overcoming Edition: current; Page: [238] communism. Le Havre, while sympathizing with our views, refused to come under our banner. People everywhere told me, “We are more likely to obtain a lessening of the duties on our products by not parading absolute demands.” I replied, “If this is your sole view, take action through your Chambers of Commerce.” I was also told, “The term free trade terrifies and makes success less likely.” This was perfectly true, but I drew my strongest argument for its adoption from the very fear conjured up by this term. The more it terrifies people, I said, the more it proves that the notion of property is losing its hold in people’s minds. The prohibitionist doctrine has distorted ideas, and distorted ideas have produced protectionism. Obtaining an accidental improvement in customs duties by stealth or the goodwill of the minister is to alleviate an effect, not destroy the cause. I therefore continued to use the term free trade, not out of spite but because of the obstacles that it was bound to create for us, obstacles that revealed the sickness of people’s minds and thus proved beyond doubt that the very foundations of social order were being threatened.

It was not enough to indicate our aim by means of a term; the term needed to be defined. That is what we did, and I quote here, as supporting evidence, the first act or manifesto of this association:

At the time of joining forces to defend a great cause, the undersigned feel the need to set out their beliefs and to proclaim the aim, limits, means, and spirit of their association.

Trade is a natural right like property. Any citizen who has created or acquired a product must have the option of either using it immediately or selling it to another person on the earth’s surface who is free to give him in exchange the object of his preference. Depriving him of this faculty, when he has not used it to contravene public order and proper behavior, and solely to satisfy the convenience of another citizen, is to legitimize plunder and contravene the law of justice.

It also violates the conditions of order, since what order can there be within a society in which each branch of production, supported by the law and public forces, seeks its success through the oppression of all the others?

This is to misunderstand the providential design which rules human destiny as shown in the infinite variety of climate, seasons, and natural forces and the aptitudes and goods that God has so unequally shared out between men with the sole aim of uniting them through trade in the bonds of universal fraternity.

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It is to oppose the development of public prosperity, since he who is not free to trade is not free to choose his work and is obliged to give a false orientation to his efforts, faculties, capital, and the agents nature has made available to him.

Last, it is to compromise peace between nations since it disrupts the relationships that unite them and that make wars impossible by making them too costly.

The aim of the Association is therefore la liberté des échanges.

The undersigned do not contest the right of society to establish taxes on goods that cross the border in order to cover common expenditure, provided that they are determined solely in view of the needs of the treasury.

However, as soon as the tax loses its fiscal character and aims to repel foreign goods, to the detriment of the tax system itself, in order to raise the price of a similar national product artificially and thus hold the community to ransom for the benefit of a particular group, protectionism or rather plunder instantly becomes manifest and this is the principle the Association aims utterly to discredit in people’s minds and remove totally from our laws, independently of any form of reciprocity and arrangements in force elsewhere.

Although the Association is pursuing the total destruction of the protectionist regime, it does not follow that it is asking for a reform of this nature to be achieved overnight and result from a single vote. Even to retrace one’s steps from evil to good and from an artificial state of affairs to a natural situation, precautions may be required as a matter of prudence. Such details of execution are part of the powers of the state; the mission of the Association is to spread knowledge of and popularize the principle.

As for the means it intends to use, it will never seek these elsewhere than in constitutional and legal avenues.

Last, the Association is independent of all political parties. It is at the service of no industry, sector, or part of the national territory. It embraces the cause of eternal justice, peace, union, free communication, and fraternity among all men and the cause of general interest, which is confused everywhere and in all aspects with that of the public as a consumer.

Is there one word in this manifesto that does not reveal a burning desire to strengthen or even reestablish the notion of property, corrupted by a regime of restriction, in people’s minds? Is it not plain that in the manifesto commercial interest is secondary and social interest primary? Note that the duty in itself, whether good or bad from an administrative or fiscal point of Edition: current; Page: [240] view, is of little concern to us. But as soon as it acts intentionally in a protectionist manner, that is to say, as soon as it reveals a tendency to plunder and the negation in principle of the right to property, we fight against it, not as a customs duty but as a system. It is the idea of this system, we argue, that we are endeavoring to discredit utterly in people’s minds in order to make it disappear from our laws.

Doubtless the question will be asked why, with regard to a general matter of this importance, we have limited the struggle to the domain of a specific question.

The reason is simple. It was necessary to oppose one association by another and recruit interests and soldiers into our army. We were fully aware that between prohibitionists and free traders the polemic could not be prolonged without its shaking up and finally resolving all the moral, political, philosophical, and economic questions that relate to property, and since the Mimerel Committee had compromised this principle by pursuing just one specific aim, we had to hope to raise the principle by pursuing in our turn the specific and opposing aim.

But what does it matter what I may have said or thought in previous times? What does it matter that I may have glimpsed or thought that I had glimpsed a certain link between protectionism and communism? The essential is to know whether this link exists. That is what I am going to examine.

Doubtless you remember the day when, with your natural skill, you caused M. Proudhon to utter this admission that has become famous: “Give me the right to work and I will yield you the right of property.” M. Proudhon did not hide that in his view these two rights are incompatible.

If property is incompatible with the right to work and if the right to work is based on the same principle as protectionism, what ought we to conclude other than that protectionism is itself incompatible with property? In geometry, it is held to be an incontrovertible truth that two entities equal to a third are equal to each other.

However, it has happened that an eminent orator, M. Billault, believed it to be his duty to support the right to work on the rostrum. This was not easy in view of the admission let slip by M. Proudhon. M. Billaultfully understood that having the state intervene to equalize wealth and level situations was to embark on the slippery slope to communism, and what did he say to persuade the National Assembly to violate the whole basis of property? He simply told you that what he was asking you to do you were already doing Edition: current; Page: [241] through your customs duties. His claim does not go beyond a somewhat wide application of doctrines that are accepted and applied by you. These are his words:

Cast a glance on our customs duties. Through their prohibitions, differential taxes, subsidies, and various arrangements, society is helping, supporting, slowing down, or speeding up all the forms of national work [very good]. Society not only holds the balance between French work, which it protects, and foreign work, but in our homeland various forms of industry still see it constantly intervening between them. Listen to the never-ending claims before the courts by one industry against another, for example, industries that use iron complaining against the protection given to French iron against foreign iron, those that use flax or spun cotton protesting against the protection given to French yarn against foreign yarn, and so on. Society [he should have said the government] thus finds itself closely involved in all the struggles and difficulties of work. It actively intervenes in it on a daily basis both directly and indirectly, and the first time you have customs problems you will see that whether you like it or not you will be obliged both to take sides and sort out the rights of each of the interests.

The argument that it is the debt owed by society to destitute workers that causes the government to intervene in the question of work is therefore not a valid one.

And please note that in his argumentation, M. Billault had no thought of subjecting you to bitter irony. He is not a free trader in disguise taking pleasure in making the lack of consistency of the protectionists palpable. No, M. Billault is himself a bona fide protectionist. He aspires to having wealth leveled by the law. To this end, he considers the action of customs duties useful, and when he encounters the right to property as an obstacle he leaps over it, just as you do. He is then shown the right to work, which is a second step in the same direction. He next encounters the obstacle of the rights of property and leaps over it once more. However, on turning around, he is totally surprised to see that you are no longer following him. He asks you why. If you reply:

I accept in principle that the law may violate property, but I find it inconvenient for it to do this under the guise of the right to work,

M. Billault would understand you and would discuss with you this secondary question of opportuneness. But you counter him with the actual principle Edition: current; Page: [242] of property. This surprises him and he thinks he has the right to say to you:

Do not play the good apostle now, and if you reject the right to work, let it at least not be by basing yourself on the rights of property, since you are violating this right by means of your customs duties whenever it suits you.

He might add with good reason:

Through protectionist duties you oft en violate the property of the poor for the benefit of the rich. Through the right to work you will be violating the property of the rich for the benefit of the poor. By what misfortune have you been overcome by scruples this late in the day?5

Between M. Billault and you, therefore, there is just one difference. Both of you are treading the same path, that of communism. The only thing is that you have taken one step and he has taken two. In this respect, in my view at least, you have the advantage. However, you lose it from the point of view of logic. For since, like him, you are walking with your back turned from property, it is amusing to say the least that you pose as its champion. This is an inconsistency that M. Billault has been able to avoid. But alas! It is only for him to fall in turn into a depressing battle of words! M. Billault is too enlightened not to sense, at least dimly, the danger of each of his steps along a path that leads to communism. He does not lay himself open to ridicule by posing as the champion of property just when he is violating it, but how does he think of justifying himself? He invokes the favorite axiom of those who want to reconcile two irreconcilable things: There are no principles. Property, communism, let us take a bit from anywhere we choose depending on the circumstances.

In my view, the pendulum of civilization, which swings from one principle to the other depending on the needs of the moment, but which always records a step forward, will return to the need for government action after strongly inclining toward the absolute freedom of individualism.

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There is therefore nothing new under the sun; there are no principles since the pendulum has to swing from one principle to the other depending on the needs of the moment. Oh, metaphor! Where would you lead us if we gave you your head!6

As you so judiciously said from the rostrum, not everything can be said, and still less written, all at once. It should be clearly understood that I am not examining here the economic aspect of the protectionist regime. I am not looking to see whether, from the point of view of national wealth, it does more good than harm or more harm than good. The only point I wish to prove is that it is nothing other than a manifestation of communism. MM Billault and Proudhon have begun the demonstration. I will try to complete it.

First of all, what is meant by communism? There are several ways, if not of achieving communality of property, at least of trying to achieve it. M. de Lamartine counted four. You think that there are at least a thousand, and I agree with you. However, I think that they can all be divided into three general categories, of which just one, in my opinion, is genuinely dangerous.

First of all, two or more men can envisage pooling their work and lifestyle. As long as they do not seek to infringe security, restrict freedom, or usurp the property of others, either directly or indirectly, if they do harm, they harm themselves. The tendency of these men will always be to achieve their dreams in distant deserts. Anyone who has thought about these things knows that those who are unfortunate will perish in torment, the victims of their illusions. In these days communists of this type have called their illusionary Elysian Fields Icaria,7 as if they had had the gloomy premonition of the terrible outcome to which they were being driven. We must weep for their blindness and should warn them if they were likely to listen to us, but society has nothing to fear from their illusions.

Another form of communism, and decidedly the most brutal, is this: make a heap of all the assets that exist and share them out ex aequo.8 This is plunder that has become a dominant and universal rule. It is the destruction not only of property but also of work and the very motivation that stimulates men to work. This form of communism is so violent, absurd, and monstrous that in truth I cannot really think it is dangerous. This is what I Edition: current; Page: [244] said some time ago to a large assembly of voters, the majority of whom belonged to the suffering classes. An outburst of murmuring greeted my words.

I showed surprise. “What!” it was said; “M. Bastiat dares to say that communism is not dangerous! He must be a communist! Well, we thought as much, since communists, socialists, and economists are all tarred with the same brush as the rhyme shows.” I had some trouble extricating myself from this fix. But this very interruption proved the truth of my statement. No, communism is not dangerous in its most naïve form, that of pure and simple plunder; it is not dangerous when it causes dread.

I hasten to say that while protectionism may and should be assimilated to communism, it is not to the form I have just described.

But communism also has a third form.

Causing the state to intervene, giving it the mission of evening out profits and balancing wealth by taking from some without their consent in order to give to others with no retribution, making it responsible for carrying out the work of leveling through plunder, this is definitely communism. Neither the procedures practiced by the state to do this nor the fine names used to adorn this idea change this. Whether direct or indirect means are used to achieve this, through restriction or taxes, through customs duties or the right to work, whether equality, solidarity, or fraternity is invoked, this does not change the nature of things. Plundering property is no less plunder because it is accomplished legally, in an orderly fashion, systematically, and through the implementation of the law.

I add that this is the form of communism that is truly dangerous in our time. Why? Because in this form we see it always ready to invade everything. And look! One person asks the state to supply the tools of their trade free of charge to artisans and workers; this is inviting it to seize them from other artisans and workers. Another wants the state to lend interest free; it cannot do this without violating property. A third claims free education at all levels. Free! That means at taxpayers’ expense. A fourth demands that the state subsidize associations of workers, theaters, artists, etc. But such subsidies embody an equal level of income withheld from those who have legitimately earned it. A fifth will not rest until the state has artificially raised the price of a product for the benefit of those selling it, but this is to the disadvantage of those who buy it. Yes, in these terms there are very few people who in one way or another are not communists. You are one, M. Billault is one, and I fear that in France we are all such to a greater or lesser extent. It seems as Edition: current; Page: [245] though intervention by the state reconciles us with plunder by attributing responsibility for it to everyone, that is to say, to no one, with the result that people can enjoy the property of others with a perfectly clear conscience. Did not the honest M. Tourret, one of the most upright men to sit on a ministerial bench, start his exposition of the reasons for the draft law on advance payments to agriculture in this way: “It is not enough to give education to encourage the arts; it is also necessary to provide the tools of the trade”? Following this preamble, he submitted to the National Assembly a draft law whose first article went as follows:

Article I: In the 1849 budget, a credit of ten million has been opened for the minister of agriculture and trade, intended to make advance payments to landowners and associations of owners of rural assets.

Admit that if legislative language were concerned with accuracy, this article should have been drafted thus:

During 1849 the minister of agriculture and trade is authorized to take ten million from the pockets of workers who have great need of it and to whom it belongs in order to put it in the pockets of other workers who also need it and to whom it does not belong.

Is this not a communist act, and when generalized does it not constitute communism?

Take a manufacturer who would die rather than steal a sous. He does not have the slightest scruple in submitting the following request to the legislature: “Enact a law that raises the price of my cloth, iron, or coal and makes it possible for me to hold my purchasers to ransom.” Since the reason on which he bases his request is that he is not happy with his profit as provided by freedom to trade or free trade (which I state is the same thing, whatever people say),9 and since we are all discontented with our profit and inclined to call upon the legislature, it is clear, at least to me, that if the legislature Edition: current; Page: [246] does not hasten to say, “That is none of my business; I am not responsible for violating property but for guaranteeing it,” I say that we are clearly in the throes of communism. The means of implementation used by the state may differ, but they all have the same aim and follow the same principle.

Supposing that I come to the bar of the National Assembly and say,

I carry out a trade and do not think that my profit is sufficient. For this reason, I ask you to issue a decree that authorizes the tax collectors to exact just one little centime from each family in France for my benefit.

If the legislature accepts my request, it could be seen as just an isolated example of legal plunder, which is not enough to warrant being called communism. However, if every Frenchman, one after another, made the same request, and if the legislature examined these requests with the avowed aim of achieving equality of wealth, it is in this principle and its effects that I see, and you will not fail to see, communism.

That the legislature makes use of customs officers and tax collectors, direct or indirect taxation, or restrictions or premiums to put its ideas into practice is of little importance. Does it consider itself entitled to take and to give without compensation? Does it think that its mission is to balance profits? Does it act in accordance with this belief? Does the majority of the public approve and encourage this method of acting? In this case, I say that we are on the downward slope to communism, whether we are aware of this or not.

And if I am told: “The state is not acting in favor of everyone, but only in favor of a few sectors,” I will answer: “It has then found the means to make communism itself worse still.”

I am aware, sir, that doubt can be cast on these deductions by creating confusion of a very facile sort. People will quote quite legitimate administrative facts, cases in which state intervention is as equitable as it is useful; then, establishing an apparent analogy between these cases and those against which I am protesting, they will put me in the wrong and they will tell me: “Either you ought not to see communism in protectionism or you ought to see it in all government action.”

This is a trap into which I do not wish to fall. For this reason I am obliged to look for the exact circumstance that confers a communist character on state intervention.

What is the purpose of the state? Which matters ought citizens to entrust Edition: current; Page: [247] to collective compulsion? Which ought they to reserve to private activity? Answering these questions would be to give a course in politics. Fortunately, I do not need to do this to solve the problem that concerns us.

When citizens, instead of providing a service to themselves, transform it into a public service, that is to say, when they consider it apposite to pool resources to have work done or to procure joint satisfaction for themselves, I do not call this communism, since I do not see in it the element that gives the latter its special character: leveling through plunder. It is true that the state takes through taxation but gives back by means of services. This is a particular but legitimate form of the basis of all types of society: exchange. I will go further. By entrusting a particular service to the state, citizens may be doing something that is an advantage or a disadvantage. It is advantageous if, by this means, the service is provided better or cheaper. It is disadvantageous if it is not, but in none of these cases do I see the principle of communism. In the first case the citizens have succeeded, and in the second they have made a mistake, but that is all, and while communism is an error it does not follow that every error is the result of communism.

In general, economists are very distrustful of government intervention. They see in it all sorts of disadvantages: a downgrading of freedom, energy, foresight, and individual experience, which are the most valuable bases of society. It oft en happens, therefore, that they oppose such intervention. But it is not at all from this point of view and for this reason that they reject protectionism. Let no one therefore use as an argument against us our predilection, which is perhaps too pronounced, for freedom; and let no one say: “It is not surprising that these men reject the protectionist regime since they reject state intervention in everything.”

First of all, it is not true that we reject it in everything. We allow that it is the state’s mission to maintain order and security, to ensure respect for people and property, and to curb fraud and violence. As for the services whose sphere is, so to say, production, we have no other rule than this: Let the state be responsible for it if there is a proven economizing of resources for the masses. But for goodness’ sake, in calculating this include all the innumerable disadvantages of work monopolized by the state.

Then, I am bound to repeat, it is one thing to vote against a new function given to the state on the basis that, all things being considered, it is a disadvantage and constitutes a national loss; it is quite another thing to vote against this new function because it is illegitimate and plunderous and Edition: current; Page: [248] because it grants to the government a new mission to do precisely what its original mission was designed to prevent and punish. Well, we hold against what is called the protectionist regime both these types of objection, but the second outweighs the first by far in our determination to wage a bitter war on it, of course by legal means.

Thus, for example, let people submit to a local council the question of whether it is better to allow each family to collect its water requirements a quarter of a league away or whether it is preferable for the authority to levy a subscription to bring the water to the village square. I would have no objection in principle to an examination of this question. The calculation of the advantages and disadvantages for all would be the sole element in the decision. A mistake may be made in the calculation, but the error itself, though it would lead to a loss of property, would not constitute a systematic violation of that property.

But should the mayor propose to ride roughshod over one enterprise for the benefit of another, to forbid clogs in order to benefit shoemakers or something similar, then I would tell him that it was no longer a calculation of advantages and disadvantages: it would be political corruption and an abusive hijacking of public compulsion. I would say to him, “You who are the trustee of public authority and power to punish plunder, how do you dare to apply them to the protection and systematic operation of plunder?”

Should the mayor’s intention triumph, if I were to see as a result of this precedent all the businesses in the village agitating to solicit favors at the expense of each other, and if in the midst of this noisy and unscrupulous ambition I see the very notion of property sink without trace, I would be free to think that, to save it from shipwreck, the first thing to do would be to point out what was iniquitous in the measure that was the initial link in this abominable chain.

It would not be difficult, sir, for me to find passages in your book that agree with my subject and are in line with my views. To tell the truth, I would have only to open it at random. Yes, harking back to a children’s game, if I stick a pin into this book, I would find on the page selected by fate an implicit or explicit condemnation of the protectionist regime and proof that this regime is in principle identical with communism. And why should I not demonstrate this proof? Here I go. The pin has selected page 283; on it I read:

It is therefore a serious error to attack competition and not to have seen that while the nation is a producer, it is also a consumer, and that if it receives Edition: current; Page: [249] less on the one hand (which I deny and you will deny it yourselves a few lines further down) and pays less on the other, there remains, for the benefit of all, the difference between a system that restrains human activity with a system that urges it ever forward down the path, telling it never to stop.

I challenge you to say that this does not apply just as much to the competition that takes place above the Bidassoa10 as to that which occurs above the Loire. Let us make another stab with the pin. That’s it; here we are, on page 325.

Rights either exist or they do not. If they exist, they lead to absolute consequences. . . . There is something else: if the right exists, it exists at all times; it is fully operational today, yesterday, tomorrow, the day after, in summer as in winter, not when it suits you to declare it valid but whenever it suits the worker to invoke it.

Would you claim that an ironmaster has an indefinite and perpetual right to prevent me from indirectly producing two hundredweight of iron in my workplace, which is a vineyard, for the advantage to him of directly producing just one in his factory, which is a forge? This right also exists or it does not. If it exists, it is fully operational today, yesterday, tomorrow, the day after, in summer as in winter, not when it suits you to declare it valid but whenever it suits the ironmaster to invoke it!

Let us tempt fate again. It has selected page 63, on which I read the following aphorism:

Property does not exist if I cannot give it away as well as consume it.

We, for our part, say: “Property does not exist if I cannot trade it as well as consume it.” And allow me to add that the right to exchange is at least as precious, as socially important, and as characteristic of property as the right to give it away. It is to be regretted that in a book intended to examine property from every angle, you thought it necessary to devote two chapters to giving, which is not in danger, and not one line to exchange, which is so shamelessly violated under the very authority of the laws of the country.

Another jab of the pin. Oh! It brings us to page 47.

The first property owned by man lies in his person and faculties. There is a second, less close to his being but not less sacred, in the product of Edition: current; Page: [250] these faculties that embraces everything known as his worldly goods and that society has the greatest interest in guaranteeing him, since without this guarantee there would be no work, and without work, no civilization, not even the necessities but deprivation, plunder, and barbarity.

Well, sir, let us elaborate on this text, if you will.

Like you, I see property first in the free disposal of man’s person, followed by his faculties and finally the product of these faculties, which proves, let it be said in passing, that from a certain point of view freedom and property merge.

I would scarcely dare to say, like you, that the ownership of the product of our faculties is less closely linked to our being than that of the faculties themselves. Physically this is unquestionable, but if a man is deprived of his faculties or their products, the result is the same, and this result is known as slavery—a fresh proof of the natural identity of freedom and property. If I use force to appropriate all the work of a man for my benefit, this man is my slave. He is also my slave if, while letting him work freely, I find a way through force or guile to take possession of the fruit of his work. The first type of oppression is more odious, the second cleverer. Since it is a known fact that work done freely is more intelligent and productive, the masters have said to themselves, “Let us not usurp the faculties of our slaves directly, but let us seize the richer product of their faculties operating freely and give this new form of servitude the fine title of protection.”

You also say that society has an interest in guaranteeing property. We agree; the only thing is that I go further than you, and if by society you mean the government, I say that its sole duty with regard to property is to guarantee it; if the government attempts to level property, the government is by this very action violating property instead of guaranteeing it. This is worth examining.

When a certain number of men who cannot live without work and property pool their resources to pay for a common force, obviously their aim is to work and enjoy the fruit of their work in total security and not to put their faculties and property at the mercy of this force. Even if no government, properly called, has yet formed, I do not believe that individual persons can have their right to defense—that is, the right to defend their persons, faculties, and property—challenged.

Without claiming to philosophize here on the origin and extent of the prerogatives of governments, a huge subject very likely to daunt me in my Edition: current; Page: [251] weakness, I ask that you allow me to put an idea before you. It seems to me that the prerogatives of the state can consist only in the codification of preexisting personal rights. For my part, I cannot conceive of a collective right that is not rooted in individual right and does not presuppose it. Therefore, to know whether the state is legitimately endowed with a right, the question must be asked whether this right exists in individuals by virtue of their organization and in the absence of any form of government. It is on the basis of this idea that I rejected the right to work a few days ago. I said, “Since Peter does not have the right to force Paul directly to give him work, he is no more entitled to exercise this alleged right through the intervention of the state, since the state is only the common force created by Peter and Paul at their expense with a clear aim, which can never be to make something just that is not just. This is the touchstone I use to judge between the guarantee and the leveling of property by the state. Why has the state the right to guarantee everyone his property, even by force? Because this right preexists in each individual. The right of legitimate defense of individual entities, the right to employ force if need be to repel attacks directed against their persons, faculties, and assets, cannot be challenged. It is accepted that, since it is within each citizen, this individual right can take a collective form and make the common force legitimate. And why should the state not have the right to level property? Because in order to do so it has to take away from some and give to others. Well, since none of the thirty million French citizens have the right to take by force on the pretext of achieving equality, it is difficult to see how they can invest this right in the common force.

And note that the prerogative of leveling is destructive of the right of guarantee. Take savages. They have not yet founded a government. But each of them has the right of legitimate defense, and it is not difficult to see that this is the right that will become the basis of the legitimate common force. If one of these savages has devoted his time, energy, and intelligence to making himself a bow and arrow and another wishes to steal these from him, the entire sympathy of the tribe will be with the victim, and if the cause is brought before the elders to be judged, the plunderer will unfailingly be condemned. Only one step further is needed to organize a common force. But, I ask you, has this force the task, at least the legitimate one, of regularizing the act of him who defends his property as of right, or the act of him who violates the property of others in defiance of this right? It would be very strange if the collective force were to be based not on individual right but on its constant and systematic violation! No, the author of the book I have Edition: current; Page: [252] before me cannot be supporting a thesis like this. But it is not enough for the author not to support the thesis; he ought perhaps to have contested it. It is not enough to attack this crude and absurd form of communism, which a few sectarians advocate in leaflets that are decried. It might have been a good thing to unveil and stigmatize this other bold and subtle form of communism, which by simply corrupting the just notion of the prerogatives of the state has insinuated itself into some of the branches of our legislation and threatens to invade them all.

For, sir, it is really unquestionable that by operating the customs duties, through the so-called protectionist regime, governments are carrying out the monstrosity of which I have just spoken. They are deserting the right of legitimate defense that preexists in each citizen and is the source and reason of their own purpose, in order to appropriate an alleged right to level through plunder, a right that previously resided in no one and thus cannot exist communally either.

But what is the use of stressing these general ideas? What is the use of demonstrating here the absurdity of communism since you have done this yourself (except for one of its manifestations, and in my view the most threatening in practice) much better than I am able to do?

Perhaps you will tell me that the principle of the protectionist regime does not oppose the principle of property. Let us look at the procedures of this regime.

There are two of these: subsidies11 and restrictions.

With regard to the subsidy, this is evident. I dare to challenge anyone to claim that the last stage of the system of premiums, taken to its limit, is not absolute communism. Citizens work in the shelter of the common force, which is responsible, as you say, for guaranteeing to each his own, suum cuique. But now the state with the most philanthropic intentions in the world is undertaking a quite new and different task, which in my view is not just exclusive but destructive of the first. It is pleased to make itself the judge of profit, to decide which activities are not being remunerated enough and which get too much. It is pleased to set itself up as the leveler and, as M. Billault says, to swing the pendulum of civilization to the opposite side from freedom and individualism. As a result, it is levying a contribution from Edition: current; Page: [253] the entire community to hand out presents in the form of premiums to the exporters of a particular type of product. Its claim is to be encouraging industry. It should say one industry at the expense of all the others. I will not stop at showing that it stimulates suckers at the expense of fruit-bearing branches, but I ask you, by going down this path, is it not authorizing every producer to come forward to claim a premium as long as he provides proof that he does not have as much income as his neighbor? Has the state the proper function of listening to and assessing all these requests and acceding to them? I do not think so, but those who believe this must have the courage to clothe their thought in its controlling detail and to say: “The government is not responsible for guaranteeing property but for leveling it. In other words, property does not exist.”

I am dealing here only with a question of principle. If I wanted to scrutinize the economic effects of subsidies for exports, I would show them in their most ridiculous light since they are just a free gift made by France to foreigners. It is not the sellers who receive it but the purchaser by virtue of this law that you yourself have noted in connection with taxes: the consumer finally bears all the charges, just as he receives all the advantages of production. For this reason, the most mortifying and mysterious thing possible has happened to us with regard to these premiums. A few foreign governments have reasoned thus: “If we raise our entry duties to a figure equal to the premium paid by French taxpayers, it is clear that nothing will change for our consumers since the cost price for them will be the same. Goods reduced by five francs at the French border will pay five francs more at the German border. This is an infallible way of making the French treasury responsible for our public expenditure.” But other governments, I am assured, have been even more ingenious. They said to themselves, “The premium given by France is really a gift made to us, but if we raise the duty, there is no reason for more of these goods to enter our country than in the past; we ourselves are setting a limit on the generosity of these excellent Frenchmen. On the other hand, let us abolish these duties provisionally; let us encourage an unprecedented influx of their cloth in this way, since each meter brings with it a totally free gift.” In the first case, our premiums have been to the foreign tax authorities; in the second, they have benefited the ordinary citizens but on a wider scale.

Let us move on to restriction.

I am an artisan, a carpenter, for example. I have a small workshop, tools, and some materials. All of these are unquestionably mine, since I have made Edition: current; Page: [254] them or, what amounts to the same thing, I have purchased and paid for them. What is more, I have vigorous arms, some intelligence, and a great deal of goodwill. These are the funds with which I have to provide for my needs and those of my family. Note that I cannot produce anything that I need directly, whether iron, wood, bread, wine, meat, fabric, etc., but I can produce their value. In the end, these things have, so to say, to emerge in another form from my saw and my plane. My interest is to receive honestly as great a quantity as possible for each quantity of my work. I say “honestly” since I do not wish to violate either the property or the person of anyone. However, I have no wish to see anyone violating either my property or my freedom. I and other workers who agree on this point impose sacrifices on ourselves and give up part of our work to men known as civil servants, since we give them the specific function of guaranteeing our work and its proceeds from all forms of attack, whether from within or from without.

With these arrangements in place, I am getting ready to put my intelligence, arms, saw, and plane to work. Naturally, my eyes are constantly fixed on those things that are necessary for my existence. These are the things I have to produce indirectly by creating their value. The problem for me is to produce them as advantageously as possible. Consequently I cast a glance over the world of values, summed up in what is known as the current price. From the data on the current price I note that the means for me to have the greatest possible quantity of fuel, for example, for the smallest quantity of work is to make an item of furniture and deliver it to a Belgian who in return will give me coal.

However, there is in France a worker who is looking for coal in the bowels of the earth. It so happens that the civil servants whose salary both the miner and I are contributing to in order for each of us to have our freedom to work and the free disposal of our products maintained (which is property), it so happens, I repeat, that these civil servants have conceived another idea and have given themselves a different purpose. They have decided that they ought to equalize my work and that of the miner. Consequently, they have forbidden me to heat myself with Belgian coal; and when I go to the border with my item of furniture to collect my coal, I find that these civil servants are preventing the coal from entering, which is the same thing as preventing my item of furniture from leaving. I therefore say to myself: “If we had not thought of paying civil servants to spare us the trouble of defending our property ourselves, would the miner have had the right to go to the border and forbid me a profitable trade on the pretext that it is better for him that Edition: current; Page: [255] this trade not be concluded?” Certainly not. If he had made such an unjust attempt, we would have fought on the spot, he driven by his unjust claim and I fired up by my right of legitimate defense. We had cast our votes and paid a civil servant precisely to avoid fights like this. How, therefore, is it that I find the miner and the civil servant in agreement to restrict my freedom and hard work in order to reduce the sphere in which my talents may be exercised? If the civil servant had taken my side, I would understand his right; it would derive from mine, since legitimate defense is a genuine right. But where has he drawn the right to help the miner in his injustice? I learn from all this that the civil servant has changed his role. He is no longer a simple mortal invested with his own rights delegated to him by other men who, in consequence, possessed them. No. He is a being superior to humanity, drawing his rights from himself, and among his rights, he arrogates to himself that of leveling profits and keeping the balance between all forms of position and condition. All very good, say I; in this case I will overwhelm him with claims and requests as soon as I see someone richer than me anywhere in this country. He will not listen to you, I am told, for if he listened to you he would be a communist and he does not forget that his mission is to guarantee property, not to level it.

What chaos and confusion reigns in the facts! And how can you expect chaos and confusion not to reign in men’s minds? You may well be fighting against communism; as long as you are seen to accommodate, cherish, and flatter it in that part of the legislation it has invaded, your efforts will be in vain. It is a snake that, with your approval and care, has slipped its head into our laws and behavior, and now you are indignant at seeing its tail show itself in turn!

It is possible, sir, that you will make me a concession. Perhaps you will tell me the “protectionist regime is based on the principle of communism. It is contrary to law, property, and freedom. It ejects the government from its path and invests it with arbitrary attributions that have no rational basis. All this is only too true, but the protectionist regime is useful; without it the country would succumb to foreign competition and be ruined.”

This would lead us to examine restriction from an economic point of view. Setting aside any consideration of justice, right, equity, property, and freedom, we would have to settle the question of pure utility, the question of what is purchasable, so to speak; and you will agree that this is not my subject. Incidentally, take care that in using utility to justify a contempt for right, you are in effect saying: “Communism, plunder, although condemned Edition: current; Page: [256] by justice, may nevertheless be accepted as being expedient.” And you will agree that an admission like this would be full of danger.

Without seeking to solve the economic problem here, I ask you to allow me one assertion. I declare that I have subjected the advantages and disadvantages of protectionism, from the sole point of view of wealth, to arithmetical calculation, setting aside any consideration of a higher order. I also declare that I have reached the following result: that any restrictive measure has one advantage and two disadvantages, or, if you prefer, one profit and two losses, with each of these losses being equal to the profit and thus giving rise to a clear and definite loss, which provides the consoling proof that, in this as in many other things, and I dare say in everything, utility and justice agree.

True, this is just a statement, but it can be proved mathematically.

What causes public opinion to err on this point is that the profit due to protectionism is visible to the naked eye, whereas of the two equal losses it brings in its wake one is infinitely divided between the citizens and the other is visible only to the eye of an investigative mind.

Without claiming to do this demonstration here, I ask you to allow me to outline its basis.

Two products, A and B, have a normal value of 50 and 40 in France. Let us suppose that in Belgium A is worth only 40. This being so, if France is subject to a restrictive regime, she will be able to enjoy the use of A and B by diverting a quantity equal to 90 from her total output since she will be reduced to producing A directly. If she were free, this amount of effort, equal to 90, would come to: 1. the production of B, which she would deliver to Belgium to obtain A; 2. the production of another B for herself; and 3. the production of some good C.

It is this part of the effort made available in the second case for the subsequent production of C, that is to say the creation of a new good equal to 10, without France thereby being deprived of either A or B, that is difficult to understand. Substitute iron for A; wine, silk, and Parisian articles for B; and loss of wealth for C; you will always find that restriction limits national well-being.12

Do you wish to abandon this heavy algebra? I am happy to. You will not Edition: current; Page: [257] deny that while the prohibitionist regime has achieved some good for the coal industry, it is only by raising the price of coal.13 You will not deny either that this excess price from 1822 to the present has caused every person who uses this form of fuel a higher expenditure for each such usage, in other words, that this excess price represents a loss. Can it be said that the producers of coal, in addition to the interest on their capital and the ordinary profits to the industry, have received excess profit through restriction that is equivalent to this loss? If that were the case, protection, while remaining unjust, odious, plundering, and communistic, would be at least neutral from the purely economic point of view. It would then deserve to be equated to plunder of the basic kind, which displaces wealth without destroying it. But you yourself declare on page 236 “that the mines in the Aveyron, in Alais, Saint-Etienne, Creuzot, and Anzin, the best known, have not produced an income of 4 percent of the capital committed!” In order for capital in France to yield 4 percent, no protection is needed. Where then is the profit here to compensate for the loss described above?

This is not all. There is another form of national loss here. Since through the relative increase in price of the fuel all the users of coal have lost money, they have had to restrict their other forms of consumption proportionally and the total of national production has of necessity been reduced by this measure. This is the loss that is never included in the calculations since it is not obvious.

Allow me one more observation that to my surprise has not struck others more. It is that protection applied to the products of agriculture is shown in all its odious iniquity with regard to those known as the Proletariat while causing damage in the long run to landowners themselves.

Let us imagine a South Sea island whose land has become the private property of a certain number of inhabitants.

Let us imagine that on this territory that has been appropriated and marked out there is a proletarian population that is constantly increasing, or tending to increase.14

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This latter class will never be able to produce directly the things that are essential to life. They will need to sell their labor to men who are in a position to supply them in exchange with food and even materials of work: cereals, fruit, vegetables, meat, wool, flax, leather, wood, etc.

Obviously it is in their interest that the market in which these things are sold be as wide as possible. The more they are faced with a greater abundance of these agricultural products, the more they will receive for each given quantity of their own output.

Under a free regime, a fleet of boats will be seen going to seek foodstuffs and materials on neighboring islands and continents and carrying in payment manufactured products. The owners will benefit from all the prosperity they have the right to expect. A just balance will be maintained between the value of industrial production and that of agricultural production.

However, in these circumstances, the landowners of the island make the following calculation: If we prevented the proletarians from working for foreigners and receiving in exchange subsistence and raw materials, they would be obliged to call upon us. As their number is growing unceasingly and the competition between them is increasingly active, they would rush to obtain the portion of food and materials remaining for sale after we had taken what we needed, and we could not fail to sell our products at a very high price. In other words, the balance will be upset between the relative value of their work and ours. They would devote a greater number of hours of labor to our satisfaction. Let us therefore pass a law forbidding this trade that is hampering us, and to execute this law let us create a body of civil servants, for the payment of which the proletariat will be taxed along with us.

I ask you, would this not be the utmost oppression, a flagrant violation of the most precious of all freedoms, of the first and most sacred of all property?

However, and note this well, it would perhaps not be difficult for landowners to have this law accepted as a benefit by the workers. They would not fail to tell them:

“We have not done this for ourselves, honest creatures, but for you. Our interest concerns us little; we are thinking only of yours. Through this wise measure, agriculture will prosper. We the landowners will become rich, which will enable us to give you a great deal of work and pay you a good wage. Without it we will be reduced to destitution, and what will become of you? The island will be flooded with subsistence goods and materials of work from abroad, your ships will be constantly at sea; what a national catastrophe! It is true that abundance would reign around you, but would you be Edition: current; Page: [259] part of it? Do not say that your wages would be maintained and increased, because foreigners would do nothing save increase the number of people demanding what you produce. What makes you sure that they will not take the fancy of delivering you their products for nothing? If this happened, you would die of starvation surrounded by abundance, since you would no longer have either work or a wage. Believe us, accept our law gratefully. Increase and multiply; what is left of provisions on the island beyond what we consume will be delivered to you for your work, of which, in this way, you will always be sure. Above all, do not allow yourself to think that this is a war of words between you and us in which your freedom and property are at risk. Never listen to those that tell you so. Take it as fact that the real conflict is between you and foreigners, those barbarous foreigners, may God curse them, who obviously want to exploit you by offering you deceitful transactions that you are free to accept or reject.”

It is not unlikely that a speech such as this, suitably seasoned with sophisms on money, the balance of trade, national production, agriculture that feeds the nation, the prospect of war, etc., etc., would be hugely successful and would gain approval for the oppressive decree by those oppressed themselves, if they were consulted. This has happened before and will happen again.

But the prejudices of landowners and the proletariat do not change the nature of things. The result will be a population that is destitute, hungry, ignorant, corrupted, and devastated by starvation, illness, and vice. The result will also be the dreadful shipwreck in people’s minds of the notions of right, property, freedom, and the proper attributes of the state.

And what I would like to be able to demonstrate here is that the punishment will shortly reach the landowners themselves; they will have prepared their own ruin by ruining the consuming public, since, in this island, the increasingly indigent population will be seen to fall upon the poorest food. Sometimes they will eat chestnuts, sometimes corn, at other times millet, buckwheat, oats, and potatoes. They will forget the taste of wheat and meat. Landowners will be totally astonished to see agriculture decline. They will in vain agitate, form themselves into agricultural associations, and eternally hark back to the famous adage, “Make forage; with forage you have cattle, with cattle, fertilizer, and with fertilizer, wheat.” They will in vain create new taxes to distribute subsidies to producers of clover and alfalfa; they will always be thwarted by the obstacle of a destitute population incapable of paying for meat and consequently of giving the slightest impetus to this Edition: current; Page: [260] hackneyed circle. They will end by learning at their own expense that it is better to be subject to competition and face rich customers than to have a monopoly and be faced with a ruined customer base.

This is why I say: “Not only is prohibition communism, but it is the worst kind of communism. It starts by subjecting the faculties and work of the poor, their sole property, to the discretion of the rich, it leads to a clear loss for the masses and ends by enveloping the rich themselves in the common ruin. It invests the state with the singular right to take from those with little in order to give to those with a great deal; and when, by virtue of this principle, the disinherited people of the world invoke the intervention of the state to achieve a leveling in the opposite direction, I really do not know what the state will be able to reply. In any case, the initial and best response would be to renounce oppression.

But I am eager to finish with these calculations. After all, what is the state of the debate? What are we saying and what do you say? There is one point, a capital point, on which we agree: that the intervention of the legislator to level wealth by taking from some what is needed to gratify others is communism, the death of all work, all forms of saving, all well-being, all justice, and all society.

You notice that this disastrous doctrine is invading journals and books in all its forms, in a word, the field of intellectual speculation; and you attack it there vigorously.

For my part, I think I see that it had previously penetrated legislation and the practical world with your consent and assistance, and it is here that I am striving to combat it.

I would next draw your attention to the inconsistency into which you would fall if, while combating the prospect of communism, you were to treat it in action with consideration or, even worse, encourage it.

If your reply is: “I am acting in this way because although communism carried out by customs duties is opposed to freedom, property, and justice, it is nevertheless in accord with general utility and this consideration makes me discount by comparison all others.” If this is your answer, do you not feel that you are destroying in advance the entire success of your book, limiting its range, depriving it of its force, and acknowledging that communists of all shades are right, at least with regard to the philosophical and moral aspects of the question?

And then, sir, could a mind as enlightened as yours accept the hypothesis of radical antagonism between utility and justice? Would you like me to Edition: current; Page: [261] be frank? Rather than venture such a subversive and impious statement, I would prefer to say, “This is a particular question in which, at first sight, it seems to me that utility and justice are in conflict. I am glad that all men who have spent their lives examining it in detail think otherwise; I have doubtless not studied it enough.” I have not studied it enough! Is this such a painful admission that, to avoid making it, people rush into inconsistency to the extent of denying the wisdom of providential laws which govern the development of human societies? For what more formal negation of divine wisdom is there than to deduce the essential incompatibility of justice and utility! It has always appeared to me that the most cruel form of anguish that can afflict an intelligent and conscientious mind is to stumble at this limit. What side should you join, in fact, what decision should you take in the face of an alternative like this? Should you support utility? This is the path taken by men who consider themselves to be practical. But unless they cannot put two ideas together, they are doubtless appalled at the consequences of systemic plunder and iniquity. Will those who embrace the cause of justice resolutely, whatever it costs, say: “Do what you have to do, whatever the consequences”? This is what honest souls prefer, but who would want to take the responsibility of plunging his country and humanity into destitution, desolation, and death? I defy anyone who is convinced of this antagonism to make up his mind.

I am mistaken. People will decide, and the human heart is so made, that interest will be put before conscience. This is borne out by facts, since everywhere that the protectionist regime has been thought to favor the well-being of the people it has been adopted in spite of any consideration of justice, and then its consequences have occurred. Belief in property has been wiped out. In the spirit of M. Billault it has been said, “Since property has been violated by protection, why should it not be violated by the right to work?” Others after M. Billault will take a third step, and still others behind them a fourth, until communism has taken hold.15

Good and sound minds like yours are appalled at the steepness of this slope. They strive to climb back up it and in fact do climb back up, as you have done in your book, to the protectionist regime, which supplies the first and only practical momentum of society on the fatal decline, but in the presence Edition: current; Page: [262] of this living negation of the right to property, if instead of this maxim of your book: “Rights either exist or they do not; if they exist they lead to absolute consequences,” you substitute this sentence: “Here is a special case in which the national good requires the sacrifice of right,” then immediately everything that you believed gave force and reason to your work would be only weakness and inconsistency.

For this reason, sir, if you wish to complete your work, you have to give an opinion on the protectionist regime, and to do this it is essential that you start by solving the economic problem; one has to find out about the alleged usefulness of this regime. For even supposing I obtained from you its condemnation from the point of view of justice, this would not be enough to kill the regime. I repeat, men are so made that when they think they are placed between real good and abstract justice, the cause of justice is in great danger. Do you want palpable proof of this? This is what happened to me.

When I arrived in Paris, I found myself in the company of so-called democratic and socialist economists in whose circles, as you know, the words principle, selflessness, sacrifice, fraternity, right, and union are widely used. Wealth is examined from top to bottom as something that is, if not despicable, at least secondary to the point at which, since we take great account of it, we ourselves are seen as being cold economists, egoists, individualists, bourgeois and heartless men whose only God is Mammon.16 “Good!” I said to myself. “Here are noble hearts with whom I have no need to discuss the economic point of view, which is very subtle and requires more application than Parisian political writers are in general able to give to a study of this nature. With these people, however, the question of interest cannot be an obstacle; either they believe, on the faith of divine wisdom, that interest is in harmony with justice, or they will sacrifice it very willingly, since they thirst after selflessness. If, therefore, they allow that free trade is an abstract right, they will resolutely flock to its banner.” Following this, I addressed my appeal to them. Do you know what their answer was? Here it is:

Your free trade is a splendid utopia. It is based on right and justice, it achieves freedom, it consecrates property, and its consequence will be the union of peoples and the reign of fraternity between men. You are right a thousand times in principle, but we will fight you to the death Edition: current; Page: [263] and by every means because foreign competition will be fatal to national production.

I took the liberty of addressing this reply to them:

I deny that foreign competition would be fatal to national production. In any case, if this were so, you would be positioned between interest, which, according to you, is on the side of restriction; and justice, which, by your own admission, is on the side of freedom! Well, when I, a venerator of the golden calf, call upon you to make a choice, how is it that you, the advocates of abnegation, trample principles underfoot to cling to interest? Do not therefore speak out so fiercely against a motive that governs you as it governs simple mortals.

This experience warned me that, above all, this daunting problem has to be resolved: Is there harmony or antagonism between justice and utility? And consequently the economic aspect of protectionism has to be scrutinized, for since the advocates of fraternity themselves were giving ground over the alleged loss of money, it was becoming clear that it is not enough to remove any doubt concerning universal justice as an ideal; it is also necessary to justify that unworthy, abject, despicable, and despised, albeit all-powerful, motive, interest.

This is what gave rise to a small thesis in two volumes which I am taking the liberty of sending you with this letter,17 since I am convinced, sir, that if, like the economists, you judge the protectionist regime severely from the moral point of view and if we differ only with regard to its usefulness, you will not refuse to examine carefully the question whether these two major elements in any definitive conclusions are mutually exclusive or are in agreement.

This harmony exists, or at least it is as obvious to me as sunlight. May it also be revealed to you! It would be then that in applying your eminently persuasive talent to fighting communism in its most dangerous manifestation, you would deliver it a mortal blow.

Look at what is happening in England. It would seem that if communism were to find a soil that favored it anywhere, it would be in Britain. There, with feudal institutions everywhere causing extreme deprivation and Edition: current; Page: [264] extreme opulence to confront each other, such conditions ought to have prepared people’s minds for infection by false doctrines. And yet, what do we see? While these false doctrines caused unrest on the continent, they did not even ripple the surface of English society. Chartism18 was not able to take root. Do you know why? Because the association, which for ten years has debated protectionism, has triumphed over it only by shining a strong light on the principle of property and on the rational functions of the state.

Doubtless, if unmasking protectionism is to attack communism for the same reason and because of their close connection, both may also be struck a blow by following the opposite approach from yours. Restriction could not survive very long faced with a proper definition of the right of property. This being so, if one thing surprised me and made me rejoice, it was to see the Association for the Defense of Monopolies19 devote its resources to distributing your book. This is a highly striking sight and consoles me for the uselessness of my past efforts. This resolution from the Mimerel Committee will doubtless oblige you to increase the number of editions of your work. In this case, allow me to point out to you that in its present state the book has one major gap. In the name of science, in the name of truth, and in the name of public good, I beg you to fill this gap and call upon you to reply to the following two questions:

  • 1. Is there any incompatibility in principle between protectionism and the right to property?
  • 2. Is it the function of government to guarantee to each person the free exercise of his faculties and the free disposal of the fruit of his work, that is to say, property, or is it the government’s function to take from some to give to others so as to level out profits, opportunities, and well-being?

Ah, sir, if you reach the same conclusions as me, if through your talent, Edition: current; Page: [265] reputation, and influence you caused these conclusions to become dominant in public opinion, who can calculate the extent of the service you would be rendering to French society? We would see the state limit itself to its purpose, which is to guarantee to each person the exercise of his faculties and the free disposal of his goods. We would see the state divest itself of both its colossal, illegitimate attributions and the terrifying responsibility they entail. It would limit itself to repressing the abuses of freedom, which is to achieve freedom itself. It would ensure justice for all and would no longer promise wealth to anyone. Citizens would learn to distinguish between what is reasonable to ask of it and what is puerile. They would no longer burden it with claims and demands. They would no longer accuse it of causing their misfortunes. They would not pin illusionary hopes on it, and in the enthusiastic pursuit of good that is not the state’s to dispense, they would not be seen at each disappointment to accuse the legislator and the law, change the men and the forms of government, and pile institution on institution and rubble on rubble. We would see the universal fever for mutual plunder through the extremely expensive and risky intervention of the state die out. Once it is limited in its objectives and responsibility, simple in its action, with low expenditure, and no longer burdening those it governs with the cost of their own chains, and is enjoying the support of public good sense, the government would have a solid base, which in our country has never been its lot, and we would finally have resolved this most pressing problem: the closing forever of the abyss of revolutions.

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13: Plunder and Law1

[vol. 5, p. 1. “Spoliation et loi.” This pamphlet was first published in the 15 May 1850 issue of Le Journal des économistes.]

To Those Who Favor Protectionism in the General Council of Manufacturers

Sirs, let us converse for a moment in a moderate and friendly way.

You do not wish political economy to believe in and teach free trade.

This is as if you were saying, “We do not want political economy to concern itself with society, exchange, value, right, justice, or property. We recognize two principles only, oppression and plunder.”

Can you imagine political economy without society? Society without exchange? Exchange without a means of evaluation between the two objects or two services being exchanged? Can you imagine this rate, known as value, as anything other than a result of the free agreement of the people doing the exchanging? Can you imagine that a product is worth another if, in the exchange, one of the parties is not free?2 Can you imagine free agreement between the parties without freedom? Can you imagine that one of the contracting parties could be deprived of freedom, unless one contracting party is being oppressed by the other? Can you imagine exchange between an oppressor and an oppressed party without the equivalence value of the Edition: current; Page: [267] services being distorted and therefore without rights, justice, and ownership being very seriously infringed?

What do you want? Tell me frankly.

You do not want trade to be free!

Do you therefore want trade not to be free?

Do you therefore want it to be carried out under the influence of oppression? For if it were not carried out under the influence of oppression, it would be carried out under the influence of freedom and that is what you do not want.

Admit it, what is worrying you is right and justice; what is worrying you is ownership—not yours, of course, but that of others. You find it difficult to accept that others are free to dispose of their property (the only way to be an owner); you want to dispose of your property . . . and theirs.

You then require economists to draft into a body of doctrine this jumble of absurdity and monstrosity in order to establish the theory of plunder for your use.

However, this is just what they will never do, for in their view plunder is a principle of hatred and unrest, and if there is a more particularly hateful form for it to take on, it is above all the legal form.3

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Here, M. Benoît d’Azy, I must take you to task. You are a moderate, impartial, and generous man. You do not set store by your interests and wealth; you are the one who constantly proclaims this. Recently at the General Council you said: “If the rich needed only to give up what they had for the people to be rich, we would all be ready to do it.” (Oh yes! That is true!) And yesterday at the National Assembly: “If I thought that it was up to me to give all workers the work they needed, I would give all I owned to achieve this good act . . . which is unfortunately impossible.”

Although the pointlessness of the sacrifice occasions in you the great sorrow of not performing it and has you echoing the words of Basile, “Money! Money! I despise it . . . but I am keeping it,” surely no one will doubt such striking generosity of mind, whatever its impotence. It is a virtue that likes to shroud itself in a veil of modesty, especially when it is purely inactive and negative. For your part, you do not miss an opportunity to display it in front of the entire country from the pedestal of the rostrum in the Luxembourg Edition: current; Page: [269] Palace to the Legislative Palace. This proves that you cannot contain its outbursts although you contain its effects, with regret on your part.

But when it comes to it, no one is asking you to give up your wealth, and I agree that it would not solve the social problem.

You would like to be generous, but you cannot do it to any good purpose. What I venture to ask you is to be just. Keep your wealth, but allow me to keep mine. Respect my property as I respect yours. Is this too bold a request that I am making?

Let us suppose that we were in a country in which free trade held sway, where everyone was able to dispose of his work and property. Does your hair stand on end? Calm yourself; this is only a hypothesis.

We are therefore all just as free as each other. There is indeed a rule of law, but this law, entirely impartial and just, far from undermining our freedom, guarantees it. It comes into action only if we try to exercise oppression, either you of me or I of you. There is public enforcement, there are magistrates and gendarmes, but all they do is to carry out the law.

This being so, you are an ironmaster and I am a hatmaker. I need iron for my own use or for my production. Naturally I ask myself, “How can I procure the iron I need for the least amount of work?” In view of my situation and knowledge, I discover that the best solution for me is to make hats and deliver them to a Belgian who will give me iron in return.

However, you are an ironmaster, and you say to yourself, “I know how to make this rascal (referring to me) come to my company.”

Consequently, you adorn your belt with sabers and pistols, arm your many employees, go to the border, and there, when I am on the point of carrying out my exchange, you shout, “Stop, or I will blow your brains out!” “But, my lord, I need iron.” “I have some to sell.” “But, my lord, yours is very expensive.” “There are reasons for this.” “But, my lord, I also have reasons for preferring cheaper iron.” “Well then, see what is going to decide between your reasons and mine. You fellows, take aim!”

In short, you prevent Belgian iron from entering the country and at the same time you prevent my hats from leaving.

Given the free society we have assumed, you cannot deny that this is a clear act of oppression and plunder on your part.

I therefore quickly call on the law, a magistrate, and public enforcement. They all intervene; you are judged, condemned, and justly punished.

But all this gives you a bright idea.

You say to yourself: “I have been very stupid to go to so much trouble. Edition: current; Page: [270] What, exposing myself to killing or being killed! Making a journey! Taking my employees with me! Incurring huge expense! Making myself out to be a robber! Deserving to be condemned by the country’s courts! All this to oblige a lowly hatmaker to come to my workshop to buy iron at my price! If only I could win over the law, the magistrates, and public enforcement so that they serve my interests! If only I could have them carry out at the border the odious act I was going to do myself!”

Excited by this attractive prospect, you get yourself elected to office and you get legislation enacted with the following provisions:

Article 1: A tax will be levied on everybody (and in particular on my cursed hatmaker).

Article 2: With the product of this tax, we will pay men to guard the border well, in the interests of ironmasters.

Article 3: The guards will ensure that no one can trade hats or other goods with Belgians in return for iron.

Article 4: Ministers, public prosecutors, customs officers, tax collectors, and jailers will be responsible, in their respective domains, for carrying out this law.

I agree, sir, that in this form plunder would be infinitely gentler, more lucrative, and less dangerous for you than in the form you originally envisaged.

I agree that it would have a very pleasant side for you. You would certainly be able to laugh up your sleeve, since you would have burdened me with the entire expense.

However, I assert that you would have introduced into society the basis of ruin, immorality, unrest, hatred, and constant revolution; you would have opened the door to all forms of socialist and communist experimentation.4

You will doubtless consider my hypothesis very bold. Well then! Turn it round against me! I am quite willing, given my love of proof.

I am now a worker and you are still an ironmaster.

It would be an advantage for me to acquire the tools of my trade cheaply or even free. However, I know that there are axes and saws in your workshop. Edition: current; Page: [271] Therefore, with no further ado, I enter your shop and take everything that I want.

But you, using your right of legitimate defense, initially repel force with force. You then call upon the assistance of the law, magistrates, and public enforcement to have me thrown into prison, and you have acted rightly.

“Oh, dear!” I say to myself, “I have been stupid to do this. When you want to benefit from other people’s property, it is not in spite of but by virtue of the law that you should act if you are not an imbecile. Consequently, since you have become a protectionist, I will become a socialist. As you have arrogated to yourself the right to profit, I invoke the right to work, or to the tools of my trade.

What is more, in prison I read my Louis Blanc and I know this doctrine by heart: “What the proletariat need to throw off their yoke are the tools of their trade, and the function of the government is to give them the tools.” And also: “Once you agree that in order to be genuinely free, man needs the power to exercise and develop his faculties, it follows that society owes each one of its members both education, without which the human mind cannot develop, and the tools of his trade, without which human activity cannot forge a career for itself. But by whose intervention will society give each one of its members a suitable education and the tools of his trade that he needs if it is not by the intervention of the state?”5

Therefore, I, too, storm the doors of the Legislative Palace, even at the cost of causing a revolution in my country. I corrupt the law and make it accomplish the very act for which it had hitherto punished me, for my benefit and at your expense.

My decree is based on yours.

Article 1: A tax will be levied on all citizens and especially on ironmasters.

Article 2: With the product of this tax, the state will pay an armed body titled the Fraternal Gendarmerie.

Article 3: The fraternal gendarmes will enter stores that sell axes, saws, etc., seize these instruments, and distribute them to the workers who want them.

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As you can see, sir, through this clever arrangement I will no longer run the risk nor incur the expense, opprobrium, or scruples of plunder. The state will rob for me as it does for you. There will be two of us playing the game.

It remains to be seen what will become of French society if my second hypothesis comes true, or at least what it has become following the almost complete realization of the first.

I do not want to deal here with the question from the point of view of economics. People believe that when we demand free trade, we are solely driven by a desire to leave labor and capital free to take the most advantageous route. People are mistaken. This is only a secondary consideration for us. What wounds us, what distresses us, and what terrifies us about the protectionist regime is that it is the negation of rights, justice, and property; that it turns the law, which should guarantee property and justice, against them; and that it thus overturns and corrupts the conditions of the existence of society. And it is on this aspect of the question that I call on you to meditate most seriously.

What therefore is the law or at least what ought it to be? What is its rational and moral mission? Is it not to hold accurately the balance between all forms of right, all forms of freedom, and all forms of ownership? Is it not to ensure that justice reigns over all? Is it not to prevent and eliminate oppression and plunder, wherever they are found?

And are you not appalled by the immense, radical, and deplorable innovation that is introduced into the world on the day on which the law is made responsible for carrying out itself the crime whose punishment was its mission? The day on which it turns against freedom and ownership, both in principle and deed?

You deplore the symptoms exhibited by modern society. You bewail the unrest that reigns in institutions and in ideas. But is it not your principles that have corrupted everything, both in institutions and ideas?

What! The law is no longer a refuge for the oppressed but the arm of the oppressor! The law is no longer a shield but a sword! The law no longer holds in its august hands a set of scales but false weights and false keys. And you want society to be properly organized!

It is your principles that have written the following words on the pediment of the Legislative Chamber: “Whoever acquires any influence here may obtain his share of legal plunder here.”

And what has happened? Each class has rushed to the doors of this palace shouting, “For me, too, I want my share of plunder!”

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Following the February revolution, when universal suffrage was proclaimed, I hoped for a moment that its great voice would be heard to say: “No more plunder for anyone, justice for all!” And in that lay the true solution of the social problem. This did not happen; protectionist propaganda had for centuries past effected too deep a change in sentiments and ideas.

No, by bursting into the National Assembly, each class came to make the law an instrument of plunder for itself according to the principles you uphold. They demanded progressive taxes, free credit, the right to work, the right to state assistance, guaranteed interest rates, a minimum rate of pay, free education, subsidies to industry, etc., etc.; in short, each wanted to live and develop at other people’s expense.

And under what authority have these claims been levied? Following precedents you set yourselves. What sophisms were invoked? Those that you have been propagating for centuries. Like you, people have been talking of leveling the conditions of work.6 Like you, people have spoken out against anarchical competition. Like you, people have scorned laissez-faire, that is to say, freedom. Like you, people have said that the law should not limit itself to being just but should come to the aid of tottering industries, protect the weak from the strong, ensure profits for individuals at the expense of the community, etc., etc. In short, as M. Charles Dupin said, socialism has come to put the theory of plunder into practice. It has done what you do and what you want teachers of political economy to do, with you and for you.

It is no good your being clever, you people who support restriction; it is no good softening the tone, boasting of your hidden generosity or winning over your opponents through appealing to sentiment; you will not stop logic from being logic.

You will not stop M. Billault from saying to the legislator, “You are giving favors to some people; you must give them to everyone.”

You will not stop M. Crémieux from saying to the legislator, “You are making manufacturers richer; you must make the proletariat richer.”

You will not stop M. Nadeau from saying to the legislator, “You cannot refuse to do for the suffering classes what you do for those that are privileged.”

You will not even stop M. Mimerel, your leader of the chorus, from saying to the legislator, “I demand twenty-five thousand francs worth of subsidies for workers’ retirement funds,” and developing his motion thus:

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Is this the first example of this nature that our legislation is offering? Will you establish a system in which the state is able to encourage everything, open science courses at its expense, subsidize fine arts, give grants to theaters, provide higher education, a wide variety of leisure pursuits, enjoyment of the arts, and rest in old age to the classes that are already favored by wealth, and give all this to those who have not experienced deprivation, making those who have nothing pay for their part in this deprivation, refusing them everything, even the essential items of life?. . .

Sirs, our society in France, our behavior, and our laws are so organized that the intervention of the state, as regrettable as you may think it, is found everywhere, and nothing appears stable or long-lasting if the state does not play a part in it. It is the state that makes Sèvres porcelain and the Gobelins tapestries. It is the state that exhibits periodically and at its expense the works of our artists and our manufacturers. It is the state that rewards our stockbreeders and our fishing fleets. All this costs a great deal; this is yet another tax that everyone pays; everyone, let that be understood! And what direct benefit do the people gain from this? What direct benefit do your porcelains, tapestries, and exhibitions give them? We can understand this principle of resisting what you call a state of being carried along, although only yesterday you voted for grants for flax. We can understand this on condition that the weather is considered and above all on condition that impartiality is clearly evident. If it is true that, through all the means I have just indicated, the state has appeared up till now to come to the aid of the comfortably off classes rather than those less favored, it is essential for this appearance to disappear. Will this be by closing the Gobelins factory or forbidding exhibitions? Certainly not but by giving the poor a direct share in this distribution of benefits.”7

In this long list of favors granted to a few at the expense of all, you will note the extreme reticence with which M. Mimerel glosses over customs favors,8 even though they are the most explicit expression of legal plunder. All the speakers who supported or contradicted him were equally reticent. That is very clever! Perhaps they hoped that by giving the poor a direct share in this distribution of benefits, they would preserve the great iniquity from which they benefit but never mention.

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They are deluding themselves. Do they believe that once they have achieved partial plunder through the institution of customs, other classes will not want, through other institutions, to achieve universal plunder?

I am fully aware that you always have a sophism at the ready; you say: “The favors that the law grants us are not intended for industrialists, but for industry. The products they enable us to skim off at the expense of consumers are just a deposit in our hands.”9

“They make us rich, it is true; but our wealth, which enables us to spend more and increase the size of our businesses, falls like fertile dew on the working class.”

This is your language, and what I deplore is that your dreadful sophisms have corrupted the public mind enough for them to be quoted today to support all the processes of legal plunder. The suffering classes also say: “Let us take the goods of others through law. We will be more comfortably off; we will buy more wheat, more meat, more cloth, more iron and what we will have received through taxes will return as a beneficial rain on capitalists and landowners.”

However, as I have already said, I am not discussing today the economic consequences of legal plunder. When the supporters of protectionism are ready, they will find me ready to examine the ricochet sophism10,11 which, besides, can be quoted for all sorts of theft and fraud.

Let us limit ourselves to the political and moral effects of trade that is deprived of freedom by the law.

I say this, the time has come to establish finally what the law is and what it ought to be.

If you make the law the safeguard of freedom and property for all citizens, if it is limited to the organization of the individual right of legitimate defense, you will found on justice a government that is rational, uncomplicated, Edition: current; Page: [276] economical, understood by all, loved by all, useful to all, supported by all, given responsibility that is perfectly defined, highly restricted, and endowed with unshakeable solidity.

If, on the other hand, you make the law an instrument of plunder in the interest of particular individuals and classes, each one at first would want to make the law and each would then want to make it to his advantage. There would be a throng at the gates of the Legislative Palace, a bitter battle within it, anarchy in people’s minds, the wreck of all morality, violence in the institutions representing various interests, fierce electoral battles, accusations, recriminations, jealousy, inextinguishable hatred, public enforcement in the service of unjust greed instead of containment of greed, the concept of right and wrong obliterated from people’s minds just as the concept of justice and injustice is obliterated from all consciences, a government that is responsible for each person’s existence and that is bowed under the weight of such responsibility, political convulsions, and fruitless revolutions and ruins on which all forms of socialism and communism will be tried out. These are the scourges that corruption of the law will not fail to unleash.

Consequently, oh you supporters of prohibition, these are the scourges to which you have opened the door by using the law to stifle free trade, that is to say, to stifle the right to property. Do not speak out against socialism; you are promoting it. Do not speak out against communism; you are promoting it. And now you are asking us economists to provide you with a theory that proves you are right and justifies you! Heavens above! Do it yourselves.12

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14: The War Against Chairs of Political Economy1,2

[vol. 5, p. 16. “Guerre aux chaires d’économie politique.” June 1847. n.p.]

We know with what bitterness men who restrict the trade of others for their own advantage complain that political economy stubbornly refuses to extol the merit of these restrictions. Although they do not hope to obtain the elimination of science, at least they pursue the dismissal of those who teach it, retaining from the Inquisition this wise maxim, “If you wish to get the better of your opponents, then shut their mouths.”

We were therefore not surprised to learn that to mark the draft law on the organization of the university, they addressed to the minister of education a lengthy memorandum, from which we quote a few excerpts here:

“Do you really mean it, minister? Do you wish to introduce the teaching of political economy in the university! Is this a deliberate act to discredit our privileges?”

“If there is one venerable maxim, it is most assuredly this: In any country, education ought to be in harmony with the principle of government. Do you Edition: current; Page: [278] think that in Sparta or Rome the treasury would have paid teachers to speak out against the plunder resulting from war or against slavery? And you want to allow restrictionism to be discredited in France!”3

“Nature, sir, has so ordained things that society can exist only on the products of work, and at the same time it has made work burdensome. This is why in all eras and in all countries an incurable propensity for mutual pillage has been noted in men. It is so pleasant to lay the burden on one’s neighbor and keep the payment for oneself!”

“War is the first means that people thought of. There is no shorter and simpler way of seizing other people’s property.”

“Then followed slavery, which is a more subtle means, and it has been proved that reducing prisoners to servitude instead of killing them was a major step toward civilization.”

“Last, the passage of time has substituted for these two crude means of plunder another that is more subtle and for this very reason has much more likelihood of lasting, especially since its very name, protection, is admirably suited to dissimulating its odious aspect. You are not unaware of the way names can sometimes deceive us in regard to the bad side of things.”

“As you see, minister, preaching against protectionism in modern times or against slavery in ancient times is exactly the same thing. It always undermines social order and upsets the peace of mind of a very respectable class of citizens. And if pagan Rome showed great wisdom and a farsighted spirit of conservation in persecuting the new sect that arose within its midst to proclaim aloud the dangerous words peace and fraternity, why should we have any more pity for professors of political economy? However, our customs are so gentle and our moderation so great that we do not require you to deliver them to the wild beasts. Forbid them to speak and we will be satisfied.”

“Or at least, if they are so intent on speaking, can they not do this with a degree of impartiality? Can they not trim science a bit to suit our wishes? By what quirk of fate have professors of political economy all agreed to turn the weapon of reason against the protectionist dispensation? If this has certain disadvantages, surely it also has advantages since it suits us. Might our professors not gloss over the disadvantages a bit more and highlight the advantages?”

“Besides, what are scholars for if not to make science? What stops them Edition: current; Page: [279] from inventing a form of political economy specially for us? Obviously it is a case of ill will on their part. When the Sacred Inquisition of Rome found it impious that Galileo had the earth rotating, this great man did not hesitate to have it immobile again. He even declared it to be so on his knees. It is true that as he rose, it is said that he murmured, ‘E pur si muove.’4 Let our professors declare publicly and on their knees that freedom is worth nothing, and we will pardon them if they mutter, on condition that they do it with clenched teeth, ‘E pur è buona.’”5

“But second, we want to push moderation still further. You will not disagree, minister, that we must be impartial first and foremost. Well then! Since there are two conflicting doctrines in the world, one whose motto is ‘Leave trade alone’ and the other ‘Prevent trade,’ for goodness’ sake keep the balance equal and have one taught as well as the other. Give the order that our political economy should be taught in this way.”

“Is it not very discouraging to see science always on the side of freedom, and should it not share its favors a little? No, no sooner is a chair instituted than, like the head of the Medusa, we see the face of a free trader appear.”

“In this way, J. B. Say set an example that MM Blanqui, Rossi, Michel Chevalier, and Joseph Garnier were quick to follow. What would have become of us if your predecessors had not taken great care to limit this disastrous form of teaching? Who knows? This very year we would have had to endure cheap bread.”

“In England, Adam Smith, Senior, and a thousand others caused the same scandal. What is more, Oxford University instituted a chair of political economy and appointed . . . whom? A future archbishop,6 and lo and behold, his grace started to teach that religion agreed with science in condemning the part of our profits that arose from a protectionist regime. So what happened? Little by little, public opinion was won over, and before two years were out, the English had the misfortune of being free to buy and sell. May they be ruined as they well deserve!”

“The same thing happened in Italy. Kings, princes, and dukes, both great and small, were imprudent enough to tolerate the teaching of economics without laying an obligation on professors to reconcile science with protectionism. A host of professors, men like Genovesi and Beccaria, and in Edition: current; Page: [280] our time M. Scialoja, as might be expected, began to preach freedom; and here we have Tuscany free to trade and there we have Naples cutting swathes through its customs duties.”

“You know the results achieved in Switzerland by the intellectual movement that has always directed men’s minds toward economic knowledge there. Switzerland is free and seems to be situated in the center of Europe, like light on a chandelier, deliberately to embarrass us. For when we say, ‘The result of freedom is to ruin agriculture, trade, and industry,’ people do not fail to point Switzerland out to us. For a time, we did not know what to answer. Thank goodness La Presse solved our problem by supplying us with this invaluable argument, ‘Switzerland can cope because it is small.’”

“The curse of science is threatening to let loose the same plague on Spain. Spain is the very home of protection. And just see how it has prospered! And not counting the treasure she has drained from the New World and the richness of her soil, her prohibitionist policy is sufficient to explain the degree of splendor that she has achieved. However, Spain has professors of political economy, men like La Sagra and Florez Estrada, and so we find the minister of finance, M. Salamanca, aiming to raise Spain’s credit and increase her budget just through the power of free trade.”

“Last, minister, what more do you want? In Russia, there is only one economist and he is in favor of free trade.”7

“As you can see, the conspiracy of all the world’s scholars against the fettering of trade is flagrant. And what interest is urging them on? None. If they preached protectionism, they would be no leaner, no worse off. It is therefore pure wickedness on their part. This unanimity holds the greatest dangers. Do you know what people will say? Seeing them so closely in agreement, people will end up believing that what unites them in the same belief is the same reason that causes all the geometers around the world since Archimedes to think the same way regarding the square of the hypotenuse.”

“When therefore, minister, we beg you to have two contradictory doctrines taught impartially, it can be only a secondary request on our part, since we can guess what will happen, and he whom you make responsible for teaching restriction may well, through his study, be brought to the path of freedom.”

“The best thing is to outlaw science and scholars once and for all and return to the wise traditions of the empire. Instead of instituting new chairs Edition: current; Page: [281] of political economy, abolish those—fortunately they are few—that are still standing. Do you know how political economy has been defined? The science that teaches workers to keep what belongs to them. It is quite clear that a good quarter of the human race would be lost if this disastrous science happened to spread.”

“Let us hold on to a good and harmless classical education. Let us fill our young people with Greek and Latin. What harm will it do us if they scan the hexameters of the Bucolics8 on the tips of their fingers from morning to night? Let them live with Roman society, with the Gracchi and Brutus, within a Senate in which war is constantly discussed and a Forum in which the question of plunder is constantly to the fore; let them become imbued with the sweet philosophy of Horace:

  • Tra la la la our youth
  • Tra la la la is shaped there.

“What need is there to teach them the laws of production and trade? Rome teaches them to despise work, servile opus, and not to recognize as legitimate any other trade than the vae victis of the warrior who owns slaves. In this way, we will have a young generation well prepared for life in our modern society. There are indeed a few small dangers. Our young people will be somewhat republican, they will have strange ideas on freedom and property, and in their blind admiration for brute force they will perhaps be found to be somewhat disposed to find fault with the whole of Europe and to deal with political questions in the street by throwing cobblestones. This is inevitable, and frankly, minister, thanks to Titus Livy we have all more or less paddled in this rut. After all, these are questions that you can easily overcome with a few good gendarmes. But what gendarmerie can you call out against the subversive ideas of economists, the daring people who have inscribed at the top of their program this atrocious definition of property: When a man has produced something by the sweat of his brow, since he has the right to consume it, he has the right to exchange it?9

“No, no, with people like this, it is a waste of time to resort to rebuttal.”

“Quick, a gag, two gags, three gags!”

Edition: current; Page: [282]

15: Peace and Freedom or the Republican Budget1

[vol. 5, p. 407. “Paix et liberté ou le budget républicain.” February 1849. n.p.]

A program! A program! That is the cry that rises from all sides to the cabinet.2

How do you understand home affairs? What will your foreign policy be? Through what major measures do you mean to raise revenue? Are you undertaking to remove from us the triple plague that appears to be hovering over our heads: war, revolution, and bankruptcy? Will we at last be able to devote ourselves in some degree of security to work, enterprise, and major undertakings? What have you drawn up to ensure for us the tomorrow you promised to all citizens the day you took the helm of our affairs?

This is what everyone is asking, but alas! the minister makes no reply. What is worse, he appears to be systematically determined not to say anything.

What should we conclude from this? Either the cabinet has no plan, or, if it has one, it is hiding it.

Well then, I say that, in either case, the cabinet is failing in its duty. If it is hiding its plan, it is doing something it has no right to do, since a government plan does not belong to the government but to the public. We are the ones interested in the plan, since our well-being and security depend on it. We ought to be governed not according to the hidden intentions of the government but according to intentions that are known and approved. It Edition: current; Page: [283] is up to the cabinet to set out, propose, and take the initiative, up to us to judge it, accept or refuse it. But in order to judge, we need knowledge. He who climbs onto the driving seat and takes the reins is declaring by this very act that he knows or thinks he knows the destination to be reached and the route that must be taken. At the very least he should not keep destination and route a secret from the travelers when these travelers form the whole of a great nation.

If there is no plan,3 let him judge for himself what he must do. In all eras government calls for an idea, and this is especially true today. It is very clear that we can no longer follow the same old ruts, the ruts that have already overturned the coach in the mud three times. The status quo is impossible and tradition inadequate. Reforms are needed, and although the words have a hollow ring, I will say, “We need something new,” not something new that undermines, overturns, and terrifies, but something new that maintains, consolidates, reassures, and rallies.

Therefore, in my ardent desire to see a genuine republican budget appear, and discouraged by government silence, I remembered the old proverb, “If you want something done properly, do it yourself,” and to be sure of having a program I drew one up. I submit it to the public’s good sense.

And first of all, I have to tell you in what spirit it was conceived.

I love the Republic, and, to make an admission that may surprise some people,4 I add that I like it much better than on 24 February.5 These are my reasons.

Like all political writers, even those from the monarchical school, including Chateaubriand among others, I believe that a republic is the natural form of normal government. The people, the king, and the aristocracy are three powers that can coexist only during their conflict. This conflict has armistices known as charters. Each power stipulates in these charters a part that relates to its victories. It is in vain that theoreticians have intervened and said, “The height of art is to settle the attributions of the three jousters in such a way that they counter each other mutually.” The nature of things ordains Edition: current; Page: [284] that during and because of the truce one of the three powers strengthens and grows in stature. The conflict starts once more and then comes lassitude resulting in a new charter, one that is slightly more democratic, and so on until the republican regime triumphs.

However, it may happen that once the people have achieved self-government they govern themselves badly. They suffer and long for a change. The exiled claimant takes advantage of the opportunity and reascends the throne. At this, the conflict, the truces, and the reign of the charters starts again, to terminate once more in a republic. How many times can this experiment be repeated? This is what I do not know. But what is certain is that it will be final only when the people have learned to govern themselves.

Now, on 24 February, like many others, I had grounds to fear that the nation was not prepared to govern itself. I was fearful, I admit, of the influence of Greek and Roman ideas, which are imposed on all of us by the university monopoly, ideas that radically exclude all justice, order, and freedom and that have become even more false in the authoritative theories of Montesquieu and Rousseau. I also feared the terror of weak souls and the blind admiration of others, inspired by the memory of the First Republic. I said to myself, “As long as these unfortunate associations of ideas last, the peaceful reign of democracy over itself is not assured.”

But events did not bear out these forecasts. The Republic was proclaimed; to return to a monarchy, there would have to be a revolution, perhaps two or three, since there are several claimants.6 What is more, these revolutions would be only the prelude to a new revolution, since the final triumph of the republican format is the necessary and inexorable law of social progress.

May heaven preserve us from such calamities! We are in a Republic, so let us remain there; let us remain there, since sooner or later it will return; let us remain there, since to extricate ourselves from it would be to return to the era of upheavals and civil wars.

However, for the Republic to be maintained, the people have to love it. It has to put down innumerable deep roots in the universal goodwill of the masses. Confidence needs to be born again, production must flourish, capital Edition: current; Page: [285] has to be built up, and earnings have to be increased; life must become easier, and the nation become proud of its work and show it off to the rest of Europe, resplendent in its genuine grandeur, justice, and moral dignity. Let us therefore inaugurate the policy of peace and freedom.

Peace and freedom! It is certainly not possible to aspire to two more-elevated objects in the social order. But what can they have in common with the cold, stark figures of a mere budget document?

In fact, the link is as close as it can possibly be. A war, the threat of war, or a negotiation that might lead to war, these come into being only by virtue of some small article inscribed in this weighty volume, the terror of the taxpayer. Similarly, I challenge you to imagine a form of oppression, a limitation of citizens’ freedom, or a chain around their arms or necks that is not born of a budget for state revenue and does not subsist because of it.

Show me a people who are fed on unjust ideas of their foreign domination, oppressive influence, preponderance, and irresistible power, who meddle in the affairs of neighboring nations, constantly menacing or being menaced, and I will show you a people bowed down with taxes.

Show me a people who have endowed themselves with institutions of such a nature that citizens cannot think, write, print, teach, work, trade, or assemble together without a mob of civil servants coming to hinder their movements, and I will show you a people bowed down with taxes.

For I can see quite clearly how it costs me nothing to live in peace with everyone. But I cannot conceive of what I would have to do to expose myself to continuous squabbles without being subject to enormous expenses either to attack or to defend myself.

And I also see quite clearly how it costs me nothing to be free, but I cannot understand how the state could take action against me in a way that is disastrous to my freedom if I had not begun by handing over to it, at my expense, the costly instruments of oppression.

Let us therefore seek economy in expenditure. Let us seek it because it is the only means to satisfy the people and make them like the Republic and keep a check on the spirit of turbulence and revolution through the goodwill of the masses. Let us seek economy, and peace and freedom will be given to us as a bonus.

Such economy is like personal interest. Both are vulgar motives, but they engender principles that are nobler than they.

The precise and current aim of financial reform is to restore the balance between revenue and expenditure. Its ulterior aim, or rather its effect, is Edition: current; Page: [286] to restore public credit. Last, another, more important aim that it has to achieve in order to merit the fine title of reform is to conciliate the people, make the institutional structure popular, and thus spare the country new political upheavals.

While I appreciate from these various points of view the systems that have been developed, I cannot prevent myself from considering them either very incomplete or illusory.

A word on two of these systems, one from practical-minded people and the other from utopians.

I begin by declaring that I have the most profound respect for the knowledge and experience of financiers. They have spent their lives studying the mechanisms of our financial systems, they know all their aspects; and if it were only a question of achieving the balance that is virtually the exclusive objective of their pursuit, perhaps there would be nothing better to do than to entrust them with this already very difficult task. By snipping away at our expenditure, by increasing our revenue a little, I would like to think that in three or four years’ time they would lead us into that longed-for haven known as a balanced budget.

However, it is clear that the basic thought that governs our financial mechanism would remain the same, short of a few improvements to the details. Now, the question I am asking is this: by remaining under the sway of this basic thought, by replastering our system of contributions, so profoundly shaken up by the February revolution, do we have the three or four years ahead of us that separate us from this famous balance? In other words, does our financial system, even stripped of a few abuses, carry within itself the conditions that ensure its longevity? Is it not Aeolus’s sack7 and does it not contain wind and tempests within it?

If it is precisely from this system that all the upheavals arose, what are we to expect from its simple restoration?

Financiers, and by this I mean those for whom the fine ideal of reestablishing things, except for a few details, as they were before February, these men, may I say, want to build on sand and go around in a vicious circle. They do not see that the old system they are advocating, far from basing an abundant Edition: current; Page: [287] flow of public revenue on the prosperity of the working classes, aims at swelling the budget by drying up the source that feeds it.

Apart from the fact that this is a radical vice from the financial point of view, it is also a frightful political danger. What! You have just seen what an almost mortal blow a revolution has given to our finances; you can have no doubt that one, if not the only, cause of this upheaval is the alienation of the people’s hearts generated by the weight of taxes, and the aim to which you are aspiring is to return us to our starting point and to drag the coach painfully to the summit of the fatal slope!

Even if a revolution had not taken place, even if it had not awoken in the masses new hopes and demands, I believe in all truth that your plans would be unachievable. But is it not the case that what would have been prudent before February has now become a necessity? Do you believe that your three or four years of effort devoted to the exclusive pursuit of balanced budgets can pass peacefully if the people see nothing on the horizon other than new taxes and if the Republic is visible to them only through the increased ruthlessness of tax collectors. And if, from the fruit of their work, increasingly less well paid, they have to hand over to the state and its agents an increasingly large part? No, do not expect this. A new upheaval will come and cut short your cold, pedantic work; and then, I ask you directly, what will happen to the balance and the credit that, in your eyes, are the apogee of the art and the end product of all intelligent effort?

I therefore believe that the practical men have completely lost sight of the third aim (and the first in importance) that I have assigned to financial reform, that is to say, to relieve taxpayers and ensure that the Republic is loved.

We had proof of this recently. The National Assembly reduced the salt tax and the tax on letters. Well, then! Not only do the financiers disapprove of these measures, they also cannot get it into their heads that the Assembly has acted in accordance with its own will. They still assume in all good faith that it was the victim of surprise and they detest it, so great is their repugnance for any notion of reform.

Please God, I do not wish to insinuate by that that the financiers’ cooperation should be rejected! Whatever new idea may emerge, it can scarcely be implemented other than with the assistance of their extremely useful experience. However, it is probable that it will not arise in their minds. They have lived too long with the vicissitudes of the past for that. If, before the campaigns in Italy, Napoléon had used thirty years of his life to study and apply all the combinations of the old strategy, do people believe that he Edition: current; Page: [288] would have been struck with the inspiration that caused a revolution in the art of war and gave such luster to French arms?

Next to this school so full of age and experience, one which will offer valuable resources in execution but which will never, I fear, produce the fertile idea that France is waiting for to achieve its salvation, glory, and security, there is another school or rather an almost infinite number of other schools, whose ideas, if they can be reproached in any respect, at least cannot be so for their lack of originality. I have no intention of examining all the systems that they have brought to light. I will limit myself to saying a few words about the thought that appeared to me to dominate in the manifesto of the so-called advanced republicans.

This manifesto appears to me to be based on a vicious circularity even more blatant than that of the financiers. To tell the truth, it is simply a perpetual and puerile contradiction to tell the people “The republic is going to perform a miracle for you. It will free you from all of this heavy responsibility that burdens the human condition. It will take charge of you in the cradle, and after leading you, at its expense, from the nursery to the infant school, from the infant school to primary school, from primary school to secondary and special schools, from there to the workshop, and from the workshop to the almshouse, it will take you to your grave without your having needed, in a word, to take care of yourself. Do you need credit? Do you lack the tools of your trade or work? Do you want education? Has an accident occurred in your field or your workshop? The state is there, like an opulent and generous father, to provide and fix everything. What is more, it will extend its solicitude to the entire world by virtue of the dogma of solidarity, and should you take the fancy to go and sow your ideas and political views far and wide it will always maintain a great army ready to enter the campaign. That is its mission—it is a vast one—and the state asks nothing from you to accomplish it. Salt, wines and spirits, the post office, city tolls, contributions of all sorts, it will renounce everything. A good father gives to his children but asks nothing of them. If the state does not follow this example, if it does not fulfill the double and contradictory duty that we are pointing out to you, it will have betrayed its mission, and all you will need to do is to overthrow it.”

It is true that to hide these glaring impossibilities, they add, “Taxes will be transformed; they will be taken from the excess wealth of the rich.”

But the people have to know that this is just one more illusion. To impose on the state exorbitant attributions and persuade the public that it can meet Edition: current; Page: [289] these with the money taken from the surplus wealth of the rich is to give vain hope to that public. How many rich people are there in France? When it was necessary to pay two hundred francs to have the right to vote, the number of electors was two hundred thousand, and of this number perhaps half did not have this surplus wealth. And people now wish to assert that the state can fulfill the immense mission it has been given by limiting itself to taxing the rich! It will be enough for two hundred thousand families to hand over to the government the surplus part of their wealth for it to lavish all sorts of benefits on eight million families that are less well off. However, people do not see one thing, which is that a tax system thus constituted would yield scarcely enough to provide for its own collection.

The truth is, and the people should never lose sight of this, that public contributions will always and of necessity be directed toward the most general objects of consumption, that is to say, the most popular. This is precisely the reason that should incite the people, if they are prudent, to restrict public expenditure, that is to say, the action, attributions, and responsibilities of the government. They should not expect the state to provide for them since they are the ones that provide for the state.8

Others place great hopes in the discovery of other sources of taxation. I am far from claiming that there is nothing to be gained from this avenue, but I submit the following observations to the reader:

1. All previous governments were passionately fond of taking a great deal from the public in order to be able to spend a great deal. It is scarcely probable that, where taxes are concerned, any valuable mine that is easy to exploit would have escaped the genius of the tax department. If it has been restrained by something, it can have been only the fear of national rejection.

2. If new sources of taxes cannot be found without upsetting habits and arousing discontent, would the moment be well chosen, after a revolution, to try this type of experiment? Would it not compromise the Republic? Let us work out the effect produced on taxpayers by this news: the National Assembly has just made you subject to taxes hitherto unknown to you and before which the monarchy retreated!

3. From the current and practical points of view, looking for and discovering new taxes is a certain means of doing nothing and neglecting the body Edition: current; Page: [290] for its shadow. The National Assembly has only two or three months to live. In the meantime, it has to produce the budget. I leave it to the reader to draw his own conclusions.

After having referred to the most fashionable and the most unacceptable approaches, it remains for me to point out the one I would like to see triumph.

Let us first of all set out the financial situation we have to face.

We are in a situation of deficit (for the word shortage now falls short). I will not seek the exact figure of this deficit. I do not know how our accounts are kept; what I do know is that never, ever, do two official sets of figures for the same item agree. Be that as it may, the disease is serious in the extreme. The last budget (volume 1, page 62) contains this item of information:

Former overdrafts (another pretty word) for 1846 and earlier 184,156,000 francs
Budget for 1847 43,179,000
Indemnity for the savings banks 38,000,000
Budget for 1848 71,167,000
Budget for 1849 213,960,534
Total overdraft 550,462,534 francs

This is the result of past budgets. Thus, the damage will constantly increase in the future if we do not succeed either in increasing revenue or in decreasing expenditure, not only in order to align them but also to find surplus revenue to absorb the previous overdraft s gradually.

It is no use hiding this from oneself; any other way leads to bankruptcy and its consequences.

And what makes the situation more difficult is the consideration that I have already indicated and that I stress with all my strength, namely, if a remedy is wholly or partially sought in a tax increase, which is what comes naturally to mind, this will generate a revolution. Well, although the financial effect of revolutions, to mention only these, is to increase expenditure and dry up the sources of revenue (I will refrain from a demonstration), instead of avoiding a catastrophe this procedure is likely only to precipitate it.

I will go further. The difficulty is even greater, since I assert (or at least this is my deepest conviction) that even all the existing taxes cannot be maintained without setting up the most terrible odds against us. A revolution has been achieved; it has proclaimed itself to be democratic and the democracy wants to experience the benefits. It may be right or wrong, but that is the Edition: current; Page: [291] way things are. Woe to the government, woe to the country if this idea is not constantly present in the minds of the people’s representatives!

Now that the problem has been set out, what ought we to do?

For on the other hand, if expenditure can be reduced, there are limits to these reductions. They should not go so far as to disorganize services, as this would cause revolutions to occur from the other end of the financial spectrum.

What, then, ought we to do?

This is what I think. I set out my thought in all its naïveté at the risk of raising the hackles of all financiers and practitioners.

Reduce taxes. Reduce expenditure in an even greater proportion.

And, to clad this financial thought in its political formula, I add:

Liberty within. Peace without.

This is the entire plan.

You protest! “It is as contradictory,” you say, “as the Montagnards’ manifesto.9 It encompasses a vicious circle that is at least as obvious as those you have previously pointed out in the alternative measures.”

I deny this; I grant you only that the attempt is bold. But first, if the gravity of the situation has been clearly established and second, if it has been proved that traditional means will not extricate us, it seems to me that my thought has at least some right to be considered by my colleagues.

May I therefore be allowed to examine my two proposals, and would the reader be so good as to suspend his judgment and perhaps his verdict, remembering that these proposals form an indivisible whole?

First of all, there is a truth that should be remembered, since it is not sufficiently taken into account: it is that, because of the nature of our tax system, which is based predominantly on indirect taxation, that is to say, consumption taxes, there is a very close connection, an intimate relationship, between general prosperity and the prosperity of public finances.

This leads us to the following conclusion: it is not strictly accurate to say that relieving taxpayers will inevitably undermine revenue.

If, for example, in a country like ours the government, driven by an excess of fiscal zeal, raised taxes to the point of destroying consumers’ purchasing power, if it doubled or tripled the market price of essentials, if it made the materials and tools of the trade even more expensive, if, as a result, a considerable section of the population was reduced to depriving itself of everything Edition: current; Page: [292] and living on chestnuts, potatoes, buckwheat, and corn, it is clear that the drastic shortfall in revenue might be attributed with some reason to the sharply increased taxation itself.

And in such circumstances it is also clear that the real means, the rational means of making public finances flourish, would not be to deal further blows to general wealth but on the contrary to allow it to grow; this would not be to tighten taxation but to relax it.

In theoretical terms, I do not believe that this can be queried. Through successive increases, taxation may reach the point at which what is added to its rate is bound to reduce its yield. When this point is reached, it is as vain, as crazy, and as contradictory to look for an increase in revenue by an increase in taxes as it would be to wish to raise the liquid in a manometer by means whose result would be to reduce the heat in the boiler.10

This having been said, we have to know whether, in fact, our country has not reached this point.

If I examine the principal objects of universal consumption from which the state exacts its revenue, I find them burdened with such exorbitant taxes that the acquiescence of taxpayers can be explained only by force of habit.

To say that a few of these taxes are tantamount to confiscation would be to understate the case.

First of all, take sugar and coffee. We could procure these at a low cost if we were free to seek them in the markets to which our interests direct us. However, in the clearly defined aim of closing off trade with the world to us, the tax authorities subject us to a heavy fine when we commit the crime of trading with India, Havana, or Brazil. If we, docilely bowing to its will, limit our trade to what three small rocks lost in the midst of the oceans are able to supply, we then pay, it is true, much more for sugar and coffee, but the mollified tax authorities take from us only approximately 100 percent of their value in the form of taxes.

This is called profound political economy. Note that acquiring the small rocks has cost us rivers of blood and tons of gold, interest on which will burden us for eternity. As compensation, we also pay tons of gold to keep them.

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In France there is a product that is quintessentially national and whose use is inseparable from popular habits. To restore the strength of workers, nature has given meat to the English and wine to the French; this wine can be procured everywhere at eight or ten francs a hectoliter, but the tax authorities intervene and tax you at the rate of fifteen francs.

I will say nothing about the tax on tobacco, which public opinion is ready to accept. It is no less true that this substance is taxed at several times its value.

The state spends five centimes or ten at the most to carry a letter from one point in the territory to another. Until recently, it obliged you to rely upon it; subsequently, when it had you in its grip, it made you pay eighty centimes, one franc, and one franc twenty for what cost it five centimes.

Shall I mention salt? It has been clearly established in a recent debate that salt can be produced in unlimited quantities in the southeast of France for fifty centimes. The tax authorities inflicted a duty of thirty francs on it. Sixty times the value of the product! And you call that a tax! I contribute at a rate of sixty because I possess one! I would earn 6,000 percent by abandoning my property to the government!

It would be worse if I mentioned the customs. Here the government has two clearly defined aims: the first, to raise the price of goods, to deny industry the materials it needs, and to increase the hardships of life; the second to amalgamate and increase taxes to such an extent that the tax authorities do not receive anything, recalling the following remark from a dandy to his tailor on the subject of a pair of breeches: “If I can get into them, I will not take them.”

Last, the exorbitantly high level of these taxes cannot fail to stimulate a spirit of fraud. When this happens, the government is obliged to surround itself with several armies of civil servants, to arouse suspicion in the entire nation and invent all sorts of interventions and procedures, which all paralyze production and drain the budget.

This is our tax system. We have no means of expressing its consequences in figures. But when, on the one hand, we study this mechanism and on the other we note that it is impossible for a major section of the population to become consumers, can we not ask ourselves whether these two facts are in a cause and effect relationship? Can we not ask ourselves whether we will set this country and its finances on their feet again by continuing down the same path, assuming that public disaffection leaves us the time? Truly, I consider that we are a little like a man who, having painfully emerged from Edition: current; Page: [294] an abyss into which his foolhardiness has plunged him several times, can think of nothing better than to put himself on the same spot from which he started and to follow the same rut with a little more determination.

In theory, everyone will agree that taxes may be raised to such an inordinate degree that it is impossible to add anything to them without freezing general wealth creation so that it compromises the public treasury itself. This theoretical possibility has in fact made itself felt in such a striking way in a neighboring country that I ask to be able to use this example, since if the phenomenon was not acknowledged to be possible, my entire dissertation and all my subsequent conclusions would be worthless and without effect. I know that in France those who seek lessons from British experiments are not very welcome; we prefer to carry out experiments at a cost to ourselves. But I beg the reader to admit for an instant that, on both sides of the Channel, two and two make four.

A few years ago, England found herself financially speaking in a very similar situation to the one we are in. For several consecutive years, each budget ended in a deficit, to such an extent that daring and drastic means had to be envisaged. The first one that occurred to financiers was—you can guess—to increase taxes. The Whig cabinet did not spend much time on invention. It limited itself purely and simply to deciding that a surtax of 5 percent would be added to taxes. Its reasoning was this: “If 100 shillings of tax provide us with 100 shillings of revenue, 105 shillings of tax will provide us with 105 shillings of revenue, or at least 104 or 104½ shillings, since we have to allow for a slight drop in consumption.” Nothing seemed more mathematically assured. However, at the end of one year, they were astonished to have gathered, not 105 or 104 and not even 100, but only 96 or 97.

It was then that this cry of pain escaped from aristocratic breasts: “It is finished. We can no longer add even a farthing to our civil list. We have reached the limit of profitable taxation.11 We have no further resources since taxing more is to receive less.”

The Whig cabinet was overturned immediately. Other competent means had to be tried out. Sir Robert Peel stood forward. He was certainly a practical financier. This did not stop him from producing the sort of reasoning which, pronounced by a novice like me, seemed subtle and perhaps absurd. “Since taxation has created the destitution of the masses and since in turn Edition: current; Page: [295] the destitution of the masses has limited the yield of taxation, it is a strict consequence, although one that appears paradoxical, that to make revenue prosper taxes have to be reduced. Let us try, therefore, to see whether the tax authorities, which have lost out by being too greedy, will not gain by being generous.” Generosity in the tax authorities! That would certainly be a new experience! It would be one well worth examining. Would the financiers not be happy to discover that generosity itself could sometimes be lucrative? It is true that in this case, generosity ought to be called interest properly understood. So be it. Let us not bicker over words.

Sir Robert Peel therefore began to cut taxes repeatedly. He allowed wheat, cattle, wool, and butter to be imported in spite of the clamors of the landlords, thinking with apparent reason that the people are never better fed than when there is a great deal of food in the country, a proposition that elsewhere is considered to be seditious. Soap, paper, swill, sugar, coffee, cotton, dyes, salt, the post, glass or steel, everything workers use or consume was subjected to reform.

However, Sir Robert, who is not a hothead, was perfectly aware that although a system like this had to react favorably on the exchequer by stimulating public prosperity, it could do so only in the long term. On the other hand, the deficits, shortfalls, or overdraft s, whatever you want to call them, were current and pressing. To abandon, even provisionally, part of the revenue would have made the situation worse and undermined credit. A difficult period had to be endured, made even more so by the enterprise itself. Thus, reducing taxes was just half of Sir Robert’s system, as it is just half of the one I am putting forward in all humility. It has been seen that the essential complement of mine12 consists in reducing expenditure in an even greater proportion. The complement of the Peel system was closer to financial and fiscal traditions. He thought of how to find another source of revenue, and income tax was decreed.

Thus, in the face of deficits, the first thought had been to make taxes heavier and the second was to transform them, to ask payment from those able to pay. This was progress. Why should I not have the pleasant idea that reducing expenditure would be even more decisive progress?

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I am obliged, in spite of the slowness it imposes on me, to examine the following question briefly: Has the British experiment been successful? I must do this, for what would be the use of an example that has failed, if not to avoid imitating it? This is certainly not the conclusion to which I wished to lead the reader. However, many people claim that Sir Robert Peel’s enterprise was disastrous, and their claim is all the more seemingly plausible since, precisely from the day that tax reform was inaugurated, a long and terrible commercial and financial crisis occurred to afflict Great Britain.

But first of all, I must point out that even if the recent economic disasters might be attributed at least in part to Sir Robert Peel’s reform, people should not be able to argue against the one I am proposing, since these two reforms differ signally. What they have in common is this: they seek the ulterior increase of revenue in the prosperity of the masses, that is to say, in the reduction of taxes as far as levels are concerned. How they differ is in this: Sir Robert Peel arranged the resources for facing up to the difficulties of transition through the establishment of a new tax. The resources I am calling for come through a steep reduction in expenditure. Sir Robert was so far from orienting his ideas in this direction that, in the very document in which he set out his financial plan before an attentive England, he was requesting a considerable increase in subsidies for the development of military and naval forces.

However, since the first part of these two systems merge in that they aim to establish the ample funding of the public treasury over the long term by relieving the working classes, is it not obvious that a reduction in expenditure or the pure and simple abolition of taxes is more in harmony with this thinking than shifting the tax?

I cannot help thinking that the second element of Peel’s plan was such as to contradict the first. Doubtless it did a great deal of good to spread the tax burden better. But when all is said and done, when you know a little about this subject, when you have studied the natural mechanism of taxes, their rebounds and repercussions, you know full well that what the tax authorities require from one class is paid for the most part by another. It is not possible for English workers not to have been affected, either directly or indirectly, by income tax. Thus, though they were relieved on the one hand, they were to a certain extent afflicted on the other.

But let us leave these considerations aside and examine whether, in the face of the clear facts that explain the English crisis so naturally, it is possible Edition: current; Page: [297] to attribute it to the reform. The eternal false reasoning of those who are determined to incriminate something involves them in attributing to it all the evils that happen in the world. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc.13 The preconceived idea is and always will be the scourge of reason since, by its very nature, it flees the truth when it has the misfortune of glimpsing it.

England has had other commercial crises than the one it has just gone through. All have been explained by obvious causes. Once she was seized by a fever of ill-conceived speculation. Immense amounts of capital deserted production and went down the road of American loans and the mining of precious metal. The result was great upheaval in industry and finance. On another occasion, the harvest failed and the consequences are easy to imagine. When a considerable portion of the work of an entire nation has been directed toward the creation of its own subsistence, when the people have ploughed, harrowed, sown, and watered the earth with sweat for a year to make the harvest grow, if, at the time it is due to be gathered in, it is destroyed by a plague, they are faced with two alternatives: either to die of hunger or to import unexpectedly and rapidly huge amounts of food products. All the ordinary operations of production have to be interrupted in order for the capital involved in them to be freed to meet this gigantic and unexpected operation that cannot be postponed. What a waste of energy! What a loss of assets! And how can a crisis not result? This also happens when the cotton crop fails in the United States, for the simple reason that the factories cannot be as active in operation when they lack cotton as when they have it and it is never with impunity that stagnation spreads to the manufacturing districts of Great Britain. Insurrections in Ireland and unrest on the continent that disrupt British trade and reduce consumer power in its customers are also obvious causes of financial hindrance, difficulty, and disturbance.

The economic history of England teaches us that just one of these causes has always been enough to trigger a crisis in that country.

Well, it so happened that just at the moment when Sir Robert Peel introduced the reform, all these plagues occurred to afflict England at the same time and with a degree of intensity that had hitherto been unknown.

The result was great suffering for the people and the immediate broad-casting Edition: current; Page: [298] of the preconceived idea: You see! It is the reform that is crushing the people!

However, I put the question: Was it really the financial and commercial reform that led to two successive losses of harvest in 1845 and 1846 and forced England to spend two billion to replace the wheat lost?

Was it really the financial and commercial reform that caused the destruction of the potato harvest in Ireland for four years and forced England to feed a starving people at its own expense?

Was it really the financial and commercial reform that ruined the cotton crop in two successive years in America, and do people believe that maintaining import taxes would have been an effective remedy?

Was it really the financial and commercial reform that gave rise to and developed railway mania14 and suddenly removed two or three billion from productive and customary work to throw them into enterprises that could not be completed, a folly that, according to all observers, has done more current harm than all the other plagues combined?

Was it really the financial and commercial reform that lit the fires of revolution on the continent and reduced the absorption of all sorts of British products?

Ah, when I think of the unheard-of alliance of destructive agents working together in a common direction, this tightly woven fabric of disasters of all sorts, accumulated by a fate without precedent in a limited space of time, I cannot help thinking, contrary to the preconceived idea: “What would have become of England, its power, its greatness, and its wealth, if Providence had not raised up a man at this precise and solemn moment? Would not everything have been swept away in a terrible convulsion?” Yes, I sincerely believe that the reform, blamed for the misfortunes in England, neutralized part of them. And the English people understand this, since although the most sensitive part of this reform, free trade, has been subjected right from its inception to the most difficult and unexpected tests, popular faith in it has not been shaken, and at the time I am writing this the work begun is continuing and progressing toward its glorious fulfillment.

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Let us therefore return from across the strait, and may confidence accompany us; there is no need to leave it on the other side of the Channel.

We are facing the revenue budget. The Assembly has already lowered the tax on salt and the carriage of letters. In my opinion, it should do the same for wines and spirits. Under this heading, I consider that the state should agree to lose fifty million. As far as possible it should spread the remaining tax over the whole of the wine consumed. People will understand that thirty to forty million spread over forty-five million hectoliters will be much easier to pay than one hundred million concentrated on a quantity three times less. The expenses and above all the hindrances resulting from the current collection system will also have to be reduced.

The state should also agree to reduce duties on sugar and coffee considerably. Increased consumption will solve the fiscal and colonial questions simultaneously.

Another great and popular measure would be the abolition of city tolls.15 On this subject, I have been struck by the advantage that might be drawn from an opinion put forward by M. Guichard. Everyone acknowledges that an income tax would be just and in accordance with proper principles. If people hesitate, it is because of the problems of executing it. There is great fear, which I think is justified, of the heavy responsibility that the importunate investigations essential for this tax would bring to bear on the state. It is not a good thing for a republican government to appear to taxpayers to be an avid inquisitor. In local districts, wealth is known about. It can be assessed within the family and if its holders were given the choice of establishing income tax with the specific aim of replacing city tolls, it is likely that this transformation, based on justice, would be received favorably. In the long run, France would thus be preparing a register of wealth held in movable assets and the means of leading its tax system down the path of truth. I do not think that a measure of this sort, which would also have the advantage of triggering decentralization, would be beyond the means of a clever statesman. It would certainly not have made Napoléon retreat.

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I am obliged to say something about the customs; and to shelter myself from the prejudices that I can see arising from here, I will consider them only from the fiscal point of view, since in any case it is just a question of the budget. It is not that I am not strongly tempted to make a sortie toward freedom of exchange, but will I not be compared to the brave general who was famous for his predilection for the care of horses? Wherever on the intellectual horizon you place the point of departure of the conversation, whether on chemistry, physics, astronomy, music, or the navy, you will see him rapidly mounting the saddle horse and you will be obliged to mount it behind him. We all have our pet subjects, our hobbyhorses in a Shandyan16 style. My pet subject, and why should I not admit it, is freedom, and if it so happens that I defend freedom to trade in particular, it is because, of all the freedoms, it is the one most misunderstood and most compromised.

Let us therefore examine the customs services from the fiscal point of view; and may the reader pardon me if, escaping tangentially, I touch a little on the questions of right, property, and freedom.

One of the most sincere and clever protectionists in this country, M. Ferrier,17 admitted that, if one wished to retain a fiscal character for the customs, it would be possible to draw twice the revenue for the treasury. It raises about one hundred million; therefore, independently of the charge imposed on us as consumers by protectionism, it makes us lose one hundred million as taxpayers. For it is perfectly clear that what the tax authorities refuse to recover by means of the customs services, it has to raise through other taxes. This mechanism is worth the trouble of examination.

Let us suppose that the treasury requires one hundred. Let us also suppose that, if foreign iron could enter on payment of a reasonable duty, it would provide the revenue with five. However, a sector of industrialists claims that it would be to its advantage for foreign iron not to be admitted. Taking their side, the law decrees prohibition, or what amounts to the same thing, a prohibitive duty. Consequently, any opportunity to raise a tax is deliberately sacrificed. The five do not come in and the treasury is left with only ninety-five. But since we have accepted that it needs one hundred, we have to agree to its taking five from us in some other way, on salt, the post, or tobacco.

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And what happens for iron also happens for all imaginable forms of consumer products.

In the face of this strange dispensation, what is the situation of the consumer-taxpayer?

It is this:

1. He pays considerable taxes, which are intended to maintain a huge army of employees at the frontier, an army that is established there on the instigation of and for the account and benefit of ironmasters or any other privileged person whose business it is furthering.

2. He pays a higher than market price for iron.

3. He is forbidden to make the thing in exchange for which the foreigner would have delivered his iron, for to prevent an asset from being imported is also to prevent by the same measure another asset from being exported.

4. He pays a tax to fill the void at the treasury, for to prevent an import from entering is to prevent tax being collected, and since the needs of the tax authorities are established, should a tax fail to be collected, it has to be replaced by another.

This certainly is a strange position for a consumer-taxpayer to be in. Is it more unfortunate than ridiculous or more ridiculous than unfortunate? It might be a problem to answer this.

And what is the reason for all of this? For an ironmaster to reap from his work and capital no extraordinary profit but only to enable him to experience even greater difficulties in production!

When then will decisions be taken in matters like this in consideration of the majority and not the minority? The interest of the majority, this is the economic rule that never goes wrong since it merges with justice.

One thing has to be clearly agreed upon, which is that in order for protection to be just without ceasing to be disastrous, it would need at least to be equal for all. However, is this possible, even in the abstract?

Men trade products with each other, or products in return for services, or services for services. It may even be asserted that, as products have value only because of the services they generate, everything is reduced to the mutuality of services.

Well, the customs service can obviously protect only the types of service whose value is incorporated in material products that can be stopped or seized at the frontier. It is radically incapable of protecting the direct Edition: current; Page: [302] services provided by doctors, lawyers, priests, magistrates, soldiers, traders, men of letters, artists, or artisans, who already constitute a considerable part of the population, by raising the value of the services. It is equally powerless to protect men who let out their work, since they do not sell products, but provide services. Here then we have all workers or journeymen excluded from the alleged benefits of protectionism. But while protection is of no benefit to them, it damages them, and here we have to identify clearly the counterblow that those protected should feel themselves.

The only two classes protected, and to a very unequal degree, are manufacturers and farmers. These two classes see the customs as providential, and nevertheless we are witnesses to the fact that they never cease to bewail their distress. It must be that protection is not as effective for them as they had hoped. Who would dare to say that agriculture and manufacturing are more prosperous in those countries most protected, such as France, Spain, or the Roman states, than in those nations that have held their freedom less cheap, such as the Swiss, the English, the Belgians, the Dutch, and the Tuscans?

What is happening with regard to protection is something similar or rather identical to what we have confirmed just now in connection with taxes. In the same way that there is a limit to profitable taxation, there is a limit to profitable protection. This limit is the complete destruction of the ability to consume, a destruction that protection tends to bring, like taxes. The tax authorities prosper with the prosperity of taxpayers. In the same way, the value of an industry is based only on the wealth of its customers. From that it follows that, when the tax authorities or a monopoly seek to develop themselves by means whose inevitable effect is to ruin consumers, both enter the same vicious circle. There comes a time when the more they increase the level of tax, the more they reduce the yield. Those who are protected cannot assess the state of depression that weighs upon their industry, in spite of the favors of the protectionist dispensation. As in the case of the tax authorities, they seek a remedy in making these arrangements even more extreme. In the end they should ask themselves whether it is not the favors themselves that are oppressing them. They should contemplate the half or two-thirds of the population that is reduced, as a result of these unjust favors, to doing without iron, meat, cloth, or wheat, building carts with branches of willow, clothing Edition: current; Page: [303] themselves in homespun, eating millet like birds or chestnuts like less poetic creatures!18

Since I have let myself be drawn into this discussion, allow me to end it with a sort of apologue.

In a royal park, there was a host of small ponds, all communicating with one another through underground conduits, so that the water had the invincible tendency to reach a uniform level. These reservoirs were supplied by a large canal. One of them, slightly more ambitious, wanted to attract to itself a major part of the supply intended for all. This should not have caused much of a problem in view of the inevitable leveling that would have followed the attempt, if the means thought up by the greedy and reckless reservoir had not led to an inevitable loss of liquid in the supply canal. We can guess what happened. The level decreased everywhere, even in the favored reservoir. It said to itself, since in apologues, there is nothing that does not speak, even reservoirs: “It is very strange, I draw to myself more water than before; I succeed for a fleeting moment in raising myself above the level of my peers and yet I see with distress that we are all moving, I along with the rest, toward total desiccation.” This reservoir, doubtless as ignorant of hydraulics as it was of morals, closed its eyes to two circumstances: the first being the underground communication of all the reservoirs with each other, an invincible obstacle to its being able to benefit exclusively and permanently from its injustice; the other being the general loss of liquid inherent in the means it had thought up, which was to lead inevitably to a general and continuous lowering of the level.

Well, I say that the social order also exhibits these two circumstances and that those who do not take them into account are reasoning incorrectly. First of all, between all forms of production, there are hidden communications, transmissions of work and capital, which do not allow one of them to raise its normal level above the rest indefinitely. Second, in the means thought up to carry out the injustice, that is to say, in protectionism, there is the radical ill that it generates an unredeemable loss of total wealth; and from these two circumstances, it follows that the level of well-being decreases everywhere, even within the industries that are protected, like the level of the water in the greedy and stupid reservoir.

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I was fully aware that free trade would divert me from my path. Obsessions! Obsessions! Your sway is irresistible! But let us return to the tax authorities.

I will say to those who support protectionism: In view of the pressing needs of the Republic, will you not agree to set a limit to your greed? What! When the treasury is in desperate straits, when bankruptcy threatens to engulf your wealth and security, when the customs service offers a truly providential means of rescue by being able to fill the public coffers without causing harm to the masses, but on the contrary, relieving them of the weight oppressing them, will you remain inflexible in your selfishness? On your own initiative, at this solemn and decisive moment, you ought to make the sacrifice, as you call it and which you sincerely believe it to be, of part of your privileges on the altar of the fatherland. You would be rewarded by public esteem and, I dare to forecast this, what is more you will also gain by way of material prosperity.

Therefore, is it too much to ask you to substitute duties of 20 to 30 percent for prohibition, which has become incompatible with our constitutional law? A reduction by half of the duties on iron and steel, those sinews of production; on coal, on which industry, so to speak, feeds; on wool, flax, and cotton, the materials used by labor; and on wheat and meat, the basis of strength and life?

But I see that you are becoming reasonable,19 you welcome my humble request, and we can now cast a glance, both morally and financially, at our now properly rectified budget.

First of all, here are many things that have at last come within the reach of the hands or lips of the people: salt, letter post, wines and spirits, sugar, coffee, iron, steel, fuel, wool, flax, cotton, meat, and bread! If we add to this list the abolition of city tolls and the profound modification if not the total abolition of the terrible law of recruitment, a terror and plague in our countryside, I ask you, will the Republic not have sunk its roots in all the fibers of popular adhesion? Will it be easy to shake? Will it require five hundred thousand bayonets to be the terror of the parties . . . or their hope? Shall Edition: current; Page: [305] we not be protected from these terrible upheavals with which, it seems, the very air is charged right now? Might we not conceive the justified hope that a feeling of well-being and the awareness that the power has at last firmly entered into the path of justice will regenerate production, confidence, security, and credit? Is it an illusion to think that these beneficial causes will react on our finances more surely than a surfeit of taxes and hindrances might?

And, as for our current, immediate financial situation, let us see how it will be affected.

Here are the reductions that will result from the proposed system:

2 million, post
45 million, salt
50 million, wines and spirits
33 million, sugar, coffee, so 130,000,000
It is not too much to hope for 30 million more to be deducted through an increase in general consumption and by the customs carrying out their fiscal responsibilities, so 30,000,000 francs
Total of the loss of revenue caused by the reform 100,000,000 francs

——A loss that should decrease, by its very nature, from year to year.

To decrease taxes (which does not always mean decreasing revenue), this is then the first half of the financial program of the Republic. You will say: “This is very bold, faced with the deficit.” And I will reply: “No, this is not boldness, it is prudence. What is bold, what is reckless and senseless is to continue down the path that brings us closer to the abyss. See where you are! You have made no secret of it, indirect taxes are causing you worry, and as for direct taxes themselves, you count on collecting them only if you employ a militia. Are we in the world of taking aim and military sallies? How could things have reached this stage? Here are one hundred men; they all pay a subscription to set up, for their security, an apparatus of enforcement, a common force of their own. Little by little, this common force is diverted from its purposes and it is made responsible for a host of unreasonable functions. Because of this, the number of men who live off this subscription increases, the subscription itself increases, and the number of those paying it decreases. Discontent and disaffection arise and what will be done? Return the common force to its original purpose? That would be too commonplace and, people say, too bold. Our statesmen are cleverer; they think of decreasing still further the number of those paying to increase the number of those Edition: current; Page: [306] being paid. We need new taxes, they say, to maintain the military and new militias to collect the new taxes! And people do not see a vicious circle in this! We thus reach the fine situation in which half of the citizens will be occupied in repressing and holding the other half to ransom. This is what is known as wise and practical policies. All the rest is just utopia. Give us a few years more, say the financiers; allow us to push the system to its limits and you will see that we will at last achieve the famous balanced budget that we have been pursuing for so long and that has been upset precisely by the procedures that we have been following for the last twenty years.

It is therefore not as paradoxical as it appears at first glance to take an opposite course and to seek a balance through the reduction of taxes. Will such balance be less worthy of its name because instead of seeking it at 1.5 billion we achieve it at 1.2?

But this first part of the republican program makes a commanding appeal to its essential complement: a reduction in expenditure. Without this complement, the system is utopian, I agree. With this complement, I challenge anyone, other than those involved, to dare to say that it does not go right to the heart of the matter, and by the path that holds the least danger.

I add that the reduction in expenditure must be greater than the revenue; without this, we would be pursuing the leveling in vain.

Finally, it has to be said, a group of measures like these cannot provide all the results we have the right to expect of them in a single financial year.

We have seen, with regard to revenue, that to instill in it this force for growth whose basis lies in general prosperity, we had to begin by reducing it. This means that time is needed to develop this force.

This is equally true for expenditure; its reduction can be only gradual. Here is one reason for this, among others.

When a government has raised its expenditure to a level that is swollen and burdensome, this means in other words that many lives depend on its prodigality and feed on it. The idea of achieving savings without upsetting anyone carries a contradiction within it. To use sufferings as an argument against reform, which of necessity implies these sufferings, is to totally reject any act of reparation and to say: “Because an injustice has been introduced into the world, it is proper for it to be perpetuated forever.” This is an eternal sophism of those who idolize abuse.

However, from the truth that individual suffering is the necessary consequence of any reform, it does not follow that it is not the legislator’s duty to alleviate it as far as he can. For my part, I am not one of those who hold that, Edition: current; Page: [307] when a member of society has been attracted by society to a career, when he has grown old in it and made it his specialty, when he is incapable of earning his living from another occupation, society should be able to cast him out, with neither hearth nor home. Any loss of particular employment therefore imposes on society a temporary responsibility on grounds of humanity and, in my view, of strict justice.

It follows from this that the modifications made to the expenditure budget cannot produce results immediately, any more than those made to the revenue budget. They are germs whose nature is to develop, and the overall scheme involves a decrease of expenditure from year to year by way of specific reductions and revenue that increases from year to year in parallel with general prosperity, so that the final result ought to be a balanced budget or a surplus.

As for the alleged disaffection that might reveal itself in the very numerous sector of public servants, I have to confess that, with the gradual changes that I have just mentioned, I am not afraid of this. Besides, this scruple is strange. As far as I know, it has never stopped massive destitutions after each revolution. And yet, what a difference there is! To dismiss an employee in order to give his job to another is more than upsetting his interest, it is wounding his dignity and his acute sense of right. But when the abolition of an occupation, fairly managed, results in the loss of jobs, it may cause harm but will not enrage. The wound is less sharp, and the person affected by it is consoled by consideration of the public good.

I needed to put these reflections before the reader when speaking about deep reforms, which would of necessity lead to the laying off of many of our fellow citizens.

I will not review all the articles of expenditure that I consider it to be useful and good policy to cut. The budget reflects nothing but politics. It swells or decreases depending on whether public opinion requires more or less from the state. What good would it do to show that the elimination of such and such a government department would lead to this or that major saving if the taxpayer himself prefers the department to the saving? There are reforms that have to be preceded by lengthy debates and a slow preparation of public opinion, and I do not see why I should go down a path in which it is clear that public opinion would not follow me. This very day the National Assembly took the decision to draw up the first budget of the Republic. It has a short and very limited time only in which to do this. With a view to setting out a reform that is immediately practicable, I have to turn away from Edition: current; Page: [308] the general and philosophical considerations that I first thought of putting before the reader. I will limit myself to indicating them.

What postpones any radical financial reform to a far distant future is that in France people do not like freedom. They do not like feeling responsible for themselves and have no confidence in their own dynamism; they feel reassured only when they feel the pressure of government pulling strings on all sides, and it is precisely these pullings of strings that are so expensive.

If, for example, people had faith in the freedom of education, what would need to be done other than abolishing the public education budget?

If people really valued freedom of conscience, how would they achieve it other than by abolishing the budget for religious practice?20

If people understood that farming is improved by farmers and trade by traders, they would come to the conclusion that the budget for agriculture and commerce is superfluous and is something that the most advanced nations are careful not to inflict on themselves.

If, on a few points, like surveillance, the state needs to intervene with regard to education, religious practice, or commerce, an extra division in the ministry of the interior would be enough; we do not need three ministries to do this.

Thus, freedom is the first and most fertile source and spring of savings.

However, this spring is not made for our lips. Why? Solely because public opinion rejects it.21

Our children will therefore continue, under the monopoly of the university, to quench their thirst on false Greek and Roman ideas, to be imbued Edition: current; Page: [309] with the warlike and revolutionary spirit of Latin authors, to scan the licentious verses of Horace, and to become unsuited to modern life in society. We will continue not to be free and as a result to pay for our servitude, since peoples can be held in servitude only at great expense.

We will continue to see farming and commerce languish and succumb under the yoke of our restrictive laws and, what is more, pay the cost of this torpor, for all the hindrances, regulations, and useless formalities can be carried out only by agents of government enforcement, and the agents of the state can live only through the budget.

And, it must be repeated, the harm is without a remedy that can currently be applied, since public opinion attributes to oppression all the intellectual and industrial development that this oppression has not succeeded in stifling.

An idea that is as strange as it is disastrous has taken hold of people’s minds. When it is a question of politics, people assume that the social engine, Edition: current; Page: [310] if I can call it this, is in accordance with individual interest and opinion. We cling to Rousseau’s axiom, “The general will cannot err.” And on this basis, we decree universal suffrage with enthusiasm.

However, from all other points of view, we adopt exactly the opposite hypothesis. We do not accept that the driving force of progress lies in individuality, in its natural yearning for well-being, a yearning that is increasingly Edition: current; Page: [311] enlightened by intelligence and guided by experience. No. We start off from the concept that mankind is divided into two: first, there are individuals who are inert and deprived of any dynamism or stimulus to progress or who obey depraved impulses which, left to themselves, reduce them to absolute evil; and second, there is a collective being, a common force, the government in short, to which is attributed inborn knowledge, a natural passion for good, and the mission to change the direction of individual tendencies. We assume that, if they were free, men would avoid all forms of education, religion, or production or, what is worse, that they would seek out education to attain error, religion to end up in atheism, and work to consummate their ruin. This being so, it is necessary for individuals to be subject to the regulatory action of the collective being, which, however, is none other than the coming together of these individuals themselves. Well, I ask you, if the natural inclinations of all the fractions tend toward evil, how will the natural inclinations of the whole tend toward good? If all the innate forces of man are directed toward nothingness, on what will the government, made up of men, take its point of support in order to change this direction?22

Be that as it may, as long as this strange theory remains in force, we will have to give up freedom and the convenient economies that it brings. We ought to pay for our chains when we love them, given that the state never gives us anything for nothing, not even irons.

The budget is not only the whole of politics, it is also in many respects the moral code of the people. It is the mirror in which, like Renaud, we might see the image and punishment of our preconceived ideas, our vices, and our wild pretensions. Here again, there are torrents of wrong expenditure that we are reduced to leaving to run, since they are caused by leanings which we are not ready to abandon; what would be more unreal than to wish to neutralize an effect while the cause continues to exist? I will mention, among other things, what I do not fear to call, even if the word sounds harsh, the spirit of begging, which has spread to all classes, the rich as much as the poor.23

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Certainly, in the circle of private relations, the French character does not fear comparison with regard to independence and pride. God forbid that I should cast a slur on my own country and even less that I should calumniate it! However, I do not know how it has happened that the same men who, even when pressed by distress, would blush to hold out a hand to their fellow men, lose all their scruples when the state intervenes and averts the gaze of their consciences from the contemptibility of such action. As soon as the request is not addressed to individual largesse, as soon as the state is the intermediary of the work, it appears that the dignity of the supplicant is spared, that begging is no longer shameful nor plunder an injustice. Farmers, manufacturers, traders, shipowners, artists, singers, dancers, men of letters, civil servants of all sorts, entrepreneurs, suppliers, or bankers, everyone in France wants something, and everyone expects the budget to provide. And soon the whole nation en masse has joined in. One person wants positions, another pensions, a third premiums, a fourth subsidies, a fifth inducements, a sixth restrictions, a seventh credit, and an eighth work. The whole of society is rising up to snatch a share of the budget in one form or another, and in its Californian fever it forgets that the budget is not a Sacramento where nature has deposited gold; the budget contains only what this mendicant society has itself put into it. Society forgets that the generosity of the government can never equal its avidity since, on the basis of this largesse, it has to keep back enough to pay for the twin services of tax collection and distribution.

In order to give these rather abject arrangements the authority and appearance of regularity, they have been attached to what is known as the principle of solidarity, a word that, used in this way, means nothing other than the effort of all the citizens to despoil each other through the costly intervention of the state. However, it can be understood that once the spirit of mendacity becomes systematized and almost an administrative science, imagination knows no bounds with regard to ruinous institutions.

But, I agree, we can do nothing at the moment in this respect and I end with this question: When the spirit of begging is taken to the point at which Edition: current; Page: [313] it incites the entire nation to plunder the budget, do people not think that it compromises political security even more than public resources?

For the same reason, another considerable saving is still insuperably forbidden to us. I refer to Algeria. We have to yield and pay until the nation has understood that to transport one hundred men to a colony and at the same time transport ten times the capital that would maintain them in France is to relieve nobody and to tax everyone.

Let us therefore seek our means of salvation elsewhere.

The reader will acknowledge that, for a utopian, I am easy to deal with when it comes to retrenchment. There are many more and even better examples that I could mention. Restrictions to our most precious freedoms, the mania for seeking special treatment, an infatuation with a disastrous conquest: in all this I have given way to public opinion. Let it now allow me to take my revenge and to be slightly radical with regard to foreign policy.

For finally, if public opinion intends to close the door to any reform, if it has decided in advance to keep everything that exists and to allow for no change whatever in anything that relates to our expenditure, my whole argument will crumble and all financial plans will be powerless; all that remains to us is to leave the people to bow down under the weight of taxes and walk with lowered heads toward bankruptcy, revolution, disorganization, and social conflict.

In talking about our foreign policy, I will start by clearly establishing the following two proposals, outside of which I make so bold as to say there is no salvation.

  • 1. The recourse to brute force is not necessary and damages the influence of France.
  • 2. The recourse to brute force is not necessary and damages our internal and external security.

As a consequence of these two proposals there arises a third, which is:

We have to disarm on land and sea as quickly as possible.

False patriots! Enjoy yourselves to the full. There was a day on which you called me a traitor because I demanded freedom; what will happen now that I am invoking peace?24

Here again, public opinion is an obstacle to the first item. It has been saturated Edition: current; Page: [314] by the following words: national greatness, power, influence, preponderance, and dominance. France is repeatedly told that she must not retreat from the rank that she occupies among the nations; her pride having been addressed, it is now time to turn to her interest. She is told that she must show evidence of strength to support useful negotiations, that the French flag must be displayed on every ocean to protect our trade and control distant markets.

What is all of that? An inflated balloon that a pinprick will be enough to deflate.

Where is influence today? Is it at the mouths of cannon or the points of bayonets? No, it is in ideas, institutions, and the sight of their success.

Peoples affect each other through the arts, literature, philosophy, journalism, trading transactions, and above all by example, and if they also act on occasion through constraint and threats, I cannot believe that this type of influence is likely to develop the principles that encourage humanity to progress.

The rebirth of literature and the arts in Italy, the revolution of 1688 in England, and the Declaration of Independence in the United States have doubtless contributed to the outburst of generosity that enabled our fathers to accomplish such great things in 1789. In all this, where do we see the hand of brute force?

People say: “The triumph of French arms at the turn of this century has broadcast our ideas everywhere and left the imprint of our politics on the entire surface of Europe.”

But do we know, can we know what would have happened in other circumstances? If France had not been attacked, if the revolution pushed to the brink by resistance had not slipped into a bloodbath, if it had not ended up in military despotism, if, instead of grieving, terrifying, and disrupting Europe, it had shown it the sublime sight of a great people peacefully accomplishing its destiny, with rational and beneficial institutions ensuring the good fortune of its citizens, is there anyone who would assert that an example like this would not have aroused the ardor of the oppressed and weakened the aversions of oppressors in our vicinity? Is there anyone who would say that the triumph of democracy in Europe would not now be further advanced? Let us calculate therefore all the waste of time, just ideas, wealth, and genuine force that these major wars have cost democracy and take account of the doubts they have raised for a quarter of a century about popular rights and about political truth!

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And then, how is it that there is not enough impartiality in the depths of our national conscience to understand how much our pretensions to impose an idea by force wound the hearts of our brothers abroad? What! We, the most sensitive people in Europe, we who, rightly, would not allow the intervention of an English regiment even if it were to erect a statue to freedom on the soil of our country and teach us social perfection itself! When we all, up to the old rubble of Koblenz,25 are in agreement on this point, that we would need to unite to break the grip of the foreign hand that comes bearing arms to interfere in our sorry debates, it is we who constantly have this irritating word on our lips: preponderance, and we do not know how to show freedom to our brothers other than with a sword in our hand aimed at their breasts! How have we come to imagine that the human heart is not the same everywhere, that it does not everywhere have the same pride or the same horror of dependence?

But last, where is this illiberal preponderance that we pursue so blindly and, in my view, with such great injustice, and have we ever seized hold of it? I can see the efforts clearly but not the results. I can see clearly that for a long time we have had a huge army and naval power that crush the people, ruin workers, generate disaffection, and drive us to bankruptcy. They threaten us with terrible calamities on which the very eyes of imagination tremble to gaze. I see all of this, but I cannot see preponderance anywhere, and if we have any weight in the destiny of Europe it is not through brute force but in spite of it. Proud of our prodigious military state, we have quarreled with the United States26 and we yielded; we have had arguments relating to Egypt and we yielded; from year to year we have made promises to Poland and Italy and not kept them. Why? Because the deployment of our forces has provoked a similar deployment throughout Europe. Once this happened, we could no longer doubt that the slightest combat concerning the most futile cause might threaten to take on the proportions of a world war, and Edition: current; Page: [316] humanity as well as prudence has enjoined statesmen to decline any such responsibility.

What is remarkable and very instructive is that the people who have pushed this pretentious and cantankerous policy the furthest, the English, who have led us on by their example and perhaps made it a hard necessity for us, have reaped the same disappointments from it. No nation has gone so far as they in laying exclusive claim to regulate the balance of power in Europe, and this balance has been compromised ten times without their moving. The English arrogated to themselves the monopoly of colonies, and we have taken Algiers and the Marquise Islands without their moving. It is true that in this they may have been suspected of having, with apparent ill humor but secret joy, seen us attach two balls and chains to our feet. They claimed to be the owners of Oregon and the patron of Texas, and the United States have taken Oregon, Texas, and part of Mexico to cap it all, without their reacting. All this proves to us that, while the minds of governments are full of war, those of the governed are full of peace, and as for me, I do not see why we should have carried out a democratic revolution if not to ensure the triumph of a spirit of democracy, the working democracy which indeed pays the costs of a military system but can only ever draw from it ruin, danger, and oppression.

I therefore believe that the time has come when the entire genius of the French Revolution must come together, make its presence felt, and glorify itself solemnly through one of these acts of greatness, loyalty, progress, self-belief, and confidence in its strength, on the likes of which the sun has never shone. I believe that the time has come when France should resolutely declare that it sees the solidarity of peoples in the linking of their interests and the communication of their ideas and not in the interjection of brute force. And to give this declaration irresistible weight—for what is a mere manifesto, however eloquent it is?—I believe that the time has come for it to dissolve this brute force itself.

If our beloved and glorious country took the initiative in Europe of carrying out this revolution, what would its consequences be?

First of all, to enter into my subject, here at one fell swoop our finances would be in balance. Here is the first part of my reform immediately put into practice. Taxes would be relieved. Work, confidence, well-being, credit, and consumption would reach down to the masses. The republic would be loved, admired, and consolidated through the strength given to institutions Edition: current; Page: [317] by public support. The threatening ghost of bankruptcy would be banished from people’s thoughts. Political upheavals would be a thing of the past. At last, France would be happy and glorious among nations, with the irresistible force of her example shining all around her.

Not only would the achievement of the democratic task inflame hearts abroad at the sight of this spectacle, but the spectacle itself would also certainly make that achievement easier. Elsewhere, as in our country, it is difficult to make people love revolutions that result in new taxes. Elsewhere, as in our country, people feel the need to break out of this circle. Our threatening attitude is, for foreign governments, a continuing reason or pretext for extracting money from their people and for raising a soldiery. How much easier would the work of regeneration be made all over Europe if it could be accomplished under the influence of tax reforms, which are fundamentally questions of approval and disapproval and questions of life and death for new institutions!

What are the objections to this?

National dignity. I have already indicated the reply to this. Is it to benefit their dignity that France and England, after being crushed by taxes to finance their military might, have always refused to do what they have announced they would? In this manner of understanding national dignity, there is a trace of our Roman education. At the time when peoples lived from plunder, it was important for them to inspire terror far and wide at the sight of their mighty armies. Is this also true for those who base their progress on work? The American people are reproached for a lack of dignity. If this is true, it is at least not so in American foreign policy, to which a tradition of peace and nonintervention gives such an imposing character of justice and grandeur.

Everyone at home, everyone for himself is the policy of selfishness, that is what people will say. A terrible objection if it had any common sense. Yes, everyone at home, when it comes to brute force, but let the influence of moral strength, intellectual and economic, emanating from each national center freely mingle and their contact give out light and fraternity for the benefit of the human race. It is very strange that we are accused of selfishness, we who always support expansion against restriction. Our code is this: “The least possible contact between governments, the most contact possible between peoples.” Why? Because contact between governments compromises peace, whereas contact between peoples guarantees it.

Security abroad. Yes, I agree that there is an interlocutory question to be Edition: current; Page: [318] resolved. Are we or are we not threatened with invasion? There are some who sincerely believe that there is danger. Other kings, they say, are too interested in extinguishing the revolutionary flame in France not to flood it with their soldiers if France disarms. Those who think this way are right to demand that our forces be maintained. However, they have to accept the consequences. If we maintain our forces, we cannot reduce our expenditure significantly and we should not reduce taxes; it would even be our duty to increase them, since budgets are settled in deficit each year. If we increase our taxes there is one thing of which we are not sure, and that is that we will increase our revenue; one thing, however, on which there is no possible doubt is that we will generate disaffection, hatred, and resistance in this country, and we will have ensured security abroad only at the expense of security at home.

For my part, I would not hesitate to vote in favor of disarmament, since I do not believe there will be invasions. Where will they come from? Spain? Italy? Prussia? Austria? That is impossible. There remain England and Russia. England! She has already tried the experiment, and twenty-two billion of debt on which workers are still paying the interest is a lesson that cannot be lost. Russia! That is just an illusion. Contact with France is not what she is seeking but rather what she is avoiding. And if Emperor Nicholas thought of sending two hundred thousand Muscovites to us, I sincerely believe that what it would be best for us to do would be to welcome them, have them taste the sweetness of our wines, show them our streets, our shops, our museums, the happiness of our people, and the gentleness and equitableness of our penal laws, following which we would say to them: “Retrace your path to your steppes as quickly as possible and tell your fellow men what you have seen.”

Protection for trade. People say, “Do we not need a powerful navy to open out new routes for our trade and control distant markets?” Truly the ways of government toward trade are strange. They start by hindering it, hampering it, restricting it, and stifling it at huge expense. Then if a fraction of it escapes, that same government becomes deeply attached to such few crumbs as have succeeded in passing through the nets of the customs service. We want to protect traders, they say, and to do this we will seize 250 million from the public in order to cover the oceans with ships and cannon. But first of all, 99 percent of French trade is carried out with countries in which our flag has never appeared nor will ever appear. Have we got trading posts in England, the United States, Belgium, Spain, the Zollverein, or Russia? This Edition: current; Page: [319] must therefore concern Mayotte and Nosibé;27 that is to say, more is being taken away from us in taxes in francs than we are receiving in centimes through this trade.

And then, what is controlling the markets? Just one thing: low prices. Send products that cost five sous more than similar products from England or Switzerland anywhere you like and ships and cannon will not ensure that you sell them. Send products that cost five sous less there and you will not need cannon or ships to sell them. Do we not know that Switzerland, which does not have a single boat, unless there are some on its lakes, has even ousted from Gibraltar some English fabrics, in spite of the guard that is on watch at its gates? If, therefore, low prices are the true protectors of trade, how does our government go about achieving them? First of all, it raises the cost of raw materials, all tools of the trade, and all consumer products through customs duties; then, to compensate, it burdens us with taxes on the pretext of sending its navy to seek outlets. This is barbarism, the most barbaric barbarism, and it will not be long before people say: “The French in the nineteenth century had very strange trading systems; they ought at least to have refrained from considering themselves to be in the century of enlightenment.”

Balance of power in Europe. We need an army to keep a watch on the balance of power in Europe. The English say the same, and balance becomes what the wind of revolution makes it. The subject is too wide-ranging for me to tackle it here. I will say just a little about it. “Let us mistrust metaphor,” said Paul-Louis,28 and he was very right. Here it is, as presented to us on three occasions in the form of balances. First of all, we have the balance of the European powers, then the balance of powers, and finally the balance of trade. Volumes would be needed to list the evils that have resulted from these alleged balances, and I am just writing an article.

Internal security. The worst enemy of logic, after metaphor, is the vicious circle. Well, here we are encountering one vicious in the highest degree. “Let us crush the taxpayers in order to have a great army, and then let us have a great army to contain the taxpayers.” Is this not the position we are in? What internal security can we expect from a financial system whose effect is to generate general disaffection and whose result is bankruptcy and its Edition: current; Page: [320] political consequences? I myself believe that if we allowed the workers to breathe, if they had the feeling that all that could be done for them was being done, the disruptors of public peace would have very few grounds for disturbance at their disposal. Certainly the National Guard, the police, and the gendarmerie would be enough to contain them. And last, we have to take account of the terrors that are specific to the age in which we are living. They are very natural and very justified. Let us strike a bargain with them and allocate two hundred thousand men to them until times improve. You can see that my devotion to my point of view does not make me either absolutist or stubborn.

Let us now sum up the situation.

We have formulated our program thus: “reduce taxes—reduce expenditure in a greater proportion.”

This is a program that is bound to lead to balance, not via the path of distress, but via that of general prosperity.

In the initial part of this article, we have proposed to abolish various taxes, thus involving a loss of one hundred million in revenue, compared with the budget presented by the cabinet. Our program will therefore be fulfilled if the preceding considerations result in a reduction of expenditure in excess of a hundred million.

However, apart from the cuts that would be manageable in various services if only we had a little faith in freedom, cuts that I am not requesting out of respect for a misguided public opinion, we have the following items:

1. The costs of collection. As soon as indirect taxes are reduced, the incitement to fraud will be blunted. Fewer hindrances will be needed, fewer annoying formalities, less inquisitorial surveillance, in a word, fewer employees. What can be done in this respect just in the Customs Service alone is huge—let us say, ten million.

2. The administrative costs of criminal justice. In the entire physical universe, there are no two facts that are more closely connected than destitution and crime. If the effect of the implementation of our plan has the necessary result of increasing the well-being and work of the people, it is inevitable that the costs of pursuing, repressing, and punishing miscreants will be reduced.—For the record.

3. Assistance. The same must be said for assistance, which should decrease because of the increase in well-being.—For the record.

4. Foreign affairs. The policy of nonintervention, the one our fathers acclaimed Edition: current; Page: [321] in 1789, the one that Lamartine would have inaugurated were it not for the pressure of circumstances beyond his control, the one that Cavaignac would have been proud to carry out, this policy leads to the abolition of all the embassies. This is little from the financial point of view. It is a great deal from the political and moral point of view.—For the record.

5. The army. We have allowed two hundred thousand men for the contingencies of the moment. That makes two hundred million. Let us add fifty million for unforeseen events, withdrawals, payments for being on call, etc. Compared with the official budget, the savings are one hundred million.

6. The navy. One hundred thirty million are being requested. Let us allow eighty million and return fifty million to the taxpayers. Trade will be all the more prosperous.

7. Public works. I am not a great partisan, I admit, of savings whose result is the slumbering or death of committed capital. However, we must bow to necessity. We are being asked for 194 million. Let us remove thirty million.

Without much effort, we will thus obtain, in round figures, two hundred million of savings in expenditure, against one hundred million in revenue. We are thus on the path to balance, and my task is fulfilled.

That of the cabinet and the National Assembly, however, is just beginning. And here, in closing, I will spell out my entire thinking.

I believe that the proposed plan, or any other based on the same principles, can on its own save the Republic, the country, and society. All the parts of this plan are linked together. If you take only the first, to reduce taxes, you will be advancing toward revolution through bankruptcy. If you take just the second, to reduce expenditure, you will be advancing toward revolution through destitution. By adopting the plan in its entirety, you will simultaneously avoid bankruptcy, destitution, and revolutions, and on top of this, you will do the people good. It therefore forms a complete system, which has to stand or fall in its entirety.

However, I fear that a unitary and methodical plan cannot spring from nine hundred brains. Nine hundred projects may well emerge, which will clash with each other, but not one project that will triumph.

In spite of the goodwill of the National Assembly, the opportunity will be missed and the country lost if the cabinet does not take the initiative vigorously.

However, the cabinet is rejecting this initiative. They presented their budget, which does nothing for the taxpayer and leads to a frightful deficit. Edition: current; Page: [322] They then said: “We do not have to issue an overall view, and we will discuss the details when the time comes.” In other words, “We are handing over the destiny of France to chance or rather to probabilities that are as terrifying as they are certain.”

And why is this when the cabinet is made up of competent men, patriots and financiers? It is doubtful whether any other government could have accomplished the work of common salvation better.

They are not even trying. Why? Because they have entered office with a preconceived idea. A preconceived idea! I should have placed you, as the scourge of all reasoning and conduct, far ahead of the metaphor and the vicious circle!

The government has said to itself, “We cannot do anything with this Assembly, since we will not have a majority!”

I will not examine all the disastrous consequences of this preconceived idea here.

When it is believed that an Assembly is an obstacle, the wish to dissolve it is very close.

When one wishes to dissolve an Assembly, one is very close to taking steps to achieve this purpose.

In this way, great efforts have been made to do harm just at the time when it was so urgent to devote them to doing good.

Time and strength have been worn out in a deplorable conflict. And, I say this with my hand on my heart, in this conflict the cabinet was in the wrong.

For after all, to base their action or rather their inertia on the premise “We will not have a majority,” they needed at least to put forward something useful and then wait for a refusal to cooperate.

The president of the Republic traced a wiser path when he said on the day of his installation, “I have no reason to believe that I will not agree with the National Assembly.”

On what, therefore, did the cabinet base themselves when they set the point of departure of their policy in an opposing direction in advance? On the fact that the National Assembly had shown sympathy for the candidature of General Cavaignac.

However, the cabinet members have thus not understood that there is one thing that the Assembly places a hundred and a thousand times above General Cavaignac! That is the will of the people, expressed through universal suffrage, by virtue of a constitution formulated by the will of the people itself.

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For my part, I say that, to express its respect for the will of the people and the constitution, our twin anchors of salvation, the Assembly might have been easier with Bonaparte than with Cavaignac himself.

Yes, if the government, instead of starting by promoting the conflict, had come to the Assembly to say, “The election of 20 December29 puts an end to the period of agitation of our revolution, and now let us concentrate in concert on the good of the people and administrative and financial reform,” I say with certainty that the Assembly would have followed them enthusiastically since it has a passion for good and cannot have any other.

Now the opportunity has been lost, and if we do not secure its rebirth, woe to our finances and woe to the country for centuries to come.

Well then! I believe that if each person forgets his complaints and represses his bitterness, France can still be saved.

Ministers of the Republic, do not say: “We will act later; we will look for reforms with another Assembly.” Do not make such statements, for France is on the brink of an abyss. She does not have the time to wait for you.

A government frozen, made rigid by inertia! That has never been seen before. And what a time you have chosen to present us with this sight! It is true that the country—ruined, wounded, and bruised—does not blame you for its suffering. All its prejudices are turned against the National Assembly; this is certainly a circumstance that is as convenient as it is rare for a cabinet. But do you not know that any false prejudice is fleeting? If, through a vigorous initiative, you had formally warned the Assembly and it refused to follow you, you would have been justified and the country would have been right. But you did not do this. Sooner or later, its eyes will inevitably be opened, and if you continue to put nothing forward, try nothing, and direct nothing and later the state of our finances becomes irreparable, the prejudice of the day may well absolve you, but history will never absolve you.

It has now been decided that the National Assembly will produce the budget. But will an assembly of nine hundred members, left to its own devices, be able to accomplish such a complex work, one that requires such a high degree of agreement between all its parts and components? From the parliamentary tumult there may well emerge a few fumblings, impulses, and aspirations; a financial plan will not emerge.

This at least is my conviction. If it enters the mind of the cabinet to leave the reins loose at the mercy of chance, reins that have assuredly not been entrusted Edition: current; Page: [324] to it for this purpose, if its members are resolved to remain impassive and indifferent spectators of the vain efforts of the Assembly, the Assembly should refrain from undertaking a work that it cannot accomplish alone and should decline any responsibility for a situation that it has not caused.

But this will not happen. No, France will not have to go through this disaster too. The cabinet will take the initiative incumbent on it energetically, with no mental reservations and in a spirit of selflessness. It will present a plan for financial reform based on this twin principle: reduce taxes—reduce expenditures in an even greater proportion. And the Assembly will vote for it with enthusiasm, without dragging matters out and becoming bogged down in the details.

To relieve the people, make the Republic loved, base security on popular approval, make good the deficit, raise confidence, breathe new life into work, restore credit, diminish deprivation, reassure Europe, bring about justice, freedom, and peace, and offer the world the sight of a great people who have never been better governed than when they are governed by themselves: is there nothing in this to awaken the noble ambition of a government and arouse the soul of the man who carries the heritage of the name Napoléon! A heritage that, in spite of the glory surrounding it, has two jewels that shine by their absence, peace and freedom!

Consequences of the Reduction of the Salt Tax (Le Journal des débats, 1 January 1849)

The immediate reduction of the salt tax has disoriented the cabinet in one respect, with good reason. It is being said that we are seeking new taxes to fill the gap. Is this really what the Assembly wanted? Reductions would be only a game and one of these unfortunate games in which everyone loses. What is the meaning of their vote, then? It is this: expenditure is constantly rising; there is just one means of forcing the state to reduce expenditure, and that is to make it absolutely impossible for the state to do otherwise.

The means the Assembly has adopted is heroic, we must agree. What is still more serious is that the reform of the salt tax was preceded by the reform of the postal services and will probably be followed by the reform of wines and spirits.

The government is disoriented. Well then! For my part, I say that the Assembly could not put it in a better position. This is a wonderful, and one might say providential, opportunity to go down a new path, to put an end Edition: current; Page: [325] to false philanthropy and warlike passions and, converting its failure into triumph, to deliver security, confidence, credit, and prosperity from a vote that appeared to compromise it and at last to found a republican politics on these two great principles, peace and freedom.

Following the resolution from the Assembly, I was expecting, I must admit, the president of the Council to ascend the rostrum and make a speech along these lines:

“Citizen Representatives,

“Your vote yesterday has shown us a new path; more than this, it obliges us to go down it.

“You know how much the February revolution aroused illusory hopes and dangerous theorizing. These hopes and systems, clad in the false colors of philanthropy and entering this chamber in the form of draft laws, were directed at nothing less than destroying freedom and swallowing up the public wealth. We did not know which way to turn. Rejecting all these projects was to upset public opinion in a temporary state of exaltation; accepting them was to compromise the future, violate all rights, and distort the attributions of the state. What were we to do? Procrastinate, compromise, accommodate error, give partial satisfaction to the utopians, enlighten the people through the hard lesson of experience, and create administrative departments with the ulterior purpose of abolishing them later, which is not easy to do. Now, thanks to the Assembly, we are at ease. Do not come any longer to ask us to monopolize education or credit, finance agriculture, favor certain industries, and turn charitable giving into a system. We have finished with the harmful tail of socialism. Your vote has delivered the death blow to its dreaming. We no longer even have to discuss it, for where would discussion lead, since you have removed from us the means to carry out these dangerous experiments? If someone knows the secret of carrying out official philanthropy with no money, let him come forward; here are our portfolios, we will hand them over to him with joy. As long as they remain in our hands, in the new situation that has been established for us, it remains for us only to proclaim freedom as the basis of our domestic policy, freedom for the arts, sciences, agriculture, industry, work, trade, the press, and teaching, for freedom is the only system compatible with a reduced budget. The state needs money to regulate and oppress. No money, no regulation. Our role, with very little expenditure, will henceforward be limited to repressing abuses, that is to say, preventing one citizen’s freedom from being exercised at the expense of another’s.

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“Our foreign policy is no less clearly marked and obligatory. We were making compromises and we were still fumbling; now we are irrevocably directed, not only by choice but also by necessity. Happy, a thousand times happy that this necessity imposes on us exactly the policy that we would have adopted by choice. We are resolved to reduce our military posture. You should clearly note that there is nothing to discuss in this regard; we have to act, for we have the choice of disarmament or bankruptcy. It is said that one should choose the lesser of two evils. Here, according to us, the only choice is between an immense good and a terrible evil and, in spite of this, even yesterday the choice was not an easy one for us. False philanthropy and warlike passions stood in our way, and we had to take them into consideration. Today they have forcibly been reduced to silence, for whatever people say about passion failing to reason, it nevertheless cannot lack reason to the point of demanding that we wage war with no money. We have therefore come to this rostrum to proclaim disarmament as a fact, and consequently that nonintervention is the basis of our foreign policy. Let nobody speak to us any longer of preponderance and dominance; let nobody point to Hungary, Italy, and Poland as fields of glory and carnage. We know what can be said for or against armed propaganda when we have the choice. But you will not disagree that when you no longer have it, controversy is superfluous. The army will be reduced to what is necessary to guarantee the independence of the country, and at the same time all nations may henceforward count on their independence as far as we are concerned. Let them carry out their reforms as they will; let them undertake only that which they can accomplish. We will let them know loudly and clearly that none of the parties that divide them can count on the support of our bayonets. What am I saying? They do not even need our protestations, since these bayonets will be returned to their sheaths or rather, for added security, they will be converted into ploughshares.

“I can hear interruptions coming down from these benches; you are saying: ‘This is the policy of everyone at home, everyone for himself.’ Even yesterday we might have discussed the value of this policy, since we were free to adopt another. Yesterday, I would have quoted reasons. I would have said, ‘Yes, everyone at home, everyone for himself, as long as it is a matter of brute force.’ This is not to say that the links between peoples will be broken. Let us have philosophical, scientific, artistic, literary, and trade relations with everyone. Through this, humanity will become enlightened and make progress. However, I do not want relations at the point of a sword and the barrel of a gun. Edition: current; Page: [327] It is a strange abuse of words to say that families that get on well with one another conduct their lives according to the principle “Every man’s home is his castle” simply because they don’t visit each other armed to the teeth.30 Besides, what would we say if, to end our differences, Lord Palmerston sent us English regiments? Would not our cheeks flush with indignation? How is it therefore that we refuse to believe that other peoples also cherish their dignity and independence? This is what I would have said yesterday, for when there is a choice between two policies, the one that is preferred has to be justified by the giving of reasons. Today, I am merely invoking necessity, since we no longer have any option. The majority, who have refused us the revenue in order to oblige us to reduce expenditure, would not be so inconsistent as to impose a ruinous policy on us. If anyone, knowing that the taxes on the post, salt, and wines and spirits are going to be reduced considerably, knowing that we are facing a deficit of five hundred million, still has the temerity to proclaim the clear need for armed propaganda, or who, threatening Europe, obliges us, even in peacetime, to undertake ruinous efforts, let him stand up and take this portfolio. As for us, we will not assume the shame of such puerility. Therefore, from today onward, the policy of nonintervention is proclaimed. From today onward, measures will be taken to dismiss part of the army. From today onward, orders will go out to abolish useless embassies.

“Peace and freedom! This is the policy that we would have adopted by conviction. We would thank the Assembly for having made it an absolute and clear necessity for us. It will ensure the salvation, glory, and prosperity of the republic and will ensure that history will retain our names.”

Here, it seems to me, is what the current cabinet ought to have said. Its words would have received the unanimous approval of the Assembly, France, and Europe.

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16: Discourse on the Tax on Wines and Spirits1,2

[vol. 5, p. 468. “Discours sur l’impôt des boissons.” 12 December 1849. n.p.]

Citizen Representatives,

I wanted to discuss the question of the tax on wines and spirits as it appears to me to exist in the understandings of all of you, that is to say, from the point of view of financial and political necessity. I thought, in effect, that necessity was the only reason invoked to support the retention of this tax; I believed that in your eyes it brought together all the features by which economic science teaches us to recognize bad taxes. I believed that it had been accepted that this tax is unjust and inequitable and that its collection involved extremely tedious and annoying formalities. However, since the reproaches directed against this tax by all statesmen since its inception are now being disputed, I will say a few quick words about it.

First of all, we claim that the tax is unjust and base our claim on the following: Here are parcels of land that are side by side and subject to a land tax, a direct tax. These parcels are classified and compared with each other and taxed in accordance with their value. Subsequently, each person may Edition: current; Page: [329] grow anything he wants on them; some grow wheat, others pasture, yet others carnations and roses, and others vines.

Well then, of all these products, there is one and only one that, once it has entered into circulation, is subject to a tax that yields 106 million to the treasury. All the other agricultural products are free from this tax.

It might be said that the tax is useful and necessary, and this is not the subject with which I wish to deal, but it cannot be said that it is not unjust from the owner’s point of view.

It is true that it is said that the tax does not fall on the producer. I will examine this later.

We then say that the tax is badly distributed.

In fact, I was very surprised that this has been disputed, since . . . (interruption)

A member on the right:

Speak a little louder!

The president:

Will the Assembly be silent please?

M. F. Bastiat:

I am even ready to abandon this argument in the interest of speed.

Various voices:

Speak! Speak!

M. F. Bastiat:

The matter seems to me to be so clear, it is so obvious that the tax is badly distributed that, truly, it is embarrassing to demonstrate this.

When we see, for example, that a man who, in an orgy, drinks six francs’ worth of champagne pays the same tax as a worker who needs to restore his strength for work and drinks six sous’ worth of ordinary wine, it is impossible to say that there is no inequality, no monstrousness in the distribution of the tax on wines and spirits. (Hear! Hear!)

Calculus has almost been used to establish that the tax is negligible, that these