Claude Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850)
My dear Frédéric [FB writing to himself],
Like you I love all forms of freedom; and among these, the one that is the most universally useful to mankind, the one you enjoy at each moment of the day and in all of life’s circumstances, is the freedom to work and to trade. I know that making things one’s own is the fulcrum of society and even of human life. I know that trade is intrinsic to property and that to restrict the one is to shake the foundations of the other. I approve of your devoting yourself to the defense of this freedom whose triumph will inevitably usher in the reign of international justice and consequently the extinction of hatred, prejudices between one people and another, and the wars that come in their wake...
I love freedom of trade as much as you do. But is all human progress encapsulated in that freedom? In the past, your heart beat for the freeing of thought and speech which were still bound by their university shackles and the laws against free association. You enthusiastically supported parliamentary reform and the radical division of that sovereignty, which delegates and controls, from the executive power in all its branches. All forms of freedom go together. All ideas form a systematic and harmonious whole, and there is not a single one whose proof does not serve to demonstrate the truth of the others. But you act like a mechanic who makes a virtue of explaining an isolated part of a machine in the smallest detail, not forgetting anything. The temptation is strong to cry out to him, “Show me the other parts; make them work together; each of them explains the others. . . .” [Draft Preface for the Harmonies (1847)]
Frédéric Bastiat was a pivotal figure in French classical liberalism in the mid-19th century. He suddenly emerged from the south west province of Les Landes to assume leadership of the fledgling French free trade movement in 1844 which he modelled on that of Richard Cobden’s Anti-Corn Law League in England. Bastiat then turned to a brilliant career as an economic journalist, debunking the myths and misconceptions people held on protectionism in particular and government intervention in general, which he called “sophisms” or “fallacies”. When revolution broke out in February 1848 Bastiat was elected twice to the Chamber of Deputies where he served on the powerful Finance Committee where he struggled to bring government expenditure under control. He confounded his political opponents on the left and the right with his consistent libertarianism: on the one hand he denounced the socialists for their economic policies, but took to the streets to prevent the military from shooting them during the riots which broke out in June 1848. In the meantime he was suffering from a debilitating throat condition which severely weakened him and led to his early death on Christmas Eve in 1850. Knowing he was dying, Bastiat attempted to complete his magnum opus on economic theory, his Economic Harmonies. In this work he showed the very great depth of his economic thinking and made advances which heralded the Austrian school of economics which emerged later in the century. Bastiat to the end was an indefatigable foe of political privilege, unaccountable monarchical power, the newly emergent socialist movement, and above all, the vested interests who benefited from economic protectionism. He was a giant of 19th century classical liberalism.
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The cover of Vol. 1 (2011)
The cover of Vol. 2 (2012)
The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2011 -2015), General Editor Jacques de Guenin. Academic Editor Dr. David M. Hart. <http://oll.libertyfund.org/title/2393>. Order from LF's online catalog <http://www.libertyfund.org/books.aspx>.