Famous Name and an Evil Idea
Now listen to the
great Montesquieu on this same subject:
maintain the spirit of commerce, it is necessary that all the laws
must favor it. These laws, by proportionately dividing up the
fortunes as they are made in commerce, should provide every poor
citizen with sufficiently easy circumstances to enable him to work
like the others. These same laws should put every rich citizen in
such lowered circumstances as to force him to work in order to
keep or to gain."
Thus the laws are to
dispose of all fortunes!
equality is the soul of the state in a democracy, yet this is so
difficult to establish that an extreme precision in this matter
would not always be desirable. It is sufficient that there be
established a census to reduce or fix these differences in wealth
within a certain limit. After this is done, it remains for
specific laws to equalize inequality by imposing burdens upon the
rich and granting relief to the poor.
Here again we find
the idea of equalizing fortunes by law, by force.
In Greece, there were
two kinds of republics, One, Sparta, was military; the other,
Athens, was commercial. In the former, it was desired that the
citizens be idle; in the latter, love of labor was encouraged.
Note the marvelous
genius of these legislators: By debasing all established customs
-- by mixing the usual concepts of all virtues -- they knew in
advance that the world would admire their wisdom.
stability to his city of Sparta by combining petty thievery with
the soul of justice; by combining the most complete bondage with
the most extreme liberty; by combining the most atrocious beliefs
with the greatest moderation. He appeared to deprive his city of
all its resources, arts, commerce, money, and defenses. In Sparta,
ambition went without the hope of material reward. Natural
affection found no outlet because a man was neither son, husband,
nor father. Even chastity was no longer considered becoming. By
this road, Lycurgus led Sparta on to greatness and glory.
This boldness which
was to be found in the institutions of Greece has been repeated in
the midst of the degeneracy and corruption of our modern times. An
occasional honest legislator has molded a people in whom integrity
appears as natural as courage in the Spartans.
Mr. William Penn, for
example, is a true Lycurgus. Even though Mr. Penn had peace as his
objective -- while Lycurgus had war as his objective -- they
resemble each other in that their moral prestige over free men
allowed them to overcome prejudices, to subdue passions, and to
lead their respective peoples into new paths.
The country of
Paraguay furnishes us with another example [of a people who, for
their own good, are molded by their legislators].*
note: What was then known as Paraguay was a much larger area than
it is today. It was colonized by the Jesuits who settled the
Indians into villages, and generally saved them from further
brutalities by the avid conquerors.
Now it is true that
if one considers the sheer pleasure of commanding to be the
greatest joy in life, he contemplates a crime against society; it
will, however, always be a noble ideal to govern men in a manner
that will make them happier.
Those who desire to
establish similar institutions must do as follows: Establish
common ownership of property as in the republic of Plato; revere
the gods as Plato commanded; prevent foreigners from mingling with
the people, in order to preserve the customs; let the state,
instead of the citizens, establish commerce. The legislators
should supply arts instead of luxuries; they should satisfy needs
instead of desires.
A Frightful Idea
Those who are subject
to vulgar infatuation may exclaim: "Montesquieu has said
this! So it's magnificent! It's sublime!" As for me, I have
the courage of my own opinion. I say: What! You have the nerve to
call that fine? It is frightful! It is abominable! These random
selections from the writings of Montesquieu show that he considers
persons, liberties, property -- mankind itself -- to be nothing
but materials for legislators to exercise their wisdom upon.
The Leader of the
Now let us examine
Rousseau on this subject. This writer on public affairs is the
supreme authority of the democrats. And although he bases the
social structure upon the will of the people, he has, to a greater
extent than anyone else, completely accepted the theory of the
total inertness of mankind in the presence of the legislators:
"If it is
true that a great prince is rare, then is it not true that a great
legislator is even more rare? The prince has only to follow the
pattern that the legislator creates. The legislator is the
mechanic who invents the machine; the prince is merely the workman
who sets it in motion.
And what part
do persons play in all this? They are merely the machine that is
set in motion. In fact, are they not merely considered to be the
raw material of which the machine is made?"
Thus the same
relationship exists between the legislator and the prince as
exists between the agricultural expert and the farmer; and the
relationship between the prince and his subjects is the same as
that between the farmer and his land. How high above mankind,
then, has this writer on public affairs been placed? Rousseau
rules over legislators themselves, and teaches them their trade in
these imperious terms:
give stability to the state? Then bring the extremes as closely
together as possible. Tolerate neither wealthy persons nor
If the soil is
poor or barren, or the country too small for its inhabitants, then
turn to industry and arts, and trade these products for the foods
that you need.... On a fertile soil -- if you are short of
inhabitants -- devote all your attention to agriculture, because
this multiplies people; banish the arts, because they only serve
to depopulate the nation....
If you have
extensive and accessible coast lines, then cover the sea with
merchant ships; you will have a brilliant but short existence. If
your seas wash only inaccessible cliffs, let the people be
barbarous and eat fish; they will live more quietly -- perhaps
better -- and, most certainly, they will live more happily.
In short, and
in addition to the maxims that are common to all, every people has
its own particular circumstances. And this fact in itself will
cause legislation appropriate to the circumstances."
This is the
reason why the Hebrews formerly -- and, more recently, the Arabs
-- had religion as their principle objective. The objective of the
Athenians was literature; of Carthage and Tyre, commerce; of
Rhodes, naval affairs; of Sparta, war; and of Rome, virtue. The
author of The Spirit of Laws has shown by what art the legislator
should direct his institutions toward each of these objectives....
But suppose that the legislator mistakes his proper objective, and
acts on a principle different from that indicated by the nature of
things? Suppose that the selected principle sometimes creates
slavery, and sometimes liberty; sometimes wealth, and sometimes
population; sometimes peace, and sometimes conquest? This
confusion of objective will slowly enfeeble the law and impair the
constitution. The state will be subjected to ceaseless agitations
until it is destroyed or changed, and invincible nature regains
But if nature is
sufficiently invincible to regain its empire, why does not
Rousseau admit that it did not need the legislator to gain it in
the first place? Why does he not see that men, by obeying their
own instincts, would turn to farming on fertile soil, and to
commerce on an extensive and easily accessible coast, without the
interference of a Lycurgus or a Solon or a Rousseau who might
easily be mistaken.
Be that as it may,
Rousseau invests the creators, organizers, directors, legislators,
and controllers of society with a terrible responsibility. He is,
therefore, most exacting with them:
would dare to undertake the political creation of a people ought
to believe that he can, in a manner of speaking, transform human
nature; transform each individual -- who, by himself, is a
solitary and perfect whole -- into a mere part of a greater whole
from which the individual will henceforth receive his life and
being. Thus the person who would undertake the political creation
of a people should believe in his ability to alter man's
constitution; to strengthen it; to substitute for the physical and
independent existence received from nature, an existence which is
partial and moral.* In short, the would- be creator of political
man must remove man's own forces and endow him with others that
are naturally alien to him."
Poor human nature!
What would become of a person's dignity if it were entrusted to
the followers of Rousseau?
note: According to Rousseau, the existence of social man is
partial in the sense that he is henceforth merely a part of
society. Knowing himself as such -- and thinking and feeling from
the point of view of the whole - he thereby becomes moral.
to Mold Mankind
Now let us examine
Raynal on this subject of mankind being molded by the legislator:
legislator must first consider the climate, the air, and the soil.
The resources at his disposal determine his duties. He must first
consider his locality. A population living on maritime shores must
have laws designed for navigation.... If it is an inland
settlement, the legislator must make his plans according to the
nature and fertility of the soil....
especially in the distribution of property that the genius of the
legislator will be found. As a general rule, when a new colony is
established in any country, sufficient land should be given to
each man to support his family....
uncultivated island that you are populating with children, you
need do nothing but let the seeds of truth germinate along with
the development of reason.... But when you resettle a nation with
a past into a new country, the skill of the legislator rests in
the policy of permitting the people to retain no injurious
opinions and customs which can possibly be cured and corrected. If
you desire to prevent these opinions and customs from becoming
permanent, you will secure the second generation by a general
system of public education for the children. A prince or a
legislator should never establish a colony without first arranging
to send wise men along to instruct the youth...."
In a new colony,
ample opportunity is open to the careful legislator who desires to
purify the customs and manners of the people. If he has virtue and
genius, the land and the people at his disposal will inspire his
soul with a plan for society. A writer can only vaguely trace the
plan in advance because it is necessarily subject to the
instability of all hypotheses; the problem has many forms,
complications, and circumstances that are difficult to foresee and
settle in detail.
Legislators Told How
to Manage Men
to the legislators on how to manage people may be compared to a
professor of agriculture lecturing his students: "The climate
is the first rule for the farmer. His resources determine his
procedure. He must first consider his locality. If his soil is
clay, he must do so and so. If his soil is sand, he must act in
another manner. Every facility is open to the farmer who wishes to
clear and improve his soil. If he is skillful enough, the manure
at his disposal will suggest to him a plan of operation. A
professor can only vaguely trace this plan in advance because it
is necessarily subject to the instability of all hypotheses; the
problem has many forms, complications, and circumstances that are
difficult to foresee and settle in detail."
Oh, sublime writers!
Please remember sometimes that this clay, this sand, and this
manure which you so arbitrarily dispose of, are men! They are your
equals! They are intelligent and free human beings like
yourselves! As you have, they too have received from God the
faculty to observe, to plan ahead, to think, and to judge for
Here is Mably on this
subject of the law and the legislator. In the passages preceding
the one here quoted, Mably has supposed the laws, due to a neglect
of security, to be worn out. He continues to address the reader
these circumstances, it is obvious that the springs of government
are slack. Give them a new tension, and the evil will be cured....
Think less of punishing faults, and more of rewarding that which
you need. In this manner you will restore to your republic the
vigor of youth. Because free people have been ignorant of this
procedure, they have lost their liberty! But if the evil has made
such headway that ordinary governmental procedures are unable to
cure it, then resort to an extraordinary tribunal with
considerable powers for a short time. The imagination of the
citizens needs to be struck a hard blow."
In this manner, Mably
continues through twenty volumes.
Under the influence
of teaching like this -- which stems from classical education --
there came a time when everyone wished to place himself above
mankind in order to arrange, organize, and regulate it in his own
Equality of Wealth
Next let us examine
Condillac on this subject of the legislators and mankind:
assume the character of Lycurgus or of Solon. And before you
finish reading this essay, amuse yourself by giving laws to some
savages in America or Africa. Confine these nomads to fixed
dwellings; teach them to tend flocks.... Attempt to develop the
social consciousness that nature has planted in them.... Force
them to begin to practice the duties of humanity.... Use
punishment to cause sensual pleasures to become distasteful to
them. Then you will see that every point of your legislation will
cause these savages to lose a vice and gain a virtue.
All people have
had laws. But few people have been happy. Why is this so? Because
the legislators themselves have almost always been ignorant of the
purpose of society, which is the uniting of families by a common
law consists of two things: the establishing of equality in wealth
and equality in dignity among the citizens.... As the laws
establish greater equality, they become proportionately more
precious to every citizen.... When all men are equal in wealth and
dignity -- and when the laws leave no hope of disturbing this
equality -- how can men then be agitated by greed, ambition,
dissipation, idleness, sloth, envy, hatred, or jealousy?
What you have
learned about the republic of Sparta should enlighten you on this
question. No other state has ever had laws more in accord with the
order of nature; of equality."
The Error of the
Actually, it is not
strange that during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the
human race was regarded as inert matter, ready to receive
everything -- form, face, energy, movement, life -- from a great
prince or a great legislator or a great genius. These centuries
were nourished on the study of antiquity. And antiquity presents
everywhere -- in Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome -- the spectacle of a
few men molding mankind according to their whims, thanks to the
prestige of force and of fraud. But this does not prove that this
situation is desirable. It proves only that since men and society
are capable of improvement, it is naturally to be expected that
error, ignorance, despotism, slavery, and superstition should be
greatest towards the origins of history. The writers quoted above
were not in error when they found ancient institutions to be such,
but they were in error when they offered them for the admiration
and imitation of future generations. Uncritical and childish
conformists, they took for granted the grandeur, dignity,
morality, and happiness of the artificial societies of the ancient
world. They did not understand that knowledge appears and grows
with the passage of time; and that in proportion to this growth of
knowledge, might takes the side of right, and society regains
possession of itself.
What Is Liberty?
Actually, what is the
political struggle that we witness? It is the instinctive struggle
of all people toward liberty. And what is this liberty, whose very
name makes the heart beat faster and shakes the world? Is it not
the union of all liberties -- liberty of conscience, of education,
of association, of the press, of travel, of labor, of trade? In
short, is not liberty the freedom of every person to make full use
of his faculties, so long as he does not harm other persons while
doing so? Is not liberty the destruction of all despotism --
including, of course, legal despotism? Finally, is not liberty the
restricting of the law only to its rational sphere of organizing
the right of the individual to lawful self- defense; of punishing
It must be admitted
that the tendency of the human race toward liberty is largely
thwarted, especially in France. This is greatly due to a fatal
desire -- learned from the teachings of antiquity -- that our
writers on public affairs have in common: They desire to set
themselves above mankind in order to arrange, organize, and
regulate it according to their fancy.
While society is
struggling toward liberty, these famous men who put themselves at
its head are filled with the spirit of the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries. They think only of subjecting mankind to the
philanthropic tyranny of their own social inventions. Like
Rousseau, they desire to force mankind docilely to bear this yoke
of the public welfare that they have dreamed up in their own
This was especially
true in 1789. No sooner was the old regime destroyed than society
was subjected to still other artificial arrangements, always
starting from the same point: the omnipotence of the law.
Listen to the ideas
of a few of the writers and politicians during that period:
"The legislator commands the future. It is for him to will
the good of mankind. It is for him to make men what he wills them
"The function of government is to direct the physical and
moral powers of the nation toward the end for which the
commonwealth has come into being."
"A people who are to be returned to liberty must be formed
anew. A strong force and vigorous action are necessary to destroy
old prejudices, to change old customs, to correct depraved
affections, to restrict superfluous wants, and to destroy
ingrained vices.... Citizens, the inexible austerity of Lycurgus
created the firm foundation of the Spartan republic. The weak and
trusting character of Solon plunged Athens into slavery. This
parallel embraces the whole science of government."
"Considering the extent of human degradation, I am convinced
that it is necessary to effect a total regeneration and, if I may
so express myself, of creating a new people."
The Socialists Want
Again, it is claimed
that persons are nothing but raw material. It is not for them to
will their own improvement; they are incapable of it. According to
Saint- Just, only the legislator is capable of doing this. Persons
are merely to be what the legislator wills them to be. According
to Robespierre, who copies Rousseau literally, the legislator
begins by decreeing the end for which the commonwealth has come
into being. Once this is determined, the government has only to
direct the physical and moral forces of the nation toward that
end. Meanwhile, the inhabitants of the nation are to remain
completely passive. And according to the teachings of Billaud-
Varennes, the people should have no prejudices, no affections, and
no desires except those authorized by the legislator. He even goes
so far as to say that the inflexible austerity of one man is the
foundation of a republic.
In cases where the
alleged evil is so great that ordinary governmental procedures
cannot cure it, Mably recommends a dictatorship to promote virtue:
"Resort," he says, "to an extraordinary tribunal
with considerable powers for a short time. The imagination of the
citizens needs to be struck a hard blow." This doctrine has
not been forgotten. Listen to Robespierre:
principle of the republican government is virtue, and the means
required to establish virtue is terror. In our country we desire
to substitute morality for selfishness, honesty for honor,
principles for customs, duties for manners, the empire of reason
for the tyranny of fashion, contempt of vice for contempt of
poverty, pride for insolence, greatness of soul for vanity, love
of glory for love of money, good people for good companions, merit
for intrigue, genius for wit, truth for glitter, the charm of
happiness for the boredom of pleasure, the greatness of man for
the littleness of the great, a generous, strong, happy people for
a good-natured, frivolous, degraded people; in short, we desire to
substitute all the virtues and miracles of a republic for all the
vices and absurdities of a monarchy."
At what a tremendous
height above the rest of mankind does Robespierre here place
himself! And note the arrogance with which he speaks. He is not
content to pray for a great reawakening of the human spirit. Nor
does he expect such a result from a well-ordered government. No,
he himself will remake mankind, and by means of terror.
This mass of rotten
and contradictory statements is extracted from a discourse by
Robespierre in which he aims to explain the principles of morality
which ought to guide a revolutionary government. Note that
Robespierre's request for dictatorship is not made merely for the
purpose of repelling a foreign invasion or putting down the
opposing groups. Rather he wants a dictatorship in order that he
may use terror to force upon the country his own principles of
morality. He says that this act is only to be a temporary measure
preceding a new constitution. But in reality, he desires nothing
short of using terror to extinguish from France selfishness,
honor, customs, manners, fashion, vanity, love of money, good
companionship, intrigue, wit, sensuousness, and poverty. Not until
he, Robespierre, shall have accomplished these miracles, as he so
rightly calls them, will he permit the law to reign again.*
*At this point
in the original French text, Mr. Bastiat pauses and speaks thusly
to all do-gooders and would-be rulers of mankind: "Ah, you
miserable creatures! You who think that you are so great! You who
judge humanity to be so small! You who wish to reform everything!
Why don't you reform yourselves? That task would be sufficient
Approach to Despotism
these gentlemen -- the reformers, the legislators, and the writers
on public affairs -- do not desire to impose direct despotism upon
mankind. Oh no, they are too moderate and philanthropic for such
direct action. Instead, they turn to the law for this despotism,
this absolutism, this omnipotence. They desire only to make the
To show the
prevalence of this queer idea in France, I would need to copy not
only the entire works of Mably, Raynal, Rousseau, and Fenelon --
plus long extracts from Bossuet and Montesquieu -- but also the
entire proceedings of the Convention. I shall do no such thing; I
merely refer the reader to them.
It is, of course, not
at all surprising that this same idea should have greatly appealed
to Napoleon. He embraced it ardently and used it with vigor. Like
a chemist, Napoleon considered all Europe to be material for his
experiments. But, in due course, this material reacted against
At St. Helena,
Napoleon -- greatly disillusioned -- seemed to recognize some
initiative in mankind. Recognizing this, he became less hostile to
liberty. Nevertheless, this did not prevent him from leaving this
lesson to his son in his will: "To govern is to increase and
spread morality, education, and happiness."
After all this, it is
hardly necessary to quote the same opinions from Morelly, Babeuf,
Owen, Saint-Simon, and Fourier. Here are, however, a few extracts
from Louis Blanc's book on the organization of labor: "In our
plan, society receives its momentum from power."
Now consider this:
The impulse behind this momentum is to be supplied by the plan of
Louis Blanc; his plan is to be forced upon society; the society
referred to is the human race. Thus the human race is to receive
its momentum from Louis Blanc.
Now it will be said
that the people are free to accept or to reject this plan.
Admittedly, people are free to accept or to reject advice from
whomever they wish. But this is not the way in which Mr. Louis
Blanc understands the matter. He expects that his plan will be
legalized, and thus forcibly imposed upon the people by the power
of the law:
plan, the state has only to pass labor laws (nothing else?) by
means of which industrial progress can and must proceed in
complete liberty. The state merely places society on an incline
(that is all?). Then society will slide down this incline by the
mere force of things, and by the natural workings of the
But what is this
incline that is indicated by Mr. Louis Blanc? Does it not lead to
an abyss? (No, it leads to happiness.) If this is true, then why
does not society go there of its own choice? (Because society does
not know what it wants; it must be propelled.) What is to propel
it? (Power.) And who is to supply the impulse for this power?
(Why, the inventor of the machine -- in this instance, Mr. Louis
The Vicious Circle
We shall never escape
from this circle: the idea of passive mankind, and the power of
the law being used by a great man to propel the people.
Once on this incline,
will society enjoy some liberty? (Certainly.) And what is liberty,
Mr. Louis Blanc?
Once and for all,
liberty is not only a mere granted right; it is also the power
granted to a person to use and to develop his faculties under a
reign of justice and under the protection of the law.
And this is no
pointless distinction; its meaning is deep and its consequences
are difficult to estimate. For once it is agreed that a person, to
be truly free, must have the power to use and develop his
faculties, then it follows that every person has a claim on
society for such education as will permit him to develop himself.
It also follows that every person has a claim on society for tools
of production, without which human activity cannot be fully
effective. Now by what action can society give to every person the
necessary education and the necessary tools of production, if not
by the action of the state?
Thus, again, liberty
is power. Of what does this power consist? (Of being educated and
of being given the tools of production.) Who is to give the
education and the tools of production? (Society, which owes them
to everyone.) By what action is society to give tools of
production to those who do not own them? (Why, by the action of
the state.) And from whom will the state take them?
Let the reader answer
that question. Let him also notice the direction in which this is
The Doctrine of the
phenomenon of our times -- one which will probably astound our
descendants -- is the doctrine based on this triple hypothesis:
the total inertness of mankind, the omnipotence of the law, and
the infallibility of the legislator. These three ideas form the
sacred symbol of those who proclaim themselves totally democratic.
The advocates of this
doctrine also profess to be social. So far as they are democratic,
they place unlimited faith in mankind. But so far as they are
social, they regard mankind as little better than mud. Let us
examine this contrast in greater detail.
What is the attitude
of the democrat when political rights are under discussion? How
does he regard the people when a legislator is to be chosen? Ah,
then it is claimed that the people have an instinctive wisdom;
they are gifted with the finest perception; their will is always
right; the general will cannot err; voting cannot be too
When it is time to
vote, apparently the voter is not to be asked for any guarantee of
his wisdom. His will and capacity to choose wisely are taken for
granted. Can the people be mistaken? Are we not living in an age
of enlightenment? What! are the people always to be kept on
leashes? Have they not won their rights by great effort and
sacrifice? Have they not given ample proof of their intelligence
and wisdom? Are they not adults? Are they not capable of judging
for themselves? Do they not know what is best for themselves? Is
there a class or a man who would be so bold as to set himself
above the people, and judge and act for them? No, no, the people
are and should be free. They desire to manage their own affairs,
and they shall do so.
But when the
legislator is finally elected -- ah! then indeed does the tone of
his speech undergo a radical change. The people are returned to
passiveness, inertness, and unconsciousness; the legislator enters
into omnipotence. Now it is for him to initiate, to direct, to
propel, and to organize. Mankind has only to submit; the hour of
despotism has struck. We now observe this fatal idea: The people
who, during the election, were so wise, so moral, and so perfect,
now have no tendencies whatever; or if they have any, they are
tendencies that lead downward into degradation.
Concept of Liberty
But ought not the
people be given a little liberty?
But Mr. Considerant
has assured us that liberty leads inevitably to monopoly!
We understand that
liberty means competition. But according to Mr. Louis Blanc,
competition is a system that ruins the businessmen and
exterminates the people. It is for this reason that free people
are ruined and exterminated in proportion to their degree of
freedom. (Possibly Mr. Louis Blanc should observe the results of
competition in, for example, Switzerland, Holland, England, and
the United States.)
Mr. Louis Blanc also
tells us that competition leads to monopoly. And by the same
reasoning, he thus informs us that low prices lead to high prices;
that competition drives production to destructive activity; that
competition drains away the sources of purchasing power; that
competition forces an increase in production while, at the same
time, it forces a decrease in consumption. From this, it follows
that free people produce for the sake of not consuming; that
liberty means oppression and madness among the people; and that
Mr. Louis Blanc absolutely must attend to it.
Socialists Fear All
Well, what liberty
should the legislators permit people to have? Liberty of
conscience? (But if this were permitted, we would see the people
taking this opportunity to become atheists.)
Then liberty of
education? (But parents would pay professors to teach their
children immorality and falsehoods; besides, according to Mr.
Thiers, if education were left to national liberty, it would cease
to be national, and we would be teaching our children the ideas of
the Turks or Hindus; whereas, thanks to this legal despotism over
education, our children now have the good fortune to be taught the
noble ideas of the Romans.)
Then liberty of
labor? (But that would mean competition which, in turn, leaves
production unconsumed, ruins businessmen, and exterminates the
Perhaps liberty of
trade? (But everyone knows -- and the advocates of protective
tariffs have proved over and over again -- that freedom of trade
ruins every person who engages in it, and that it is necessary to
suppress freedom of trade in order to prosper.)
liberty of association? (But, according to socialist doctrine,
true liberty and voluntary association are in contradiction to
each other, and the purpose of the socialists is to suppress
liberty of association precisely in order to force people to
associate together in true liberty.)
Clearly then, the
conscience of the social democrats cannot permit persons to have
any liberty because they believe that the nature of mankind tends
always toward every kind of degradation and disaster. Thus, of
course, the legislators must make plans for the people in order to
save them from themselves.
This line of
reasoning brings us to a challenging question: If people are as
incapable, as immoral, and as ignorant as the politicians
indicate, then why is the right of these same people to vote
defended with such passionate insistence?
The Superman Idea
The claims of these
organizers of humanity raise another question which I have often
asked them and which, so far as I know, they have never answered:
If the natural tendencies of mankind are so bad that it is not
safe to permit people to be free, how is it that the tendencies of
these organizers are always good? Do not the legislators and their
appointed agents also belong to the human race? Or do they believe
that they themselves are made of a finer clay than the rest of
mankind? The organizers maintain that society, when left
undirected, rushes headlong to its inevitable destruction because
the instincts of the people are so perverse. The legislators claim
to stop this suicidal course and to give it a saner direction.
Apparently, then, the legislators and the organizers have received
from Heaven an intelligence and virtue that place them beyond and
above mankind; if so, let them show their titles to this
They would be the
shepherds over us, their sheep. Certainly such an arrangement
presupposes that they are naturally superior to the rest of us.
And certainly we are fully justified in demanding from the
legislators and organizers proof of this natural superiority.
Reject Free Choice
that I do not dispute their right to invent social combinations,
to advertise them, to advocate them, and to try them upon
themselves, at their own expense and risk. But I do dispute their
right to impose these plans upon us by law -- by force -- and to
compel us to pay for them with our taxes.
I do not insist that
the supporters of these various social schools of thought--the
Proudhonists, the Cabetists, the Fourierists, the Universitarists,
and the Protectionists -- renounce their various ideas. I insist
only that they renounce this one idea that they have in common:
They need only to give up the idea of forcing us to acquiesce to
their groups and series, their socialized projects, their free-
credit banks, their Graeco-Roman concept of morality, and their
commercial regulations. I ask only that we be permitted to decide
upon these plans for ourselves; that we not be forced to accept
them, directly or indirectly, if we find them to be contrary to
our best interests or repugnant to our consciences.
But these organizers
desire access to the tax funds and to the power of the law in
order to carry out their plans. In addition to being oppressive
and unjust, this desire also implies the fatal supposition that
the organizer is infallible and mankind is incompetent. But,
again, if persons are incompetent to judge for themselves, then
why all this talk about universal suffrage?
The Cause of French
This contradiction in
ideas is, unfortunately but logically, reflected in events in
France. For example, Frenchmen have led all other Europeans in
obtaining their rights -- or, more accurately, their political
demands. Yet this fact has in no respect prevented us from
becoming the most governed, the most regulated, the most imposed
upon, the most harnessed, and the most exploited people in Europe.
France also leads all other nations as the one where revolutions
are constantly to be anticipated. And under the circumstances, it
is quite natural that this should be the case.
And this will remain
the case so long as our politicians continue to accept this idea
that has been so well expressed by Mr. Louis Blanc: "Society
receives its momentum from power." This will remain the case
so long as human beings with feelings continue to remain passive;
so long as they consider themselves incapable of bettering their
prosperity and happiness by their own intelligence and their own
energy; so long as they expect everything from the law; in short,
so long as they imagine that their relationship to the state is
the same as that of the sheep to the shepherd.
The Enormous Power
As long as these
ideas prevail, it is clear that the responsibility of government
is enormous. Good fortune and bad fortune, wealth and destitution,
equality and inequality, virtue and vice -- all then depend upon
political administration. It is burdened with everything, it
undertakes everything, it does everything; therefore it is
responsible for everything.
If we are fortunate,
then government has a claim to our gratitude; but if we are
unfortunate, then government must bear the blame. For are not our
persons and property now at the disposal of government? Is not the
In creating a
monopoly of education, the government must answer to the hopes of
the fathers of families who have thus been deprived of their
liberty; and if these hopes are shattered, whose fault is it?
industry, the government has contracted to make it prosper;
otherwise it is absurd to deprive industry of its liberty. And if
industry now suffers, whose fault is it?
In meddling with the
balance of trade by playing with tariffs, the government thereby
contracts to make trade prosper; and if this results in
destruction instead of prosperity, whose fault is it?
In giving protection
instead of liberty to the industries for defense, the government
has contracted to make them profitable; and if they become a
burden to the taxpayers, whose fault is it?
Thus there is not a
grievance in the nation for which the government does not
voluntarily make itself responsible. Is it surprising, then, that
every failure increases the threat of another revolution in
And what remedy is
proposed for this? To extend indefinitely the domain of the law;
that is, the responsibility of government.
But if the government
undertakes to control and to raise wages, and cannot do it; if the
government undertakes to care for all who may be in want, and
cannot do it; if the government undertakes to support all
unemployed workers, and cannot do it; if the government undertakes
to lend interest- free money to all borrowers, and cannot do it;
if, in these words that we regret to say escaped from the pen of
Mr. de Lamartine, "The state considers that its purpose is to
enlighten, to develop, to enlarge, to strengthen, to spiritualize,
and to sanctify the soul of the people" -- and if the
government cannot do all of these things, what then? Is it not
certain that after every government failure -- which, alas! is
more than probable -- there will be an equally inevitable
[Now let us
return to a subject that was briefly discussed in the opening
pages of this thesis: the relationship of economics and of
politics -- political economy.*]
note: Mr. Bastiat has devoted three other books and several
articles to the development of the ideas contained in the three
sentences of the following paragraph.
A science of
economics must be developed before a science of politics can be
logically formulated. Essentially, economics is the science of
determining whether the interests of human beings are harmonious
or antagonistic. This must be known before a science of politics
can be formulated to determine the proper functions of government.
the development of a science of economics, and at the very
beginning of the formulation of a science of politics, this
all-important question must be answered: What is law? What ought
it to be? What is its scope; its limits? Logically, at what point
do the just powers of the legislator stop?
I do not hesitate to
answer: Law is the common force organized to act as an obstacle to
injustice. In short, law is justice.
It is not true that
the legislator has absolute power over our persons and property.
The existence of persons and property preceded the existence of
the legislator, and his function is only to guarantee their
It is not true that
the function of law is to regulate our consciences, our ideas, our
wills, our education, our opinions, our work, our trade, our
talents, or our pleasures. The function of law is to protect the
free exercise of these rights, and to prevent any person from
interfering with the free exercise of these same rights by any
Since law necessarily
requires the support of force, its lawful domain is only in the
areas where the use of force is necessary. This is justice.
Every individual has
the right to use force for lawful self- defense. It is for this
reason that the collective force -- which is only the organized
combination of the individual forces -- may lawfully be used for
the same purpose; and it cannot be used legitimately for any other
Law is solely the
organization of the individual right of self-defense which existed
before law was formalized. Law is justice.
Law and Charity Are
Not the Same
The mission of the
law is not to oppress persons and plunder them of their property,
even though the law may be acting in a philanthropic spirit. Its
mission is to protect persons and property.
Furthermore, it must
not be said that the law may be philanthropic if, in the process,
it refrains from oppressing persons and plundering them of their
property; this would be a contradiction. The law cannot avoid
having an effect upon persons and property; and if the law acts in
any manner except to protect them, its actions then necessarily
violate the liberty of persons and their right to own property.
The law is justice --
simple and clear, precise and bounded. Every eye can see it, and
every mind can grasp it; for justice is measurable, immutable, and
unchangeable. Justice is neither more than this nor less than
If you exceed this
proper limit -- if you attempt to make the law religious,
fraternal, equalizing, philanthropic, industrial, literary, or
artistic -- you will then be lost in an uncharted territory, in
vagueness and uncertainty, in a forced utopia or, even worse, in a
multitude of utopias, each striving to seize the law and impose it
upon you. This is true because fraternity and philanthropy, unlike
justice, do not have precise limits. Once started, where will you
stop? And where will the law stop itself?
The High Road to
Mr. de Saint-Cricq
would extend his philanthropy only to some of the industrial
groups; he would demand that the law control the consumers to
benefit the producers.
Mr. Considerant would
sponsor the cause of the labor groups; he would use the law to
secure for them a guaranteed minimum of clothing, housing, food,
and all other necessities of life.
Mr. Louis Blanc would
say -- and with reason -- that these minimum guarantees are merely
the beginning of complete fraternity; he would say that the law
should give tools of production and free education to all working
Another person would
observe that this arrangement would still leave room for
inequality; he would claim that the law should give to everyone --
even in the most inaccessible hamlet--luxury, literature, and art.
All of these
proposals are the high road to communism; legislation will then be
-- in fact, it already is -- the battlefield for the fantasies and
greed of everyone.
The Basis for Stable
Law is justice. In
this proposition a simple and enduring government can be
conceived. And I defy anyone to say how even the thought of
revolution, of insurrection, of the slightest uprising could arise
against a government whose organized force was confined only to
Under such a regime,
there would be the most prosperity -- and it would be the most
equally distributed. As for the sufferings that are inseparable
from humanity, no one would even think of accusing the government
for them. This is true because, if the force of government were
limited to suppressing injustice, then government would be as
innocent of these sufferings as it is now innocent of changes in
As proof of this
statement, consider this question: Have the people ever been known
to rise against the Court of Appeals, or mob a Justice of the
Peace, in order to get higher wages, free credit, tools of
production, favorable tariffs, or government-created jobs?
Everyone knows perfectly well that such matters are not within the
jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals or a Justice of the Peace.
And if government were limited to its proper functions, everyone
would soon learn that these matters are not within the
jurisdiction of the law itself.
But make the laws
upon the principle of fraternity -- proclaim that all good, and
all bad, stem from the law; that the law is responsible for all
individual misfortunes and all social inequalities -- then the
door is open to an endless succession of complaints, irritations,
troubles, and revolutions.
Justice Means Equal
Law is justice. And
it would indeed be strange if law could properly be anything else!
Is not justice right? Are not rights equal? By what right does the
law force me to conform to the social plans of Mr. Mimerel, Mr. de
Melun, Mr. Thiers, or Mr. Louis Blanc? If the law has a moral
right to do this, why does it not, then, force these gentlemen to
submit to my plans? Is it logical to suppose that nature has not
given me sufficient imagination to dream up a utopia also? Should
the law choose one fantasy among many, and put the organized force
of government at its service only?
Law is justice. And
let it not be said -- as it continually is said -- that under this
concept, the law would be atheistic, individualistic, and
heartless; that it would make mankind in its own image. This is an
absurd conclusion, worthy only of those worshippers of government
who believe that the law is mankind.
Nonsense! Do those
worshippers of government believe that free persons will cease to
act? Does it follow that if we receive no energy from the law, we
shall receive no energy at all? Does it follow that if the law is
restricted to the function of protecting the free use of our
faculties, we will be unable to use our faculties? Suppose that
the law does not force us to follow certain forms of religion, or
systems of association, or methods of education, or regulations of
labor, or regulations of trade, or plans for charity; does it then
follow that we shall eagerly plunge into atheism, hermitary,
ignorance, misery, and greed? If we are free, does it follow that
we shall no longer recognize the power and goodness of God? Does
it follow that we shall then cease to associate with each other,
to help each other, to love and succor our unfortunate brothers,
to study the secrets of nature, and to strive to improve ourselves
to the best of our abilities?
The Path to Dignity
Law is justice. And
it is under the law of justice -- under the reign of right; under
the influence of liberty, safety, stability, and responsibility --
that every person will attain his real worth and the true dignity
of his being. It is only under this law of justice that mankind
will achieve -- slowly, no doubt, but certainly -- God's design
for the orderly and peaceful progress of humanity.
It seems to me that
this is theoretically right, for whatever the question under
discussion -- whether religious, philosophical, political, or
economic; whether it concerns prosperity, morality, equality,
right, justice, progress, responsibility, cooperation, property,
labor, trade, capital, wages, taxes, population, finance, or
government -- at whatever point on the scientific horizon I begin
my researches, I invariably reach this one conclusion: The
solution to the problems of human relationships is to be found in
Proof of an Idea
And does not
experience prove this? Look at the entire world. Which countries
contain the most peaceful, the most moral, and the happiest
people? Those people are found in the countries where the law
least interferes with private affairs; where government is least
felt; where the individual has the greatest scope, and free
opinion the greatest influence; where administrative powers are
fewest and simplest; where taxes are lightest and most nearly
equal, and popular discontent the least excited and the least
justifiable; where individuals and groups most actively assume
their responsibilities, and, consequently, where the morals of
admittedly imperfect human beings are constantly improving; where
trade, assemblies, and associations are the least restricted;
where labor, capital, and populations suffer the fewest forced
displacements; where mankind most nearly follows its own natural
inclinations; where the inventions of men are most nearly in
harmony with the laws of God; in short, the happiest, most moral,
and most peaceful people are those who most nearly follow this
principle: Although mankind is not perfect, still, all hope rests
upon the free and voluntary actions of persons within the limits
of right; law or force is to be used for nothing except the
administration of universal justice.
The Desire to Rule
This must be said:
There are too many "great" men in the world --
legislators, organizers, do-gooders, leaders of the people,
fathers of nations, and so on, and so on. Too many persons place
themselves above mankind; they make a career of organizing it,
patronizing it, and ruling it.
Now someone will say:
"You yourself are doing this very thing."
True. But it must be
admitted that I act in an entirely different sense; if I have
joined the ranks of the reformers, it is solely for the purpose of
persuading them to leave people alone. I do not look upon people
as Vancauson looked upon his automaton. Rather, just as the
physiologist accepts the human body as it is, so do I accept
people as they are. I desire only to study and admire.
My attitude toward
all other persons is well illustrated by this story from a
celebrated traveler: He arrived one day in the midst of a tribe of
savages, where a child had just been born. A crowd of soothsayers,
magicians, and quacks - - armed with rings, hooks, and cords --
surrounded it. One said: "This child will never smell the
perfume of a peace- pipe unless I stretch his nostrils."
Another said: "He will never be able to hear unless I draw
his ear-lobes down to his shoulders." A third said: "He
will never see the sunshine unless I slant his eyes." Another
said: "He will never stand upright unless I bend his
legs." A fifth said: "He will never learn to think
unless I flatten his skull."
cried the traveler. "What God does is well done. Do not claim
to know more than He. God has given organs to this frail creature;
let them develop and grow strong by exercise, use, experience, and
Let Us Now Try
God has given to men
all that is necessary for them to accomplish their destinies. He
has provided a social form as well as a human form. And these
social organs of persons are so constituted that they will develop
themselves harmoniously in the clean air of liberty. Away, then,
with quacks and organizers! Away with their rings, chains, hooks,
and pincers! Away with their artificial systems! Away with the
whims of governmental administrators, their socialized projects,
their centralization, their tariffs, their government schools,
their state religions, their free credit, their bank monopolies,
their regulations, their restrictions, their equalization by
taxation, and their pious moralizations!
And now that the
legislators and do-gooders have so futilely inflicted so many
systems upon society, may they finally end where they should have
begun: May they reject all systems, and try liberty; for liberty
is an acknowledgment of faith in God and His works.