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|The Political Writings of Richard Cobden; Cobden, Richard|
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|Volume I, Introduction to the Second Edition, by Sir Louis Mallet|
"Il n'y a que deux moyens," says Bastiat, "de se procurer les choses nécessaires à l'embellissement, et au perfectionnement de la vie—la production et la spoliation." And again, "Propriété et spoliation, sœurs nées du même pére, Génie du Bien, et Génie du Mal, Salut et Fléau de la Société, Puissances qui se disputent depuis le commencement, l'empire et les destinées du monde."
This was, however, clear enough to enlightened observers in other countries. By one of those rare coincidents which sometimes exercise so powerful an influence on human affairs, it happened, that while Cobden in England was bringing to bear on the great practical questions of his time and country the principles of high morality and sound economy which had been hitherto too little considered in connection with each other, Frederic Bastiat was conceiving and maturing in France the system of political philosophy which has since been given to the world, and which still remains the best and most complete exposition of the views of which Cobden was the great representative.
It appears to us that these two men were necessary to each other. Without Cobden, Bastiat would have lost the powerful stimulant of practical example, and the wide range of facts which the movement in England supplied, and from which he drew much of his inspiration. Without Bastiat, Cobden's policy would not have been elaborated into a system, and, beyond his own immediate coadjutors and disciples, would probably have been most imperfectly understood on the Continent of Europe.
In his brilliant history of the Anti-Corn-Law League, "Cobden et la Ligue," Bastiat thus describes the movement of which England was the theatre during that memorable struggle:—
"I have endeavoured to state with all exactness the question which is being agitated in England. I have described the field of battle, the greatness of the interests which are there being discussed, the opposing forces, and the consequences of victory. I have shown, I believe, that though the heat of contest may seem to be concentrated on questions of taxation, of custom-houses, of cereals, of sugar, it is, in point of fact, a question between monopoly and liberty, aristocracy and democracy—a question of equality or inequality in the distribution of the general well-being. The question at issue is to know whether legislative power and political influence shall remain in the hands of the men of rapine, or in those of the men of toil; that is, whether they shall continue to embroil the world in troubles and deeds of violence, or sow the seeds of concord, of union, of justice, and of peace.
"What would be the thought of the historian who could believe that armed Europe, at the beginning of this century, performed, under the leadership of the most able generals, so many feats of strategy for the sole purpose of determining who should possess the narrow fields that were the scenes of the battles of Austerlitz or of Wagram? The fate of dynasties and empires depended on those struggles. But the triumphs of force may be ephemeral; it is not so with the triumphs of opinion. And when we see the whole of a great people, whose influence on the world is undoubted, impregnate itself with the doctrines of justice and truth; when we see it repel the false ideas of supremacy which have so long rendered it dangerous to nations; when we see it ready to seize the political ascendant from the hands of a greedy and turbulent oligarchy—let us beware of believing, even when its first efforts seem to bear upon economic questions, that
greater and nobler interests are not engaged in the struggle. For if, in the midst of many lessons of iniquity, many instances of national perversity, England, this imperceptible point of our globe, has seen so many great and useful ideas take root upon her soil—if she was the cradle of the press, of trial by jury, of a representative system, of the abolition of slavery, in spite of the opposition of a powerful and pitiless oligarchy—what may not the world expect from this same England when all her moral, social, and political power shall have passed, by a slow and difficult revolution, into the hands of democracy—a revolution peacefully accomplished in the minds of men under the leadership of an association which embraces in its bosom so many men whose high intellectual power and unblemished character shed so much glory on their country, and on the century in which they live? Such a revolution is no simple event, no accident, no catastrophe due to an irresistible but evanescent enthusiasm. It is, if I may use the expression, a slow social cataclysm, changing all the conditions of life and of society, the sphere in which it lives and breathes. It is justice possessing herself of power; good sense of authority. It is the general weal, the weal of the people, of the masses, of the small and of the great, of the strong and of the weak, becoming the law of political action. It is the disappearance behind the scene of privilege, abuse, and caste-feeling, not by a palace-revolution or a street-rising, but by the progressive and general appreciation of the rights and duties of man. In a word, it is the triumph of human liberty; it is the death of monopoly, that Proteus of a thousand forms, now conqueror, now slave-owner; at one time lover of theocracy and feudalism, at another time assuming an industrial, a commercial, a financial, and even a philanthropic shape. Whatever disguise it might borrow, it could no longer bear the eye of public opinion, which has learned to detect it under the scarlet uniform or under the black gown, under the planter's jacket and the noble peer's embroidered robe. Liberty for all! for everyman a just and natural remuneration for his labour! for every man a just and natural avenue to equality in proportion to his energy, his intelligence, his prudence, and his morality! Free Trade with all the world! Peace with all the world! No more subjugation of new colonies, no more army, no more navy, than is necessary for the maintenance of national independence! A radical distinction between that which is and that which is not the mission of government and law; political association reduced to guarantee each man his liberty and safety against all unjust aggressions, whether from without or from within; equal taxation, for the purpose of properly paying the men charged with this mission, and not to serve as a mask under the name of outlets for
(débouchés), for outward usurpation, and, under the name of
protection, for the mutual robbery of classes. Such is the real issue in England, though the field of battle may be confined to a custom-house question. But this question involves slavery in its modern form; for as Mr.Gibson, a member of the League, has said in Parliament, 'To get possession of men that we may make them work for our own profit, or to take possession of the fruits of their labour, is equally and always slavery; there is no difference but in the degree.' "
This passage, all due allowance made for the tendency to brilliant generalisation which Bastiat shared with so many of his gifted countrymen, remains on the whole a most powerful, condensed, and accurate analysis of the great principles involved in the political conflict then passing in England, and is a testimony to the rare insight and sagacity of the writer. It also affords a striking illustration of the power which a clear and firm grasp of principles gives to the political student, in guiding his speculations on the most complicated problems which society presents.
Cobden approached this question of reduction by two different roads. He endeavoured to bring to bear upon it international action, by arrangements for a general limitation of armaments, in which, as regards France, there appeared more than once some possibility of success, and in which he was cordially supported by Bastiat in the years succeeding the repeal of the Corn Laws; he also sought, by every means in his power, to urge it on his countrymen, by appeals to their good sense and self-respect. He exposed, firstly, our policy; and secondly, our administration; and showed, with irresistible arguments, that, while the one was unsound, the other was extravagant; and that thus the British people were condemned, not only to provide for what was useless and even dangerous, but at the same time to pay an excessive price for it.
Bastiat, who would have hailed with delight this tardy reparation of the defects in our reformed commercial system which he always deplored, was no longer alive to aid the cause; but to one of the most distinguished of modern French economists, Michel Chevalier, is due, in concert with Cobden, the merit of the scheme with the Governments of England and France were induced to adopt, which has opened to us the prospect of a new era of progress, in the gradual union of the nations of Europe in a great commercial confederation, and in laying the foundations of a civilisation, which may yet keep pace with that now dawning on our race in the Anglo-Saxon republics of the Western world.
|Volume II, Part VII, Essay 3|
"WE must have one more war with Russia for the independence and freedom of Europe, and then all will unite in favour of a reduction of armaments," was the language with which some friends of peace reconciled themselves to the Crimean War. They have since seen additions made to the permanent armed forces of Europe, equalling, probably, in numbers the armies engaged in the Crimean struggle. So true is the saying of Bastiat, that "the ogre, War, costs as much for his digestion as for his meals."
Bastiat (Frédéric). Cobden et le Ligue, ou l'agitation Anglaise pour la liberté du commerce, etc. Paris, Senlis [printed], 1845. 8vo. 1391. g. 14.
Reybaud (M. K. L.). Economistes modernes...Richard Cobden, M. F. Bastiat, M. M. Chevalier, M. J. S. Mill, M. L. Faucher, M. P. Rossi, etc. Paris, 1862. 8vo. 8206. f. 17.