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Economic Harmonies; Bastiat, Frédéric
12 paragraphs found.
Chapter 1

If the import of these questions were simply whether society can dispense with written laws, with regulations, with repressive measures, whether each man can make unlimited use of his faculties, even when he might infringe on another's liberties or do damage to the community as a whole—whether, in a word, we must see in the doctrine of laissez faire, laissez passer,*12 the absolute formula of political economy; the answer could be doubtful to no one. Political economists do not say that a man may kill, pillage, burn, that society has only to let him alone; they say that society's resistance to such acts would manifest itself in fact even if specific laws against them were lacking; that, consequently, this resistance is a general law of humanity. They say that civil or criminal laws must regularize, not contravene, these general laws on which they are predicated. It is a far cry from a social order founded on the general laws of humanity to an artificial, contrived, and invented order that does not take these laws into account or denies them or scorns them—an order, in a word, such as some of our modern schools of thought would, it seems, impose upon us.

[ Laissez passer: "allow to pass," only slightly different from laissez faire, which of course does not require translation. These phrases are associated with Quesnay and the other physiocrats.—Translator.]
Chapter 8

This does not mean that there is no room in the world for reforms or reformers. Nor does it mean that humanity must not eagerly recruit and generously encourage devoted researchers and scholars, loyal to the cause of democracy. They are still most necessary, not to subvert the law of society, but, on the contrary, to oppose the artificial obstacles that disturb and pervert its natural action. Truly, it is difficult to understand how people can continue to repeat such trite statements as this: "Political economy is very optimistic toward accomplished fact; it affirms that whatever is, is right; whether confronted with evil or with good, it is content to say laissez faire." Do they imply that we do not know that humanity began in complete want and ignorance, and under the rule of brute force, or that we are optimists concerning accomplished facts such as these? Do they suggest that we do not know that the motive force of human nature is aversion to all pain, all drudgery; and that, since labor is drudgery, the first manifestation of self-interest was the effort to pass this painful burden along from one to another? Do they mean to say that the words "cannibalism," "war," "slavery," "privilege," "monopoly," "fraud," "plunder," "imposture," have never reached our ears, or that we see in these abominations the inevitable rumblings of the machine on the road to progress? But are not they themselves to some extent willfully confusing the issue in order to accuse us of confused thinking? When we admire the providential laws that govern men's transactions, when we say that the self-interest of every man coincides with that of every other man, when we conclude that the natural direction of these coincident interests tends to achieve relative equality and general progress; obviously it is from the operation of these laws, not from interference with their operation, that we anticipate harmony. When we say, laissez faire, obviously we mean: Allow these laws to operate; and not: Allow the operation of these laws to be interfered with. According as these laws are conformed to or violated, good or evil is produced. In other words, men's interests are harmonious, provided every man remains within his rights, provided services are exchanged freely, voluntarily, for services. But does this mean that we are unaware of the perpetual struggle between the wrong and the right? Does this mean that we do not see, or that we approve, the efforts made in all past ages, and still made today, to upset, by force or by fraud, the natural equivalence of services? These are the very things that we reject as breaches of the social laws of Providence, as attacks against the principle of property; for, in our eyes, free exchange of services, justice, property, liberty, security, are all merely different aspects of the same basic concept. It is not the principle of property that must be attacked, but, on the contrary, the principle hostile to it, the principle of spoliation and plunder. Men of property of all ranks, reformers of all schools, this is the mission that must reconcile us and unite us.


There are people in whose eyes property appears only in the form of a plot of land or a sack of coins. Provided only that the land's sacrosanct boundaries are not moved and that pockets are not literally picked, they are quite content. But is there not also property in men's labor, in their faculties, in their ideas—in a word, is there not property in services? When I throw a service into the social scale, is it not my right that it remain there, suspended, if I may so express myself, until, according to the laws of its own natural equivalence, it can be met and counterbalanced by another service that someone is willing to tender me in exchange? By common consent we have instituted forces of law and order to protect property, so understood. Where are we, then, if these very forces take it upon themselves to upset this natural balance, under the socialistic pretext that freedom begets monopoly, that laissez faire is hateful and merciless? When things reach such a pass, theft by an individual may be rare and severely dealt with, but plunder is organized, legalized, and systematized. Reformers, be of good cheer; your work is not yet done; only try to understand what it really is.

Chapter 18

On reaching this point, I seem to hear the reader cry out: "This is a good sample of the economists' optimism! Despite the all too obvious presence of hardship, poverty, the condition of the working class, pauperism, deserted children, malnutrition, delinquency, rebellion, inequality, they keep on merrily singing of the harmony of social laws, and turn away their eyes so that the sight of the horrible reality may not disturb the pleasure they take in their system. They, too, like the utopians they censure, run away from the world of reality to take refuge in a dream-world. More illogical than the socialists or even the communists—who see the evil, feel it, decry it, abhor it, and are at fault only in that they propose ineffective, impractical, or visionary remedies—the economists either deny that the evil exists or are insensible of it, if indeed they do not cause it by crying out to our sick society: ' Laissez faire, laissez passer; everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.' "


We add: It is not true that freedom prevails among men; it is not true that the laws of Providence operate to their fullest extent, or at least if they do act, their action has been limited to repairing gradually, painfully, the disturbing effects of ignorance and error. Do not accuse us, therefore, when we say laissez faire; for we do not mean by this to let men do as they will, even when they do wrong. We mean: Study the laws of Providence, marvel at them, and allow them to operate. Remove the obstacles that they meet in the form of abuses arising from violence and fraud, and you will discern among mankind this double mark of progress: greater equality and better living conditions.


For, in the end, it is one thing or the other: either men's interests are harmonious, or they are fundamentally antagonistic to one another. Men gravitate toward their own self-interest irresistibly; otherwise it would not be self-interest. And if they gravitated toward something else, this something else would have to be self-interest. Therefore, if men's interests are harmonious, they need only be understood, and harmony and the good life will be achieved, for men naturally pursue their own interest. This is what we maintain, and that is why we say: Make men understand, and laissez faire, i.e., let them alone. If men's interests are mutually antagonistic by nature, then you are right; there is no other means of achieving harmony than by forcing, frustrating, and thwarting the interests of all men. Yet it is a strange kind of harmony that can be achieved only by an external and despotic act that runs contrary to the interests of all! For you can well realize that men will not passively submit to being frustrated; and, in order to make them submit to your plans and arrangements, you must first be stronger than all of them together, or else you must succeed in deceiving them regarding their true interests. In fact, if men's interests are indeed mutually antagonistic by nature, the happiest solution would be for men to be in error on this point.

Chapter 20

Indeed, if this work differs from the writings of some economists, the difference consists in the fact that they seem to say: "We have little faith in God, for we see that the natural laws lead to disaster, and yet we say: Laissez faire! because we have even less faith in ourselves, and we realize that all human efforts to halt the operation of these laws merely hasten the day of catastrophe."


If it differs from the works of the socialists, it is because they say: "We do indeed pretend to believe in God, but in reality we believe only in ourselves, since we want nothing to do with laissez faire, and each and every one of us offers his social plan as infinitely superior to that of Providence."


I say: Laissez faire; in other words: Respect freedom, human initiative. **82


Nor is this all. These schools have been led to exclude freedom from their social planning on the same grounds as suffering, for freedom implies the possibility of error, and consequently the possibility of evil. "Allow us to organize you," they tell men; "do not take any active part yourselves; do not compare, judge, decide anything by yourselves or for yourselves; we hold laissez faire in abomination, but we demand that you let yourselves remain passive and that you let us act. If we lead you to perfect bliss, God's infinite bounty will be vindicated."

[.... because I believe that a higher Power directs it, because, since God can intervene in the moral order only through the instrumentality of each man's self-interest and will, the resulting action of various interests and wills cannot lead to ultimate evil; for otherwise it would not be man or the human race alone that is on the road to error, but God Himself who, in virtue of His impotence or cruelty, would be leading His imperfect creature on to evil.

We therefore believe in liberty because we believe in the harmony of the universe, that is, in God. Proclaiming in the name of faith, formulating in the name of science, the divine laws, flexible and vital, of our dynamic moral order, we utterly reject the narrow, unwieldy, and static institutions that some men in their blindness would heedlessly introduce into this admirable mechanism. It would be absurd for an atheist to say: Laissez faire! Leave it to chance! But we, who are believers, have the right to cry: Laissez passer! Let God's order and justice prevail! Let human initiative, the marvelous and unfailing transmitter of all man's motive power, function freely! And freedom, thus understood, is no longer an anarchistic deification of individualism; what we worship, above and beyond man's activity, is God directing all.

We are well aware that man may err; indeed, his capacity for error is as great as the distance separating well-founded knowledge from truth still only vaguely, intuitively sensed. But since it is his nature to seek, it is his destiny to find. Truth, let us observe, has a harmonious relation, an inevitable affinity, not only with the form of man's understanding and the instincts of his heart, but also with all the physical and moral conditions of his life; so that even though it may elude his intellectual comprehension as absolute truth, or his intuition as morally just, or his aesthetic sense as beautiful, it will still win his ultimate acceptance by the practical and irrefutable argument that it is useful.

We know that free will can lead to evil. But evil, too, has its mission. God surely did not haphazardly cast it in our way to make us fall; he set it, as it were, on either side of the path that we were to follow, in order that man, striking against it, should by evil itself be brought back to the good.