Economic Harmonies

Frédéric Bastiat
Bastiat, Frédéric
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George B. de Huszar, trans. and W. Hayden Boyers, ed.
First Pub. Date
Irvington-on-Hudson, NY: Foundation for Economic Education, Inc.
Pub. Date
Introduction by Dean Russell


Natural and Artificial Social Order**2


Are we really certain that the mechanism of society, like the mechanism of the heavenly bodies or the mechanism of the human body, is subject to general laws? Are we really certain that it is a harmoniously organized whole? Or is it not true that what is most notable in society is the absence of all order? And is it not true that a social order is the very thing that all men of good will and concern for the future are searching for most avidly, the thing most in the minds of all forward-looking commentators on public affairs, and of all the pioneers of the intellectual world? Are we not but a mere confused aggregation of individuals acting disconcertedly in response to the caprices of our anarchical liberty? Are our countless masses, now that they have painfully recovered their liberties one by one, not expecting some great genius to come and arrange them into a harmonious whole? Now that we have torn down, must we not begin to build anew?*11


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.


For if there are general laws that act independently of written laws, and whose action needs merely to be regularized by the latter, we must study these general laws; they can be the object of scientific investigation, and therefore there is such a thing as the science of political economy. If, on the contrary, society is a human invention, if men are only inert matter to which a great genius, as Rousseau says, must impart feeling and will, movement and life, then there is no such science as political economy: there is only an indefinite number of possible and contingent arrangements, and the fate of nations depends on the founding father to whom chance has entrusted their destiny.


I shall not indulge in lengthy dissertations to prove that society is subject to general laws. I shall confine myself to pointing out certain facts that, though somewhat commonplace, are nonetheless important.


Rousseau said, "It requires a great deal of scientific insight to discern the facts that are close to us."*13


Such is the case with the social phenomena in the midst of which we live and move. Habit has so familiarized us with these phenomena that we never notice them until, so to speak, something sharply discordant and abnormal about them forces them to our attention.


Let us take a man belonging to a modest class in society, a village cabinetmaker, for example, and let us observe the services he renders to society and receives in return. This man spends his day planing boards, making tables and cabinets; he complains of his status in society, and yet what, in fact, does he receive from this society in exchange for his labor? The disproportion between the two is tremendous.


Every day, when he gets up, he dresses; and he has not himself made any of the numerous articles he puts on. Now, for all these articles of clothing, simple as they are, to be available to him, an enormous amount of labor, industry, transportation, and ingenious invention has been necessary. Americans have had to produce the cotton; Indians, the dye; Frenchmen, the wool and the flax; Brazilians, the leather; and all these materials have had to be shipped to various cities to be processed, spun, woven, dyed, etc.


Next, he breakfasts. For his bread to arrive every morning, farm lands have had to be cleared, fenced in, ploughed, fertilized, planted; the crops have had to be protected from theft; a certain degree of law and order has had to reign over a vast multitude of people; wheat has had to be harvested, ground, kneaded, and prepared; iron, steel, wood, stone have had to be converted by industry into tools of production; certain men have had to exploit the strength of animals, others the power of a waterfall, etc.—all things of which each one by itself alone presupposes an incalculable output of labor not only in space, but in time as well.


In the course of the day this man consumes a little sugar and a little olive oil, and uses a few utensils.


He sends his son to school to receive instruction, which, though limited, still presupposes on the part of his teachers research, previous study, and a store of knowledge that startles one's imagination.


He leaves his house: he finds his street paved and lighted.


His ownership of a piece of property is contested: he finds lawyers to plead his rights, judges to reaffirm them, officers of the law to execute the judgment. These men, too, have had to acquire extensive and costly knowledge in order to defend and protect him.


He goes to church: it is a prodigious monument, and the book that he brings with him is perhaps an even more prodigious monument of human intelligence. He is taught morals, his mind is enlightened, his soul is elevated; and for all this to be done, still another man has had to have professional training, to have frequented libraries and seminaries, to have drawn knowledge from all the sources of human tradition, and to have lived the while without concerning himself directly with his bodily needs.


If our artisan takes a trip, he finds that, to save him time and lessen his discomfort, other men have smoothed and leveled the ground, filled in the valleys, lowered the mountains, spanned the rivers, and, to reduce their friction, placed wheeled cars on blocks of sandstone or iron rails, tamed horses or steam, etc.


It is impossible not to be struck by the disproportion, truly incommensurable, that exists between the satisfactions this man derives from society and the satisfactions that he could provide for himself if he were reduced to his own resources. I make bold to say that in one day he consumes more things than he could produce himself in ten centuries.


What makes the phenomenon stranger still is that the same thing holds true for all other men. Every one of the members of society has consumed a million times more than he could have produced; yet no one has robbed anyone else. If we examine matters closely, we perceive that our cabinetmaker has paid in services for all the services he has received. He has, in fact, received nothing that he did not pay for out of his modest industry; all those ever employed in serving him, at any time or in any place, have received or will receive their remuneration.


So ingenious, so powerful, then, is the social mechanism that every man, even the humblest, obtains in one day more satisfactions than he could produce for himself in several centuries.


Nor is this all. This social mechanism will seem still more ingenious if the reader will consider his own case.


I shall assume that he is simply a student. What is he doing in Paris? How does he live? No one can deny that society puts at his disposal food, clothing, lodging, amusements, books, instruction—such a host of things, in a word, that it would take a long time just to tell how they were produced, to say nothing of actually producing them. And in return for all these things that have demanded so much work, the sweat of so many brows, so much painful toil, so much physical or mental effort, such prodigies of transportation, so many inventions, transactions, what services has our student rendered society? None; but he is getting ready to render them. How, then, can these millions of men who are engaged in positive, effective, and productive work turn over to him the fruit of their labor? Here is the explanation: This student's father, who was a doctor or a lawyer or a businessman, had already rendered services—perhaps to Chinese society—and had received in return, not immediate services, but certificates for services due him on which he could demand payment at the time and place and in the form that he saw fit. Today society is paying for those distant and past services; and, amazingly, if we were to follow in our minds the chain of endless transactions that had to take place before the final result was reached, we should see that each one was paid for his pains; that these certificates passed from hand to hand, sometimes split up into fractions, sometimes combined into larger sums, until by our student's consumption the full account was balanced. Is not this indeed a most remarkable phenomenon?


We should be shutting our eyes to the facts if we refused to recognize that society cannot present such complicated combinations in which civil and criminal law play so little part without being subject to a prodigiously ingenious mechanism. This mechanism is the object of study of political economy.


One other thing worthy of notice is that in this really incalculable number of transactions that have resulted in maintaining a student for a day, not one millionth part, perhaps, was done directly. The things he has enjoyed today, and they are innumerable, are the work of men many of whom have long since disappeared from the face of the earth. And yet they have been paid as they intended to be, although the one who profits from their work today did nothing for them. He did not know them; he will never know them. The person who is reading this page, at the very moment he reads it, has the power, though perhaps he is unaware of it, to set in motion men of all lands, all races, and, I could almost say, of all times, whites, blacks, redskins, men of the yellow race; he makes generations dead and gone and generations still unborn work for his present satisfactions; and this extraordinary power he owes to the fact that his father once rendered services to other men who apparently have nothing in common with those whose labor is being performed today. Yet such balance was effected in time and space that each was remunerated, and each received what he had calculated he should receive.


In truth, could all this have happened, could such extraordinary phenomena have occurred, unless there were in society a natural and wise order that operates without our knowledge?


In our day people talk a great deal about inventing a new order. Is it certain that any thinker, regardless of the genius we grant him and the authority we give him, could invent and operate successfully an order superior to the one whose results I have just described?


What would it be in terms of its moving parts, its springs, and its motive forces?


The moving parts are men, that is, beings capable of learning, reflecting, reasoning, of making errors and of correcting them, and consequently of making the mechanism itself better or worse. They are capable of pain and pleasure, and in that respect they are not only the wheels, but the springs of the machine. They are also the motive forces, for the source of the power is in them. They are more than that, for they are the ultimate object and raison d'être of the mechanism, since in the last analysis the problems of its operation must be solved in terms of their individual pain or pleasure.


Now, it has been observed, and, alas, the observation has not been a difficult one to make, that in the operation, the evolution, and even the progress (by those who accept the idea that there has been progress) of this powerful mechanism, many moving parts were inevitably, fatally, crushed; that, for a great number of human beings, the sum of unmerited sufferings far exceeded the sum of enjoyments.


Faced with this fact, many sincere and generous-hearted men have lost faith in the mechanism itself. They have repudiated it; they have refused to study it; they have attacked, often violently, those who have investigated and expounded its laws; they have risen up against the nature of things; and, in a word, they have proposed to organize society according to a new plan in which injustice, suffering, and error could have no place.


Heaven forbid that I should raise my voice against intentions so manifestly philanthropic and pure! But I should be going back on my own convictions, I should be turning a deaf ear to the voice of my own conscience, if I did not say that, in my opinion, they are on the wrong track.


In the first place, they are reduced by the very nature of their propaganda to the unfortunate necessity of underestimating the good that society has produced, of denying its progress, of imputing every evil to it, and of almost avidly seeking out evils and exaggerating them beyond measure.


When a man feels that he has discovered a social order different from the one that has come into being through the natural tendencies of mankind, he must, perforce, in order to have his invention accepted, paint in the most somber colors the results of the order he seeks to abolish. Therefore, the political theorists to whom I refer, while enthusiastically and perhaps exaggeratedly proclaiming the perfectibility of mankind, fall into the strange contradiction of saying that society is constantly deteriorating. According to them, men are today a thousand times more wretched than they were in ancient times, under the feudal system and the yoke of slavery; the world has become a hell. If it were possible to conjure up the Paris of the tenth century, I confidently believe that such a thesis would prove untenable.


Secondly, they are led to condemn even the basic motive power of human actions—I mean self-interest—since it has brought about such a state of affairs. Let us note that man is made in such a way that he seeks pleasure and shuns pain. From this source, I agree, come all the evils of society: war, slavery, monopoly, privilege; but from this source also come all the good things of life, since the satisfaction of wants and the avoidance of suffering are the motives of human action. The question, then, is to determine whether this motivating force which, though individual, is so universal that it becomes a social phenomenon, is not in itself a basic principle of progress.


In any case, do not the social planners realize that this principle, inherent in man's very nature, will follow them into their new orders, and that, once there, it will wreak more serious havoc than in our natural order, in which one individual's excessive claims and self-interest are at least held in bounds by the resistance of all the others? These writers always assume two inadmissible premises: that society, as they conceive it, will be led by infallible men completely immune to the motive of self-interest; and that the masses will allow such men to lead them.


Finally, our social planners do not seem in the least concerned about the implementation of their program. How will they gain acceptance for their systems? How will they persuade all other men simultaneously to give up the basic motive for all their actions: the impulse to satisfy their wants and to avoid suffering? To do so it would be necessary, as Rousseau said, to change the moral and physical nature of man.


To induce all men, simultaneously, to cast off, like an ill-fitting garment, the present social order in which mankind has evolved since its beginning and adopt, instead, a contrived system, becoming docile cogs in the new machine, only two means, it seems to me, are available: force or universal consent.


Either the social planner must have at his disposal force capable of crushing all resistance, so that human beings become mere wax between his fingers to be molded and fashioned to his whim; or he must gain by persuasion consent so complete, so exclusive, so blind even, that the use of force is made unnecessary.


I defy anyone to show me a third means of setting up and putting into operation a phalanstery*14 or any other artificial social order.


Now, if there are only two means, and we demonstrate that they are both equally impracticable, we have proved by that very fact that the social planners are wasting their time and trouble.


Visionaries though they are, they have never dreamed of having at their disposal the necessary material force to subjugate to their bidding all the kings and all the peoples of the earth. King Alfonso had the presumption to say, "If God had taken me into His confidence, the solar system would have been better arranged."*15 But if he set his wisdom above the Creator's, he was not mad enough to challenge God's power; and history does not record that he tried to make the stars turn in accord with the laws of his own invention. Descartes likewise was content to construct a little world of dice and strings,*16 recognizing that he was not strong enough to move the universe. We know of no one but Xerxes who was so intoxicated with his power as to say to the waves, "Thus far shall ye come, and no farther." The waves, however, did not retreat from Xerxes, but Xerxes from the waves, and, if not for this wise but humiliating precaution, he would have been drowned.


The social planners, therefore, lack the force to subject humanity to their experiments. Even though they should win over to their cause the Czar of Russia, the Shah of Persia, and the Khan of the Tartars, and all the rulers who hold absolute power over their subjects, they still would not have sufficient force to distribute mankind into groups and categories*17 and abolish the general laws of property, exchange, heredity and family, for even in Russia, even in Persia and Tartary, men must to some extent be taken into account. If the Czar of Russia took it into his head to alter the moral and physical nature of his subjects, he probably would soon have a successor, and the successor would not be tempted to continue the experiment.


Since force is a means quite beyond the reach of our numerous social planners, they have no other resource open to them than to try to win universal consent.


This can be done in two ways: by persuasion or by imposture.


Persuasion! But not even two minds have ever been known to reach perfect agreement on every point within even a single field of knowledge. How, then, can all mankind, diverse in language, race, customs, spread over the face of the whole earth, for the most part illiterate, destined to die without ever hearing the reformer's name, be expected to accept unanimously the new universal science? What is involved? Changing the pattern of work, trade, of domestic, civil, religious relations—in a word, altering man's physical and moral nature; and people talk of rallying all humanity to the cause by conviction!


Truly, the task appears an arduous one.


When a man comes and says to his fellow men:


"For five thousand years there has been a misunderstanding between God and man. From Adam's time until now the human race has been on the wrong road, and if it will but listen to me, I shall put it back on the right track. God intended mankind to take a different route; mankind refused, and that is why evil entered the world. Let mankind hearken to my voice, and turn about; let it proceed in the opposite direction; then will the light of happiness shine upon all men."


When, I say, a man begins like this, he is doing well if he gets five or six disciples to believe him; and from five or six to a billion men is a far, far cry, so far in fact that the distance is incalculable!


And then, reflect that the number of social inventions is as limitless as man's own imagination; that there is not a single planner who, after a few hours alone in his study, cannot think up a new scheme; that the inventions of Fourier, Saint-Simon, Owen, Cabet, Blanc,*18 etc., bear no resemblance whatsoever to one another; that not a day passes without still others burgeoning forth; that, indeed, humanity has some reason for drawing back and hesitating before rejecting the order God has given it in favor of deciding definitely and irrevocably on one of the countless social inventions available. For what would happen if, after one of these schemes had been selected, a better one should present itself? Can the human race establish a new basis for property, family, labor, and exchange every day in the year? Can it risk changing the social order every morning?


"Thus," as Rousseau says, "since the lawgiver cannot use either force or reason, he must have recourse to a different manner of authority that can win support without violence and persuade without convincing."


What is that authority? Imposture. Rousseau does not dare utter the word; but, as is his invariable custom in such cases, he puts it behind the transparent veil of a purple passage:


"This," he says, "is what, in all times, forced the founding fathers of nations to have recourse to the intervention of Heaven and to give credit to the gods for their own wisdom, so that the people, submitting to the laws of the state as if to the laws of Nature, and recognizing the selfsame power as the creator of men and as the creator of their commonwealth, might obey with liberty and bear docilely the yoke of their public felicity. The decrees of sublime reason, which is above the reach of the common herd, are imputed by the lawgiver to the immortal gods, so as to win by divine authority the support of those whom human wisdom could not move. But it is not for every man to make the gods speak...."


And so, lest anyone be deceived, he completes his thought in the words of Machiavelli: Mai non fu alcuno ordinatore di leggi STRAORDINARIE in un popolo che non ricorresse a Dio.*19


Why does Machiavelli recommend invoking God's authority, and Rousseau the authority of the gods, and the immortals? I leave the answer to the reader.


Certainly I do not accuse the modern founding fathers of stooping to such unworthy subterfuge. Yet, considering the problem from their point of view, we readily appreciate how easily they can be carried away by their desire for success. When a sincere and philanthropic man is firmly convinced that he possesses a social secret by means of which his fellow men may enjoy boundless bliss in this world; when he clearly sees that he cannot win acceptance of his idea either by force or by reason, and that guile is his only recourse; his temptation is bound to be great. We know that even the ministers of the religion that professes the greatest horror of untruth have not recoiled from the use of pious fraud; and we observe (witness the case of Rousseau, that austere writer who inscribed at the head of all his works the motto: Vitam impendere vero)*20 that even proud philosophy herself can be seduced by the enticements of a very different motto: The end justifies the means. Why, then, be surprised if the modern social planners should likewise think in terms of "giving credit to the gods for their own wisdom, of putting their own decrees in the mouths of the immortal gods, of winning support without violence and persuading without convincing"?


We know that, like Moses, Fourier had his Deuteronomy following his Genesis. Saint-Simon and his disciples had gone even further in their apostolic nonsense. Others, more shrewd, lay hold of religion in its broadest sense, modifying it to their views under the name of neo-Christianity. No one can fail to be struck by the tone of mystic affectation that nearly all the modern reformers put into their preachings.


But the efforts in this direction have proved only one thing, which has, to be sure, its importance, namely, that in our day not everyone who wills may become a prophet. In vain he proclaims himself God; nobody believes him, not the public, not his peers, not even he himself.


Since I have mentioned Rousseau,*21 I shall venture to make a few observations about this social planner, particularly as they will be helpful in showing in what respects artificial social orders differ from the natural order. This digression, moreover, is not inopportune, since for some time now the Social Contract has been hailed as a miraculous prophecy of things to come.


Rousseau was convinced that isolation was man's natural state, and, consequently, that society was a human invention. "The social order," he says at the outset, "does not come from Nature; it is therefore founded on convention."


Furthermore, our philosopher, though loving liberty passionately, had a low opinion of men. He considered them completely incapable of creating for themselves the institutions of good government. The intervention of a lawgiver, a founding father, was therefore indispensable.


"The people being subject to the law should be the authors of the law," he says. "Only those who associate together have the right to regulate the conditions of their association. But how shall they regulate them? Shall it be by common agreement or by a sudden inspiration? How is a blind multitude of men, who often do not know what they want, since they rarely know what is good for them, to accomplish of themselves such a vast and difficult enterprise as that of devising a system of legislation? .... Individuals see the good and reject it; the public seeks the good and cannot find it: both are equally in need of guides..... Hence the necessity of a lawgiver."


This lawgiver, as we have seen, "being unable to use either force or reason, must of necessity have recourse to a different manner of authority," namely, in plain words, to guile and duplicity.


Nothing can adequately convey the idea of the dizzy heights above other men on which Rousseau places his lawgiver:


"We should have gods to give laws to men..... He who dares to institute a society must feel himself capable, so to speak, of changing human nature itself.... of altering man's essential constitution, so that he may strengthen it..... He must deprive man of his own powers that he may give him others that are alien to him..... The lawgiver is, in every respect, an extraordinary man in the state.... his function is a unique and superior one, which has nothing in common with the ordinary human status..... If it is true that the great prince is a very special man, what should one say of the great lawgiver? The former has only to follow the ideal, whereas it is the latter's role to create it. The lawgiver is the inventor of the machine; the prince, merely the operator."


And what, then, is mankind in all this? The mere raw material out of which the machine is constructed.


Truly, what is this but arrogance raised to the point of monomania? Men, then, are the raw materials of a machine that the prince operates and the lawgiver designs; and the philosopher rules the lawgiver, placing himself immeasurably above the common herd, the prince, and the lawgiver himself; he soars above the human race, stirs it to action, transforms it, molds it, or rather teaches the founding fathers how to go about the task of stirring, transforming, and molding it.


However, the founder of a nation must set a goal for himself. He has human raw material to put to work, and he must shape it to a purpose. Since the people are without initiative and everything depends on the lawgiver, he must decide whether his nation is to be commercial or agricultural, or a society of barbarians and fisheaters, etc.; but it is to be hoped that the lawgiver makes no mistake and does not do too much violence to the nature of things.


The people, by agreeing to form an association, or rather by forming an association at the will of the lawgiver, have, then, a very definite end and purpose. "Thus it is," says Rousseau, "that the Hebrews and more recently the Arabs, had religion as their principal object; the Athenians, letters; Carthage and Tyre, commerce; Rhodes, shipping; Sparta, war; and Rome, civic virtue."


What will be the national objective that will persuade us French to abandon the isolation of the state of nature in order to form a new society? Or rather (for we are only inert matter, the raw material for the machine), toward what end shall our great lawgiver direct us?


According to the ideas of Rousseau, it could hardly be toward letters, commerce, or shipping. War is a nobler goal, and civic virtue is nobler still. Yet there is one goal above all others, one which "should be the end and purpose of all systems of legislation, and that is liberty and equality."


But we must know what Rousseau meant by liberty. To enjoy liberty, according to him, is not to be free, but to cast our vote, even in case we should be "swept along without violence and persuaded without being convinced, for then we obey with liberty and bear docilely the yoke of public felicity."


"Among the Greeks," he said, "all that the populace had to do it did for itself; the people were constantly assembled in the market place, their climate was mild, they were not avaricious, slaves did all their work, and their great concern was their liberty."


"The English people," he says elsewhere, "believe that they are free. They are very much mistaken. They are free only while they are electing their members of parliament. Once they have elected them, they are slaves, they are nothing."


The people, then, must do for themselves everything that relates to the public service if they are to be free, for it is in this that liberty consists. They must be constantly carrying on elections, constantly in the market place. Woe to them if they think of working for their livelihood! The instant a single citizen decides to take care of his own affairs, that very instant (to use a favorite phrase of Rousseau) everything is lost.


But surely this is no minor difficulty. What is to be done? For, obviously, in order to practice virtue, even to enjoy the right to liberty, we must first stay alive.


We have already noted the rhetorical verbiage that Rousseau uses to conceal the word "imposture." Now we see him resort to flights of oratory to gloss over the logical conclusion of his whole work, which is slavery.


"Your harsh climate imposes special wants. For six months in the year your market place cannot be frequented, your muted tongues cannot make themselves heard in the open air, and you fear slavery less than poverty.


"Truly you see that you cannot be free.


"What! Liberty can be preserved only if supported by slavery? Perhaps."


If Rousseau had ended with this horrible word, the reader would have been revolted. Recourse to impressive declamation is in order. Rousseau responds nobly.


"Everything that is unnatural [he is speaking of society] has its inconveniences, and civil society even more than anything else. There are unfortunate situations in which one man's liberty can be preserved only at the expense of another's, and where the citizen can be perfectly free only on condition that the slave be abjectly a slave. You nations of the modern world have no slaves, but you yourselves are slaves; you purchase their freedom at the price of your own..... I am unmoved by the noble motives you attribute to your choice; I find you more cowardly than humane."


Does not this simply mean: Modern nations, you would do better not to be slaves yourselves but, instead, to own slaves?


I beg the reader to forgive this long digression, which, I trust, has not been without value. For some time we have had Rousseau and his disciples of the Convention*22 held up to us as the apostles of the doctrine of the brotherhood of man. Men as the raw material, the prince as the operator of a machine, the founding father as the designer, the philosopher high and mighty above them all, fraud as the means, and slavery as the end—is this the brotherhood of man that was promised?


It also seemed to me that this analysis of the Social Contract was useful in showing what characterizes artificial social orders. Start with the idea that society is contrary to Nature; devise contrivances to which humanity can be subjected; lose sight of the fact that humanity has its motive force within itself; consider men as base raw materials; propose to impart to them movement and will, feeling and life; set oneself up apart, immeasurably above the human race—these are the common practices of the social planners. The plans differ; the planners are all alike.


Among the new arrangements that poor weak mortals are invited to consider, there is one that is presented in terms worthy of our attention. Its formula is: progressive and voluntary association.


But political economy is based on this very assumption, that society is purely an association of the kind described in the foregoing formula; a very imperfect association, to be sure, because man is imperfect, but capable of improvement as man himself improves; in other words, progressive. Is it a question of a closer association among labor, capital, and talent, which should result in more wealth for the human family and its better distribution? Provided the association remains voluntary, that force and constraint do not intervene, that the parties to the association do not propose to make others who refuse to enter foot the bill, in what way are these associations contrary to the idea of political economy? Is not political economy, as a science, committed to the examination of the various forms under which men see fit to join their forces and to apportion their tasks, with a view to greater and more widely diffused prosperity? Does not the business world frequently furnish us with examples of two, three, four persons forming such associations? Is not the métayage,*23 for all its imperfections, a kind of association of capital and labor? Have we not recently seen stock companies formed that permit even the smallest investors to participate in the largest enterprises? Are there not in our country some factories that have established profit-sharing associations for their workers? Does political economy condemn these efforts of men to receive a better return for their labor? Does it declare anywhere that mankind has gone as far as it can? Quite the contrary, for I am convinced that no science proves more clearly that society is in its infancy.


But, whatever hopes we may entertain for the future, whatever ideas we may have of the forms man may discover for the improvement of his relations with his fellow man, for the more equitable distribution of wealth, and for the dissemination of knowledge and morality, we must nonetheless recognize that the social order is composed of elements that are endowed with intelligence, morality, free will, and perfectibility. If you deprive them of liberty, you have nothing left but a crude and sorry piece of machinery.


Liberty! Today, apparently, we are no longer interested. In this land of ours, this France, where fashion reigns as queen, liberty seems to have gone out of style. Yet, for myself, I say: Whoever rejects liberty has no faith in mankind. Recently, it is alleged, the distressing discovery has been made that liberty leads inevitably to monopoly.**3 No, this monstrous linking, this unnatural joining together of freedom and monopoly is nonexistent; it is a figment of the imagination that the clear light of political economy quickly dissipates. Liberty begets monopoly! Oppression is born of freedom! But, make no mistake about it, to affirm this is to affirm that man's tendencies are inherently evil, evil in their nature, evil in their essence; it is to affirm that his natural bent is toward his deterioration and that his mind is attracted irresistibly toward error. What good, then, are our schools, our study, our research, our discussions, except to add momentum to our descent down the fatal slope; since, for man, to learn to choose is to learn to commit suicide? And if man's tendencies are perverse, where will the social planners seek to place their fulcrum? According to their premises, it will have to be outside of humanity. Will they seek it within themselves, in their own intelligence, in their own hearts? But they are not yet gods: they too are men and hence, along with all humanity, careening down toward the fatal abyss. Will they call upon the state to intervene? But the state is composed of men; and we should have to prove that the men who form the state constitute a class apart, to whom the general laws of society are not applicable, since they are called upon to make the laws. Unless this be proved, the facing of the dilemma is not even postponed.


Let us not thus condemn mankind until we have studied its laws, forces, energies, and tendencies. Newton, after he had discovered the law of gravity, never spoke the name of God without uncovering his head. As far as intellect is above matter, so far is the social world above the physical universe that Newton revered; for the celestial mechanism is unaware of the laws it obeys. How much more reason, then, do we have to bow before the Eternal Wisdom as we contemplate the mechanism of the social world in which the universal mind of God also resides (mens agitat molem),*24 but with the difference that the social world presents an additional and stupendous phenomenon: its every atom is an animate, thinking being endowed with that marvelous energy, that source of all morality, of all dignity, of all progress, that exclusive attribute of man—freedom!

Notes for this chapter

[This chapter was published for the first time in the Journal des économistes, in the January, 1848, issue.—Editor.]
[The reader is reminded that this introduction was written in the days immediately following the Revolution of 1848, when the "bourgeois king," Louis Philippe, had been overthrown and a Constitutional Convention (of which Bastiat was a member) was engaged in drafting a constitution for the newly formed Second Republic. Bastiat did not live to see the sorry aftermath—the coup d'état of 1852, which turned the idealistic Second Republic into the Second Empire under Napoleon III.—Translator.]
[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.]
[This quotation, which so impressed Bastiat that he refers to it five times in the course of the Harmonies, is to be found in Part One of the Discourse on Inequality. The original passage reads as follows: "It is not to him (the savage) that we must look for the scientific insight man needs in order to observe carefully even once what he has seen every day."—Translator.]
[Allusion to Le Phalanstère ou la réforme industrielle, the newspaper started by François Marie Charles Fourier in 1832. Fourier proposed a division of society into "phalanges" or large groups, each numbering about 1600 persons and occupying a common building, or phalanstère.—Translator.]
[This observation, attributed to Alfonso X, "The Learned" (1221-1284), is better known in English in the form given by Bartlett's Familiar Quotations: "Had I been present at the Creation, I would have given some useful hints for the better ordering of the universe."—Translator.]
[In Rule XIII of his Rules for the Direction of the Mind (1629), Descartes suggests such an experiment with strings and weights.—Translator.]
[In the original French, groupes and séries, a reference to Fourier's phalanges and his proposed divisions according to occupation.—Translator.]
[François Marie Charles Fourier (1792-1837), French socialist and advocate of experimental societies, of which the best known in America was the famous Brook Farm. In addition to his newspaper, Le Phalanstère ou la réforme industrielle (cf. p. 9), he wrote other works.

Claude Henri de Rouvroy, Comte de Saint-Simon (1760-1825), historic founder of French socialism, advocate of an industrial state directed by modern science. His works greatly influenced all socialist thought of his and the next generation.

Robert Owen (1771-1858), British reformer and socialist, active in efforts to improve factory workers' conditions.

Étienne Cabet (1788-1856), French socialist theorist and experimenter. He founded associations in France, Texas, and Illinois.

Louis Blanc (1811-1882), French politician and historian, creator of the "social workshop," which combined elements of the co-operative and the trade-union, attributed the evils of society to the pressures of competition, proposing instead "to each according to his needs, from each according to his abilities."—Translator.]

["Never was there a promulgator of extraordinary laws in a nation who did not invoke God's authority."—Translator.]
["Stake life on truth." The quotation comes from Juvenal, Satire IV, line 91 Rousseau used it as Bastiat indicates.—Translator.]
[While Bastiat was thoroughly familiar with all Rousseau's main political writings (The Social Contract, Discourse on the Arts and Sciences, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, Discourse on Political Economy), the quotations and paraphrases he uses here come from the Social Contract: Book I, chap. iv; Book II, chaps. vi and vii; and Book III, chap. xv.—Translator.]
[The national assembly formed during the Revolution (1792) to frame a constitution for France. It ruled the nation until October, 1795. The theories of Rousseau, particularly on equality, civic virtue, and religion, influenced profoundly many of the seven hundred eighty-two members.—Translator.]
[The métayage: a system of share-cropping established in the South of France.—Translator.]
It is alleged that our system of free competition, advocated by ignorant political economists and adopted as a means of getting rid of monopolies, results, in fact, in the general establishment of monster monopolies in all categories." (Principes du socialisme, by M. Considérant, page 15.)*


["Mind moves matter" (Virgil, Aeneid, VI, 727).—Translator.]

Chapter 2

End of Notes

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