Frederic Bastiat has long been an icon of those who love liberty. Some of his works are masterpieces, including The Law and his essays, “Government,” and “That Which is Seen and That Which is Unseen.” He has also produced some of the best reductio ad absurdum arguments ever (such as “The Candlemakers’ Petition” and “A Negative Railroad”). Further, his election manifesto of 1846 is a classic that showed what a principled libertarian politician would stand for.
For all the justifiable honor Bastiat’s writings have received, less attention has been directed to his many letters. Collected as part of Liberty Funds’ Frederic Bastiat, the Man and the Statesman, along with other inspirational works, such as Bastiat’s 1846 Campaign Manifesto, his letters also reveal his love of, and efforts for liberty, but are far less well known. It is worth looking at some of that very inspirational man’s most inspirational words that are there, as well.
As long as our deputies want to further their own business and not that of the general public, the public will remain just the tail end of the people in power.
There are some who fear that the government would be destroyed by a spirit of economy, as though each person did not feel that it was in his interest to pay for a force responsible for the repression of evildoers.
What remedy will a nation seek that has not learned to make an enlightened use of its rights?
Let us raise the flag of absolute freedom…and let us wait for those with the same faith to join us.
I want not so much free trade itself as the spirit of free trade for my country. Free trade means a little more wealth; the spirit of free trade is a reform of the mind itself…the source of all reform.
The cause we serve is not bounded by the borders of a nation. It is universal.
All have the same goal, tyranny. They differ only on the question of…in whose hands the despotism will be placed. This is why the thing they fear most is a spirit of true freedom.
The plentiful bounty of the state…consists in taking away ten to give it back eight, not to mention the true freedom that will be destroyed in the operation!
Anything that can, directly or indirectly, damage property, undermine confidence, or weaken security is an obstacle to the accumulation of capital and has an unfavorable effect on the working classes. This is also true for all taxes and irritating governmental interference.
How can industry revive when it is accepted in principle that the scope for regulation is unlimited? When every minute a decree on earnings, working hours, the cost of things, etc., can upset all economic decision making?
The dominant notion…is that the state is responsible for providing a living for everyone…the real cause of the evil is certainly the false ideas of socialism.
Every class has demanded from the state the means of subsistence, as of right…The law has been able to satisfy them only by creating distress in the other classes, especially the working classes. These therefore raised a clamor, and instead of demanding that this plundering should cease, they demanded that the law should allow them to take part in the plundering as well. It has become general and universal.
Each person should call upon his own forces to provide his means of existence and expect the state to provide only justice and security.
You need to be uncommonly absurd and foolish to believe that it is an act of courage to vote in favor of might…the majority, the passions of the moment, and the government.
False communist doctrines…are only the negation of the right of property in a variety of forms.
The legitimate functions of the government and the natural limits of the law… once these functions have been understood and these limits set, the people governed will no longer expect prosperity, well-being, and absolute good fortune but equal justice for all from their governments. Once this is so, governments will have their ordinary action circumscribed, will no longer repress individual energy, will no longer dissipate public assets…and will themselves be freed from the illusionary hopes pinned on them by their peoples.
Allow me, in closing…this toast: To free trade among peoples! To the free circulation of men, things, and ideas! To universal free trade and all its economic, political, and moral consequences!
I have always been in favor of freedom except for the repression of crime.
I think that the best assembly is good only for preventing evil.
The natural order of society based on ownership itself the most beautiful, wide-ranging, and progressive community.
The government should guarantee security to each person and…not concern itself with anything else.
Grant the people what justice demands, in order to be strong enough to refuse everything which exceeds justice.
As long as the state is regarded…as a source of favors, our history will be seen as having only two phases, the periods of conflict as to who will take control of the state and the periods of truce, which will be the transitory reign of a triumphant oppression, the harbinger of a fresh conflict.
Protectionism is a plague…What [an opponent] is asking of the law is that it should fleece me for his benefit. What I ask of the law is that it should be neutral between us and that it should guarantee my property in the same way as that of the blacksmith.
When there is good to be done or an evil to be combated, a call for government enforcement appears at first to be the shortest, most economic and effective means…But…This is how new functions, new civil servants, new taxes, new sources of discontent, and new financial problems are created. Then, by substituting government enforcement for private activity, are we not removing the intrinsic value of individuality and the means of acquiring it? Are we not making all citizens into men who do not know how to act individually…Are we not preparing elements of society for socialism, which is nothing other than one man’s thought taking the place of everyone else’s will?
As a citizen and politician, as well as a writer, Frederic Bastiat advocated a government that would, by focusing narrowly on ensuring that individuals “did not encroach on the freedom of others,” guarantee each citizen the ability to “fully and completely enjoy the free exercise of his or her physical, mental, and moral faculties.” And he did so surrounded by a sea of special interests whose plans for piracy he threatened. That took principles and courage. We should remember both, and emulate both, if we value freedom as much.
This article, Even Bastiat’s Correspondence Shows His Love of Liberty, was originally published by the American Institute for Economic Research and appears here with permission. Please support their efforts.