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Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

Liberty Fund is preparing a multi-volume collection of the selected works of Frédéric Bastiat in a translation which will take several years to complete. Much of this material has never been translated into English before. Here we have an older English translation of this favorite aphorism by Bastiat. In an earlier quotation we provided the French original. Soon after he wrote this piece Bastiat died in Italy from a serious throat condition and thus France lost one of its ablest defenders of the free market and individual liberty.

9 March, 2009

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Frédéric Bastiat on the state as the great fiction by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else (1848)

Read the full quote in context here.

In his essay on “The State”, which Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) wrote during the revolutionary year of 1848 when socialist governments were promising the moon to French citizens, he sarcastically offered his own definition of what the state was

As, on the one hand, it is certain that we all address some such request to the state, and, on the other hand, it is a well-established fact that the state cannot procure satisfaction for some without adding to the labor of others, while awaiting another definition of the state, I believe myself entitled to give my own here. Who knows if it will not carry off the prize? Here it is: The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else.

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

As, on the one hand, it is certain that we all address some such request to the state, and, on the other hand, it is a well-established fact that the state cannot procure satisfaction for some without adding to the labor of others, while awaiting another definition of the state, I believe myself entitled to give my own here. Who knows if it will not carry off the prize? Here it is:

The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else.

For, today as in the past, each of us, more or less, would like to profit from the labor of others. One does not dare to proclaim this feeling publicly, one conceals it from oneself, and then what does one do? One imagines an intermediary; one addresses the state, and each class proceeds in turn to say to it: “You, who can take fairly and honorably, take from the public and share with us.” Alas! The state is only too ready to follow such diabolical advice; for it is composed of cabinet ministers, of bureaucrats, of men, in short, who, like all men, carry in their hearts the desire, and always enthusiastically seize the opportunity, to see their wealth and influence grow. The state understands, then, very quickly the use it can make of the role the public entrusts to it. It will be the arbiter, the master, of all destinies. It will take a great deal; hence, a great deal will remain for itself. It will multiply the number of its agents; it will enlarge the scope of its prerogatives; it will end by acquiring overwhelming proportions.

But what is most noteworthy is the astonishing blindness of the public to all this. When victorious soldiers reduced the vanquished to slavery, they were barbarous, but they were not absurd. Their object was, as ours is, to live at the expense of others; but, unlike us, they attained it. What are we to think of a people who apparently do not suspect that reciprocal pillage is no less pillage because it is reciprocal; that it is no less criminal because it is carried out legally and in an orderly manner; that it adds nothing to the public welfare; that, on the contrary, it diminishes it by all that this spendthrift intermediary that we call the state costs?

[More works by Frédéric Bastiat (1801 – 1850)]