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Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

In a characteristic rhetorical device, Bastiat argues with himself about why he is spending so much time and effort in trying to write a theoretical treatise on political economy. He began writing as a journalist trying to defend the policy of free trade and found himself spending a lot of time debunking the false economic views most people held, not only about the benefits of free trade but about many other economic notions as well. This in turn led him to think that he could and should write a more substantial work showing the broader picture, which for him was the mutually beneficial and interlocking relationships which sprang up between people who were engaged in trade with each other (whether “domestic” or “international”). Bastiat did not live long enough to see his work finished but we have a substantial piece of work nevertheless which appeared in 1850. Perhaps to encourage himself in ths difficult enterprise, when he may well have known his days were numbered because of a serious throat condition (cancer probably), he wrote a clever “draft” preface to the work addressed to “himself” as if he were a close friend commenting on the task. If you read the full piece you will see Bastiat arguing with himself about why he does what he does. He fundamentally believes that “All forms of freedom go together. All ideas form a systematic and harmonious whole, and there is not a single one whose proof does not serve to demonstrate the truth of the others.” He wanted show how it all fitted together.

Other quotes about Free Trade:

9 October, 2011

Bastiat-fromDEP300

Bastiat on the most universally useful freedom, namely to work and to trade (1847)

Read the full quote in context here.

In this draft Preface for his major theoretical treatise the Economic Harmonies (1850), the French economist Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) argued with himself about his motivation for writing it. He decided on this key feature: that ” the most universally useful (freedom) to mankind … is the freedom to work and to trade” :

Like you I love all forms of freedom; and among these, the one that is the most universally useful to mankind, the one you enjoy at each moment of the day and in all of life’s circumstances, is the freedom to work and to trade. I know that making things one’s own is the fulcrum of society and even of human life. I know that trade is intrinsic to property and that to restrict the one is to shake the foundations of the other. I approve of your devoting yourself to the defense of this freedom whose triumph will inevitably usher in the reign of international justice and consequently the extinction of hatred, prejudices between one people and another, and the wars that come in their wake.

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

No, I cannot believe that pride has so far gone to your head as to make you sacrifice genuine happiness for a reputation which, as you well know, is not made for you and which, in any case, will be only fleeting. It is not you who would ever aspire to become the great man of the month in the newspapers of today.

You would deny your entire past. If this type of vanity had beguiled you, you would have started by seeking election as a deputy. I have seen you stand several times as a candidate but always refuse to do what is needed to succeed. You used constantly to say, “Now is the time to take a little action in public affairs, where you read and discuss what you have read. I will take advantage of this to distribute a few useful truths under the cover of candidacy,” and beyond that, you took no serious steps.

It is therefore not the spur of amour-propre that drove you to Paris. What then was the inspiration to which you yielded? Is it the desire to contribute in some way to the well-being of humanity? On this score as well, I have a few remarks to make.

Like you I love all forms of freedom; and among these, the one that is the most universally useful to mankind, the one you enjoy at each moment of the day and in all of life’s circumstances, is the freedom to work and to trade. I know that making things one’s own is the fulcrum of society and even of human life. I know that trade is intrinsic to property and that to restrict the one is to shake the foundations of the other. I approve of your devoting yourself to the defense of this freedom whose triumph will inevitably usher in the reign of international justice and consequently the extinction of hatred, prejudices between one people and another, and the wars that come in their wake.

But in fact, are you entering the lists with the weapons appropriate for your fame, if that is what you are dreaming of, as well as for the success of your cause itself? What are you concerned with, I mean totally concerned with? A proof, and the solution to a single problem, namely: Does trade restriction add to the profits column or the losses column in a nation’s accounts? That is the subject on which you are exhausting your entire mind! Those are the limits you have set around your great question! Pamphlets, books, brochures, articles in newspapers, speeches, all of these have been devoted to removing this gap in our knowledge: will freedom give the nation one hundred thousand francs more or less? You seem very keen on keeping from the light of day any knowledge which does not directly support this preemptive postulate. You seem set on extinguishing in your heart all these sacred flames which a love for humanity once lit there.

Are you not afraid that your mind will dry up and wither with all this analytical work, this endless argumentation focused on an algebraic calculation?

Remember what we so often said: unless you pretend that you can bring about progress in some isolated branch of human knowledge or, rather, unless you have received from nature a cranium distinguished only by its imperious forehead, it is better, especially in the case of mere amateur philosophers like us, to let your thinking roam over the entire range of intellectual endeavor rather than enslave it to the solving of one problem. It is better to search for the relationship of branches of science to each other and the harmony of social laws than to wear yourself out shedding light on a doubtful point at the risk of even losing the sense of what is grand and majestic in the whole.

[More works by Frédéric Bastiat (1801 – 1850) and on 19th Century French Liberalism]