Brilliant Bastiat

I have quoted from Bastiat before, and will again.  Here below is something from his “Harmonies of Political Economy”, the full text of which can be found here.

Bastiat writes:

“All that I have aimed at is to put you on the right track, and make you acquainted with the truth that all legitimate interests are in harmony. That is the predominant idea of my work, and it is impossible not to recognize its importance.

For some time it has been the fashion to laugh at what has been called the social problem; and no doubt some of the solutions that have been proposed afford but too much ground for raillery. But in the problem itself there is nothing laughable. It is the ghost of Banquo at the feast of Macbeth—and no dumb ghost either; for in formidable tones it calls out to terror-stricken society— a solution or death!

Now this solution, you will at once see, must be different according as men’s interests are held to be naturally harmonious or naturally antagonistic.  In the one case, we must seek for the solution in Liberty—in the other, in Constraint.  In the one case, we have only to be passive— in the other, we must necessarily offer opposition.

But Liberty assumes only one shape.  Once convinced that each of the molecules that compose a fluid possesses in itself the force by which the general level is produced, we conclude that there is no surer or simpler way of seeing that level realized than not to interfere with it.  All, then, who set out with this fundamental principle, that men’s interests are harmonious, will agree as to the practical solution of the social problem—to abstain from displacing or thwarting these interests.

Constraint, on the other hand, may assume a thousand shapes, according to the views we take of it, and which are infinitely varied.  Those schools that set out with the principle that men’s interests are antagonistic, have done nothing yet toward the solution of the problem, unless it be that they have thrust aside Liberty.  Among the infinite forms of Constraint, they have still to choose the one they consider good, if indeed any of them be so.  And then, as a crowning difficulty, they have to obtain universal acceptance, among men who are free agents, for the particular form of Constraint to which they have awarded the preference.

But, on this hypothesis, if human interests are, by their very nature urged into fatal collision, and if this shock can be avoided only by the accidental invention of an artificial social order, the destiny of the human race becomes very hazardous, and we ask in terror:

First, if any man is to be found who has discovered a satisfactory form of Constraint?

Second, can this man bring to his way of thinking the innumerable schools who give the preference to other forms?

Third, will mankind give in to that particular form which, by hypothesis, runs counter to all individual interests?

Fourth, assuming that men will allow themselves to be rigged out in this new attire, what will happen if another inventor presents himself, with a coat of a different and improved cut? Are we to persevere in a vicious organization, knowing it to be vicious; or must we resolve to change that organization every morning according as the caprices of fashion and the fertility of inventors’ brains may dictate?

Fifth, would not all the inventors whose plans have been rejected unite together against the particular organization that had been selected, and would not their success in disturbing society be in exact proportion to the degree in which that particular form of organization ran counter to all existing interests?

Sixth, and last of all, may be asked, Does there exist any human force capable of overcoming an antagonism that we presuppose to be itself the very essence of human force?  I might multiply such questions ad infinitum, and propose, for example, this difficulty: If individual interest is opposed to the general interest, where are we to place the active principle of Constraint?  Where is the fulcrum of the lever to be placed? Beyond the limits of human society?  It must be so if we are to escape the consequences of your law. If we are to entrust some men with arbitrary power, prove first of all that these men are formed of a different clay from other mortals; that they in their turn will not be acted upon by the fatal principle of self-interest; and that, placed in a situation that excludes the idea of any curb, any effective opposition, their judgments will be exempt from error, their hands from rapacity, and their hearts from covetousness.”

Freedom is the way, folks.

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