Frédéric Bastiat: To the Electors

Elecciones Generales 2011 Guatemala -  10

Today Guatemalans and Nicaraguans are electing the President that will rule their government for the following four years. Sadly, as continuously happens in those tropical countries, the only result of the election will be a “deja vu” of the last 4 years of corruption, increased budgets, crony capitalism, the legalization of death penalty and the impossibility to preserve the sphere of freedom and of private activity, as completely and extensively as possible.

Now, sad to know that this “deja vu” is the result and responsibility of Guatemalan‘s lack of Philosophy I can just remember the words of the wounderful Frédéric Bastiat who wrote in 1846 To the Electors of the District of Saint-Sever. His words are still alive and replicable in the current history of Guatemala and of most of the countries that inherited the Napoleonic legal tradition. I share with you his enlightening words,

Frederic Bastiat:
To the Electors
of the District of Saint-Sever.

Translated from French by Diana Dupuy [1]


By Jacques de Guenin [2]

In 1846, France was still a monarchy, known as the “July Monarchy“, because the King, Louis-Philippe, came to power after a popular upheaval against the previous king, Charles X, in July 1830. From an administrative point of view, France was divided – as it is still today – into “départements”, or departments, and the departments in “arrondissements”, themselves divided into “cantons”. In the text which follows, the word “arrondissement” has been aptly translated by “district”, and we shall use this translation in this introduction. As is still the case today, each district sent one representative to parliament [3].

At that time, Bastiat was living in the canton of Mugron, belonging to the district of Saint-Sever, itself a part of a department called “Les Landes”. This canton, district, and department still exist today, with practically the same boundaries. Bastiat was a candidate for parliament in the district of Saint-Sever.

In 1846, there was something different, though: only those paying a certain amount of taxes were entitled to vote. In the district of Saint-Sever, they numbered only 369! Besides, the “préfet”, the local representative of the central power, did not have the same neutrality vis a vis the electorate as he has to day under the law. He would use all the influence he could exert in favor of the “official” candidate, the one supported by the monarchy. The “official” candidate was a certain Mr Larnac, who was elected with 170 voices. Bastiat got only 53 !

And yet he had written to his electors, in splendid and luminous prose, the most sensible and responsible “profession of faith” ever written by a candidate to parliament. The Cercle Frédéric Bastiat is proud to have translated this address, and the Foundation for Economic Education is proud to publish it in 2001, for the 200th anniversary of the birth of Bastiat.

This letter contains most of the themes against which Bastiat had fought for the previous two years, and would continue to fight during the four last years of his life:

  • The tendency for governments to expand and spend.
  • The submission of legislative to executive power.
  • The frequent changes of government to satisfy the ambition of some MP to become ministers.
  • The tacit agreement among political opponents to maintain the level of state expenditures.
  • The excessive number of civil servants in parliament.
  • The colonial conquests.
  • The burden of State Intervention,

More constructively, it also contained the great universal ideas for which he was to become famous:

  • A minimum State reduced to Justice, Police, and Defense.
  • Freedom of exchange.
  • Freedom of education.
  • The right of property.

In 1848, a revolution brought the monarchy down and installed the 2nd Republic. Universal suffrage was instituted. The vote was now at the department level: 7 “deputies” were to be elected for Les Landes to the “Assemblée Constituante”, a temporary parliament elected to draw up the Constitution. Bastiat was one of them, coming second in term of the number of votes. He was reelected to the National Assembly the following year, where he had a profound moral influence – alas without significant practical results – until 1850, the year of his death.

Profession of faith

To the Electors
of the district of Saint-Sever. (1846)

My dear Fellow-countrymen,

Encouraged by a few of you to stand at the forthcoming elections, and wishing to ascertain the degree of collaboration on which I could rely, I have spoken to a number of electors. Alas! one finds me too progressive, another not enough; my anti-academic opinions are rejected by one, my aversion to the Algerian enterprise by another, my economic convictions by a third, my views on parliamentary reform by yet another, etc.

This proves that the best policy for a candidate is to hide his opinions, or, for even greater security, not to have any, and to confine himself to the hackneyed platform: “I’m for freedom without licentiousness, order without tyranny, peace without shame, and economizing without endangering any service.”

Since I have not the slightest intention of deceiving your trust, I shall continue to sincerely make my ideas known to you, were this to further alienate many votes from me. I beg you to excuse me if the need to pour forth convictions that weigh upon me drives me to overstep the limits that are customarily set to professions of faith.

I have met with many conservatives, I have conversed with many members of the opposition, and I think I can positively assert that neither of those two great parties that divide Parliament is satisfied with itself.

They wage battles in Parliament with flabby balls.

The conservatives have the official majority; they reign, they govern. But they feel confusedly that they are leading the country, and themselves, to ruin. They have the majority, but, in the depths of their conscience, the manifest fraud of the polls raises a protest that bothers them. They reign, but they can see that, under their reign, the budget increases year by year, that the present is deep in debt and the future already tied up, that the first emergency will find us without resources, and they are well aware that financial difficulties have always been the occasion for revolutionary outbursts. They govern, but they cannot deny that they govern people through their evil passions, and that political corruption is making its way into all the arteries of the electorate. They wonder what the consequences of such a serious state of affairs will be, and what is to become of a nation where immorality has pride of place and where political faith is an object of mockery and contempt. They worry on seeing the constitutional regime perverted in its very essence, to the point where the executive power and the legislative assembly have publicly exchanged their responsibilities, with the ministers surrendering to the members of parliament the job of appointing people to all posts, and the members of parliament relinquishing their share of legislative power to the ministers. As a result, they see civil servants overcome with deep discouragement, when favor and electoral submissiveness alone entitle you to promotion, and when the longest and most devoted services are held of no account whatsoever. Yes, the future of France troubles the conservatives; and how many among them would not go over to the opposition, if they could only find there some guarantees for that peace at home and abroad of which they are so fond?

On the other hand, as a party, can the opposition rely on the strength of the ground on which it has placed itself? What does it demand? what does it want? what is the mainspring of its action? its Program? Nobody knows. Its natural role would be to watch over the sacred deposit of the three great conquests of civilization: peace, freedom, justice. And it breathes out nothing but war, domination, and Napoleonic ideas. It is neglecting freedom of work and of trade along with freedom of thought and of education. And, in its conquering zeal, with regard to Africa and the South Seas, there has never been any instance of the word justice passing its lips. It is aware that it is working for the ambitious and not for the public; that the multitude will gain nothing from the success of its scheming. We once saw an opposition party with only fifteen members supported by the enthusiastic assent of a great people. But today the opposition has not rooted itself in the sympathies of the people; it feels cut off from that source of strength and life, and, apart from the zeal with which personal designs fire its leaders, it is pale, confused, discouraged, and most of its sincere members would go over to the conservative party, were they not loath to associate themselves with the perverse course the latter has given to affairs of state.

A strange sight indeed! How is it that whether in the center or at either extreme in the House, decent souls feel ill at ease? Could it not be that the conquest of ministerial offices, which is the more or less acknowledged aim of the battle they are engaged in, only interests a few individuals and remains a matter of complete indifference to the masses? Could it not be that they lack a rallying principle? Maybe it would be sufficient to toss into the heart of that assembly one simple, true, clear, fertile, practical idea, to see what one seeks there in vain suddenly emerge: a party exclusively representing, in all their scope and entirety, the interests of the governed, of the taxpayers.

I see that fertile idea in the creed of certain renowned political writers whose words have unfortunately gone unheeded. I will try to sum it up before you.

There are things that can only be done by collective force or established authority, and others that should be left to private activity.

The fundamental problem in political science is to know what pertains to each of these two modes of action.

Public administration and private activity both have our good in view. But their services differ in that we suffer the former under compulsion, and accept the latter of our own free will; whence it follows that it is reasonable to entrust the former only with what the latter is absolutely unable to carry out.

For my part, I believe that when the powers that be have guaranteed to each and everyone the free use and the product of his or her faculties, repressed any possible misuse, maintained order, secured national independence and carried out certain tasks in the public interest which are beyond the power of the individual, then they have fulfilled just about all their duty.

Beyond this sphere, religion, education, association, work, exchanges, everything belongs to the field of private activity, under the eye of public authority, whose role should only be one of supervision and of repression.

If that great and fundamental boundary were thus established, then authority would be strong, and it would be appreciated, because it would make only a tutelary action felt.

It would be inexpensive, because it would be confined within the narrowest limits.

It would be liberal, for, on the one condition that he or she did not encroach on the freedom of others, each citizen would fully and completely enjoy the free exercise of his or her physical, mental and moral faculties.

I might add that, the power of perfectibility that is within it being freed from all regulating constraint, society would be in the best possible position to develop its riches, its education and its morality.

But, even if there were agreement on the limits of public authority, it is no easy matter to force it and maintain it within those limits.

Established authority, a vast, organized and living body, naturally tends to grow. It feels cramped within its supervisory mission. Now, its growth is hardly possible without a succession of encroachments upon the field of individual rights. The expansion of established authority means usurping some form of private activity, transgressing the boundary that I set earlier between what is and what is not its essential attribute. Authority departs from its mission when, for instance, it imposes a particular form of worship on our consciences, a particular method of teaching on our minds, a particular finality for our work or for our capital, or an invasive drive on our international relationships, etc.

And I beg you to note, gentlemen, that authority becomes all the more costly as it becomes oppressive. For it can commit no encroachments otherwise than through salaried agents. Thus each of its intrusions implies creating some new administration, instituting some fresh tax; so that our freedom and our purse inevitably share a common destiny.

Consequently, if the public understands and wishes to defend its true interests, it will halt authority as soon as the latter tries to go beyond its sphere of activity; and for that purpose the public has an infallible means, which is to deny authority the resources with which it could carry out its encroachments.

Once these principles are laid down, the role of the opposition, and I would even say that of Parliament as a whole, is simple and clearly defined.

It does not consist in hindering the government in its essential activity, in denying it the means of administering justice, of repressing crime, of paving roads, of repelling foreign aggression.

It does not consist in discrediting or debasing the government in the public eye, in depriving it of the strength it needs.

It does not consist in making government go from hand to hand by changing ministries, and less still, by changing dynasties [4].

It does not even consist in ranting childishly against the government’s tendency to intrude; for that tendency is inevitable, incurable, and would manifest itself just as much under a president as under a king, in a republic as in a monarchy.

It consists solely in keeping the government within its limits; in preserving the sphere of freedom and of private activity, as completely and extensively as possible.

So if you were to ask me: “What will you do as a member of Parliament?”, I would reply: “Why, what you yourselves would do as taxpayers and subjects.”

I would say to those in power: “Do you lack the means to maintain order within and independence without? Well, here is money, here are men; for order and independence are to the advantage of the public and not of the government.

But if you think you have the right to impose on us a religious cult, a philosophical theory, an educational system, a farming method, a commercial trend, a military conquest, then there will be neither money nor men for you; for in that case we would have to pay, not to be served but to be serfs, not to preserve our freedom but to lose it.

This doctrine can be summed up in the following simple words: Let everything be done for the majority of citizens, both great and humble. In their interest, let there be good public management of what can unfortunately not be carried out otherwise. In their interest also, let there be complete and utter freedom in everything else, under the supervision of established authority.

One thing will strike you, gentlemen, as it strikes me, and it is this: for a member of Parliament to be able to express himself in this way, he must be part of that public for whom the administration is designed and by whom it is paid.

It must be acknowledged that it is entirely up to the public to decide how, to what extent, and at what cost it means to have things managed, otherwise representative government would be nothing but a deception, and the sovereignty of the people a meaningless expression. Now, having recognized the tendency of any government to grow indefinitely, when it questions you through the polls on the subject of its own limits, if you leave it to the government itself to reply, by entrusting its own civil servants with drawing up the answer, then you might as well put your wealth and your freedom at its disposal. To expect a government to draw from within itself the strength to resist its natural expansion, is to expect from a falling stone the energy to halt its fall.

If the election regulations were to stipulate: “The taxpayers will have themselves represented by civil servants”, you would find that absurd, and you would understand that there would no longer be any limit to the expansion of the powers that be, apart from riot, or to increase in the budget, apart from bankruptcy, but are the results any different when electors voluntarily make up for such a regulation?

At this point, gentlemen, I must tackle the serious question of parliamentary incompatibilities. I will not say much about it, reserving the right to address myself at greater length to Mr. Larnac [5]. But I cannot entirely pass over it in silence, since he has thought fit to circulate among you a letter of which I have not kept a copy, and which, not being intended for publication, only touched on that vast subject.

According to the way that letter has been interpreted, it appears that I would demand that all civil servants be banned from parliament.

I do not know whether such an absolute meaning is perceptible in my letter. In that case, my expression must have gone beyond my thought. I have never considered that the assembly in which laws are drawn up could do without magistrates; or that it could deal constructively with maritime problems in the absence of seamen; with military problems in the absence of soldiers; or with financial problems in the absence of financiers.

What I said and what I uphold is this: as long as the law has not settled the position of civil servants in parliament, as long as their interests as civil servants are not, so to speak, effaced by their interests as taxpayers, the best we electors can do is not to appoint any; and, I must admit, I would rather there were not a single one of them in the House than see them there as a majority, without cautionary measures having been taken, as the good sense of the public requires, in order to protect them and to protect us from the influence that hope and fear must exercise over their votes.

This has been construed as petty jealousy, as mistrust verging on hatred towards civil servants. It is nothing of the sort. I know many civil servants, nearly all my friends belong to that category (for who doesn’t nowadays?), as I do myself; and in my essays on economics, I maintained, contrary to the opinion of my master, Mr. Say, that their services are productive just as private services are. But it is nonetheless true that they differ in that we take of the latter only what we want, and at an agreed price, whereas the former are imposed on us as well as the payment attached to them. Or, if it is claimed that public services and their payment are voluntarily approved by us, because they are formulated by our representatives, it must be acknowledged that our approval stems only from that very formulation. It is therefore not up to civil servants to see to the formulation. It is no more up to them to decide on the extent of the service and the price to be paid, than it is up to my wine supplier to decide on the amount of wine I should take and the sum I should spend on it. It is not of civil servants that I am wary, it is of the human heart; and I can respect those who make a living out of collecting taxes, while considering that they are hardly qualified to vote them, just as Mr. Larnac probably respects judges, while considering their duties as incompatible with those of the “garde nationale” [6].

My views on parliamentary reform have also been presented as tainted with excessive radicalism. And yet I had taken care to point out that, in my opinion, reform is even more necessary for the stability of the government, than for the preservation of our liberties. As I said then, the most dangerous men in the House are not the civil servants, but those who aim at becoming civil servants. The latter are driven to waging against whatever cabinet may be in power, an incessant, troublesome, seditious war, which is of no use whatsoever to the country; they make use of events, distort questions, lead public opinion astray, hinder public affairs, disturb the peace, for they have only one aim in mind: to overthrow the ministers in order to take their places. To deny the truth of this, you would have to have never set eyes on the historical records of Great Britain, you would have to deliberately reject the teachings of our constitutional history as a whole.

Which brings me back to the fundamental idea underlying this communication, for, as you can see, the concept of opposition may take on two very different aspects.

The Opposition as it is now, the inevitable result of M.P.s being admitted to power, is the disorderly contention of ambitions. It violently attacks individuals, but only weakly attacks corrupt practices; naturally, since corrupt practices make up the greater part of the inheritance it is striving to gain. It does not contemplate limiting the sphere of administrative action. Far from it the idea of eliminating a few cogs from the vast machine it longs to control. Besides, we have seen it at work. Its present leader was once prime minister; the present prime minister was once its leader. It has governed under either banner. What have we gained from it all? Throughout these developments, has the upward trend of the budget ever been suspended even for a minute?

Opposition, as I see it, is the organized vigilance of the public. It is calm and impartial, but as permanent as the reaction of a spring under the hand that holds it down. So that the balance may not be upset, must not the force of resistance of the governed be equal to the force of expansion of those that govern? This opposition has nothing against the men in office, it sees no point in moving them around, it will even help them within the sphere of their legitimate duties; but it will mercilessly confine them within that sphere.

You might think that this natural form of opposition, which has nothing dangerous or subversive about it, which attacks the government neither in those who hold office, nor in its fundamental principle, nor in its useful action, but only in its exaggeration, is less distasteful to the ministers than seditious opposition. Don’t you believe it! It is precisely this form of opposition that they fear most of all; they hate it, they deride it in order to bring it to naught, they prevent it from emerging within their constituencies, because they can see plainly that it gets to the bottom of things and pursues evil to its very roots. The other kind of opposition, personal opposition, is less to be dreaded. Between those men who fight over ministerial portfolios, however bitter the struggle, there is always a tacit agreement, under which the vast edifice of government must be left intact. “Overthrow me if you can,” says the minister, “I will overthrow you in your turn; only, let us take care that the stake remains on the table, in the shape of a budget of fifteen hundred million francs”. But if one day a member of parliament, speaking in the name of taxpayers and as a taxpayer himself, rises from his seat in the House to say to present or prospective ministers: “Gentlemen, fight among yourselves over power, all I seek to do is restrain it; wrangle over how to manipulate the budget, all I wish to do is reduce it”; Ah! be sure that those raging fighters, apparently so bitterly opposed, will very soon pull together to stifle the voice of that faithful representative. They will call him a utopian, a theoretician, a dangerous reformer, a man with a fixed idea, of no practical value; they will heap scorn upon him; they will turn the venal press against him. But if taxpayers let him down, sooner or later they will find out that they have let themselves down.

I have spoken my mind, gentlemen; I have laid it before you plainly and frankly, while regretting not being able to corroborate my opinion with all the arguments that might have carried your convictions.

I hope to have said enough, however, for you to be able to appreciate the course I would follow if I were your representative, and it is hardly necessary to add that, with regard to the government and the ambitious in opposition, I would first make a point of placing myself in that position of independence which alone affords any guarantee, and which one must impose on oneself, since the law has made no provision in that respect.

Having laid down the principle which should, as I see it, govern the whole career of your parliamentary representatives, allow me to say a few words about the main subjects to which it seems to me this principle should be applied.

You may have heard that I have devoted some energy to the cause of free trade, and it is easy to see that my efforts are consistent with the fundamental idea that I have just set forth concerning the natural limits of institutional authority. As I see it, anyone who has created a product should have the option of exchanging it, as well as of using it himself. Exchange is therefore an integral part of the right of property. Now, we have not instituted and we do not pay authority in order to deprive us of that right, but on the contrary in order to guarantee us that right in its entirety. None of the government’s encroachments has had more disastrous consequences, than its encroachment on the exercise of our faculties and on our freedom to dispose of their products.

First of all, this would-be protective regime, when closely examined, is based on the most flagrant spoliation. Two years ago, when measures were taken to restrain the entry of oleaginous grain, it was indeed possible to increase the profits on certain crops, since the price of oil immediately went up by a few pence a pound. But it is perfectly obvious that those excess profits were not a gain for the nation as a whole, since they were taken gratuitously and artfully from the pockets of other citizens, of all those who grow neither rapeseed nor olive trees. Thus, there was no creation, but simply an unjust transfer, of riches. To say that in so-doing you supported one branch of agriculture, is saying nothing at all as regards general welfare, because you only gave it the sap that you took from other branches. And what crazy industry might not be made lucrative at such a cost? Suppose a shoemaker takes it into his head to cut shoes out of boots, however unsound an operation, just give him a preferential licence, and it will become an excellent one. If growing rapeseed is in itself a sound activity, there is no need to give any supplementary profit to those who practice it. If it is unsound, the extra income does not make it sound. Only it shifts the loss onto the public.

Spoliation, as a rule, transfers wealth, but does not destroy it. Protectionism transfers wealth and furthermore destroys it, and this is how: as oleaginous grain from the North no longer enters France, there is no longer any way of producing here the wherewithal to pay for it, for example a certain quantity of wines. Now, if, regarding oil, the profits of the producers and the losses of the consumers balance, the sufferings of the vine growers are an unjustified and unalleviated evil.

Many of you no doubt are not quite clear in their minds as to the effects of a protectionist regime. Allow me to make a remark.

Let us suppose that this regime were not forced on us by law, but directly by the will of the monopolists. Let us suppose that the law left us entirely free to purchase iron from the Belgians or the Swedes, but that the ironmasters had servants enough to prevent the iron from passing our frontiers and to force us thereby to purchase from them and at their price. Wouldn’t we complain loudly of oppression and injustice? The injustice would indeed be more obvious; but as for the economic effects, it cannot be said that they would be any different. After all, are we any the fatter because those gentlemen have been clever enough to have carried out by customs officers, and at our expense, that policing of the frontier that we would not tolerate were it carried out at their own expense?

The protectionist system bears witness to the following truth: a government that goes beyond its normal assignments draws from its transgressions only power that is dangerous, even for itself. When the State becomes the distributor and regulator of profits, all sectors of industry tug at it this way and that in order to tear from it a shred of monopoly. Have you ever seen free home trade put a cabinet in the predicament in which regulated foreign trade put Sir Robert Peel [7]? And if we consider our own country, is it not a strong government indeed that we see trembling before Mr. Darblay [8]? So, as you can see, by restraining the government you consolidate rather than endanger it.

Free trade, freedom of communication between peoples, putting the varied products of the world within everyone’s reach, enabling ideas to penetrate along with the products into those regions still darkened by ignorance, the State freed from the contrary claims of the workers, peace between nations founded on intertwining interests, – all this is undoubtedly a great and noble cause. I am happy to believe that this cause, which is eminently Christian and social, is at the same time that of our unhappy region, at present languishing and perishing under the pressure of commercial restrictions.

Education is also bound up with the same fundamental question that precedes all others in politics: Is it part of the State’s duties? Or does it belong to the sphere of private activity? You can guess what my answer will be. The government is not set up in order to bring our minds into subjection, or to absorb the rights of the family. To be sure, gentlemen, if it pleases you to hand over to it your noblest prerogatives, if you want to have theories, systems, methods, principles, textbooks and teachers forced on you by the government, that is up to you; but do not expect me to sign, in your name, such a shameful abdication of your rights. Besides, you must not shut your eyes to the consequences. Leibnitz used to say: “I have always thought that whoever was master of education, would be master of mankind”. Maybe that is why the head of our State education is known as Grand Master. The monopoly of teaching cannot reasonably be entrusted to any but an authority recognized as infallible. Otherwise, there is an unlimited risk that error be uniformly taught to the people as a whole. “We have made a republic”, Robespierre would say, “it now remains for us to make republicans of everyone.” Bonaparte wanted to make soldiers of everyone, Frayssinous [9] wanted only religious devotees; Mr. Cousin [10] would turn people into philosophers, Fourier [11] would have only “harmonians”, and I suppose I would want economists. Unity is a wonderful thing, but only on condition that you are in the right. Which again amounts to saying that academic monopoly is compatible only with infallibility. So let us leave education free. It will perfect itself through trial and error, example, rivalry, imitation and emulation. Unity is not at the starting point of the efforts made by the human mind; it is the result of the natural gravitation of free intellects towards the center of all attraction: Truth.

That does not mean to say that the powers that be should withdraw in complete indifference. As I have already said, their mission is to supervise the use and repress the misuse of all our faculties. I accept that they should accomplish this mission to the fullest extent, and with even greater vigilance regarding education than in any other field; that the State should lay down conditions concerning qualifications and character-references; that it should repress immoral teaching; that it should watch over the health of the pupils. I accept all that, while yet remaining convinced that its solicitude, however scrupulous, can offer only the very slightest guarantee compared to that instilled by Nature in the hearts of fathers and in the interest of teachers.

I must make myself clear on one vast subject, more especially as my views probably differ from those of many of you: I am referring to Algeria. I have no hesitation in saying that, unless it be in order to secure independent frontiers, you will never find me, in this case or in any other, on the conqueror’s side.

To me it is a proven fact, and I venture to say a scientifically proven fact, that the colonial system is the most disastrous illusion ever to have led nations astray. I make no exception for the English, in spite of the specious nature of the well-known argument: post hoc, ergo propter hoc [after that, therefore because of that]

Do you know how much Algeria is costing you? From one third to two fifths of your four direct taxes, including the extra cents. Whoever among you pays three hundred francs in taxes, sends one hundred francs annually to evaporate into the clouds over the Atlas mountains or to sink into the sands of the Sahara.

We are told that the money is an advance and that, a few centuries from now, we shall recover it a hundredfold. But who says so? The very Quartermaster General’s Department that swindles us out of our money. Listen here, gentlemen, when it comes to cash, there is but one useful piece of advice: let each man watch his purse… and those to whom he entrusts the purse-strings.

We are further told: “The money spent helps to support many people.” Yes, indeed, Kabyle spies, Moorish moneylenders, Maltese settlers and Arab sheikhs. If it were used to cut the “Grandes-Landes” canal [12], to excavate the bed of the Adour river and the port of Bayonne, it would help to support many people around us, too, and moreover it would provide the country with an enormous capacity for production.

I have spoken of money; I should first have spoken about men. Every year, ten thousand of our young fellow-citizens, the pick of our population, go to their deaths on those consuming shores, and to no useful purpose so far, other than to extend, at our expense, the field of the administrative services, who are naturally all in favor of it. In answer to that, there is the alleged advantage of ridding the country of its surplus. A horrible pretext, which goes against all human feeling and which hasn’t even the merit of being materially true; for, even supposing the population to be overabundant, to take from it, with each man, two or three times the capital which could have supported him here, is far from being any relief to those who remain behind.

But I must be fair. In spite of its liking for anything that increases the size of its administration, it seems that at the outset the government shrunk from that abyss of bloodshed, injustice and distress. The Nation chose to go ahead; it will long suffer the consequences.

What carried the country away, besides the mirage of a great empire, of a new civilization, etc., was a strong reaction of national feeling against the offensive claims of the British oligarchy. England’s veiled opposition to our designs was enough to persuade us to go ahead with them. I appreciate that feeling, and I would rather see it go astray than die out. But, on the other hand, is there not a danger that it should place us under the very domination that we hate? Give me two men, the one submissive and the other contrary, and I will lead them both on a leash. If I want them to walk, I will say to one: “Walk!”, to the other: “Don’t walk!”, and both of them will do as I wish. If our sense of dignity were to take that form, then all perfidious Albion would have to do, in order to make us do the most stupid things, would be to appear to oppose them. Just suppose, and it is certainly very allowable to do so, that England sees in Algeria the ball and chain that tie us down, the abyss which could swallow up our power; then would that country only have to frown, take on a haughty and angry air, in order to make us pursue a dangerous and insane policy? Let us avoid that pitfall; let us judge by ourselves and for ourselves; let no one lay down the law to us either directly or in a roundabout way. The problem of Algiers is unfortunately not isolated. We are bound by precedents; the past has committed the future, and there are precedents that that must be taken into account. Let us, however, remain master of decisions to come; let us weigh the advantages and drawbacks; and let us not disdain to add a measure of justice to the balance, albeit towards the Kabyles. If we do not begrudge the money, if glory is not to be haggled over, let us at least attach some importance to the grief of families, the sufferings of our fellow-countrymen, the fate of those who fall and the disastrous habits of those who survive.

There is another subject that deserves all the attention of your representative. I am referring to indirect taxation. In this case the distinction between what is and what is not within the competence of the State, does not apply. It is obviously up to the State to collect taxes. However, it may be said that it is the inordinate expansion of its power that makes the State have recourse to the most hateful tax inventions. When a nation, the victim of its own excessive timidity, dares do nothing by itself, and is forever begging for State intervention, then it must resign itself to being mercilessly ransomed; for the State can do nothing without finance, and when it has drained the ordinary sources of revenue dry, it has no alternative but to turn to the strangest and most oppressive forms of extortion. Thus we have indirect taxation on alcohol. The suppression of these taxes therefore depends on the answer to the eternal question that I never tire of asking: Does the French nation want to be forever in tutelage and to call on its government to intervene in every matter? in that case, it should no longer complain about being overburdened, and can even expect to see things get worse.

But, even supposing that the tax on alcohol could not be suppressed (which I am far from conceding), it seems clear to me that it could be largely modified, and that it would be easy to cut out its most distasteful elements. All that would be necessary would be to induce the owners of vineyards to give up certain exaggerated ideas on the extent of their right of property and the inviolability of their domicile [13].

Allow me, gentlemen, to end with a few personal observations. You must excuse me for doing so. For I, personally, have no active and devoted canvasser at a salary of 3,000 francs plus 4,000 francs in office expenses, to busy himself with promoting my candidacy from one side of the constituency to the other, and from one end of the year to the other.

Some people say: “Mr. Bastiat is a revolutionary.” Others: “Mr. Bastiat has thrown in his lot with the government.”

What precedes answers that dual assertion.

There are those who say: “Mr. Bastiat may be a very decent fellow, but his opinions have changed.”

As for me, when I consider how I have persisted in defending a principle that is making no progress in France, I sometimes wonder if I am not a maniac possessed with a fixed idea.

To enable you to judge whether I have changed, let me set before you an extract from the declaration of policy that I published in 1832, when a kind word from General Lamarque [14], attracted the attention of a few voters in my favor.

“In my view, the institutions that we have already and those that we can obtain by lawful means are sufficient, if we make enlightened use of them, to raise our country to a high degree of freedom, greatness and prosperity.

The right to vote taxes, in giving citizens the power to extend or restrain the action of the government as they please, – isn’t that management by the public of public affairs? What might we not achieve by making judicious use of that right?

Do we consider that ambition for office is the source of many contentions, intrigues and factions? It rests with us alone to deprive that fatal passion of its sustenance, by reducing the profits and the number of salaried public offices.


Do we feel that industry is shackled, the administration over-centralized, education hampered by academic monopoly? There is nothing to prevent us from holding back the money that fuels those shackles, that centralization, those monopolies.

As you can see, gentlemen, I shall never expect the welfare of my country to result from any violent change in either the forms or the holders of power; but rather from our good faith in supporting the government in the useful exercise of its essential powers and from our firm determination to restrict it to those limits. The government has to be firm facing enemies from within and from without, for its mission is to keep the peace at home and abroad. But it must leave to private activity everything that is within the latter’s competence. Order and freedom depend on those conditions.”

Are those not the same principles, the same feelings, the same fundamental way of thinking, the same solutions for particular problems, the same means of reform? People may not share my opinions; but it cannot be said that they have varied, and I venture to add: they are invariable. It is too coherent a system to admit of any alterations. It will collapse or it will triumph as a whole.

My dear fellow-countrymen, please forgive the length and the unusual form of this letter. If you grant me your votes, I shall be deeply honored. If you grant them to another, I shall serve my country in some less eminent sphere, better suited to my abilities.

Mugron, 1st July 1846.


[1] Board member of the Cercle Frédéric Bastiat.

[2] President of the Cercle Frédéric Bastiat.

[3] At other times in the History of France, the election was at the department level: each department had to elect a number of MPs depending on its population.

[4] Bastiat is referring to the opposition of a large number of members of parliament to the government of Prince de Polignac, Prime Minister in 1829 (under Charles X), and which led to the fall of the Bourbon dynasty and to the accession of the Orleans dynasty with Louis-Philippe I (1830-1848).

[5] Marie Gustave Larnac was elected to parliament following a by-election in 1845 in the district of Saint-Sever, and was to be the successful candidate in 1846 by 170 votes against 53 to Bastiat and 84 to a third candidate.

[6] A militia created in 1789, recruited mainly from among the bourgeoisie, in charge of keeping order jointly with the army. It played an essential role under Louis-Philippe I and its desertion in 1848 marked the end of that regime.

[7] Robert Peel, British prime minister (1841-1846), abolished taxation on corn imports in 1846, under pressure from Richard Cobden’s Anti-Corn-Law League

[8] Aimé-Stanislas Darblay (1794-1878), a French industrialist, was active in the grain trade. He introduced the cultivation of oleaginous plants into the Brie region, and set up one of the first factories for the extraction of seed-oil.

[9] Denis Frayssinous (1765-1841) was “grand master” of the University (1822-1824), then Minister of State Education and Religious Worship (1824-1828) under the French Restoration.

[10] Victor Cousin (1792-1867) was a philosopher and politician, leader of a spiritualist school of thought.

[11] Charles Fourier (1772-1837), a self-made philosopher and sociologist, was the leader of a school of thought bearing, among other names, that of “the harmonious school”. He devised a communistic system for the reorganization of society (Fourierism), which would ensure immediate happiness for Mankind. The population was to be grouped in “phalansteries” of about 1800 persons, who would live together as one family and hold property in common.

[12] The idea of a canal linking the Garonne and Adour rivers dated back to 1808. It was designed to serve and bring fresh life to the vast forest region of the “Landes”, and Bastiat was in favour of the project. The final layout was drawn up in 1832, but the project was never carried out owing to dissension within the “département” of the Landes.

[13] The reader may be shocked by what looks like an acceptance of property right limitations. Yet, there is no question that Bastiat has always been a staunch defender of property rights. What he was trying to do, then, was to convince the wine growers to accept some achievable compromise. For example, grapes were being taxed when leaving the vineyard. Producers claimed that however dispersed, their vineyards were part of a single property. They also objected to the taxman coming into their cellar to control their production and called it a violation of domicile. Wine production was then taxed at more than 15 levels, and these taxes were largely irrational. Bastiat wanted to reduce the number and level of taxes and proposed a more rational approach, which of course still required some controls.

[14] Count Maximilien Lamarque: French general and politician, born in Saint-Sever in 1770. Fought from 1794 to 1815. Elected to Parliament in 1828; active in the Liberal opposition. Very popular – his funeral in 1832 gave rise to a riot in Paris.

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