Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Bastiat on socialism

The Immortal Bastiat

I am currently reading the first volume of Liberty Fund's Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat, which contains his letters and various articles. I am impatient for the Fund to release the following five volumes, though I imagine this will take some years. Tant pis.

Reading the letters affords an intimate view of this great man, sadly cut down by illness at the height of his powers, and will inform my later study of his public writings. His decency and his genius shine through, but there is an unsurprising melancholy which envelops him as his health declines.

In the letters he wonders what his contribution to humanity and his legacy will be, and towards the end as he reconciles himself to death's approach and the realisation that his work will be unfinished, he hopes that others will carry on down the path he has mapped out. I have resolved to pay a visit to his home town of Mugron in Aquitaine, a beautiful part of a country that I love, and pay my respects to the statue in Place Frédéric Bastiat, and lay some flowers in his honour.

Anyway, here is a little quote from a letter written during his journey to Italy, where he was to die. It concerns a place which had seen the violent suppression of workers resisting industrialisation (if I understand correctly). It is from letter 192, and seems somewhat fitting for these troubled times. As with most Liberty Fund publications, it is available for free online.
Contemplating the theater of so many bloody conflicts, I thought that there is no more pressing need in man than that for confidence in a future that offers some stability. What troubles the workers is not so much how low their wages are but their uncertainty, and if men who have achieved wealth were prepared to take a look at themselves, seeing with what ardor they love security, they would perhaps be somewhat indulgent toward the classes which always, for one reason or another, have the specter of unemployment before them. One of the most beautiful of economic harmonies is the ever-increasing tendency for all classes in succession to achieve stability. Society achieves this stability as civilization is attained, through earnings, fees, rent, and interest, in short everything that the socialists reject; to such an extent that their plans bring the human race back precisely to its point of departure, that is to say the time when uncertainty is at its highest for everyone.

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