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The Long Shadow of Frédéric Bastiat

Mises Daily: Friday, December 25, 2009 by

"Our theory is so little opposed to practice that it is nothing else than practice explained."
– Bastiat

Frédéric Bastiat's legacy has two key components: his artful polemics for free markets and his uncompromising conviction that men's interests are "naturally harmonious" to the extent that their property rights are respected. He was an artist with an unfailing loyalty to logic, and a revolutionary who fought the interventionist schemes of both the Right and Left despite suffering from a debilitating terminal illness.

A sample of his style can be seen in his rebuttal of mercantilism.

In its most popular form, mercantilism is the state policy of restricting imports and subsidizing exports. Beneath its patriotic veneer, it is simply another tool for augmenting state power. Rothbard refers to it as "a blend of economic fallacy and state creation of special privilege." Though mercantilism was one of the favorite targets of the classical economists, it has never lacked for influential champions, chiefly among those who would profit from state favors — well-connected merchants and bureaucrats.

In one of Bastiat's essays, he notes that F.L.A. Ferrier, a French, 19th-century tariff advocate, took issue with Jean-Baptiste Say for his rejection of mercantilism. If such a system is wrong, Ferrier asked, how could it have survived "for several centuries and among many nations with the general approval of all educated men?" Furthermore, if mercantilism is impoverishing, how does Say explain its compatibility "with the constantly increasing prosperity of these nations?"

Finding Say's rejoinder to Ferrier less than compelling, Bastiat picked up his pen. The mercantilists claim that foreign products should be prohibited or curtailed because of their lower price. Bastiat reminds his readers that this is another way of saying it "is better to make things oneself, even if it would be less expensive to buy them from another."

Does this view have the sanction of universal practice? he asks. Not whatsoever. Ferrier and his fellow protectionists "could not point to a single person on the face of the earth" who lives this way. Nor do groups of individuals engage in this practice. "And nations would do the same if mercantilists did not prevent them by force."

You call us mere theorists, Bastiat ripostes, but "you are theorists no less than we." What is the difference between your theory and ours? he asks. "Our theory is so little opposed to practice that it is nothing else than practice explained." What we call political science is "only this same experience accurately observed and methodically interpreted." But your theory, he tells Ferrier, promotes the absurdity that what is good for an individual, family, commune, or province, is bad for a nation, as if a nation were somehow different from the people who comprise it.

And what else does this absurdity entail? Bastiat asks. That "we consumers are your property! That we belong to you, body and soul!… That it is your prerogative to feed and clothe us at your price, whatever may be your incapacity, your greed, or the economic disadvantages of your situation!"

"Bastiat knew what most educated people never learn, that the source of all injustice in society stems from violations of freedom."

Mercantilism, Bastiat concludes, is extortion by another name.

It is true, as Henry Hazlitt and others have remarked, that the world is in desperate need of economic thinkers like Bastiat. But we also need people of his grit; individuals who will, to borrow an expression from my four-year-old grandson, "get off their butts" and fight for liberty.

Much like Ron Paul in his decades-long battle for sound money, peace, and prosperity, Bastiat had the courage as well as the requisite knowledge to defend freedom against a full range of attackers, from socialist central planners to rent-seeking conservatives. He fought while tuberculosis robbed him of his strength, knowing his health would be better served in the peaceful setting of his country estate than in the death throes of Paris politics.

Bastiat knew what most educated people never learn, that the source of all injustice in society stems from violations of freedom. Freedom isn't just nice to have, like a sunny day; it is the foundation of morality and the bedrock of civilization. He knew, therefore, that the greatest threat to our lives is force, especially the instrument of legal force. As Rothbard points out,

economic science has shown that a modern industrial economy cannot survive indefinitely [under] draconian conditions. A modern industrial economy requires a vast network of free-market exchanges and a division of labor, a network that can only flourish under freedom.

The Man from Bayonne

Claude Frédéric Bastiat was born in Bayonne, France on June 30, 1801.[1] After his mother died in 1808, his ailing father moved them northward to an even smaller provincial town, Mugron. His father, a prominent merchant, saw Claude as able but lazy, and wondered what might become of him.

He never lived to find out. He died in 1810, and his orphaned son was raised by his paternal grandfather and a stern aunt, Justine Bastiat. In school, Bastiat acquired a knowledge of English that proved indispensable later in life for understanding the English concepts of free trade and voluntary exchange.

Disgusted with the curriculum, he quit school at 17 and went to work in his uncle's counting house in Bayonne. Bastiat remained hostile to the degree system of higher education throughout his life. In "Academic Degrees and Socialism," written shortly before his death, he argues for the abolition of public education:

For it rests on the assumption that the governed are made for the governors, that society belongs to the wielders of political power, and that they must make society in their own image.

The university system prepares the youth of France

for socialist utopias and social experiments. And this is undoubtedly the reason for a very strange phenomenon; I mean the inability of the very people who believe themselves threatened by socialism to refute it.

The educational system's obsession with Greek and Roman culture imbues students with ideas prevalent during those times, he argued. Could the Romans, who were slave owners, conceive of the libertarian idea that "Every man owns himself, and consequently his labor, and, accordingly, the product of his labor"?

Though Bastiat was more "at home with literature than with ledgers," he saw firsthand the destructive effects of government controls on commerce during his time in Bayonne. The economic hard times turned Bastiat's attention to the works of Smith, Say, and the physiocrats, particularly Francois Quesnay. As a member of a discussion group, Bastiat won a debate using Say's free-market ideas.

"The power to abuse others had been transferred from the nobility to the bourgeoisie."

Though he dreamed of going to Paris to further his education, he returned to Mugron to care for his ailing grandfather. The elder Bastiat died the following year, and Frédéric was to spend the next 20 years of his life in quiet study at the estate his grandfather left him. Aside from his books, his main source of intellectual stimulation was a friend from a neighboring manor, Felix Coudroy, a recent law-school graduate who thought he had found truth in the works of Rousseau and the socialists. During the course of many conversations, Bastiat helped convert Coudroy to free markets and individualism while strengthening his own understanding.

For two decades, both men studied and conversed almost daily. Their interests included philosophy, religion, history, biography, and political theory — all the traditional subjects of scholarship. According to biographer George Roche, Coudroy was more scholarly, reading books in their entirety and marking key passages for Bastiat. Only if a book really snared his interest would Bastiat devour it completely. Once read, the books became the subject of intense, analytical discussions between the two men.

Louis Philippe, the "Citizen King"

The political regime of Bastiat's life was marked by the repressive rule of first Napoleon, then Louis XVIII, and following his death in 1824, Charles X. The latter two monarchs were brothers of the beheaded Louis XVI. Charles attempted to bring back the old days of Bourbon repression, declaring that kings possessed divine rights, and in one of his decrees he demanded that all books and newspapers had to receive his approval before being offered for sale.

The new French constitution had established a two-house legislature with full authority to make the laws, and the legislative elections of 1830 repudiated Charles completely. Refusing to acknowledge his rejection, Charles attempted a coup d'etat on the morning of July 26, but the French, honed in revolutionary techniques, put a stop to it. The power to abuse others had been transferred from the nobility to the bourgeoisie.

The departure of Charles was followed by a new "citizen king," one who would serve as a symbol of authority while becoming an employee of the new bourgeois order. Following the advice of the Marquis de Lafayette, who had declined an offer to become dictator, the popularly-elected Chamber of Deputies picked the pear-shaped Louis Philippe, cousin of the Bourbons and a member of the Orleans family, to be their constitutional monarch. Louis readily agreed to represent the wealthier bourgeoisie. With the repressive Bourbon regime gone, Bastiat hoped for a reign of liberty under the new political order.

His hopes were soon dashed. Writing about the triumph of the middle class in the 1830 elections, Alexis de Tocqueville noted that it

entrenched itself in every vacant place, prodigiously augmented the number of places and accustomed itself to live almost as much upon the Treasury as upon its own industry.

Years later, Bastiat would look back on the bourgeois reign as a deplorable interlude during which France slipped into socialism. Voting was restricted to members of the wealthy middle class, and Louis bought their support by granting them special privileges. Not everyone was privileged, of course. By the early 1840s, one in seven workers was employed in the new manufacturing industries. Without the power to vote, they lacked the power to extract favors from the government. Seeing the plight of the proletariat, social philosophers and visionaries promoted the idea that true "equality" could be achieved only if government took an even greater role in the economic life of its citizens.

When the nobility were in power, the upper-middle classes complained of unfairness; when they took power, the lower classes complained of unfairness. Is it any wonder Bastiat later defined government as the instrument some people use to live at the expense of everyone else?

A New French Intellectual and Activist

Of all the privileges held by the middle class, none was more treasured than their beloved tariffs, which forced consumers to pay higher prices for their products. According to mercantilist lore, domestic industries needed protecting from unfair foreign competition, or the country as a whole would suffer. As Bastiat learned firsthand, it was not only France that imposed trade restrictions. In 1840 he traveled to Lisbon and Madrid and heard the same pleas for protection. Statesmen, in effect, called on their governments to insulate people from inexpensive and plentiful grain.

In 1834, 1841, and 1843, Bastiat, still the gentleman farmer from Mugron, published some thoughts on the tariff, but they went virtually unnoticed. Then one day a French newspaper quoted British Prime Minister Peel as saying that if a certain measure were adopted, "we will become, like France, a second-class nation." Under pressure from friends to show that his British sympathies were not misplaced, Bastiat researched the origin of the quote and discovered that the phrase, "like France," was the contribution of the anglophobe French translator. Of far more importance in this incident, however, was Bastiat's discovery of Richard Cobden's Anti–Corn Law League and free-trade movement in England.

"Determined to serve as a spokesman against the rising tide of statism, Bastiat went back to his home district and got himself elected."

The ideas of Cobden and his associate John Bright received scant attention in French newspapers, but they had the power of a religious awakening for Bastiat. Through correspondence with Cobden he followed their work closely and began directing his enthusiasm into renewed writing efforts. He penned the study, "The Influence of French and English Tariffs on the Future of the Two Peoples," and the prestigious Journal des economistes published it in October 1844.

Bastiat's fresh analysis brought an avalanche of kudos to his quiet life in Mugron, and he published more articles, some of which would be assembled as Economic Sophisms near the end of 1845. He also wrote a book on the history of Cobden's Anti–Corn Law League, and in May of 1845 went to Paris to get it published. Bastiat had become a famous French intellectual almost overnight.

Only a special writer can expose flawed ideas in such a way that lay readers will understand and remember them. Bastiat's chief expository techniques were hyperbole and ingenious use of reductio ad absurdum. In addition to these, he often reminded his readers that men had unlimited wants but only limited resources. Rather than adduce from this that nature subjected people to a state of perpetual conflict, he held that men's interests were naturally harmonious.

For those who believe otherwise — that men's interests are fundamentally antagonistic — then the state will find it necessary to impose constraints, and these, he wrote in his essay "To the Youth of France," may "assume a thousand shapes." If it can be shown that men's interests are fundamentally harmonious, on the other hand, then solutions should be sought in liberty, "which assumes only one shape," and that is "to abstain from displacing or thwarting these interests."

After providing assistance in establishing a free-trade association for Bordeaux, Bastiat decided to establish one for all of France. In the spring of 1846 he met in Paris with supporters and together they put together plans for a national free-trade association based on Cobden's model. They believed free trade was important for its material benefits, but more so for other freedoms it would secure, such as ending war.

The first public meeting of the association was held in August, 1846, and other meetings followed that fall. Public interest was strong, with crowds numbering over 2,000. The meetings continued during 1847 and the first months of 1848. Bastiat even launched a newspaper devoted to free trade, Le libre-echange, the first issue of which was published on November 29, 1846.

Some of his most satirical writing appeared in this journal, including his famous Candlemakers' Petition, which attacked the notion that a country can build wealth by creating obstacles to trade in order to multiply job opportunities. Other trade associations were springing up in other parts of Europe, and Bastiat's writings were appearing in several languages. His hopes were high that his organization would be as successful as Cobden's.

Bastiat's self-imposed schedule of writing, publishing, giving speeches, and running the association was taking a toll on his health. Already thin, he became gaunt. No doubt fatigue contributed to his tendency to lose his way on the streets of Paris. Occasionally he would return to his family estate in Mugron to rest and visit with his Aunt Justine, now old and ailing.

The Revolution of 1848

By early 1848, France was in danger of collapse. Real wages had been declining since 1820, serious strikes had occurred in the early 1830s, and a general strike had come in 1840. Bad harvests in 1845 and 1846 drove food prices even higher, and a depression began in 1847 that left a third of Paris on relief before the end of the year. A cholera epidemic added to the economic misery. During 1848, the number of businesses in Paris fell by over 50 percent.

To deal with these problems, the government had many ideas, all of them bad. One member of the Chamber of Deputies received a standing ovation for a speech calling for a more militant foreign policy. Francois Guizot, the king's first minister, called on all Frenchmen to join the wealthy middle class — "Enrichissez vous, enrichissez vous" — since only this group had the right of suffrage. In practice, getting rich meant bootlicking the dispensers of government favors. Corruption permeated all aspects of French life, even affecting French wine, which was often so adulterated it could not be sold abroad.

"What can my feeble voice, my sickly and nervous constitution, accomplish in the midst of revolutionary tempests?"
– Bastiat

The country's poor were more upset over France's lost military glory than over the disastrous condition of the economy. For this they blamed the "shopkeeper" mentality of Louis Philippe, who had signed treaties detrimental to France's territorial claims. Since 1830, there had been 17 assassination attempts on the king's life, and some thought it was because Louis was a spineless peacemaker. The poor might have been hungry, but what they wanted more than food was a revival of the military glory they experienced under Napoleon I.

In the early days of 1848, Bastiat was still working furiously on his trade association — writing articles for three different journals, publishing a weekly newspaper, making speeches, corresponding with leaders of trade associations in the provinces, writing works that would become his lasting legacy, and traveling to England to meet with Cobden, who, he discovered, was even busier than he was. Bastiat did all this and more while tuberculosis slowly consumed the last of his health.

The February revolution of 1848 put an end to Bastiat's free-trade activities. Paris had become a cauldron of anger, ready to explode. The British writer Thackeray described the city as "ranting, gaudy, and theatrical." In February, rioting broke out after the government canceled a large political banquet. Students and workers erected barricades and roamed the streets starting fires. The revolutionaries called for Guizot's dismissal, and the king reluctantly complied. But rather than calming the rioters, this only incited them further.

A Provisional Government

In the Chamber of Deputies, the conservatives — those who supported the king — and the opposition were at a loss about how to deal with the trouble outside. Tocqueville described the situation:

The fall of the Government compromised the entire fortune of one, the daughter's dowry of another, the son's career of a third. It was by this that they were almost all held. Most of them had not only bettered themselves by means of their votes, but one may say that they had lived on them.

If many of the Conservatives only defended the Ministry with a view to keeping their places and emoluments, I am bound to say that many of the Opposition seemed to me only to attack it in order to reap the plunder in their turn. The truth — the deplorable truth — is that a taste for holding office and a desire to live on the public money is not with us a disease restricted to either party, but the great, chronic ailment of the whole nation; the result of the democratic constitution of our society and of the excessive centralization of our Government; the secret malady which undermined all former governments, and which will undermine all governments to come.

Meanwhile, the revolutionary leaders met in a room at the Hotel de Ville in an attempt to create a provisional government. Students, workers, and intellectuals, some of them bleeding from street fighting, filled the rest of the hotel, their anger undiminished. The National Guard, charged with policing the city, stood down; some of them stacked their muskets and began socializing with the crowd. Outside Paris, railroads and bridges had been destroyed for 30 miles. No food was allowed to come into the city, other than wine. Many of the rioters were drunk as they went from home to home intimidating the residents. Somehow, Louis Philippe and his family managed to flee the Tuileries unscathed, never to return.

The provisional government at the hotel finally established a regime under Alphonse de Lamartine, an orator and poet, who had called for a "republic" instead of a more radical social organization. None of the new republicans, however, knew what to do, and they were under pressure from socialists and communists outside of government who were demanding an equal division of property and whose printed slogan was "bread or blood." For dealing with the crisis, intellectuals poured forth countless proposals, all of them calling for a powerful central government to achieve their objectives. Inequalities of all kinds were to be eliminated; poverty was to be outlawed; work would be a thing of the past.

Bastiat had been in correspondence with Lamartine for three years prior to the 1848 revolution. During a meeting in Marseilles in 1846, Lamartine endorsed Bastiat's principles of free trade and freedom generally, and when Lamartine became president he apparently offered Bastiat a job in the new government. Bastiat declined, preferring to remain an independent critic.

Government Solutions

In his speeches Lamartine stressed the importance of fraternity among the French people. By this he meant forcing it upon the people through various social-welfare measures. Bastiat, who held that government's only legitimate role was to administer "justice," maintained that imposed fraternity would negate this function. "You cannot legislate fraternity," he said, "without legislating injustice."

A man named Louis Antoine Garnier-Pages agreed to be minister of finance after Lamartine's first choice, a well-to-do Parisian banker, said he would rather commit suicide than share responsibility for the new government. Garnier-Pages decided to restore the government's credit by repudiating its obligations. He declared the notes of France to be legal tender, such notes redeemable not in specie, but in other French notes.

Labor problems were turned over to the Paris chief of police. Since strikes were a problem, the chief issued a police order forbidding them. He helped "solve" the unemployment problem by recruiting some of the jobless into the National Guard, which soon increased by 90,000 members.

But unemployment still persisted. Under pressure from idle workers, the socialist and influential Assembly member Louis Blanc had a motion approved on February 25 establishing a public-works project called the National Workshops. With this stroke of government genius, workers had to weave their way through a hive of bureaucracy to see if there were job vacancies to be filled. Workshop members wore bee insignias on the caps, while Workshop officers had the added prestige of wearing armbands. The bureaucratic ordeal was exhausting, often leaving those unable to get work "tired, starving and discontented" at day's end, even as they collected a dole from their commune maire (mayor). Blanc's "right to work" principle drew more people into Paris, creating more job seekers than jobs.

Bastiat Enters Politics

Determined to serve as a spokesman against the rising tide of statism, Bastiat went back to his home district and got himself elected as a deputy to the National Assembly during the elections of April 23, 1848. Leaving peaceful Mugron for the strife of Paris would not only accelerate his physical deterioration, but he believed it would keep him from synthesizing his economic ideas into one last work, which he desperately wanted to write.

"Bastiat's message is not that the unhampered market is a well-oiled machine free of strife and error."

He also questioned how much good he could accomplish in a city where a hundred thousand armed workmen were dying of hunger and spouting idiocies imbibed from demagogues. He wrote, "What can my feeble voice, my sickly and nervous constitution, accomplish in the midst of revolutionary tempests?"

The meeting of the Assembly on May 4, 1848 was worse than Bastiat expected. In striving to demonstrate their egalitarian credentials, members competed with one another to see who could shout, "Long live the republic!" the loudest. Political hatreds and jealousies abounded, along with a growing terror of the mob outside. Both the socialists and antisocialists regarded Lamartine as their savior: the socialists because he was a government man to the bone, and the antisocialists because he was the only leader with enough support to stop socialism.

Outside the Assembly, Paris was growing louder. The National Workshops had become a paramilitary organization, demanding far more than what the government had given them, and they were growing more powerful and rapacious each day. Knowing they could no longer delay the inevitable, the National Assembly, on June 21, voted to abolish the National Workshops. A day later, Workshop troops were building barricades in the streets, and another revolution was soon underway.

After three days of carnage, the government's firepower proved decisive. The military blasted the barricades with cannon, and government forces garnered willing support from the provinces. It is no mystery why rural residents opposed the uprising. New taxes had been imposed on the landed class, peasants, and small farmers, and they deeply resented being forced to pay for Paris workers' alleged right to work. After receiving telegraphs appealing for help, the provinces responded with the "instant and enthusiastic" support of their National Guard units. As Tocqueville commented,

It was evident from that moment that we should end by gaining the day, for the insurgents received no reinforcements, whereas we had all France for reserves.

As with most government-induced crises, there was little understanding among the people about the interaction between hampered markets and declining social welfare. Amid the clamor for more government intervention coming from the Left and Right, Bastiat was the one man calling for freedom. Yet his weakened lungs often left him unable to address the Assembly or to be heard over the tumult. By necessity he carried on his fight with an outpouring of written works, which thoroughly demolished unsound theories. In spite of his weakened condition, the little time remaining to him was to be his most prodigious period of writing.

Bastiat's Last Works

Following the failure of the government to come up with a new constitution, another Napoleon was swept into office on December 10, 1849. The French wanted a dictator, and they got one. Louis Napoleon "gave the French people a steady diet of imperialistic and republican sentiment" while intervening in the political affairs of other countries.[2]

In 1850, which was to be Bastiat's last year, he wrote two of his most famous works — The Law and "What is Seen and What is Not Seen." His message in The Law is well-known and universally neglected: The law as it exists is a perversion of justice. "It has converted plunder into a right, that it may protect it, and lawful defense into a crime, that it may punish it." When the law is thus perverted it gives "to politics, properly so called, an exaggerated preponderance." The plundered classes tend to enter politics to take part in lawmaking. Depending on their degree of enlightenment, he says, they may either "wish to put an end to lawful plunder, or they may desire to take part in it."

He says repeatedly that law is justice, and justice he defines as the absence of injustice. The law and its "necessary agent," force, impose nothing on a man

but a mere negation. They only oblige him to abstain from doing harm. They violate neither his personality, his liberty, nor his property. They only guard the personality, the liberty, the property of others. They hold themselves on the defensive; they defend the equal right of all.

His pamphlet "What is Seen and What is Not Seen" was written three times. The first one he lost, the second one he torched for being too serious, and the third is the one we know. The work applies what Jörg Guido Hülsmann identifies as counterfactual analysis to various state activities that had been the subject of recent speeches delivered in the National Assembly — demobilization of military forces, taxes, subsidizing the arts, public works, and others. To illustrate his main thesis, though, Bastiat begins the essay with a simple fable about a boy who hurls a rock through a store window.

According to Rothbard, Bastiat presents three levels of analysis.[3] The first is common sense, in which onlookers deplore the broken window and sympathize with the shop owner. The second level Rothbard calls proto-Keynesian. Someone in the crowd remarks that the broken window is really an economic blessing because it will mean additional income to the workers who fix it. According to this view, and contrary to common sense, destruction of property stimulates the economy and spreads its blessings through the "multiplier effect" on production and employment.

"Bastiat wrote that what gave him courage was the thought that his life may not have been useless to mankind. "

We see the loss to the owner and we see the employment provided to the glazier. What we do not see is what the owner could have done with the money he spent to repair the window. This is Bastiat's third level of analysis. If the owner had not spent six francs to replace the window (thus enriching the glazier), he might have spent those six francs replacing his worn shoes (thus enriching the shoemaker) and had both the window and new shoes.

The good economist, Bastiat concludes, employs counterfactual analysis, though he didn't use that term. That is, the good economist takes into account both "the effects that can be seen and those that must be foreseen." The bad economist confines himself to the visible effects only (and to working for the government).

In his preface to the English translation of Bastiat's magnum opus, Economic Harmonies, George B. de Huszar says that Bastiat considered this work to be the counterpart to Economic Sophisms, in that Sophisms pulled down while Harmonies pulled up. The first edition of the Harmonies, which contained 10 chapters, was published only a few months before Bastiat's death on December 24, 1850.

Some of the material had been published earlier. Chapter one, "Natural and Artificial Social Order," appeared originally in the January 1848 issue of Journal des économistes. The second edition of Harmonies was published posthumously under a commission from Bastiat and contained 15 additional chapters and an appendix. Bastiat considered the first 10 chapters "all too hastily written," and the other 15 chapters are more like notes than fully developed thoughts.

As he discusses in the introductory section, "To the Youth of France," Bastiat's message in the Harmonies is not that the unhampered market is a well-oiled machine free of strife and error. He does not say that people will always get along, but "that there is a natural harmony among men's interests," and personal liberty is necessary to realize this harmony. Nor does he deny that "poverty, injustice, and oppression … desolate the human race." The question to ask is "whether or not we have liberty." We need to ask if liberty is being allowed to act "with full force, or whether [its] action is not profoundly disrupted by the contrary action of institutions of human origin."

It is not enough, then, to set forth the natural laws of the social order in all their majestic harmony; it is also necessary to show the disturbing factors that nullify their action. That is the task I have undertaken in the second part of this work.

Even in its unfinished state, Economic Harmonies belies Joseph Schumpeter's comment that Bastiat "was no theorist." Bastiat was not only a great theorist, but one that the economics profession has neglected at untold expense. One can only imagine how much better the world would be now if Bastiat and his market theories, rather than Keynes and his fascist theories, were widely esteemed.

Remembering Bastiat

How often have people found it difficult to compose an intelligible thought when they're down with the cold or flu? In Bastiat's case, he composed some of his most profound ideas while suffering from the late stages of tuberculosis. As an act of heroism it ranks with the dedication of Washington Roebling, who with the aid of his wife built the Brooklyn Bridge while suffering a terrible illness.

"Bastiat wrote that what gave him courage was the thought that his life may not have been useless to mankind."

How sick was Bastiat? In a letter to Richard Cobden in August, he described himself as "afflicted with a disease of the larynx, accompanied with a complete extinction of voice." Later, while visiting Rome (where he eventually died), he wrote to his old friend Coudroy that

This continuity of suffering torments me. Every meal is a punishment. To eat, drink, speak, cough, are all painful operations. Walking fatigues me — carriage airings irritate the throat — I can no longer work, or even read, seriously. You see to what I am reduced. I shall soon be little better than a dead body, retaining only the faculty of suffering.

A few months before he died, Bastiat wrote that what gave him courage was the thought that his life may not have been useless to mankind. Far beyond that humble hope, his works and personal courage are now playing an important role in saving mankind.


[1] Biographical information is taken from Roche, George Charles III. Frederic Bastiat: A Man Alone.Download PDF

[2] On December 1, 1851 Louis Napoleon imprisoned all opposition members of the Legislative Assembly. He announced the next morning that the Assembly had been dissolved and a new constitution was in effect, giving him ten years in office instead of four.

[3] Classical Economics: An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought, Volume II by Murray N. Rothbard, Mises Institute, 1995, p. 445.