Monday, May 2, 2016

Frederic Bastiat on Socialism

Frederic Bastiat on Socialism

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Were I called upon to mark the feature which distinguishes Socialism from Political Economy, I should find it here. Socialism boasts of a vast number of sects. Each sect has its Utopia, and so far are they from any mutual understanding, that they declare against each other war to the knife. The atelier social organisé of M. Blanc, and the an-archie of M. Proudhon,—the association of Fourier, and the communisme of M. Cabet,—are as different from each other as night is from day. Why do these sectarian leaders, then, range themselves under the common denomination of Socialists, and what is the bond which unites them against natural or providential society? They have no other bond than this, they all repudiate natural society. What they wish is an artificial society springing ready made from the brain of the inventor. No doubt, each of them wishes to be the Jupiter of this Minerva—no doubt each of them hugs his own contrivance, and dreams of his own social order. But they have this in common, that they recognise in humanity neither the motive force, which urges mankind on to good, nor the curative force, which delivers them from evil. They fight among themselves as to what form they are to mould the human clay into, but they are all agreed that humanity is clay to be moulded. Humanity is not in their eyes a living harmonious being, that God himself has provided with progressive and self-sustaining forces, but rather a mass of inert matter which has been waiting for them to impart to it sentiment and life; it is not a subject to be studied, but a subject to be experimented on.

Political Economy, on the other hand, after having clearly shown that there are in each man forces of impulse and repulsion, the aggregate of which constitutes the social impellent, and after being convinced that this motive force tends towards good, never dreams of annihilating it in order to substitute another of its own creation, but studies the varied and complicated social phenomena to which it gives birth.

Is this to say that Political Economy is as much a stranger to social progress, as astronomy is to the motion of the heavenly bodies? Certainly not. Political Economy has to do with beings which are intelligent and free,—and, as such, let us never forget, subject to error. Their tendency is towards good; but they may err. Science, then, interferes usefully, not to create causes and effects, not to change the tendencies of man, not to subject him to organizations, to injunctions, or even to advice, but to point out to him the good and the evil which result from his determinations.

Political Economy is thus quite a science of observation and exposition. She does not say to men, “I enjoin you, I counsel you, not to go too near the fire;” she does not say, “I have invented a social organization; the gods have taught me institutions which will keep you at a respectful distance from the fire.” No, Political Economy only shows men clearly that fire will burn them, proclaims it, proves it, and does the same thing as regards all other social or moral phenomena, convinced that this is enough. The repugnance to die by fire is considered as a primordial pre-existent fact, which Political Economy has not created, and which she cannot alter or change.

Economists cannot be always at one; but it is easy to see that their differences are quite of another kind from those which divide the Socialists. Two men who devote their whole attention to observe one and the same phenomenon and its effects—rent, for example, exchange, competition—may not arrive at the same conclusion, and this proves nothing more than that one of the two has observed the phenomenon inaccurately or imperfectly. It is an operation to be repeated. With the aid of other observers, the probability is that truth in the end will be discovered. It is for this reason, that if each economist were, like each astronomer, to make himself fully acquainted with what his predecessors have done, as far as they have gone, the science would be progressive, and for that reason more and more useful, rectifying constantly observations inaccurately made, and adding indefinitely new observations to those which had been made before.

But the Socialists,—each pursuing his own road, and coining artificial combinations in the mint of his own brain,—may pursue their inquiries in this way to all eternity without coming to any common understanding, and without the labours of one aiding to any extent the labours of another. Say profited by the labours of Adam Smith; Rossi by those of Say; Blanqui and Joseph Garnier by those of all their predecessors. But Plato, Sir Thomas More, Harrington, Fénélon, Fourier, might amuse themselves with organizing according to their own fancy a Republic, an Utopia, an Oceana, a Salente, a Phalanstère, and no one would ever discover the slightest affinity between their chimerical creations. These dreamers spin all out of their own imaginations, men as well as things. They invent a social order without respect to the human heart, and then they invent a human heart to suit their social order. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Socialist works are crammed with declamations against the rich.

I really cannot comprehend how these schools, so opposite in other respects, but so unanimous in this, should not perceive the contradiction into which they fall.

On the one hand, wealth, according to the leaders of these schools, has a deleterious and demoralizing action, which debases the soul, hardens the heart, and leaves behind only a taste for depraved enjoyments. The rich have all manner of vices. The poor have all manner of virtues—they are just, sensible, disinterested, generous,—such is the favourite theme of these authors.

On the other hand, all the efforts of the Socialists’ imagination, all the systems they invent, all the laws they wish to impose upon us, tend, if we are to believe them, to convert poverty into riches. . . . . . .
Morality of wealth proved by this maxim; the profit of one is the profit of another. . . .

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