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Natural and Artificial Organization

Tags Free MarketsWorld History

08/26/2011Claude Frédéric Bastiat
Is it quite certain that the mechanism of society, like the mechanism of the heavenly bodies, or that of the human frame, is subject to general laws? Does it form a harmoniously organized whole? Or rather, do we not note in it the absence of all organization? Is not an organization the very thing which all men of heart and of the future, all advanced publicists, all the pioneers of thought are in search of at the present day? Is society anything else than a multitude of individuals placed in juxtaposition, acting without concert, and given up to the movements of an anarchical liberty? Are our countless masses, after having with difficulty recovered their liberties one after the other, not now awaiting the advent of some great genius to arrange them into a harmonious whole? Having pulled down all, must we not now set about laying the foundation of a new edifice?

And yet, it may be asked, have these questions any other meaning than this: Can society dispense with written laws, rules, and repressive measures? Is every man to make an unlimited use of his faculties, even when in so doing he strikes at the liberties of another, or inflicts injury on society at large? In a word, must we recognize in the maxim, laissez faire, laissez passer the absolute formula of political economy? If that were the question, no one could hesitate about the solution. The economists do not say that a man may kill, sack, burn, and that society has only to be quiescent — laissez faire. They say that even in the absence of all law, society would resist such acts — and that consequently such resistance is a general law of humanity. They say that civil and penal laws must regulate, and not counteract, those general laws the existence of which they presuppose. There is a wide difference between a social organization founded on the general laws of human nature, and an artificial organization, invented, imagined — that takes no account of these laws, or repudiates and despises them — such an organization, in short, as many modern schools would impose upon us.

For, if there be general laws that act independently of written laws, and of which the latter can only regulate the action, we must study these general laws. They can be made the object of a science, and political economy exists. If, on the other hand, society is a human invention, if men are regarded only as inert matter, to which a great genius, like Rousseau, must impart sentiment and will, movement and life, then there is no such science as political economy. There are only an indefinite number of possible and contingent arrangements, and the fate of nations must depend upon the Founder to whom chance shall have committed their destinies.

In order to prove that society is subject to general laws, no elaborate dissertation is necessary. All I shall do is to notice certain facts that, although trite, are not the less important.

Rousseau has said, "Il faut beaucoup de philosophie pour observer les faits qui sont trop près de nous" — "Much philosophy is needed for the correct observation of things which are before our eyes." And such are the social phenomena in the midst of which we live and move. Habit has so familiarized us with these phenomena that we cease to observe them, unless something striking and exceptional forces them on our attention.

Let us take, by way of illustration, a man in the humble walks of life — a village carpenter, for instance — and observe the various services he renders to society, and receives from it; we shall not fail to be struck with the enormous disproportion that is apparent.

This man employs his day's labor in planing boards and making tables and chests of drawers. He complains of his condition; yet in truth what does he receive from society in exchange for his work?

First of all, on getting up in the morning, he dresses himself; and he has himself personally made none of the numerous articles of which his clothing consists. Now, in order to put at his disposal this clothing, simple as it is, an enormous amount of labor, industry, and locomotion, and many ingenious inventions, must have been employed. Americans must have produced cotton, Indians indigo, Frenchmen wool and flax, Brazilians hides; and all these materials must have been transported to various towns where they have been worked up, spun, woven, dyed, etc.

Then he breakfasts. In order to procure him the bread he eats every morning, land must have been cleared, enclosed, labored, manured, sown; the fruits of the soil must have been preserved with care from pillage, and security must have reigned among an innumerable multitude of people; the wheat must have been cut down, ground into flour, kneaded, and prepared; iron, steel, wood, stone must have been converted by industry into instruments of labor; some men must have employed animal force, others water power, etc.; all matters of which each, taken singly, presupposes a mass of labor, whether we have regard to space or time, of incalculable amount.

In the course of the day this man will have occasion to use sugar, oil, and various other materials and utensils.

He sends his son to school, there to receive an education, which, although limited, nevertheless implies anterior study and research and an extent of knowledge that startles the imagination.

He goes out. He finds the street paved and lighted.

A neighbor sues him. He finds advocates to plead his cause, judges to maintain his rights, officers of justice to put the sentence in execution — all which implies acquired knowledge, and, consequently, intelligence and means of subsistence.

He goes to church. It is a stupendous monument, and the book he carries thither is a monument, perhaps still more stupendous, of human intelligence. He is taught morals, he has his mind enlightened, his soul elevated; and in order to do this we must suppose that another man had previously frequented schools and libraries, consulted all the sources of human learning, and while so employed had been able to live without occupying himself directly with the wants of the body.

If our artisan undertakes a journey, he finds that, in order to save him time and exertion, other men have removed and levelled the soil, filled up valleys, hewed down mountains, united the banks of rivers, diminished friction, placed wheeled carriages on blocks of sandstone or bands of iron, and brought the force of animals and the power of steam into subjection to human wants.

It is impossible not to be struck with the measureless disproportion between the enjoyments which this man derives from society and what he could obtain by his own unassisted exertions. I venture to say that in a single day he consumes more than he could himself produce in ten centuries.

What renders the phenomenon still more strange is that all other men are in the same situation. Every individual member of society has absorbed millions of times more than he could himself produce; yet there is no mutual robbery. And, if we regard things more nearly, we perceive that the carpenter has paid, in services, for all the services others have rendered to him. If we bring the matter to a strict reckoning, we shall be convinced that he has received nothing he has not paid for by means of his modest industry — and that everyone who, at whatever interval of time or space, has been employed in his service, has received, or will receive, his remuneration.

"He who reads this page, at the very moment he is reading it, has the power, although perhaps he has no consciousness of it, to put in motion men of every country, of all races, I had almost said of all time — white, black, red, tawny — to make bygone generations, and generations still unborn, contribute to his present enjoyments."

The social mechanism, then, must be very ingenious and very powerful, since it leads to this singular result, that each man, even he whose lot is cast in the humblest condition, has more enjoyment in one day than he could himself produce in many ages.

Nor is this all. The mechanism of society will appear still more ingenious if the reader will be pleased to turn his regards upon himself.

I suppose him a plain student. What is his business in Paris? How does he live? It cannot be disputed that society places at his disposal food, clothing, lodging, amusements, books, means of instruction, a multitude of things, in short, that would take a long time not only to produce but even to explain how they were produced. And what services has this student rendered to society in return for all these things that have exacted so much labor, toil, fatigue, physical and intellectual effort, so many inventions, transactions, and conveyances hither and thither? None at all. He is only preparing to render services. Why, then, have so many millions of men abandoned to him the fruits of their positive, effective, and productive labor?

Here is the explanation: The father of this student, who was a lawyer, perhaps, or a physician, or a merchant, had formerly rendered services — it may be to society in China — and had been remunerated, not by immediate services, but by a title to demand services, at the time, in the place, and under the form that might be most suitable and convenient to him. It is of these past and distant services that society is now acquitting itself, and (astonishing as it seems) if we follow in thought the infinite range of transactions that must have taken place in order for this result to be effected, we shall see that everyone has been remunerated for his labor and services — and that these titles have passed from hand to hand, sometimes divided into parts, sometimes grouped together, until, in the consumption of this student, the entire account has been squared and balanced. Is not this a very remarkable phenomenon?

We should shut our eyes to the light of day, did we fail to perceive that society could not present combinations so complicated, and in which civil and penal laws have so little part, unless it obeyed the laws of a mechanism wonderfully ingenious. The study of that mechanism is the business of political economy.

Another thing worthy of observation is that, of the incalculable number of transactions to which the student owed his daily subsistence, there was not perhaps a millionth part that contributed to it directly. The things of which he has now the enjoyment, and which are innumerable, were produced by men the greater part of whom have long since disappeared from the earth. And yet they were remunerated as they expected to be, although he who now profits by the fruit of their labors had done nothing for them. They knew him not; they will never know him. He who reads this page, at the very moment he is reading it, has the power, although perhaps he has no consciousness of it, to put in motion men of every country, of all races, I had almost said of all time — white, black, red, tawny — to make bygone generations, and generations still unborn, contribute to his present enjoyments; and he owes this extraordinary power to the services his father had formerly rendered to other men, who apparently had nothing in common with those whose labor is now put in requisition. Yet despite all differences of time and space, so just and equitable a balance has been struck that everyone has been remunerated and has received exactly what he calculated he ought to receive.

But, in truth, could all this have happened, and such phenomena been witnessed, unless society had had a natural and wise organization, which acts, as it were, unknown to us?

Much has been said in our day of inventing a new organization. Is it quite certain that any thinker, whatever genius we may attribute to him, whatever power we may suppose him to possess, could imagine and introduce an organization superior to that of which I have just sketched some of the results?


But what would be thought of it if I described its machinery, its springs, and its motive powers?

The machinery consists of men, that is to say, of beings capable of learning, reflecting, reasoning, of being deceived and undeceived, and consequently of contributing to the amelioration or deterioration of the mechanism itself. They are capable of pleasure and pain; and it is that which makes them not only the wheels but the springs of the mechanism. They are also the motive power; for it is in them that the active principle resides. More than that, they are themselves the very end and object of the mechanism, since it is into individual pains and enjoyments that the whole definitely resolves itself.

Now it has been remarked, and it is unhappily obvious enough, that in the action, the development, and even the progress (by those who acknowledge progress) of this powerful mechanism, many of the wheels have been inevitably fatally injured — and that, as regards a great number of human beings, the sum of unmerited suffering surpasses by much the sum of enjoyment.

This view of the subject has led many candid minds, many generous hearts, to suspect the mechanism itself. They have repudiated it, they have refused to study it, they have attacked, often with passion, those who have investigated and explained its laws. They have risen against the nature of things, and at length they have proposed to organize society upon a new plan, in which injustice and suffering and error shall have no place.

God forbid that I should set myself against intentions manifestly pure and philanthropical! But I should desert my principles, and do violence to the dictates of my own conscience, did I not declare that these men are in my opinion upon a wrong path.

In the first place, they are reduced, by the very nature of their postulates, to the melancholy necessity of disowning the good that society develops, of denying its progress, of imputing to it all sufferings, of hunting after these with avidity, and exaggerating them beyond measure.

When a man believes that he has discovered a social organization different from that which results from the ordinary tendencies of human nature, it is quite necessary, in order to obtain acceptance for his invention, to paint the organization he wishes to abolish in the most somber color. Thus the publicists to whom I am alluding, after having proclaimed enthusiastically, and perhaps with exaggeration, the perfectibility of man, fall into the strange contradiction of maintaining that society is becoming more and more deteriorated. According to them, men are a thousand times more unhappy than they were in ancient times under the feudal regime and the yoke of slavery. The world is become a hell. Were it possible to conjure up the Paris of the 10th century, I venture to think that such a thesis would be found untenable.

Then they are led to condemn the very mainspring of human action — I mean a regard to personal interest, because it has brought about such a state of things. Let us note that man is so organized as to seek enjoyment and avoid suffering. From this source I allow that all social evils take their rise — war, slavery, monopoly, privilege. But from the same source springs all that is good, since the satisfaction of wants and repugnance to suffering are the motives of human action. The business then is to discover whether this incitement to action, by its universality — from individual becoming social — is not in itself a principle of progress.

At all events, do the inventors of new organizations not perceive that this principle, inherent in the very nature of man, will follow them into their systems, and that there it will make greater havoc than in our natural organization, in which the interest and unjust pretensions of one are at least restrained by the resistance of all? These writers always make two inadmissible suppositions: the first is that society, such as they conceive it, will be directed by infallible men denuded of their motive of self-interest; and the second is that the masses will allow themselves to be directed by these men.

Finally, these system makers appear to give themselves no trouble about the means of execution. How are they to establish their system? How are they to induce all mankind at once to give up the principle upon which they now act — the attraction of enjoyment, and the repugnance to pain? It would be necessary, as Rousseau has said, to change the moral and physical constitution of man.


In order to induce men at once to throw aside, as a worn-out garment, the existing social order in which the human race has lived and been developed from the beginning to our day, to adopt an organization of human invention and become docile parts of another mechanism, there are, it seems to me, only two means which can be employed: force, or universal consent.

The founder of the new system must have at his disposal a force capable of overcoming all resistance, so that humanity shall be in his hands only as so much melting wax to be molded and fashioned at his pleasure — or he must obtain by persuasion an assent so complete, so exclusive, so blind even, as to render unnecessary the employment of force.

I defy anyone to point out to me a third means of establishing or introducing into human practice a Phalanstere,1 or any other artificial social organization.

Now, if there be only two assumed means, and if we have demonstrated that the one is as impracticable as the other, we have proved that these system makers are losing both their time and their trouble.

As regards the command of a material force that should subject to them all the kings and peoples of the earth, this is what these dotards, senile as they are, have never dreamt of. King Alphonsus had presumption and folly enough to exclaim that "If he had been taken into God's counsels, the planetary system should have been better arranged." But although he set his wisdom above that of the Creator, he was not mad enough to wish to struggle with the power of Omnipotence, and history does not tell us that he ever actually tried to make the stars turn according to the laws of his invention. Descartes likewise contented himself with constructing a tiny world with dice and strings, knowing well that he was not strong enough to move the universe. We know no one but Xerxes who, in the intoxication of his power, dared to say to the waves, "Thus far shall ye come, and no farther." The billows did not recede before Xerxes but Xerxes retreated before the billows; and without this humiliating but wise precaution he would certainly have been drowned.

Force, then, is what the organizers need who would subject humanity to their experiments. When they shall have gained over to their cause the Russian autocrat, the shah of Persia, the khan of Tartary, and all the other tyrants of the world, they will find that they still lack the power to distribute mankind into groups and classes, and to annihilate the general laws of property, exchange, inheritance, and family; for even in Russia, in Persia, and in Tartary, it is necessary to a certain extent to consult the feelings, habits, and prejudices of the people. Were the emperor of Russia to take it into his head to set about altering the moral and physical constitution of his subjects, it is probable that he would soon have a successor, and that his successor would be better advised than to continue the experiment.

But since force is a means quite beyond the reach of our numerous system makers, no other resource remains to them but to obtain universal consent.

There are two modes of obtaining this — namely, persuasion and imposture.

Persuasion! But have we ever found two minds in perfect accord upon all the points of a single science? How then are we to expect men of various tongues, races, and manners, spread over the surface of the globe, most of them unable to read, and destined to die without having even heard the name of the reformer, to accept with unanimity the universal science? What is it that you aim at? At changing the whole system of labor, exchanges, and social relations, domestic, civil, and religious — in a word, at altering the whole physical and moral constitution of man — and you hope to rally mankind, and bring them all under this new order of things, by conviction!

Verily you undertake no light or easy duty.

When a man has the task of saying to his fellows:

For the last five thousand years there has been a misunderstanding between God and man;

From the days of Adam to our time, the human race has been upon a wrong course — and, if only a little confidence is placed in me, I shall soon bring them back to the right way;

God desired mankind to pursue a different road altogether, but they have taken their own way, and hence evil has been introduced into the world. Let them turn round at my call, and take an opposite direction, and universal happiness will then prevail.

When a man sets out in this style it is much if he is believed by five or six adepts; but between that and being believed by one thousand millions of men the distance is great indeed.

And then, remember that the number of social inventions is as vast as the domain of the imagination itself; that there is not a publicist or writer on social economy who, after shutting himself up for a few hours in his library, does not come forth with a ready-made plan of artificial organization in his hand; that the inventions of Fourier, Saint Simon, Owen, Cabet, Blanc, etc., have no resemblance whatever to each other; that every day brings to light a new scheme; and that people are entitled to have some little time given them for reflection before they are called upon to reject the social organization God has vouchsafed them, and to make a definite and irrevocable choice among so many newly invented systems. For what would happen if, after having selected one of these plans, a better one should present itself! Can the institutions of property, family, labor, exchange, be placed every day upon a new basis? Are we to be forced to change the organization of society every morning?

"Thus, then," says Rousseau, "the legislator being able to employ effectively neither force nor persuasion, he is under the necessity of having recourse to an authority of another kind, which carries us along without violence, and persuades without convincing us."

What is that authority? Imposture. Rousseau dares not give utterance to the word, but, according to his invariable practice in such a case, he places it behind the transparent veil of an eloquent tirade.

"This is the reason," says he,

which in all ages has forced the fathers of nations to have recourse to the intervention of heaven, and to give the credit of their own wisdom to the gods, in order that the people, submitting to the laws of the state as to those of nature, and acknowledging the same power in the formation of man and of the commonwealth, should obey freely and bear willingly the yoke of the public felicity. This sublime reason, which is above the reach of vulgar souls, is that whose decisions the legislator puts into the mouth of the immortals, in order to carry along by divine authority those who cannot be moved by considerations of human prudence. But it is not for every man to make the gods speak.

And in order that there may be no mistake, he cites Machiavelli, and allows him to complete the idea: "Mai non fu alcuno ordinatore de leggi STRAORDINARIE in un popolo che non ricorresse a Dio.

But why does Machiavelli counsel us to have recourse to God, and Rousseau to the gods, to the immortals? The reader can answer that question for himself.

I do not indeed accuse the modern fathers of nations of making use of these unworthy deceptions. But when we place ourselves in their point of view, we see that they readily allow themselves to be hurried along by the desire of success. When an earnest and philanthropical man is deeply convinced that he possesses a social secret by means of which all his fellow men may enjoy in this world unlimited happiness — when he sees clearly that he can practically establish that idea neither by force nor by reasoning, and that deception is his only resource — he is laid under a very strong temptation.

"What is it that you aim at? At changing the whole system of labor, exchanges, and social relations, domestic, civil, and religious — in a word, at altering the whole physical and moral constitution of man — and you hope to rally mankind, and bring them all under this new order of things, by conviction!"

We know that the ministers of religion themselves, who profess the greatest horror of untruth, have not rejected pious frauds; and we see by the example of Rousseau (that austere writer who has inscribed at the head of all his works the motto, Vitam impendere vero), that even a proud philosophy can allow itself to be seduced by the attraction of a very different maxim, namely, The end justifies the means. Why then should we be so surprised that modern organisateurs should think also "to place their own wisdom to the credit of the gods, to put their decisions in the mouths of the immortals, hurrying us along without violence, and persuading without convincing us!"

We know that, after the example of Moses, Fourier has preceded his Deuteronomy by a Genesis. Saint Simon and his disciples had gone still farther in their apostolic dotages. Others, more discreet, attached themselves to a latitudinarian faith, modified to suit their views, under the name of New Christianity; and everyone must be struck with the tone of mystic affectation that nearly all our modern reformers have introduced into their sermons.

Efforts of this kind have served only to prove one thing, and it is not unimportant — namely, that in our days the man is not always a prophet who wishes to be one. In vain he proclaims himself a god; he is believed by no one — neither by the public, nor by his fellows, nor by himself.

Since I have spoken of Rousseau, I may be permitted to make here some observations on that manufacturer of systems, inasmuch as they will serve to point out the distinctions between artificial and natural organization. This digression, besides, is not out of place, as the contrat social has again for some time been held forth as the oracle of the future.

Rousseau was convinced that isolation was man's natural state, and, consequently, that society was a human invention. "The social order," he says in the outset, "comes not from nature, and is therefore founded on convention."

This philosopher, although a passionate lover of liberty, had a very low opinion of men. He believed them to be quite incapable of forming for themselves good institutions. The intervention of a founder, a legislator, a father of nations, was therefore indispensable.

"A people subjected to laws," says he,

should be the authors of them. It belongs alone to those who associate to adjust the conditions of their association; but how are they to regulate them? By common consent, or by sudden inspiration? How should a blind multitude, who frequently know not what they want, because they rarely know what is good for them, accomplish of themselves an enterprise so great and so difficult as the formation of a system of laws?… Individuals perceive what is good, and reject it — the public wishes for what is good, but cannot discover it — all are equally in want of guides.… Hence the necessity of a legislator.

That legislator, as we have already seen, "not being able to employ force or reason, is under the necessity of having recourse to an authority of another kind" — that is to say, in plain terms, to deception.

It is impossible to give an idea of the immense height at which Rousseau places his legislator above other men:

Gods would be necessary in order to give laws to men.… He who dares to found a nation must feel himself in a condition to change human nature, so to speak … to alter the constitution of man in order to strengthen it.… He must take from man his own force, in order to give him that which is foreign to him.… The lawgiver is in all respects an extraordinary man in the estate … his employment is a peculiar and superior function that has nothing in common with ordinary government.… If it be true that a great prince is a rare character, what must a great lawgiver be? The first has only to follow the model the other is to propose to him. The one is the mechanician who invents the machine — the other merely puts it together and sets it in motion.

And what is the part assigned to human nature in all this? It is but the base material of which the machine is composed.


In sober reality, is this anything else than pride elevated to madness? Men are the materials of a machine, which the prince, the ruling power, sets in motion. The lawgiver proposes the model. The philosopher governs the lawgiver, placing himself thus at an immeasurable distance above the vulgar herd, above the ruler, above the lawgiver himself. He soars far above the human race, actuates it, transforms it, molds it, or rather he teaches the fathers of nations how they are to do all this.

But the founder of a nation must propose to himself a design. He has his human material to set in motion, and he must direct its movements to a definite result. As the people are deprived of the initiative, and all depends upon the legislator, he must decide whether the nation is to be commercial or agricultural, or a barbarous race of hunters and fishers; but it is desirable at the same time that the legislator should not himself be mistaken, and so do too much violence to the nature of things.

Men in agreeing to enter into an association, or rather in associating under the fiat of a lawgiver, have a precise and definite design. "Thus," says Rousseau, "the Hebrews, and, more recently, the Arabs, had for their principal object religion; the Athenians, letters; Carthage and Tyre, commerce; Rhodes, navigation; Sparta, war; and Rome, virtue."

What object is to determine us Frenchmen to leave the state of isolation and of nature, in order to form a society? Or rather — as we are only so much inert matter, the materials of a machine — toward what object shall our great founder direct us?

Following the ideas of Rousseau, there could be but little room for learning, commerce, or navigation. War is a nobler object, and virtue still more so. But there is another, the noblest of all: "The end of every system of legislation is liberty and equality."

But we must first of all discover what Rousseau understands by liberty. To enjoy liberty, according to him, is not to be free, but to exercise the suffrage, when we are "borne along without violence, and persuaded without being convinced"; for then "we obey with freedom, and bear willingly the yoke of the public felicity."

"Among the Greeks," he says, "all that the people had to do they did for themselves; they were constantly assembled in the marketplace; they inhabited a genial climate; they were not avaricious; slaves did all their work; their grand concern was their liberty."

"The English people," he remarks in another place, "believe themselves free — they are much mistaken. They are so only during the election of their members of parliament; the moment the election is over, they are slaves — they are nothing."

The people, if they will be free, must, then, themselves perform all duties in connection with the public service, for it is in that that liberty consists. They must be always voting and electing, always in the marketplace. Woe to him who takes it into his head to work for his living! The moment a citizen begins to mind his own affairs, that instant (to use Rousseau's favorite phrase) tout est perdu — all is over with him.

And yet the difficulty is by no means trifling. How are we to manage? for, after all, before we can either practice virtue or exercise liberty, we must have the means of living.

"If you take away liberty from man, he becomes nothing else than a rude and wretched machine."

We have already noted the rhetorical veil under which Rousseau conceals the word imposture. We shall now see how, by another dash of eloquence, he evades the conclusion of his whole work, which is slavery.

"Your ungenial climate imposes upon you additional wants. For six months of the year you cannot frequent the marketplace, your hoarse voices cannot make themselves audible in the open air, and you fear poverty more than slavery."

"You see clearly that you cannot be free."

"What! Liberty maintain itself only by the aid of servitude? Very likely!"

Had Rousseau stopped short at this dreadful word, the reader would have been shocked. It was necessary therefore to have recourse to imposing declamation, and Rousseau never fails in that.

All things that are unnatural (it is society he is speaking of) are inconvenient, and civil society more so than all the rest. There are unfortunate situations in which one man cannot maintain his liberty but at the expense of another, and where the citizen cannot be entirely free unless the rigors of slavery are extreme. As for you, modern people, you have no slavery, but you are yourselves slaves. You purchase other men's liberties with your own. In vain you boast of this choice — I see in it rather cowardice than humanity.

I ask, does not this mean: Modern people, you would do infinitely better not to be slaves, but to possess slaves?

I trust the reader will have the goodness to pardon this long digression, which is by no means useless or inopportune. Rousseau and his disciples of the Convention have been held up to us of late as the apostles of human fraternity. Men for materials, a ruler for mechanician, a father of nations for inventor, a philosopher above them all — imposture for means, slavery for result — is this the fraternity that is promised us?

This work of Rousseau to which I have referred — the "Contrat Social" — appears to me well fitted to exhibit the characteristics of these artificial social organizations. The inventors of such systems set out with the idea that society is a state contrary to nature, and they seek to subject humanity to different combinations. They forget that its motive power, its spring of action, is in itself. They regard men as base materials, and aspire to impart to them movement and will, sentiment and life — placing themselves at an immeasurable height above the whole human race. These are features common to all the inventors of social organizations. The inventions are different — the inventors are alike.

Among the new arrangements that feeble mortals are invited to make trial of, there is one that is presented to us in terms worthy of attention. Its formula is: Association voluntary and progressive.

But political economy is founded exactly on the datum that society is nothing else than association (such as the above three words describe it) — association, very imperfect at first, because man is imperfect; but improving as man improves, that is to say, progressive.

Is your object to effect a more intimate association between labor, capital, and talent, insuring thereby to the members of the human family a greater amount of material enjoyment — enjoyment more equally distributed? If such associations are voluntary — if force and constraint do not intervene — if the cost is defrayed by those who enter these associations, without drawing upon those who refuse to enter them, in what respect are they repugnant to political economy? Is it not the business of political economy, as a science, to examine the various forms in which men may unite their powers, and divide their employments, with a view to greater and more widely diffused prosperity? Does trade not frequently afford us examples of two, three, or four persons uniting to form such associations? Is Metayage2 not a sort of informal association of capital and labor? Have we not in recent times seen joint stock companies formed that afford to the smallest capitals the opportunity of taking part in the most extensive enterprises? Have we not certain manufactures in which it is sought to give the laborers an interest in the profits? Does political economy condemn those efforts of men to make their industry more productive and profitable? Does she affirm anywhere that human nature has reached perfection? Quite the contrary. I believe that there is no science that demonstrates more clearly that society is still in its infancy.

But whatever hopes we may entertain as to the future, whatever ideas we may conceive as to the measures that men may adopt for the improvement of their mutual relations, and the diffusion of happiness, knowledge, and morality, we must never forget that society is an organization that has for its element a moral and intelligent agent, endowed with free will and susceptible of improvement. If you take away liberty from man, he becomes nothing else than a rude and wretched machine.

Liberty would seem not to be lacking in our days. In France, the privileged land of fads, freedom appears to be no longer in repute. For myself, I say that he who rejects liberty has no faith in human nature. Of late the distressing discovery seems to have been made that liberty leads inevitably to monopoly. This monstrous union, this unnatural conjunction, does not exist; it is the imaginary fruit of an error that the light of political economy speedily dissipates. Freedom engender monopoly! Oppression the offspring of liberty!

To affirm this is to affirm that the tendencies of human nature are radically bad — bad in themselves, in their nature, in their essence. It is to affirm that the natural bent of man is to deterioration — that the human mind is irresistibly attracted toward error. To what end, then, our schools, our studies, our inquiries, our discussions, unless to accelerate our progress toward that fatal descent; since to teach men to judge, to distinguish, to select, is only to teach them to commit suicide.

And if the tendencies of human nature are essentially perverse, where are the organizers of new social systems to place the fulcrum of that lever by which they hope to effect their changes? It must be somewhere beyond the limits of the present domain of humanity. Do they search for it in themselves — in their own minds and hearts? They are not gods yet; they are men, and tending, consequently, along with the whole human race, toward the fatal abyss. Shall they invoke the intervention of the state? The state also is composed of men. They must therefore prove that they form a distinct class, for whom the general laws of society are not intended, since it is their province to make these laws. Unless this be proved, the difficulty is not removed, it is not even diminished.


Let us not thus condemn human nature before studying its laws, its forces, its energies, its tendencies. Newton, after he discovered attraction, never pronounced the name of God without uncovering his head. Yet the celestial mechanism is subject to laws of which it has no consciousness; and the social world is as much superior to that which called forth the admiration of Newton as mind is superior to matter. How much more reason, then, have we to bow before Omniscience when we behold the social mechanism, which universal intelligence no less pervades (mens agitat molem); and which presents, moreover, this extraordinary phenomenon, that every atom of which it is composed is an animated thinking being, endowed with marvelous energy, and with that principle of all morality, all dignity, all progress, the exclusive attribute of man — LIBERTY.3


  • 1. Allusion to a socialist work of the day — "La Reforme industrielle, ou la Phalanstere, by Ch. Fourier." — Translator.
  • 2. Metayage is a mode of sharecropping farms in the south of Europe where the landlord furnishes a proportion of the means of cultivation, and shares the produce with the cultivator, or metayer. — Translator.
  • 3. "It is averred that the regime of free competition demanded by an ignorant political economy, and intended to do away with monopolies, tends only to the general organization of monster monopolies in all departments." — Principes du Socialisme, by Mr. Considerant, p. 15.

Claude Frédéric Bastiat

Frédéric Bastiat was the great French proto-Austrolibertarian whose polemics and analytics run circles around every statist cliché. His primary desire as a writer was to reach people in the most practical way with the message of the moral and material urgency of freedom.

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