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   Chapter 23 CONCLUSION.

What Is Free Trade? By Frédérick Bastiat Characters: 10567

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


All the sophisms we have hitherto combated are connected with one single question: the restrictive system; and, out of pity for the reader, we pass by acquired rights, untimeliness, misuse of the currency, etc., etc.

But social economy is not confined to this narrow circle. Fourierism, Saint-Simonism, communism, mysticism, sentimentalism, false philanthropy, affected aspirations to equality and chimerical fraternity, questions relative to luxury, to salaries, to machines, to the pretended tyranny of capital, to distant territorial acquisitions, to outlets, to conquests, to population, to association, to emigration, to imposts, to loans, have encumbered the field of science with a host of parasitical sophisms, which demand the hoe and the sickle of the diligent economist. It is not because we do not recognize the fault of this plan, or rather of this absence of plan. To attack, one by one, so many incoherent sophisms which sometimes clash, although more frequently one runs into the other, is to condemn one's self to a disorderly, capricious struggle, and to expose one's self to perpetual repetitions.

How much we should prefer to say simply how things are, without occupying ourselves with the thousand aspects in which the ignorant see them! To explain the laws under which societies prosper or decay, is virtually to destroy all sophistry at once. When La Place had described all that can, as yet, be known of the movements of the heavenly bodies, he had dispersed, without even naming them, all the astrological dreams of the Egyptians, Greeks, and Hindoos, much more surely than he could have done by directly refuting them through innumerable volumes. Truth is one; the book which exposes it is an imposing and durable monument:

Il brave les tyrans avides,

Plus hardi que les Pyramides

Et plus durable que l'airain.

Error is manifold, and of ephemeral duration; the work which combats it does not carry within itself a principle of greatness or of endurance.

But if the power, and perhaps the opportunity, have failed us for proceeding in the manner of La Place and of Say, we cannot refuse to believe that the form which we have adopted has, also, its modest utility. It appears to us especially well suited to the wants of the age, to the hurried moments which it can consecrate to study.

A treatise has, doubtless, an incontestable superiority; but upon condition that it be read, meditated upon, searched into. It addresses itself to a select public only. Its mission is, at first, to fix, and afterwards to enlarge, the circle of acquired knowledge.

The refutation of vulgar prejudices could not carry with it this high bearing. It aspires only to disencumber the route before the march of truth, to prepare the mind, to reform public opinion, to blunt dangerous tools in improper hands. It is in social economy above all, that these hand-to-hand struggles, these constantly recurring combats with popular errors, have a true practical utility.

We might arrange the sciences under two classes. The one, strictly, can be known to philosophers only. They are those whose application demands a special occupation. The public profit by their labor, despite their ignorance of them. They do not enjoy the use of a watch the less, because they do not understand mechanics and astronomy. They are not the less carried along by the locomotive and the steamboat through their faith in the engineer and the pilot. We walk according to the laws of equilibrium without being acquainted with them.

But there are sciences which exercise upon the public an influence proportionate with the light of the public itself, not from knowledge accumulated in a few exceptional heads, but from that which is diffused through the general understanding. Such are morals, hygiene, social economy, and in countries which men belong to themselves, politics. It is of these sciences, above all, that Bentham might have said: "That which spreads them is worth more than that which advances them." Of what consequence is it that a great man, a God even, should have promulgated moral laws, so long as men, imbued with false notions, take virtues for vices, and vices for virtues? Of what value is it that Smith, Say, and, according to Chamans, economists of all schools, have proclaimed the superiority of liberty to restraint in commercial transactions, if those who make the laws and those for whom the laws are made, are convinced to the contrary.

These sciences, which are well named social, have this peculiarity: that for the very reason that they are of a general application, no one confesses himself ignorant of them. Do we wish to decide a question in chemistry or geometry? No one pretends to have the knowledge instinctively; we are not ashamed to consult Draper; we make no difficulty about referring to Euclid.

But in social science authority is but little recognized. As such a one has to do daily with morals, good or bad, with hygiene, with economy, with politics reasonable or absurd, each one considers himself skilled to comment, discuss, decide, and dogmatize in these matters.

Are you ill? There is no good nurse who does not tell you, at the first moment, the cause and cure of your malady.

"They are humors," affirms she

; "you must be purged."

But what are humors? and are these humors?

She does not trouble herself about that. I involuntarily think of this good nurse when I hear all social evils explained by these common phrases: "It is the superabundance of products, the tyranny of capital, industrial plethora," and other idle stories of which we cannot even say: verba et voces pr?tereaque nihil: for they are also fatal mistakes.

From what precedes, two things result-

1st. That the social sciences must abound in sophistry much more than the other sciences, because in them each one consults his own judgment or instinct alone.

2d. That in these sciences sophistry is especially injurious, because it misleads public opinion where opinion is a power-that is, law.

Two sorts of books, then, are required by these sciences; those which expound them, and those which propagate them; those which show the truth, and those which combat error.

It appears to us that the inherent defect in the form of this little Essay-repetition-is that which constitutes its principal value.

In the question we have treated, each sophism has, doubtless, its own set form, and its own range, but all have one common root, which is, "forgetfulness of the interests of man, insomuch as they forget the interests of consumers." To show that the thousand roads of error conduct to this generating sophism, is to teach the public to recognize it, to appreciate it-to distrust it under all circumstances.

After all, we do not aspire to arouse convictions, but doubts.

We have no expectation that in laying down the book, the reader shall exclaim: "I know." Please Heaven he may be induced to say, "I am ignorant."

"I am ignorant, for I begin to believe there is something delusive in the sweets of Scarcity."

"I am no longer so much edified by the charms of Obstruction."

"Effort without Result no longer seems to me so desirable as Result without Effort."

"It may probably be true that the secret of commerce does not consist, as that of arms does, in giving and not receiving, according to the definition which the duellist in the play gives of it."

"I consider an article is increased in value by passing through several processes of manufacture; but, in exchange, do two equal values cease to be equal because the one comes from the plough and the other from the power-loom?"

"I confess that I begin to think it singular that humanity should be ameliorated by shackles, or enriched by taxes: and, frankly, I should be relieved of a heavy weight, I should experience a pure joy, if I could see demonstrated, which the author assures us of, that there is no incompatibility between comfort and justice, between peace and liberty, between the extension of labor and the progress of intelligence."

"So, without feeling satisfied by his arguments, to which I do not know whether to give the name of reasoning or of objections, I will interrogate the masters of the science."

Let us terminate by a last and important observation this monograph of sophisms. The world does not know, as it ought, the influence which sophistry exerts upon it. If we must say what we think, when the Right of the Strongest was dethroned, sophistry placed the empire in the Right of the Most Cunning; and it would be difficult to say which of these two tyrants has been the more fatal to humanity.

Men have an immoderate love for pleasure, influence, position, power-in one word, for wealth.

And at the same time men are impelled by a powerful impulse to procure these things at the expense of another. But this other, which is the public, has an inclination not less strong to keep what it has acquired, provided it can and knows how. Spoliation, which plays so large a part in the affairs of the world, has, then, two agents only: Strength and Cunning; and two limits: Courage and Right.

Power applied to spoliation forms the groundwork of human savagism. To retrace its history would be to reproduce almost entire the history of all nations-Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes, Persians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Goths, Franks, Huns, Turks, Arabs, Moguls, Tartars-without counting that of the Spaniards in America, the English in India, the French in Africa, the Russians in Asia, etc., etc.

But, at least, among civilized nations, the men who produce wealth have become sufficiently numerous and sufficiently strong to defend it.

Is that to say that they are no longer despoiled? By no means; they are robbed as much as ever, and, what is more, they despoil one another. The agent alone is changed; it is no longer by violence, but by stratagem, that the public wealth is seized upon.

In order to rob the public, it must be deceived. To deceive it, is to persuade it that it is robbed for its own advantage; it is to make it accept fictitious services, and often worse, in exchange for its property. Hence sophistry, economical sophistry, political sophistry, and financial sophistry-and, since force is held in check, sophistry is not only an evil, it is the parent of other evils. So it becomes necessary to hold it in check, in its turn, and for this purpose to render the public more acute than the cunning; just as it has become more peaceful than the strong.

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