Economic Harmonies

Frédéric Bastiat
Bastiat, Frédéric
(1801-1850)
CEE
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Editor/Trans.
George B. de Huszar, trans. and W. Hayden Boyers, ed.
First Pub. Date
1850
Publisher/Edition
Irvington-on-Hudson, NY: Foundation for Economic Education, Inc.
Pub. Date
1996
Comments
Introduction by Dean Russell
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23

Evil

23.1

In recent years the science of political economy has been set back, has been given a false direction, by those who have sought to force it to deny the existence of evil or risk being convicted of denying the existence of God.

23.2

Writers who were doubtless eager to make a show of their exquisitely delicate feelings, their boundless love for their fellow man, and their matchless religious ardor, began to declare: "Evil cannot enter into the providential plan. Suffering was decreed neither by God nor by Nature; it comes from human institutions."

23.3

Since this doctrine was in full accord with the passions and prejudices that these writers wished to encourage, it soon became a popular one. Books and newspapers were filled with tirades against society. Political economy was no longer permitted to study the facts objectively. Whoever dared to warn mankind that a given vice, a given habit, necessarily involved dire consequences was branded as heartless, as an unbeliever, an atheist, a Malthusian, or an economist.

23.4

Meanwhile, socialism has carried its folly so far as to announce the end of all the ills of society, though not of all the ills of the individual. It has not yet dared to predict that man will reach the point where suffering, old age, and death will be eliminated.

23.5

Now, I ask, can the idea of the infinite goodness of God be reconciled more easily with the idea that evil strikes every individual coming into the world than with the idea that evil falls upon society as a whole? And is it not indulging in a contradiction so obvious as to be childish, to deny that pain and suffering exist for society as a whole and yet admit that they exist for every individual in society?

23.6

Man is subject to suffering and always will be. Therefore, society suffers and always will suffer. Those who speak to society must have the courage to declare this truth. Mankind is not a pampered little darling, with oversensitive nerves, who must be kept in ignorance of the coming struggle, particularly since, to emerge triumphant, men need to be alerted against it. In this respect all the books that have flooded France since the time of Sismondi and Buret seem to me to be lacking in courage. They do not dare to tell the truth. What is more, they do not dare even to study the truth for fear of discovering that absolute poverty, far from being attributable to the social order, is the necessary starting point for the human race, and, consequently, it is to the social order that are to be attributed all the conquests that have been achieved in the struggle against poverty. But after such a confession they would no longer be able to pose as the defenders of the people and the avengers of the masses whom civilization has oppressed.

23.7

After all, science simply presents the facts, shows how they are related, and draws inferences from them. It does not create the facts; it is not responsible for them. It is strange indeed that anyone should have gone to the length of giving expression and even wide circulation to this paradox: If mankind suffers, it is the fault of political economy! Thus, after being blamed for taking note of the woes of society, it is accused, precisely because it has noted them, of having caused them.

23.8

I have said that science can only observe and establish the facts. Even if it were to discover that mankind is retrogressive, not progressive, and that laws too strong to be resisted inevitably impel it toward irremediable decadence; even if it were to confirm the laws of Malthus and Ricardo in their most melancholy signification; even if it were unable to deny the tyranny of capital or the fundamental conflict between labor and the machine or any of the contradictory alternatives that, according to Chateaubriand*136 and de Tocqueville, confront the human race; science should still, albeit dolefully, declare the fact and declare it for all to hear.

23.9

Does it serve any good purpose to shut our eyes so as not to see the abyss, when the abyss is there, yawning at our feet? Do we demand that the biologist or the physiologist treat the individual human being as if his organs were immune to pain or destruction? "Dust art thou, and to dust thou shalt return." That is what the science of anatomy declares, supported by the experience of all mankind. Certainly this truth sounds harsh in our ears, at least as harsh as the questionable propositions of Malthus and Ricardo. Must we, then, to spare the delicate sensibilities that have suddenly developed among modern political theorists and that have given rise to socialism, deny the existence of evil? And must medical science boldly affirm our eternal rejuvenation and immortality? Or, if it refuses to stoop to such mummery, must people cry out, frothing at the mouth, as they do to the social scientists: "Medical scientists admit pain and death. Therefore, they are heartless misanthropists; they accuse God of malevolence or impotence. They are irreverent; they are atheists. What is even worse, they create the evil that they stubbornly refuse to deny."

23.10

I have never doubted that the socialists have led astray many generous hearts and sincere minds. God forbid that I should wish to humiliate anyone! But the truth is that the general character of socialism is very strange, and I wonder how long so childish a fabric of absurdities can remain in vogue.

23.11

Everything about socialism is sham and affectation.

23.12

It affects the form and language of science, and we have seen where it stands as a science.

23.13

It affects in its writings such delicately feminine sensibilities that it cannot bear to hear of the sufferings of society. At the same time that it has introduced into literature the current fashion for sickly sentimentality, it has brought into the arts the taste for the trivial and the horrible; in dress, the scarecrow style, the long beard, the scowling face, the airs of a village Titan or Prometheus; and in politics (in which such childishness is less innocent), the doctrine of bold measures during the period of transition, the violence of revolution, the sacrifice of men's lives and welfare en masse to an idea. But the greatest affectation of socialism is its religiosity! It is only a stratagem, true enough, but stratagems are always shameful for a school of thought when they lead to hypocrisy.

23.14

The socialists are always talking of Christ; but I ask them how they can accept the fact that Christ, the blameless one, was allowed to suffer and to cry out in his anguish, "Father, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done," and why they find it strange that all mankind should have to perform this same act of resignation.

23.15

No doubt, if God had had other plans for mankind, He could have arranged things in such a way that, just as the individual advances toward certain death, so the human race would move toward inevitable destruction. Mankind would have had to submit; and science, with a curse or a benediction on its lips, would have been forced to acknowledge the tragic ending of the social drama, even as it acknowledges the melancholy end of individual man.

23.16

Happily, such is not the case.

23.17

There is redemption for both the individual man and the human race.

23.18

For the individual it is his immortal soul. For the human race it is its limitless perfectibility.....


Notes for this chapter


[Vicomte François René de Chateaubriand (1768-1848), a forerunner of the romantic movement in French literature, and a royalist in politics. He served the restored Bourbon monarchy, after the fall of Napoleon, as ambassador to England and Germany and as Minister of Foreign Affairs. His most famous works are The Genius of Christianity and Memoirs from beyond the Tomb.—Translator.]

Chapter 24

End of Notes


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