Frederic Bastiat Biography and The Law

Frederic Bastiat's Biography, Life and Writings, Frederic Bastiat The Law

Frederic Bastiat was born in 1801, in Bayonne, France. It was planned that he should become a merchant, but inheriting an estate at the age of twenty-five, he first tried agriculture with small success, and then devoted the remainder of his life to study. After pursuing various branches, his attention was attracted by the writings of some of the French economists, the most prominent of whom was J. B. Say, and political economy became thereafter his favorite study.

He became successively a justice of the peace (1831), member of the general council of his department, and, unsuccessfully, a candidate for the Chamber of Deputies.

The articles written then, and a little pamphlet written to support his candidacy for another office, were the first pub­lished expressions of his demand for non-interference of govern­ment in matters of trade and manufactures. But Bastiat's first important literary attempt appeared in 1844. It was an article in the Journal des economistes, "Concerning the Influence of English and French Tariffs on the Future of Both Peoples." He had been led to write the essay by a journey he had made through Spain and England. In the latter country, he had become acquainted with the leaders of the Anti-Corn Law League, and determined to do for France what they had done and were doing for England. In 1845 he published Cobden and the League (Cobden et la Ligue) to glorify "the grand movement," as he called it. And at about this time, he began a series of articles in the Journal des economistes, which appeared soon after as a book, with the title, Sophismes economiques. An English translation, called Sophisms of Protection, was pub­lished in 1877. This is Bastiat's chief destructive or negative work.

In 1845 Bastiat removed to Paris and became secretary of the Free Trade Association there, and also took charge of a newspaper called Free Trade. After the Revolution of Feb­ruary, 1848, Bastiat became a member first of the Constituent and afterwards of the Legislative Assembly, in which he de­voted his energies chiefly to fighting the Communists and Socialists.

Besides numerous newspaper articles, Bastiat continued to bring out at intervals essays designed to popularize his ideas, such as those on Property and Law, Justice and Fraternity, — aimed against the Socialists, — and Peace and Liberty. A number of these have been translated and published with the title, Essays on Political Economy1 All are written in a pleasing and luminous style, but have comparatively little scientific value.

A good illustration of Bastiat's method appears in his ironical "Petition of the Manufacturers of Candles, Waxlights, Lamps,, Candlesticks, Street Lamps, Snuffers, Extinguishers, and of the Producers of Oil, Tallow, Rosin, Alcohol, and, generally, of everything connected with Lighting." These lesser luminaries are represented as suffering from intolerable foreign competition, namely, that of the sun; and the Chamber of Deputies is be­sought to carry out their policy of protection to home industry by stopping all openings by which sunlight had been allowed to enter houses. The imaginary petitioners go on to argue that if it were objected that sunlight is gratuitous, the point would be inconsistent; for protection had been favored on the ground that foreign products approximate more nearly than home products to the character of gratuitous gifts!
Thus, brilliantly, with fable and irony, the masses are appealed to; but all too often the criticism, that the opponent's argument is not fairly stated, applies.

His most ambitious work and his attempt at a more positive and constructive contribution was the Harmonies economiques. The first volume alone was completed, appearing in the year of the author's death, 1850.