Isqua Istari

The Wise Wizards

Bastiat’s Ideal First Speech of Office

Posted in Articles by Ziggy Monday June 13, 2011 at 13:16

I’ve been reading through the writings of Fredric Bastiat. There are so many great statements in there, and whenever I find one I want to tell everyone. My resistance to quoting him has been waning, and it finally snapped today.

Although he states a very specific case, I believe this is his idealization of the speech that any government official should make, from the heart, on taking office. From Economic Harmonies by Frederic Bastiat:

“We have tried so many things; when shall we try the simplest of all: freedom? Freedom in all our acts that do not offend justice; freedom to live, to develop, to improve; the free exercise of our faculties; the free exchange of our services. What a fine and solemn spectacle it would have been had the government brought to power by the February Revolution spoken thus to the citizens:

“You have invested me with the power of authority. I shall use it only in cases where the intervention of force is permissible. But there is only one such case, and that is for the cause of justice. I shall require every man to remain within the limits set by his rights. Every one of you may work in freedom by day and sleep in peace at night. I take upon myself the safety of your persons and property. That is my mandate; I shall fulfill it, but I accept no other. Let there be no misunderstanding between us. Henceforth you will pay only the slight assessment indispensable for the maintenance of order and the enforcement of justice. But also, please note, each one of you is responsible to himself for his own subsistence and advancement. Turn your eyes toward me no longer. Do not ask me to give you wealth, work, credit, education, religion, morality. Do not forget that the motive power by which you advance is within yourselves; that I myself can act only through the instrumentality of force. All that I have, absolutely all, comes from you; consequently, I cannot grant the slightest advantage to one except at the expense of others. Cultivate your fields, then, manufacture and export your products, conduct your business affairs, make your credit arrangements, give and receive your services freely, educate your children, find them a calling, cultivate the arts, improve your minds, refine your sentiments, strengthen your bonds with one another, establish industrial or charitable associations, unite your efforts for your individual good as well as for the general good; follow your inclinations, fulfill your individual destinies according to your endowments, your values, your foresight. Expect from me only two things: freedom and security, and know that you cannot ask for a third without losing these two.””

Kinda makes me want to cry. It’s so beautiful. No politician I know of would say this. The public would reject anyone who would.

Edit: He says as much two paragraphs later:

“But, unfortunately, it was impossible for the National Assembly to follow this course or to speak these words. These utterances were not in accord with the Assembly’s thinking or with the public’s expectations. They would have spread as much consternation throughout society, perhaps, as would the proclaiming of a socialist state. Be responsible for ourselves! they would have said. Look to the state for nothing beyond law and order! Count on it for no wealth, no enlightenment! No more holding it responsible for our faults, our negligence, our improvidence! Count only on ourselves for our subsistence, our physical, intellectual, and moral progress! Merciful heavens! What is going to become of us? Won’t society give way to poverty, ignorance, error, irreligion, and perversity?”

I’m going to stop quoting Bastiat now. This is getting out of hand. I’ll end up copy-pasting whole chapters.

Edit: Couldn’t do it! Here’s another:

“What is surprising in all this is that those in power, simply to stay in power, did not now and then protest: “You are leading thirty-six million citizens to imagine that we are responsible for everything, good or bad, that happens to them in this world. On these terms, no government is possible.””

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