To The YouthSubmitted by Cyril on Sat, 03/30/2013 - 03:43
Frederic Bastiat :
To The Youth of France
Liberty can assume only one form. When we are certain that each one of the molecules composing a liquid has within it everything that is needed to determine the general level, we conclude that the simplest and surest way to obtain this level is not to interfere with the molecules. All those who accept as their starting point the thesis that men's interests are harmonious will agree that the practical solution to the social problem is simply not to thwart these interests or to try to redirect them.
Coercion, on the other hand, can assume countless forms in response to countless points of view. Therefore, those schools of thought that start with the assumption that men's interests are antagonistic to one another have never yet done anything to solve the problem except to eliminate liberty. They are still trying to ascertain which, out of all the infinite forms that coercion can assume, is the right one, or indeed if there is any right one. And, if they ever do reach any agreement as to which form of coercion they prefer, there will still remain the final difficulty of getting all men everywhere to accept it freely.
But, if we accept the hypothesis that men's interests are by their very nature inevitably bound to clash, that this conflict can be averted only by the capricious invention of an artificial social order, then the condition of mankind is indeed precarious, and we must fearfully ask ourselves:
1. Shall we be able to find someone who has invented a satisfactory form of coercion?
2. Will this man be able to win over to his plan the countless schools of thought that have conceived of other forms?
3. Will mankind submit to this form, which, according to our hypothesis, must run counter to every man's self-interest?
4. Assuming that humanity will consent to being trigged out in this garment, what will happen if another inventor arrives with a better garment? Are men to preserve a bad social order, knowing that it is bad; or are they to change their social order every morning, according to the whims of fashion and the ingeniousness of the inventors?
5. Will not all the inventors whose plans have been rejected now unite against the accepted plan with all the better chance of destroying it because, by its very nature and design, it runs counter to every man's self-interest?
6. And, in the last analysis, is there any one human force capable of overcoming the fundamental antagonism which is assumed to be characteristic of all human forces?
I could go on indefinitely asking such questions and could, for example, bring up this difficulty: If you consider individual self-interest as antagonistic to the general interest, where do you propose to establish the acting principle of coercion? Where will you put its fulcrum? Will it be outside of humanity? It would have to be, in order to escape the consequences of your law. For if you entrust men with arbitrary power, you must first prove that these men are molded of a different clay from the rest of us; that they, unlike us, will never be moved by the inevitable principle of self-interest; and that when they are placed in a situation where there can be no possible restraint upon them or any resistance to them, their minds will be exempt from error, their hands from greed, and their hearts from covetousness.
What makes the various socialist schools (I mean here those schools that look to an artificial social order for the solution of the social problem) radically different from the economist school is not some minor detail in viewpoint or in preferred form of government; it is to be found in their respective points of departure, in their answers to this primary and central question: Are men's interests, when left to themselves, harmonious or antagonistic?
It is evident that the socialists set out in quest of an artificial social order only because they deemed the natural order to be either bad or inadequate; and they deemed it bad or inadequate only because they felt that men's interests are fundamentally antagonistic, for otherwise they would not have had recourse to coercion. It is not necessary to force into harmony things that are inherently harmonious.
Therefore they have found fundamental antagonisms everywhere:
Between the property owner and the worker.
Between capital and labor.
Between the common people and the bourgeoisie.
Between agriculture and industry.
Between the farmer and the city-dweller.
Between the native-born and the foreigner.
Between the producer and the consumer.
Between civilization and the social order.
And, to sum it all up in a single phrase:
Between personal liberty and a harmonious social order.
And this explains how it happens that, although they have a kind of sentimental love for humanity in their hearts, hate flows from their lips.
Each of them reserves all his love for the society that he has dreamed up; but the natural society in which it is our lot to live cannot be destroyed soon enough to suit them, so that from its ruins may rise the New Jerusalem.
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