Bastiat’s Conundrum

Claude-Frédéric Bastiat, a 19th Century economist and political philosopher of the French Liberal Schoolthink proto-libertarian – was more than a little concerned about society turning its back to what is good and embracing what it is evil.

When misguided public opinion honors what is despicable and despises what is honorable, punishes virtue and rewards vice, encourages what is harmful and discourages what is useful, applauds falsehood and smothers truth under indifference or insult, a nation turns its back on progress and can be restored only by the terrible lessons of catastrophe.

— Frédéric Bastiat
Economic Harmonies (1850 AD)

Not, of course that this is new thought or warning. It goes back to at least Biblical times.

Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

Isaiah 5:20, The Bible (KJV)

But, inherent to these very thoughts and proscriptions in the conundrum. Who are the misguided of the public? Who, indeed, have chosen to call evil good, and good evil? When a society – truly, at this point more of a population than a society – cannot even agree upon what words mean, much less what are examples thereof, it becomes almost moot to try to decide this. And yet, from the standpoint of both utility and primal, existential need, decide this America must do.

Related Reading:

The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty
The Right Stuff
Philosophy 101: From Plato and Socrates to Ethics and Metaphysics, an Essential Primer on the History of Thought (Adams 101)
Nicomachean Ethics
The Mysterious Benedict Society

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2 Responses to “Bastiat’s Conundrum”

  1. Alan Scott Says:

    I’ve never heard of this guy. Since you wrote about him, I’ve researched him. I can only guess that France during his time was filled with the same socialists that plaque us.

    He seems to be very good at expressing the Libertarian view of Law and Government.

  2. jonolan Says:

    Quite definitely he had to deal with Socialists. In The Law he wrote:

    Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain. I do not dispute their right to invent social combinations, to advertise them, to advocate them, and to try them upon themselves, at their own expense and risk. But I do dispute their right to impose these plans upon us by law – by force – and to compel us to pay for them with our taxes.

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