Frederic Bastiat

Liberty Quotation for Bastille Day: Robespierre’s Tyranny of Virtue

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Storming the Bastille[Editor’s note:  Today is Bastille Day, which celebrates the storming of the Paris fortress known as the Bastille on July 14, 1789.  The poor, led by a young lawyer named Maximilien Robespierre, had already constituted themselves into a National Assembly and had begun writing a new constitution for France, and the king had been unable to prevent these developments.  Fears of a bloody counterstroke by royal troops persisted until the military detachment sent to rescue the guards of the Bastille decided to fight with the peasants rather than against them.  The storming of the Bastille thus heralded the final and irreversible defeat of Louis XVI and the successful conclusion of the French Revolution.  Notoriously, however, power corrupted even Robespierre, who had been nicknamed “the incorruptible.”  Beginning in 1793 Robespierre helped lead the bloody “Terror” during which over 40,000 French citizens were arrested and executed, many without trials of any kind.

Depressingly, it would be possible to select any number of liberty-oriented quotations from Robespierre about the natural rights of man.  But Robespierre, like so many others both before and since, evidently stopped believing in liberty after he attained personal power.  So perhaps a better lesson for Bastille Day comes from another Frenchman who wrote a few decades later about how Robespierre’s revolution went so horribly wrong.  Here then is Frédéric Bastiat on Robespierre and his plan for using force to make people more virtuous.]

 

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Liberty Quotation: Bastiat on the Nature and Limits of Law

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bastiat“We must remember that law is force, and that, consequently, the proper functions of the law cannot lawfully extend beyond the proper functions of force.”

Frédéric Bastiat, The Law [1850]

Liberty Quotation of the Day: Bastiat on Life, Liberty, Property, and Laws

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bastiat“Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws.  On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.”

Frédéric Bastiat, The Law [1850]

 

Liberty Quotation of the Day: Bastiat on Law as an Instrument of Plunder

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bastiat“You say, ‘There are persons who have no money,’ and you turn to the law.  But the law is not a breast that fills itself with milk.  Nor are the lacteal veins of the law supplied with milk from a source outside the society.  Nothing can enter the public treasury for the benefit of one citizen or one class unless other citizens and other classes have been forced to send it in.  If every person draws from the treasury the amount that he has put in it, it is true that the law then plunders nobody.  But this procedure does nothing for the persons who have no money.  It does not promote equality of income.  The law can be an instrument of equalization only as it takes from some persons and gives to other persons.  When the law does this, it is an instrument of plunder.”

Frédéric Bastiat, The Law [1850]

Liberty Quotation of the Day: Government, the Great Fiction

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bastiat“Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.”

Frédéric Bastiat, The Law [1850]