God forbid that I should deny the existence of self-sacrifice. But it will be admitted that examples of it are exceptional…
In this chapter about war, Frédéric Bastiat does not try to depict its consequences but to understand what is the source of it.
He starts by acknowledging that men “think, first of all, in terms of keeping soul and body together (however prosaic this admission may be) and, secondly, of living better and better, if possible.” This materialistic approach about life is not caused by economists who are often blamed for ignoring the spiritual aspects of motivation of people, who refuse to be considered “materialistic” themselves. Today’s quote is a way for Frédéric Bastiat to look down upon this blame. Self-sacrifice is indeed well and alive but it is also sufficiently marginal to be ignored when trying to understand cause and effect economic phenomena.
In the present case, there is no risk for him to be wrong on this because what he is trying to establish are the deep causes for war, which are certainly not to be found in self-sacrifice. The source of war is, like any other plunder, the needs that are can only be satisfied through work, exchange or theft.