Begone the laws that precede the progress of opinion!

Frédéric Bastiat
Complete Works volume I, page 156 (in French)
Letter dated March 20th, 1847

Today’s quote contains a fundamental idea that can also be found in reading Hayek who makes the difference between law and legislation. What is at stake here is obviously legislation. What Frédéric Bastiat is telling us is that legislation cannot be imposed upon us without public opinion being in favour of it. Of course, it is the case in tyrannies but in other places, one needs to have a dictatorial bias to pass such “laws”, which is antithetical to the very concept of liberalism.

Of course, this desire of not imposing one’s views is applicable to Frédéric Bastiat himself. The interjection quoted here introduces the follow-up: “and I do not desire free-trade as much as the spirit of free-trade for my country. Free-trade is a bit more wealth; the spirit of free-trade is the reform of intelligence itself, which means it is the fountainhead of all reforms.” Beside his desire to convince free men rather than impose his views on servile men, it is interesting to note here that, even if he is convinced that free-trade allows for enrichment, it is more a happy consequence than an objective. The reason for which Frédéric Bastiat is a liberal is the freedom of the individual. What he wishes in fighting oppression and supporting freedom, is to allow individuals to convince themselves about the superiority of freedom over oppression in our search for truth and happiness.

Moreover, another quote, a Latin quote, would have deserved to be noted in this letter so I give it here: “Amica patria, sed magis amica veritas”. Frédéric Bastiat is here paraphrasing Aristotle about Plato to whom he substituted the fatherland and could be translated as follows: “The motherland is my friend, but truth is a better friend”. The context is the same as the idea already noted in the letter dated October 22nd 1846.

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