One day, people will say: “as we are not in a position to send the army back home, we need to send it over to rise up against other peoples”
Complete Works volume I, page 172 (in French)
Letter dated February 25th, 1848
Along his letters to Cobden, Frédéric Bastiat worries about the fact that, despite the repeal of the Corn Laws, there is no reduction in the budget of the army in the United Kingdom. Being convinced that free-trade extinguishes the state of belligerence among the peoples, he had expected that logic would have led the United Kingdom to enter a virtuous circle of reduced military spending and reduced threatening towards its commercial partners.
Today’s quote comes right after the revolution of February 1848 and the British army is again the topic, as to its significance to the French army. As soon as the British forces are not reduced, the new republic finds itself “constrained” to maintain a strong and costly army. According to Frédéric Bastiat, this condemns France to not being able to undertake the necessary economic reforms and therefore to continue to create frustrations that will encourage the nationalism (an anachronistic term here) of populists.
In my opinion, what is revealed by today’s quote transcends the particular context of the Defense (or Offense) ministry, although this is where the risk is indeed exacerbated. To maintain a defense army is indeed very costly but the success of it has to be measured through its inactivity – this is in general not very glorious for those who are part of it. As a consequence, the risk that an offensive army substitutes a defensive army is increasing as soon as the inactive army becomes overstaffed. This is also true of other excessive spending – inaction may be very desirable but will be very difficult to maintain if the action capacity is here, however harmful the latter can be.