And whatever good opinion you have of the virtue of Council members, do you think that they will avoid succumbing to this test?

Frédéric Bastiat
Complete Works, Volume 1, pages 480 to 506

Today’s quote is extracted from a letter written by Frédéric Bastiat to Gustave Larnac, MP for the Landes who had attacked him on the issue of the conflicts of interest of a legislative mandate with work in the civil service. This topic will be touched upon again three years later in the Parliamentary Conflict of Interest pamphlet.

The constitutional issue addressed here is that of conflicts of interest, in particular those raising from the fact that Members of Parliament attacking the government allow them to depose and replace it. As a consequence, we regularly face the situation in which MPs do not debate and vote  according to their convictions about what is good for the country but according to the chances it gives them to become a minister themselves if the attack is successful. What the quotes reveals is that, despite the goodwill of those of us who are the least cynical and believe in the beauty of parliamentary representation, if the Constitution does not place a number of rules aiming at suppressing conflicts of interest, the human nature is such that there will be some, including with people who initially aspire to be ethical in their actions.

Lord Acton will then translate this in his famous letter to Archbishop Mandell Creighton in 1887 “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. It is clearly a criticism of politics, which have not changed much since then.

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