What constitutes the sociability of man is the ability to share occupations and to join forces, in one word, to exchange their services.

Frédéric Bastiat
Complete Works, Volume 2, pages 246 to 259 (in French)
July 3rd, 1847

This speech was pronounced in front of law students in Paris. To defend the Association for Free-Trade is here again the objective and Frédéric Bastiat rejoices about his audience, the youth being naturally more eager to challenge the established order. It is part of his approach of informing people in order to alter public opinion, which is a preliminary condition to political changes.

The main theme of the speech concerns the difference between principles and expedients. The latter are at the heart of political action and constitute one of its main weaknesses. To ignore principles is not an option in the quest for truth.

Of course, the principle he is advocating is free-trade which is criticised by his opponents as non practical. Today’s quote shows how it is at the core of society. As a consequence, to deny the right of individuals to exchange their property is to break the engine creating social relationships. It is particularly destructive and this is indeed what will be observed in the 20th century with the various socialist, fascist and nazi experiments, that all destroyed the societies in which they were implemented.

Besides, Frédéric Bastiat asks two metaphorical questions in his speech that I find particularly relevant: “In which direction should we walk? Should we walk fast or slow?”. According to him, what is more important is, of course, the direction. This matches my understanding of what counts in liberalism. The dynamic of freedom in society is way more important than the level of freedom in which it finds itself. In other words, a liberal society implementing totalitarian policies impoverishes itself while a totalitarian society implementing liberal policies enriches itself.

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