As admirable as selflessness may be, it does not even desserve its name if it is required by law.

Frédéric Bastiat
Complete Works, Volume 2, pages 340 to 342 (in French)
September 9th, 1847

Frédéric Bastiat wrote this letter to Hippolyte Castille upon the foundation of Le Travail Intellectuel newspaper, of which 7 issues will be published up to February 15th, 1848. In the Complete Works, this letter follows the speech at the Circle of Bookstores dated December 16th, 1847 (hence, it was written prior to the speech). In this letter, Frédéric Bastiat reminds us how he defines property as following the efforts of he who renders services. Thus, he supports the right to intellectual property. He exposes the arbitrary side rendered to that type of property for “twenty years after the death of the author. Why not fifteen? why not twenty?” without defining what it should be. Indeed, we can see nowadays with the pharma industry that indefinite intellectual property would raise some questions about ethics and that copying music has raised questions that are diametrically opposed to these. According to me, this is a vast issue that desserves to be explored in more details and is still valid today (I have no idea what would be the best solution but I believe that the current situation is not satisfactory, notably concerning literary productions that are not distributed because they are not in the public domain but unlikely to be profitable for new publishing).

Today’s quote comes as opposition to the thesis according to which intellectual property should be completely ignored (this has been observed in China or at the times of the USSR) and is of a more general reach. There are regular complaints about the inherent selfishness of liberalism that recognises self-interest as an essential engine to the organisation of society. Frédéric Bastiat recognises the beauty of altruism but also knows that it is fantasy that would not allow for progress on a large scale. He exposes here the utopians who would like to impose it. Altruism can be only if it is free (which leaves open the question of legitimacy for a great number of policies that aim at replacing charity).

Here stop my quotes for volume 2 of the Complete Works, pages 343 to 482 having already been read and quotes noted at the end of 2020 in the frame of the third series of the Economic Sophisms as defined by libertyfund.org, from Recipes for Protectionism to Disastrous Illusions.

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