I’m completely unfamiliar with this work and picked it up solely upon the recommendation of people like libertarian thinker Tom Woods. Since I don’t really know what I’m getting myself into with this book, I took a look at the preface. Turns out, this book isn’t really a book. It’s a pamphlet written by Bastiat before and during the French Revolution.
Let me say right out of the gate that I’m not particularly knowledgable about the French Revolution. I remember a bit of what I learned in school. That is, the monarchy had been abusing its power. The Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, made light of the suffering of peasants who were starving due to famine by saying, “Let them eat cake.” A bit of research reveals that these words were never actually spoken by the queen, but this supposed quote was used after the French Revolution by supporters of the Revolution to make political hay for the cause. I also remember that King Leo, during a famine, was so fat that guillotine couldn’t cut through the girth of his neck.
The rhetoric of the French Revolution was that there were two types of people in France: the haves and the have nots. This should sound familiar to us today. It’s a narrative that people like Bernie Sanders have been peddling. There is the 1%, who have the vast majority of wealth and privilege in the United States, and then there is the 99% who live off the meager scraps that fall from the fat 1%’s table.
Of course, the difference in living standards between the 99% of Americans in the 21st century is vastly different than the life of the 99% in 19th century France. Yet, we see violence constantly simmering under the surface in American politics. It seems not a day goes by without some Trump supporter smacking a non-Trump supporter. Likewise, anti-Trump protesters don’t seem to understand the concept of peaceful protest. Just yesterday anti-Trump supporters attempted to violently interfere with a peaceful gathering of California Republicans. Politics brings the worst out of people – including me.
Within the two primary sides of American politics, we find fear peddlers. The fools on the left peddle fear of the 1%, fear of declining wages, fear of Christians, fear of the death of the American Dream due to the influence of the rich and powerful upon our legislative process. The fools on the right peddle fear of the immigrant, fear of the Muslim, fear of the media elite, and fear of the masses rising up against traditional power structures. These fools aren’t necessarily fools because they are misdiagnosing problems within our country. It seems to me both sides have some valid complaints. They are fools because they look to the institution of government, which causes most of these problems, to be the mechanism for remedy of these problems.
Bastiat offers a voice that we cannot find within the American political system. From what I understand, this work contains presents the political theory of Classical Liberalism. My hope, in reading this pamphlet is that Bastiat will help shed some light on our current political morass. We shall see.