Frédéric Bastiat Was a Radical Opponent of War and Militarism

Frédéric Bastiat is well known for his radical free-market positions as expressed in his still-famous book The Law and in insightful essays such as “That Which Is Seen and That Which Is Not Seen.” Joseph Schumpeter called Bastiat “the most brilliant economic journalist who ever lived.”

Bastiat’s radicalism did not end with economic policy, however. Bastiat, like most other radical liberals of his period—such as Richard Cobden, John Bright and Charles Dunoyer—was a radical anti-militarist and opponent of interventionist foreign policy. Bastiat’s the La... Bastiat, Claude Fru00e... Best Price: $26.39 Buy New $21.99 (as of 08:22 UTC - Details)

For example, Bastiat was an anti-imperialist and strongly opposed the French colonization of Algeria, stating in 1846:

I have no hesitation in saying that, unless it be in order to secure independent frontiers, you will never find me, in this case or in any other, on the conqueror’s side. … To me it is a proven fact, and I venture to say a scientifically proven fact, that the colonial system is the most disastrous illusion ever to have led nations astray.

Indeed, Bastiat sought to abolish the French standing army altogether. In an 1847 pamphlet titled “The Utopian,” Bastiat reminded his readers that military expenditure is generally an enormous waste of money, and that the exploitation of the taxpayers could be greatly reduced were the size of the French military drastically reduced. Specifically, Bastiat sought to abolish “the entire army” with the exception of “some specialized divisions” which would have to be staffed with volunteers since Bastiat, of course, also sought to abolish conscription altogether. In response to the claim that he was “disarming the country,” Bastiat  responded “I said that I was disbanding the army and not that I was disarming the country.” Rather, Bastiat wanted a militia of armed private citizens who, he contended, would provide far greater practical defense than a horde of conscripts living off the taxpayer dole. As Bastiat put it: “Every citizen must know two things: how to provide for his own existence and how to defend his country.”

In 1849, Bastiat continued to press for disarmament. Speaking at the second general Peace Conference in Paris, Bastiat noted “Large armaments necessarily entail heavy taxes” and that this taxation “is a crying injustice inflicted upon the poor to the advantage of the rich. ” He then insists that taxation must fall less heavily on the poor and

There is, then, only one means of diverting from this country the calamities which menace it, and that is, to equalize taxation; to equalize it, we must reduce it; to reduce it, we must diminish our military force. For this reason, amongst others, I support with all my heart the resolution in favor of a simultaneous disarmament [of the UK and France].

In all this, Bastiat was joined on the English side of the Channel by the British Radicals Cobden and Bright who were fighting in their own country against empire, military spending, and aggressive foreign policy. Bastiat’s Econom... Bastiat, Fru00e9du00e9ric Best Price: $15.00 Buy New $16.07 (as of 08:22 UTC - Details)

Nor should we be surprised by this. In the nineteenth century, the libertarians of the time—today often called “classical liberals”—were vehement anti-interventionists and advocates for radical reductions in military spending, military deployments, and warmaking of all types. Unlike many of today’s so-called free-market conservatives, the liberals of that time understood that war is indeed “the health of the state” and that the machinery of the garrison states was one of the greatest drivers of state power. Bastiat and his kind were not fooled by calls for spreading democracy at the point of gun, or civilizing the natives in the colonies. The liberals sought freedom rather than grandiose schemes of moralistic state building.

Were Bastiat’s conservative followers of today to advocate for this full program, they would advocate slashing military spending and abolishing the standing army. They would advocate for full and complete withdrawal from Middle East and every other corner of the globe in which the US regime continues to intervene.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.