Thursday, 13 March 2008

Celebrity debate

proudhon-bastiat-oddcouple Pierre Proudhon is famous for his aphorism "Property is theft."  Frédéric Bastiat is revered for observations such as this one, that "life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place."

The alert reader will have spotted that both these gentlemen were French, and their positions appear profoundly opposed.  What you might not have known, and I certainly didn't until a French friend pointed it out, is that both men engaged in a spirited debate in from 1848 to 1850 that appeared in Proudhon's journal that up to now have only been available in French, and without Bastiat's final reply that Proudhon refused to publish.  Up to now.

As the Mises Blog points out however, you can now enjoy the Proudhon-Bastiat debates in English, in full, which includes the concluding letter from Bastiat summarising his final position.  As co-translator Roderick Long notes,

The exchanges aren’t always ... polite ... ; in fact the two writers grow increasingly frustrated with each other over the course of the debate, until Proudhon ends by denouncing Bastiat as “a man whose intellect is hermetically sealed, and to whom logic is as nought,” and declaring him intellectually “a dead man.” Bastiat retorts that Proudhon “has ended where one ends when one is in the wrong; he is in a rage.” (We should probably bear in mind that at the time of this debate Bastiat was in the final stages of terminal illness [incidentally lending Proudhon’s metaphorical death sentence upon him an uncomfortable flavour – a celebrity death match indeed!], while Proudhon had recently begun serving a three-year prison sentence for criticising the President; so neither can have been in the best of moods. In any case, Alain Laurent has suggested that the influence of Bastiat’s arguments in the debate may have played a role in the increasingly liberal cast of Proudhon’s later thought.)

1 comment:

  1. thanks for that link PC. Bastiat is certainly one of my favourite writers of all time.


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