An Occasional Lecture: Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850): Campaigner for Free Trade, Political Economist and Politician in a Time of Revolution


  • 14/11/2012
Frédéric Bastiat was a pivotal figure in French classical liberalism in the mid-19th century. He suddenly emerged from the south west province of Les Landes to assume leadership of the fledgling French free trade movement in 1844 which he modelled on that of Richard Cobden’s Anti-Corn Law League in England. Bastiat then turned to a brilliant career as an economic journalist, debunking the myths and misconceptions people held on protectionism in particular and government intervention in general, which he called “sophisms” or “fallacies”. When revolution broke out in February 1848 Bastiat was elected twice to the Chamber of Deputies and served on the powerful Finance Committee where he struggled to bring government expenditure under control. He confounded his political opponents with his consistent libertarianism: on the one hand he denounced the socialists for their economic policies, but took to the streets to prevent the military from shooting them during the riots in June 1848. In the meantime he was suffering from a debilitating throat condition which severely weakened him and led to his early death on Christmas Eve in 1850. Knowing he was dying, Bastiat attempted to complete his magnum opus, Economic Harmonies. In this work he showed the very great depth of his economic thinking and made advances which heralded the Austrian school of economics. Bastiat to the end was an indefatigable foe of political privilege, unaccountable monarchical power, the newly emergent socialist movement, and above all, the vested interests which benefited from economic protectionism. He was a giant of 19th century classical liberalism.

David Hart did his undergraduate work at Macquarie University, Sydney. He completed an MA in history at Stanford University. While at Stanford he worked on student programs for the Institute for Humane Studies and was founding editor of the Humane Studies Review: A Research and Study Guide. He received a PhD in history from King’s College, Cambridge. He then taught for 15 years in the Department of History, University of Adelaide where he was awarded the University teaching prize.

Since 2001 he has been Liberty Fund’s Director of Online Library of Liberty Project. He is currently the Academic Editor of Liberty Fund’s translation project of theCollected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. He is also editing for Liberty Fund a translation of Molinari’sConversations on Saint Lazarus Street: Discussions on Economic Laws and the Defence of Property.

He is also the co-editor of two collections of 19th century French classical liberal thought (with Robert Leroux of the University of Ottawa), one in English published by Routledge and another in French called The Golden Age of French Liberalism.


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