Frederic Bastiat: A Man Alone

By George Charles Roche III

Synopsis: This book is a biography of the French economist, Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850), who was certainly one of the greatest economists who ever lived, and was among some of the brightest minds to have ever graced this planet.

Strong Points: The author does a good job of building the reader’s appreciation of Bastiat’s wit, his razor-sharp analytical abilities, his unwavering commitment to principle, and his fearless defense of the truth. The author also does a good job of discussing some of the philosophical impact Bastiat had on the world, as well as described his philosophical stances in reference to modern times, so that modern readers could understand him. While not common, anecdotes from Bastiat’s life to help the reader understand this great moral and intellectual giant were appreciated: such as insights like how, despite his monumental intellect, Bastiat had a shocking naïveté, easily losing his sense of direction while traveling through Paris. The book is a fine tribute to Frederic Bastiat. There is even a section at the end of the book with quotes from Bastiat on a variety of subjects.

Weak Points: Unfortunately, details about Bastiat’s personal life are very sparse, and the author does not dwell on them much, either. Passing mention of Bastiat getting married is given, but not much else is said of his family life (the name of his wife was not even mentioned). While the reader is given an excellent picture of the political and philosophical climate in which Bastiat was operating, the man, Bastiat himself, still remains an enigmatic character after reading the biography.

Interesting: 3.5/5

Must Read: 2.7/5

Overall: 3.5/5

Selected Quotes: “Few of today’s readers will even recognize the name of Frederic Bastiat. Yet he was one of those men fated to stand at the crossroads of sweeping historical events and radically conflicting ideologies. He lived his life in the turbulent aftermath of the French Revolution and personally witnessed the upheavals of 1830 and 1848. He was active in the political and ideological debates of his age. The battles he fought as a mid-nineteenth-century public figure were the battles which still mold the events and the thinking of the Western world. This perhaps explains the timely and lively quality of Bastiat’s thinking which immediately strikes the reader of today.” (p. 14).

“Socialists, communists, visionaries, demagogues, and planners of every description were all his foes. He stood steadfastly and often alone against the trend of his time. Even such allies as he had in the struggle were not always in agreement with him. True, Bastiat and his thought were related to Burke, Mill, and the Whig tradition in England. True, Bastiat joined Alexis de Tocqueville in his resistance to the influences of the French Revolution. It is even true that in many ways Bastiat drew heavily on the thought which typified the nineteenth century. Yet, somehow Bastiat was a man alone, not only in his lofty independence, but also in the frank and fearless application of his ideas. The search for popularity and approval never shifted him from his chosen course. Perhaps this is why Bastiat speaks so clearly to us today: His vision was unclouded by the rhetoric of his age.” (p. 15).

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