War metaphors and trade — Bastiat

A flotilla of ships is approaching your shore. Does it matter to you whether they are carrying smartphones and shoes — or rockets and soldiers?

bastiatfIn his Economic Sophisms, Frédéric Bastiat makes this exasperated point:

“A French ironmaster says: ‘We must protect ourselves from the invasion of English iron!’ An English landlord cries: ‘We must repel the invasion of French wheat!’ And they urge the erection of barriers between the two nations. Barriers result in isolation; isolation gives rise to hatred; hatred, to war; war, to invasion. ‘What difference does it make?’ say the two sophists. ‘Is it not better to risk the possibility of invasion than to accept the certainty of invasion?” And the people believe them, and the barriers remain standing.’

He continues:

And yet, what analogy is there between an exchange and an invasion? What possible similarity can there be between a warship that comes to vomit missiles, fire, and devastation on our cities, and a merchant vessel that comes to offer us a voluntary exchange of goods for goods?

Source: Frédéric Bastiat, Economic Sophisms [1845], First Series, Ch. 22, “Metaphors.”

Related: “Is commerce rendering war obsolete?”

One thought on “War metaphors and trade — Bastiat

  • November 14, 2016 at 8:47 am

    Yup, this is the equation of a body of territory with the body politic with a human body. Anything that “comes into” a country is experienced as an invasion (the country is one’s own body, “Hitler is Germany, just as Germany is Hitler”).

    Particularly if what is coming in is identified as an “alien” or not self entity. Warfare often revolves around the protection of boundaries (fear of being violated).

    This is what is going on now in USA: fear of violation: invasiveness: the alien penetrates one’s body (politic).

    Once one recognizes this psychic equation (the body of territory = the body politic = the human body), many, many dimensions of history become clear.


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