Bastiat is not exactly foreign within these pages ; nor is he all that well understood without.
Take the titular example, possibly his most famous contribution (in any case his most oft discussed, at least among certain circles) : war is "never a good thing", say the indolenti derps, because even as much as a windowpane brokenii is a complete and unmitigated cost to "society as a whole".
Yet... consider. The bloodiest conflicts to date in absolute terms, (occurring not coincidentally the last time socialism flavours disputed the socialist crown) dispatched a few tens of million souls. The bloodiest conflicts in relative terms, either Caesar's wholesale slaughter of Gauls (because the Dacians of the period were too strong for himiii, their falx too scary even if their hundred tons of gold more attractive) or I guess the butchery of that obscure Achaemenid settlementiv wiped a few percents of the known headcount at the time, in their respective spheres -- perhaps a million or so in absolute terms. What's this ?
Piddly nothings, spittle in the rain, an old man coughing in a boat during late August frog mating season. Consider that every human being ever born to date (with proportionally very few -- and in any case, very temporary exceptions) has meanwhile died. Natural causes, right ?
What have these natural causes cost ? Was every Jew dead over the three thousand years they claim for their history worth the forty silver pieces someone was supposedly found to pay for one of them ? How many tons of silver is that, counting fifty generations to the millenium and a million or two heads to the generation yields more silver than was ever found -- in Latin America, much later -- and this is just for the Jews, a nothing % worldwide. Was every college graduate ever produced worth the thousands of pounds sterlingv their education supposedly cost ? Was every female worth the bridal price, dowry, what do you call it in your culture ?
Were they, all of these, worth more than a grain, an ounce, a drizzle of cheap oil ?
Well, if they were, as no doubt they claimed, as no doubt they'd have expected you to agree they were, (but only while living)... where is it ?
Where has it gone ? How did society survive the breaking of so many panes of glass ? Count them, they're trillions, supposedly greatly decorated, subtly priceless, extremely great and wonderful panes of glass. They're all broken, gone now, adieu. Well ?
How have we survived, I wonder, the disappearance of so many irreplaceably valuable "human resources" ? How is it that the cutting of the grass is not at all "an absolute loss" to the field ? How come the shearing of the sheep's not an absolute loss of so much good hair of certain benefit and definite utility the sheep secreted at considerable personal cost through the application of complex technology you can't even industrially replicate as of yet ?
If all these pricy assets had stayed with us, I wonder ? Would we be better off, would there be a marked benefit, would society have greatly gained if all the assorted corpses produced by Father Time (the greatest warrior of all) never rotted, never dissolved, never returned to ash and dust for failure of dying in the first place ?
Consider how greatly the cvasi-immortality of Soviet top bureaucrats aided the Soviet cause (coincidentally, no doubt, towards the end of that state) ; consider also what a wonderful boon the Koschei-like qualities of present US senators constitute for the (coincidentally, I say) decaying pretense they claim to represent. What if every single spurious idiot the workings of physics and biology meanwhile relieved us of instead lingered on ? What if you actually had your nose rubbed in the "great value" of these turds you could no longer ever flush ? There's a reason, you know, "recognition" comes after death ; it's a lot easier to pretend turds were valuable after the flushing than before.
Who'd run the ventilators for ten, a hundred, ten thousand trillion vegetables ? Who'd build the skyscrapers to store them in, thousands of square miles in all directions ? The same people who protect women from being sexed "against their will", I expect, perhaps during their days off from that endlessly thankless yet mindbogglingly pointless task ?
Value is not what you think it is ; and this not coincidentally, but part and parcel, cosubstantially essential part and parcel of why you even think in the first place. It's not a process oriented towards "truth" as much as it's a process oriented towards explaining away this fundamental problem.
Let's just blame Bastiat, huh ? Certainly the fact that you want to read him a certain way isn't his fault, so who better to carry the blame ?———
- The whole "golden rule" / "non-aggression principle" / etcetera wank is nothing but laziness on steroids ; it has no deeper source nor further meaning than the militancy of the idle, attempting a rationalization of why exactly it is they shouldn't have to get up. Somehow the plain (and plainly self-evident) observation that one's own notions as to how interested or not interested in war they might be neither bear nor could possibly ever bear any... bearing, let's say, on war's interest in the one really really bothers Jason -- we could perhaps even go as far as to say it butthurts him, why not. [↩]
- Hitler was also oddly fixated on just how bereft of any breaking of windowpanes his coming to power had been, for some reason. Seriously, what's with unsteady thinkers and this windowpane preoccupation ? [↩]
- This is no exaggeration, by the way. Precisely in the manner of any socialist government in the supposed modern period, trying to invent a war to escape domestic responsibility (take Southern Argentina, if its Northern exact equivalent is too close to home for comfort), Caesar was stuck coming up with some war to escape his various debts and the need to explain himself in the senate. He went for Gaul rather than Dacia because the rag-tag bands he was kinda-not-really authorized to use / could manage access to would have been mowed down by the well organized, centralized kingdom north of the Danube. So he took his chances instead with the disorganised, more primitive tribes north of the Alps -- and as they say, the rest is history. [↩]
- Kuhna Gurgānj. [↩]
- Half a kilogram of silver, that's what "a pound sterling" is, yes ? [↩]