A Biography: Frédéric Bastiat

If each man has the right to defend, even by force, his person, his liberty, and his property, several men have the right to get together, come to an understanding, and organize a collective force to provide regularly for this defense. Collective right, then, has its principle, its raison d’être, its legitimate basis, in individual right; and the collective force can rationally have no other end, no other function, than that of the individual forces for which it substitutes. Thus, as an individual cannot legitimately use force against the person, liberty, or property of another individual, for the same reason collective force cannot legitimately be applied to destroy the person, liberty, and property of individuals or classes.

– Frédéric Bastiat in The Law

Frédéric Bastiat

In a modern France that idolizes José Bové, a French farmer who is best known for vandalizing a McDonald’s restaurant, as a national hero, it is easy to forget that there once lived in that same country, a liberal economist by the name of Claude Frédéric Bastiat. In America, he happens to be one of the most well-known of the French liberalists, yet is almost completely unheard of in his native France.

Bastiat is most famous for his 1845 “Candle-makers’ Petition”, a satirical plea on behalf of the candle-makers of France to the French Parliament to ban the sun, which he wittily describes as a competitor that brings ruin to the candle-makers since it offers illumination for free. Here, Bastiat effectively demonstrates that if the citizens of the country may obtain a good or a service cheaply, it would be ludicrous to turn down this offer even if it would mean some loss of business for the domestic producers of that same good or service. This is one of the best-argued denunciations of protectionism ever written and is justly reprinted in a number of economics textbooks.

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A Book: Irrational Man

The chief movement of modernity, Kierkegaard holds, is a drift toward mass society, which means the death of the individual as life becomes ever more collectivized and externalized. The social thinking of the present age is determined, he says, by what might be called the Law of Large Numbers: it does not matter what quality each individual has, so long as we have enough individuals to add up to a large number – that is, to a crowd or mass. And where the mass is, there is truth – so the modern world believes.

-William Barrett in Irrational Man

Irrational Man by William Barrett

First published in 1958, Irrational Man is something of a dinosaur next to the sexily titled and slickly paced philosophy books that fill today’s bookshelves. Despite its age and the sad fact that some of the ideas in the book have aged less than gracefully, it remains as its back blurb says, “widely recognized as the finest definition of existentialist philosophy ever written”.

These days existentialism takes a back seat to its offspring, postmodernism, and it is unfortunate that in the minds of most people, the “scientized” sophistry, sometimes frivolously so, and abstruse language that so characterizes contemporary postmodern literature is inevitably linked to existentialism as well. It may therefore be surprising that I, the author of a site dedicated to reason, identify strongly with some of the central tenets of existentialism.

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A Biography: Charles Darwin

My success as a man of science, whatever this may have amounted to, has been determined, as far as I can judge, by complex and diversified mental qualities and conditions. Of these, the most important have been – the love of science – unbounded patience in long reflecting over any subject – industry in observing and collecting facts – and a fair share of invention as well as common sense. With such moderate abilities as I possess, it is truly surprising that I should have influenced to a considerable extent the belief of scientific men on some important points.

– Charles Darwin in The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Volume 1

Charles Darwin

His is a name taught in every elementary textbook on biology and for good reason. Creationists have ever been eager to pounce on the fact that Darwin was never the first to come up with the theory of evolution, and indeed it is well-known that his first public presentation of his ideas was shared with Alfred Russel Wallace who developed the same theory of natural selection independently of Darwin. Yet it was Wallace who wrote:

“We claim for Darwin that he is the Newton of natural history, and that, just so surely as that the discovery and demonstration by Newton of the law of gravitation established order in place of chaos and laid a sure foundation for all future study of the starry heavens, so surely has Darwin, by his discovery of the law of natural selection and his demonstration of the great principle of the preservation of useful variations in the struggle for life, not only thrown a flood of light on the process of development of the whole organic world, but also established a firm foundation for all future study of nature.”

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New beginnings

myphoto.jpg I first registered calltoreason.org in 2001. I was 25 years old then and quite a different person. Like many vanity websites, my interest in maintaining and updating didn’t last long, and what work I did put into it was as much to play with HTML, CSS and JavaScript as to actually write any content. Nevertheless, while the drive lasted, I did manage to write a few short essays.

The website languished for a long while then, though I continued to use the domain name as my personal e-mail address and used the hosting space for a private forum for some of my old school friends. A long while ago, one of these friends suggested that I change the website to a blog, so as to make it easier to update it. In retrospect, he was right. The days when I was convinced that raw HTML on a plain text editor was the only way to work on my website are long gone. If I had switched to a blog format earlier, I might actually have gotten more done.

I’ll be adding those old essays that I’m not too embarrassed about as posts over the few days. After that, who knows.

The unexamined life is a life not worth living