Vocabulary Clusters in the Thought of FrÉdÉric Bastiat

Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850)  
[Created: 12 June, 2022]
[Updated: July 21, 2022 ]


Below are the "concept maps" or what I call "vocabulary clusters" of some of Bastiat's key ideas which I have drawn up to assist me in my editing and translating work. There are ones on Class, Disturbing Factors, Harmony and Disharmony, Human Action, Plunder, and the Seen and the Unseen. The images are available in three different sizes: 900px, 1,500px, and 3,000px.

What the digitization of the collected works of Bastiat and the compilation of those texts into one searchable file allowed me to do were the following things:

  1. to check the consistency of our and previous translations (Stirling, FEE) - I found that key terms (like "le ricochet" or "human action") were not translated consistently
  2. to note when a key term was first used and to track his use of it over time
  3. to note the other terms which he associated with it, what I call "clusters", which often involved related terms or opposite terms

My conclusion is that Bastiat developed a rich and diverse vocabulary of terms which was unique to him, which appeared in an advanced state for the first time in early 1845 in two articles he wrote before he entered the orbit of the Parisian economists, and which evolved slightly over the course of the final six years of his life.

I have identified a number of such "vocabulary clusters" of key words for some of his main ideas which are listed below. I used the "mind mapping" software "Scrapple" to show the relationships between the words in a visual way. I have completed five so far (class, disturbing factors, harmony and disharmony, human action, plunder, and the seen and the unseen) and have plans to do more.

  1. the ricochet effect: the positive and negative flow on effects from economic and political activity which is a result of the interconnectedness of everything in the market; "glisser" (the flow of knowledge); the transmission of information through prices with metaphors of water, hydraulics, and electricity flows
  2. domains: the domain of the community (or the commons), the domain of private property, and the domain of plunder
  3. plunder: the theory and history of plunder, legal plunder, extra-legal plunder, and the historical stages through which it has evolved (war, slavery, theocratic plunder, monopoly, the modern regulatory state ("governmentalism" or "functionaryism"), and socialism/communism)
  4. class: those who have access to the power of the state use if for their own benefit at the expense of others; the former are the plundering class and latter are the plundered classes; history is the story of the struggle between these two classes, one to maximise its benefits, the other to minimise these impositions
  5. human action: Bastiat refers several times to humans as "un être actif" (an acting or active being), "un agent" (an agent, or actor), "un agent intelligent" (an intelligent or thinking actor), and to their behaviour in the economic world as "l'action humaine" (human action) or "l'action de l'homme" (the action of human beings, or human action), and to the guiding principle behind it all as "le principe actif" or "le principe d'activité" (the principle of action).
  6. harmony vs. disharmony: if people are left free to go about their lives and their property rights are respected, society will tend to be "harmonious" and increasingly prosperous; if force and fraud are allowed to intrude then societies will increasingly become "disharmonious"
  7. disturbing vs restorative factors: disturbing factors such as theft, violence, fraud, monopoly, protectionism, subsidies, and war upset the harmony which free exchange and markets have created; however, there is a tendency for restorative factors to intervene to restore harmony once it has been disrupted
  8. the social mechanism vs. mechanics: society is like a clock or a mechanism (with wheels, springs, and a driving force), the wheels and cogs are thinking, choosing, acting individuals with free will, and the driving force of society which kept everything in motion is individual self-interest; this was disrupted when socialists and others thought they could meddle and regulate the social mechanism as if they were engineers or mechanics
  9. the apparatus of exchange: the idea of "un appareil" (apparatus or system) is used several times in various contexts; the most important usage is in "l'appareil commercial" (the apparatus or system of commerce) and "l'appareil de l'échange" (the apparatus or system of exchange or trade), by which he meant the complex interlocking relationships which made exchange possible
  10. service for service: every exchange is a mutually beneficial exchange between two parties who are free to negotiate the terms with each other; what is exchanged is one service for another
  11. the seen and the unseen: throughout his writing there are references to "seeing" and "not seeing", "sight" and "foresight", "perceiving" things and being "deceived," seeing things from only "one side" and not all sides.
  12. responsibility and solidarity: these two ideas operated like natural laws; individuals learnt from their mistakes and benefited from their appropriate actions; they also had extensive ties with others which bound them in solidarity with the fellow human beings for mutual benefit
  13. perfectibility and progress: the capacity to improve oneself, to progress both morally and in terms of wealth, was unique to the human species both as individuals and to the societies of which they were members; he was optimistic that there there was "the never ending approach of all classes to a standard of living that is constantly rising"
  14. sophisms: part of Bastiat's "rhetoric of liberty"; those who are duped by false or sophistical arguments; his use of humor and satire to make economics less "dry and boring" and to expose how and why people are duped; his provocative vocabulary of theft, plunder, and other acts of violence
  15. the telling of stories to explain economic concepts: using Molière and La Fontaine; making up his own stories (Jacques Bonhomme) or thought experiments (Robinson Crusoe); many of the "economic sophisms" use stories to make their point; and I have identified a further 55 stories in Economic Harmonies



The image is available in three different sizes: 900px, 1,500px, and 3,000px.

Disturbing Factors

The image is available in three different sizes: 900px, 1,500px, and 3,000px.


Harmony - Disharmony

The image is available in three different sizes: 900px, 1,500px, and 3,000px.


Human Action

The image is available in three different sizes: 900px, 1,500px, and 3,000px.



The image is available in three different sizes: 900px, 1,500px, and 3,000px.


The Seen and the Unseen

The image is available in three different sizes: 900px, 1,500px, and 3,000px.