Tribute to Jacques de Guenin
By David M. Hart (Oct. 25, 2015).
I first met Jacques when he visited Liberty Fund in 2004 to discuss the translation project we had undertaken as a result of his inspiration and under his editorial leadership. I met a charming, soft-spoken man who was obviously dedicated to Bastiat, to the principle of individual liberty, and to the translation project. And his love of Bastiat rubbed off onto us.
I’m not sure when Jacques first came across the work of Frédéric Bastiat but I think it was in the late 1980s after he had retired and had more time on his hands for other activities. He came across the American translations of some of Bastiat’s works which the Foundation for Economic Education had published in 1964 and discovered to his great delight that Bastiat was a Landais. Further investigation led him to find copies of Bastiat’s long-forgotten books in French antique bookstores, and then to come across what remained of his statue in his home town of Mugron, just down the road from where Jacques lived. Marvel of marvels ! Jacques then decided to create the Cercle Bastiat in 1990 which began the renaissance of Bastiat in France which continues to this day, not least of which was his own republication of the *Oeuvres complètes*, the first in over 140 years.
But Jacques was not content with just reintroducing the works of Bastiat to the French people. He was much more ambitious than this. He wanted to bring the entire body of Bastiat’s work to the attention of the English-speaking world, not only the one third of which the Foundation for Economic Education had translated 40 years before. Being a man who loved liberty, he had the vision ; and being a man of business, Jacques had the entrepreneurial skills, to persuade some members of the Board of Directors of Liberty Fund, who visited Mugron in 2001 for the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frédéric Bastiat, to undertake the large and expensive project to translate all of Bastiat’s work into English. Fifteen years later two very large volumes have appeared in print, two more are in advanced stages of production, and there are two more to go. When we are finished, we will have the most complete, and most scholarly edition of the works of Bastiat, one which I believe will lead to a true renaissance in the study and appreciation of this great defender of individual liberty. This is entirely attributable to the work and dedication of Jacques de Guenin.
Jacques also typifies the close connection which has existed between the lovers of liberty in France and America for over 250 years. The connection between Bastiat and Jacques illustrate this relationship perfectly. Bastiat’s ideas came to America ; Jacques discovered Bastiat by reading American editions of his works ; Jacques then reintroduced Bastiat’s ideas back to France and then back to America again with the Liberty Fund translation project. Thus the spread of French liberal ideas has come more than full circle, with Jacques at the epicentre.
I would like to conclude on a more personal note. I was asked by Liberty Fund to help Jacques edit the translation because of my previous work on 19th century French classical liberal thought, in particular the work of Charles Comte, Charles Dunoyer, and Gustave de Molinari. I knew the work of Bastiat but had dismissed him as "merely" a very good economic journalist, which was the orthodox view among academics which came from the very negative assessment made by Schumpeter back in the 1950s. Jacques had the courage to reject this dismissal and to argue that Bastiat was much, much more than this. His efforts to re-educate the world about Bastiat are beginning to be successful and will continue to be so well after his passing. Because of Jacques’s dedication to Bastiat and his ideas, I was forced to re-evaluate Bastiat’s work as an original economic and political theorist and a dedicated defender of liberty. I want to thank Jacques profoundly for doing this and I expect I will not be the last.
Like Bastiat, Jacques was a man dedicated to exposing economic falsehood and a true friend of liberty. I regret his passing and salute his contributions to the rediscovery of liberty on both sides of the Atlantic.