Thread: Frederic Bastiat: The Law
#1 Frederic Bastiat: The Law05-08-2012, 01:26 PM
Simple, concise and brilliant explanation of how law should work. Bastiat's arguments will be familiar to most of us, but should be read in the original. Here is the first section, and the rest can be found at http://www.econlib.org/library/Bastiat/basLaw1.html Enjoy.
L.1The law perverted! And the police powers of the state perverted along with it! The law, I say, not only turned from its proper purpose but made to follow an entirely contrary purpose! The law become the weapon of every kind of greed! Instead of checking crime, the law itself guilty of the evils it is supposed to punish!
L.2If this is true, it is a serious fact, and moral duty requires me to call the attention of my fellow-citizens to it.
Life Is a Gift from God
L.3We hold from God the gift which includes all others. This gift is life—physical, intellectual, and moral life.
L.4But life cannot maintain itself alone. The Creator of life has entrusted us with the responsibility of preserving, developing, and perfecting it. In order that we may accomplish this, He has provided us with a collection of marvelous faculties. And He has put us in the midst of a variety of natural resources. By the application of our faculties to these natural resources we convert them into products, and use them. This process is necessary in order that life may run its appointed course.
L.5Life, faculties, production—in other words, individuality, liberty, property—this is man. And in spite of the cunning of artful political leaders, these three gifts from God precede all human legislation, and are superior to it.
L.6Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.
What Is Law ?
L.7What, then, is law? It is the collective organization of the individual right to lawful defense.
L.8Each of us has a natural right—from God—to defend his person, his liberty, and his property. These are the three basic requirements of life, and the preservation of any one of them is completely dependent upon the preservation of the other two. For what are our faculties but the extension of our individuality? And what is property but an extension of our faculties?
L.9If every person has the right to defend even by force—his person, his liberty, and his property, then it follows that a group of men have the right to organize and support a common force to protect these rights constantly. Thus the principle of collective right—its reason for existing, its lawfulness—is based on individual right. And the common force that protects this collective right cannot logically have any other purpose or any other mission than that for which it acts as a substitute. Thus, since an individual cannot lawfully use force against the person, liberty, or property of another individual, then the common force—for the same reason—cannot lawfully be used to destroy the person, liberty, or property of individuals or groups.
L.10Such a perversion of force would be, in both cases, contrary to our premise. Force has been given to us to defend our own individual rights. Who will dare to say that force has been given to us to destroy the equal rights of our brothers? Since no individual acting separately can lawfully use force to destroy the rights of others, does it not logically follow that the same principle also applies to the common force that is nothing more than the organized combination of the individual forces?
L.11If this is true, then nothing can be more evident than this: The law is the organization of the natural right of lawful defense. It is the substitution of a common force for individual forces. And this common force is to do only what the individual forces have a natural and lawful right to do: to protect persons, liberties, and properties; to maintain the right of each, and to cause justice to reign over us all.
A Just and Enduring Government
L.12If a nation were founded on this basis, it seems to me that order would prevail among the people, in thought as well as in deed. It seems to me that such a nation would have the most simple, easy to accept, economical, limited, nonoppressive, just, and enduring government imaginable—whatever its political form might be.
L.13Under such an administration, everyone would understand that he possessed all the privileges as well as all the responsibilities of his existence. No one would have any argument with government, provided that his person was respected, his labor was free, and the fruits of his labor were protected against all unjust attack. When successful, we would not have to thank the state for our success. And, conversely, when unsuccessful, we would no more think of blaming the state for our misfortune than would the farmers blame the state because of hail or frost. The state would be felt only by the invaluable blessings of safety provided by this concept of government.
L.14It can be further stated that, thanks to the non-intervention of the state in private affairs, our wants and their satisfactions would develop themselves in a logical manner. We would not see poor families seeking literary instruction before they have bread. We would not see cities populated at the expense of rural districts, nor rural districts at the expense of cities. We would not see the great displacements of capital, labor, and population that are caused by legislative decisions.
L.15The sources of our existence are made uncertain and precarious by these state-created displacements. And, furthermore, these acts burden the government with increased responsibilities.
The Complete Perversion of the Law
L.16But, unfortunately, law by no means confines itself to its proper functions. And when it has exceeded its proper functions, it has not done so merely in some inconsequential and debatable matters. The law has gone further than this; it has acted in direct opposition to its own purpose. The law has been used to destroy its own objective: It has been applied to annihilating the justice that it was supposed to maintain; to limiting and destroying rights which its real purpose was to respect. The law has placed the collective force at the disposal of the unscrupulous who wish, without risk, to exploit the person, liberty, and property of others. It has converted plunder into a right, in order to protect plunder. And it has converted lawful defense into a crime, in order to punish lawful defense.
L.17How has this perversion of the law been accomplished? And what have been the results?
L.18The law has been perverted by the influence of two entirely different causes: stupid greed and false philanthropy. Let us speak of the first.
A Fatal Tendency of Mankind
L.19Self-preservation and self-development are common aspirations among all people. And if everyone enjoyed the unrestricted use of his faculties and the free disposition of the fruits of his labor, social progress would be ceaseless, uninterrupted, and unfailing.
L.20But there is also another tendency that is common among people. When they can, they wish to live and prosper at the expense of others. This is no rash accusation. Nor does it come from a gloomy and uncharitable spirit. The annals of history bear witness to the truth of it: the incessant wars, mass migrations, religious persecutions, universal slavery, dishonesty in commerce, and monopolies. This fatal desire has its origin in the very nature of man—in that primitive, universal, and insuppressible instinct that impels him to satisfy his desires with the least possible pain.
Property and Plunder
L.21Man can live and satisfy his wants only by ceaseless labor; by the ceaseless application of his faculties to natural resources. This process is the origin of property.
L.22But it is also true that a man may live and satisfy his wants by seizing and consuming the products of the labor of others. This process is the origin of plunder.
L.23Now since man is naturally inclined to avoid pain—and since labor is pain in itself—it follows that men will resort to plunder whenever plunder is easier than work. History shows this quite clearly. And under these conditions, neither religion nor morality can stop it.
L.24When, then, does plunder stop? It stops when it becomes more painful and more dangerous than labor. It is evident, then, that the proper purpose of law is to use the power of its collective force to stop this fatal tendency to plunder instead of to work. All the measures of the law should protect property and punish plunder.
L.25But, generally, the law is made by one man or one class of men. And since law cannot operate without the sanction and support of a dominating force, this force must be entrusted to those who make the laws.
L.26This fact, combined with the fatal tendency that exists in the heart of man to satisfy his wants with the least possible effort, explains the almost universal perversion of the law. Thus it is easy to understand how law, instead of checking injustice, becomes the invincible weapon of injustice. It is easy to understand why the law is used by the legislator to destroy in varying degrees among the rest of the people, their personal independence by slavery, their liberty by oppression, and their property by plunder. This is done for the benefit of the person who makes the law, and in proportion to the power that he holds.
05-08-2012, 02:34 PM
Wow...Ody...I'm impressed. You published one of the greatest treatises ever on limited government.
I actually did not read this until about 4 years ago, but it's where I learned that all taxation is theft.
Getting yourself educated on some of Bastiat's arguments, along with some other Austrian economists can sure make a Socialist have a bad day
Reading Bastiat has also lead a many to some other very conclusions such as Agorism....I certainly made me think about it.
Several of the most often quoted pieces are such:
If the natural tendencies of mankind are so bad that it is not safe to permit people to be free, how is it that the tendencies of these organizers are always good? Do not the legislators and their appointed agents also belong to the human race? Or do they believe that they themselves are made of a finer clay than the rest of mankind?" - Frédéric Bastiat
The socialists declare that the state owes subsistence, well-being, and education to all its citizens; it should be generous, charitable, involved in everything, devoted to everybody; ...that it should intervene directly to relieve all suffering, satisfy and anticipate all wants, furnish capital to all enterprises, enlightenment to all minds, balm for all wounds, asylums for all the unfortunate, and even aid to the point of shedding French blood, for all oppressed people on the face of the earth.
Who would not like to see all these benefits flow forth upon the world from the law, as from an inexhaustible source? ...But is it possible? ...Whence does [the state] draw those resources that it is urged to dispense by way of benefits to individuals? Is it not from the individuals themselves? How, then, can these resources be increased by passing through the hands of a parasitical and voracious intermediary? - Frédéric Bastiat
Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain. - Frédéric Bastiat
If you can't read it all....listen to it on your Ipod. http://www.freeaudio.org/fbastiat/thelaw.htmlGun Control: The theory that a woman found dead in an alley, raped and strangled with her panty hose, is somehow morally superior to a woman explaining to police how her attacker got that fatal bullet wound - Unknown
The problem is Empty People, Not Loaded Guns - Linda Schrock Taylor
05-08-2012, 03:07 PM
Today's complex economy demands sophisticated protections for property, and the state must have the tools to accomplish this mission. In Property and the Law, Bastiat proposed a sort of flat tax on property, saying:
Let us never forget that, in fact, the state has no resources of its own. It has nothing, it possesses nothing that it does not take from the workers. When, then, it meddles in everything, it substitutes the deplorable and costly activity of its own agents for private activity. If, as in the United States, it came to be recognized that the function of the state is to provide complete security for all, it could fulfill this function with a few hundred million francs. Thanks to this economy, combined with industrial prosperity, it would finally be possible to impose a single direct tax, levied exclusively on property of all kinds.
But, for that, we must wait until we have learned by experience --perhaps cruel experience--to trust in the state a little less and in mankind a little more.
Bastiat's argument for what was essentially a flat tax on productive property, would have ensured that the state had the means to accomplish its legitimate functions, but lacked the means to expand its scope beyond them.
Last edited by Odysseus; 05-08-2012 at 03:15 PM.
05-08-2012, 05:58 PM
He uses the term legalized plunder many times. It's my belief that the further left you go the more apt you are to believe in all property being the collectives. The further right is just the opposite.
If not, then why does his own institute formed in his name believe just that?
The real reason this institutionalized slavery exists is fundamentally inherent to the nature of governments themselves. All of them. Democracies, dictatorships, republics, you name it. In order to exist in the first place, governments must steal the earnings of others by forceGun Control: The theory that a woman found dead in an alley, raped and strangled with her panty hose, is somehow morally superior to a woman explaining to police how her attacker got that fatal bullet wound - Unknown
The problem is Empty People, Not Loaded Guns - Linda Schrock Taylor
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