The clearest writer who ever lived on the self-destructive nature of law
30th January 2011
If liberty dies in the United States, it is destined to die everywhere. Walter E. Williams
. . . the central idea in much of Bastiat’s writings is captured in
his essay “What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen,” which was the last
piece he wrote before his death in 1850. He points out that the
short-run effects of any action or policy can often be quite different
from its longer-run consequences, and that these more remote
consequences in fact may be the opposite from what one had hoped for
or originally planned. Richard Ebeling
The safest way to make laws respected is to make them respectable.
When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel
alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for
the law. Frederic Bastiat
The complete perversion of law.
Law never confines itself to its proper functions. And when it exceeds
its proper functions, it acts in direct opposition to its own purpose.
The law has been used to destroy its own objective. It has annihilated
the justice it was supposed to maintain, and limited and destroyed
rights its real purpose was to respect.
The law has placed the real power in the hands of the unscrupulous who
wish — without risk — to exploit the person, liberty, and property of
others. In order to protect plunder, it has converted plunder into a
right. In order to punish lawful defense, it has converted lawful
defense into a crime.
So spoke Frederic Bastiat, an ailing French lawyer who produced one of
the greatest essays ever — The Law — which stands like a lighthouse in
time, illuminating with impeccable logic a world darkened by the
unceasing manifestations of our fear.
Biographer Walter Williams made the definitive comment about this
fearless French enemy of creeping socialism when he wrote: “A
liberal-arts education without an encounter with Bastiat is
And the reason — as you shall clearly see — is its clarity.
“It created order in my thinking about liberty and just human
conduct,” Williams wrote. “It made ideas on liberty so clear that even
the unlettered can understand them.”
And this message.
“The greatest single threat to liberty is government. Most government
activities, including ours, are legalized plunder.”
[And now for me, the honor and privilege of presenting to many of you
for the first time the clear-headed and sage observations of Frederic
Life, 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.
Life, 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.
If 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
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.
If 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.
“If Bastiat were alive today,” wrote biographer Richard Ebeling, “he
would be disappointed with our failure to keep the law within its
proper domain. Over the course of a century and a half, we have
created more than 50,000 laws. Most of them permit the state to
initiate violence against those who have not initiated violence
“These laws range from anti-smoking laws for private establishments
and Social Security “contributions” to licensure laws and minimum wage
laws. In each case, the person who resolutely demands and defends his
God-given right to be left alone can ultimately suffer death at the
hands of our government,” Ebeling wrote.
“Mankind’s history is one of systematic, arbitrary abuse and control
by the elite acting privately, through the church, but mostly through
government. It is a tragic history where hundreds of millions of
unfortunate souls have been slaughtered, mostly by their own
Bastiat’s most famous line is probably “the state is the great fiction
through which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else.”
But his impact — largely lost on a populace demented by lusty
entertainment, financial hypnosis and a totally fabricated official
record of history — is much more serious than any single good line.
“Bastiat was able to apply the principle of the seen and the unseen to
taxes and government jobs. When government taxes, what is seen are the
workers employed and the results of their labor: a road, a bridge, or
a canal. What is unseen are all the other things that would have been
produced if the tax money had not been taken from individuals in the
private sector and if the resources and labor employed by the
government had been free to serve the desires of those private
citizens. Government, Bastiat explained, produces nothing independent
from the resources and labor it diverts from private uses.
“Herein lies Bastiat’s famous distinction between illegal and legal
plunder, which is at the center of his analysis in The Law.
“The purpose of government, he says, is precisely to secure
individuals in their rights to life, liberty, and property. Without
such security men are reduced to a primitive life of fear and self
defense, with every neighbor a potential enemy ready to plunder what
another has produced.
“If a government is strictly limited to protecting men’s rights, then
peace prevails, and men can go about working to improve their lives,
associating with their neighbors in a division of labor and exchange.
“But government can also be turned against those whom it is meant to
protect in their property.
“There can arise legal plunder, in which the powers of government are
used by various individuals and groups to prevent rivals from
competing, to restrict the domestic and foreign trading opportunities
of other consumers in the society, and therefore to steal the wealth
of one’s neighbors.
“This, Bastiat argues, is the origin and basis of protectionism,
regulation, and redistributive taxation.
“Why does legal plunder come about? Bastiat saw its origin in two sources.
“First, as we have just seen, some people see it as an easier means of
acquiring wealth than through work and production. They use political
power to redistribute from others what they are unwilling or unable to
obtain from their neighbors through the voluntary exchanges of the
marketplace. One basis for legal plunder, in other words, is the
misguided spirit of theft.
“The second, and far more dangerous, source of legal plunder is the
arrogant mentality of the social engineer. Through the ages, Bastiat
showed, social and political philosophers have viewed the multitude of
humanity as passive matter, similar to clay, waiting to be molded and
shaped, arranged and moved about according to the design of an
intellectually superior elite.”
Enough about Bastiat, back to by Bastiat, whose thoughts have been
taught in the universities of Europe for many generations.
A Fatal Tendency of Mankind
Self-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.
But 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
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
Now 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.
When, 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. But, 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
This 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.
The 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.
The Basis for Stable Government
Law is justice. In this proposition a simple and enduring government
can be conceived. And I defy anyone to say how even the thought of
revolution, of insurrection, of the slightest uprising could arise
against a government whose organized force was confined only to
Under such a regime, there would be the most prosperity—and it would
be the most equally distributed. As for the sufferings that are
inseparable from humanity, none would even think of blaming the
government for them.
This is true because, if the force of government were limited to
suppressing injustice, then government would be as innocent of these
sufferings as it is now innocent of changes in the temperature.
The Results of Legal Plunder
It is impossible to introduce into society a greater change and a
greater evil than this: the conversion of the law into an instrument
In the first place, it erases from everyone’s conscience the
distinction between justice and injustice. No society can exist unless
the laws are respected to a certain degree. The safest way to make
laws respected is to make them respectable.
When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel
alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for
the law. These two evils are of equal consequence, and it would be
difficult for a person to choose between them.
Not all Laws are Just
The nature of law is to maintain justice. This is so much the case
that, in the minds of the people, law and justice are one and the same
thing. There is in all of us a strong disposition to believe that
anything lawful is also legitimate.
This belief is so widespread that many persons have erroneously held
that things are “just” because law makes them so. Thus, in order to
make plunder appear just and sacred to many consciences, it is only
necessary for the law to decree and sanction it.
Slavery, restrictions, and monopoly find defenders not only among
those who profit from them but also among those who suffer from them.
Proof of an Idea
Look at the entire world. Which countries contain the most peaceful,
the most moral, and the happiest people? Those people are found in the
countries where the law least interferes with private affairs; where
government is least felt; where the individual has the greatest scope,
and free opinion the greatest influence; where administrative powers
are fewest and simplest; where taxes are lightest and most nearly
equal, and popular discontent the least excited and the least
justifiable; where individuals and groups most actively assume their
responsibilities, and, consequently, where the morals of admittedly
imperfect human beings are constantly improving; where trade,
assemblies, and associations are the least restricted; where labor,
capital, and populations suffer the fewest forced displacements; where
mankind most nearly follows its own natural inclinations; where the
inventions of men are most nearly in harmony with the laws of God; in
short, the happiest, most moral, and most peaceful people are those
who most nearly follow this principle: Although mankind is not
perfect, still, all hope rests upon the free and voluntary actions of
persons within the limits of right; law or force is to be used for
nothing except the administration of universal justice.
Let Us Now Try Liberty
God has given to men all that is necessary for them to accomplish
their destinies. He has provided a social form as well as a human
form. And these social organs of persons are so constituted that they
will develop themselves harmoniously in the clean air of liberty.
Away, then, with quacks and organizers! Away with their rings, chains,
hooks, and pincers! Away with their artificial systems!
Away with the whims of governmental administrators, their socialized
projects, their centralization, their tariffs, their government
schools, their state religions, their free credit, their bank
monopolies, their regulations, their restrictions, their equalization
by taxation, and their pious moralizations!
And now that the legislators and do-gooders have so futilely inflicted
so many systems upon society, may they finally end where they should
have begun: May they reject all systems, and try liberty; for liberty
is an acknowledgment of faith in God and His works.
Oh, and just one more line from this widely acclaimed French genius.
“The solution to the problems of human relationships is to be found in liberty.”
John Kaminski is a writer who lives on the Gulf Coast of Florida,
urging people to understand that no problem in the world can be
authentically addressed without first analyzing tangents caused by
Jewish perfidy, which has subverted and diminished every aspect of
human endeavor throughout history. Support for his work is wholly
derived from people who can understand what he’s saying and know what
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