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 incomplete.”
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 Bastiat.]
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 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.
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 against others.
“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 government.”
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 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
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 laws.
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 suppressing injustice.
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 of plunder.
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 it means.
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