BRAND NEW from publisher - pristine. Same day shipping! With a FREE BONUS “FOUNDER’S WISDOM” a 50 page booklet of quotes from the Founders of our nation. The Law is Frédéric Bastiat's timeless defense of the free society. With his characteristically clear writing, Bastiat lays out the formula for the proper role of the state in a free society.
6.0 stars. The newest member of my list of "All Time Favorite" books. I can not believe I have never read (or until somewhat recently heard) of this classic of limited government and libertarian political philospophy. Bastiat's message is clear...the only proper role of the law (i.e. government) is to safeguard the individuals right to his/her life, liberty and property. Any actions by the government beyond this limited sphere will actually act to violate the rights of one group at the expense of another.
A few interesting quotes:
"The mission of law is not to oppress persons and plunder them of their property, even thought the law may be acting in a philanthropic spirit. Its mission is to protect property."
"But how is this legal plunder to be identified? Quite simply. See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime."
"You say: 'There are persons who lack education' and you turn to the law. But the law is not, in itself, a torch of learning which shines its light abroad. The law extends over a society where some persons have knowledge and others do not; where some citizens need to learn, and others can teach. In this matter of education, the law has only two alternatives: It can permit this transaction of teaching-and-learning to operate freely and without the use of force, or it can force human wills in this matter by taking from some of them enough to pay the teachers who are appointed by government to instruct others, without charge. But in the second case, the law commits legal plunder by violating liberty and property."
"As long as it is admitted that the law may be diverted from its true purpose--that it may violate property instead of protecting it--then everyone will want to participate in making the law, either to protect himself against plunder or to use it for plunder."
This book is right up there with The Road to Serfdom as a seminal work of limited government. HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION!!!
the same situation exists in America today as in the France of 1848
Socialists desire to practice legal plunder, not illegal plunder. Socialists, like all other monopolists, desire to make the law their own weapon. And when once the law is on the side of socialism, how can it be used against socialism? For when plunder is abetted by the law, it does not fear your courts, your gendarmes, and your prisons. Rather, it may call upon them for help.
Limited legal plunder: This system prevailed when the right to vote was restricted. One would turn back to this system to prevent the invasion of socialism.
Universal legal plunder: We have been threatened with this system since the franchise was made universal. The newly enfranchised majority has decided to formulate law on the same principle of legal plunder that was used by their predecessors when the vote was limited.
No legal plunder: This is the principle of justice, peace, order, stability, harmony, and logic.
While I agree with Bastiat entirely, the way that he has presented "the classic blueprint for a just society," is exactly why people who lean more towards socialist ideas scoff at those who are for capitalism, economic stability, and most importantly honoring the fundamentals of the need for law: to protect life, liberty, and property.
The first chapter started out wonderfully, articulately and simple. It was accessible and easy to understand and apply. I was excited as I hoped to share this with my husband to allow him to open up to my ideas on politics which are different from his (he's a democrat/socialist).
However, the rest of the book just seemed to be a rant that got more and more impassioned as it went along, which to me seemed to take away from the reader's ability to take what he was saying seriously. I was disappointed because even though I agreed with everything he said and thought his applications of his ideas were great, I felt sort of embarrassed about his inability to keep calm in expressing his ideas.
The book is sound, based on sound ideas and should appeal to any libertarian. I nodded a lot as I was reading it. "Yes!" I kept telling myself, "this is definitely true." Unfortunately the truth was told, in this case, in a way that I don't think would be very accessible to the people that Bastiat was intent on reaching. I think a democrat/socialist might mislabel it "too radical" when they really mean, "too impassioned."
It is for that reason, I'm sorry to say, I was unable to rate this any higher.
Having been greatly encouraged by some libertarian friends to read “The Law” by Frédéric Bastiat, I finally got around to reading it today, and if I were to simplify my impressions of it in as few words as possible, it would be an anti-communist manifesto. In fact, the book’s structure, style, methodology, and zealotry are almost identical in form and potency. Like Marx’s Communist manifesto, it starts out by stating ideals which it assumes all members of society to hold in common, describes how such ideals have been violated by the very apparatus intended to fulfill them, and the account of history by which this progressive perversion took place. Uncannily similar to Marx’s manifesto, Bastiat serves to compare, contrast, and justify his idealogy by quoting all his detractors, and then refuting their arguments. Additionally, as if to brazenly admit to plagiarizing from “The Communist Manifesto” (as I am almost certain it did!), “The Law” concludes by screaming its conclusive creed in ALL CAPS. I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt prior to that, but after reading Bastiat’s treatise to its conclusion, I cannot in good conscience deny that this book is a shameless copycat of the very political work(s) it condemns.
However, whereas Marx’s rebuttals are more scientific and logical, Bastiat relies heavily on appeals to emotion, appeals to nature, and similar fallacies. Here, the first big difference between “The Law” and “The Communist Manifesto” become evident: while both Marx and Bastiat rely on biased, passionate propaganda to define and justify their respective ideologies, Bastiat’s arguments are weak and, contrary to his claims in the concerning treatise, rationally deficient. This becomes particularly evident as he repeatedly calls upon “God” as the endower of rights and the regulator of human impulses. Note that I am not saying that God doesn’t exist (in fact, I am a firm believer in a higher power, though “he” is sufficiently beyond our comprehension to be adequately understood), but that “God” should not be cited in any serious political work, lest the work be converted into a religiously-charged, dogma-filled political “Bible”. Indeed, “The Law” is a perfect “Bible” for libertarians, but an intellectual disappointment for more serious thinkers.
Admittedly, the beginning arguments of “The Law” were compelling and rational, and remarkably objective in their conveyance. The idea that every individual’s life, liberty, and property should be defended by the government, that every violation of these rights should be repressed and neutralized through the force of the state, and the government’s authority should not extend beyond the domain of the defense of these rights. If “The Law” from this premise focused its energies on a defense of these rights, and outlined a practical means of implementing such protections in the state, it would be a political treatise anyone could benefit from reading. But following the premise, what awaits is a political cesspool of anti-socialist, anti-communist propaganda, and a dull and repetitive invocation of God, “Justice”, and the author’s ideological “Law”. In this respect, the logical inferences of “The Law” reminds me of Rene’ Descartes’ doubting methodology, in which he determines everything but “existence” (“I think therefore I am”) can be doubted…only to from that premise determine that God exists, therefore he would not deceive us about reality, therefore reality is exactly how we perceive it to be. It seems that Bastiat shares with Descartes’ this rational-schizophrenia, in both cases to the logical detriment of their respective theories.
Beyond its religious and dogmatic tone (and the fallacies resulting from its theological foundations), one of my biggest criticisms of “The Law” was its inclusion of “wealth” in its definition of “private property”. In my opinion “wealth” cannot justifiably be considered private property (as wealth is almost always produced through the cooperative efforts of a collective, and accumulated through trade with others), the idea that the government should protect the inherent rights of individuals, named property, facility, and person- resonates strongly with me. However, these ideas are narrowly limited by the author to little more than defense against physical injury, destruction, or plunder of a person’s life (person), liberty (faculty), or property, and advocates the equal protection of individual wealth, even if that wealth is disproportionate to their labor, and most importantly, is acquired at the expense of others’ property (through preventing them from being able to pay for property), facility (by limiting their opportunities for education and self-improvement), and even person (for the poor, who lacking basic subsistence due to being underpaid, are unable to afford shelter or even food, and often starve and die).
My biggest criticism of the book, however, is my biggest criticism of libertarianism: it goes to great length about the problems of the government, but provides no legitimate solutions- just ideas. It claims that humans have a natural impulse to improve themselves and by extension, society, but if that were the case there would be no oppressive government to violate our liberties, much less would such a government continue to perpetuate despite the clear technological means for universal welfare. It claims that if governments merely protect the property, facility, and the people of their respective nations, that all/most of the problems concerning private life will somehow be fixed. To agree with “The Law” to this end would require ignoring the poor, the starving, the intellectually deprived- in other words, to find “social darwinism” in its most extreme form to be an “ideal” solution. If “The Law” sought to reform the government to better protect private property while at the same time better serving public interests, I would find it an exemplary work. But instead it naively asserts the same dogma it did in the very beginning: that by merely restricting the government to defense of the individual, without any intervention in the people’s person, property, or faculty, the concerning problems will fix themselves- implicitly through natural human instinct- a notion so absurdly unsophisticated, that it defeats all remaining credibility this work of propaganda might have otherwise retained.
Need some time to let my observations settle down a bit :) What I can readily say is that I'm more than slightly surprised I only stumbled on the author's name only recently! This is a instructive text to study whether you are interested in classical liberalism, the American and French Revolutions, party politics nowadays, protectionism and free trade, the purpose and the scope of the law, individualism.
Meanwhile, here are some of my notations and observations:
-> Natural Law (Frédéric Bastiat's position) vs legal positivism.
'They divide mankind into two parts. Men in general, except one, form the first; the politician himself forms the second, which is by far the most important.
In fact, they begin by supposing that men are devoid of any principle of action, and of any means of discernment in themselves; that they have no moving spring in them; that they are inert matter, passive particles, atoms without impulse; at best a vegetation indifferent to its own mode of existence, susceptible of receiving, from an exterior will and hand, an infinite number of forms, more or less symmetrical, artistic, and perfected.'
Happily, according to these writers, there are some men, termed governors and legislators, upon whom Heaven has bestowed opposite tendencies, not for their own sake only, but for the sake of the rest of the world.
Whilst mankind tends to evil, they incline to good; whilst mankind is advancing towards darkness, they are aspiring to enlightenment; whilst mankind is drawn towards vice, they are attracted by virtue. And, this granted, they demand the assistance of force, by means of which they are to substitute their own tendencies for those of the human race.
-> Highly reminiscent of Crime and Punishment, isn't it?
Frédéric Bastiat, a member of the French Parliament, is an declared opponent to universal suffrage as practiced then:
'If, as the republicans of the Greek and Roman tone pretend, the right of suffrage had fallen to the lot of every one at his birth, it would be an injustice to adults to prevent women and children from voting. Why are they prevented? Because they are presumed to be incapable. And why is incapacity a motive for exclusion? Because the elector does not reap alone the responsibility of his vote; because every vote engages and affects the community at large; because the community has a right to demand some securities, as regards the acts upon which his well-being and his existence depend.'
-> He warns against the strife to divert the law to the profit of one group at the expense of another and the double standards of politicians:
See whether the law takes from some persons that which belongs to them, to give to others what does not belong to them. See whether the law performs, for the profit of one citizen, and, to the injury of others, an act which this citizen cannot perform without committing a crime.
'Endeavor to imagine a form of labour imposed by force, which is not a violation of liberty; a transmission of wealth imposed by force, which is not a violation of property. If you cannot succeed in reconciling this, you are bound to conclude that the law cannot organise labour and industry without organising injustice.'
'In fact, if law were confined to causing all persons, all liberties, and all properties to be respected—if it were merely the organisation of individual right and individual defence—if it were the obstacle, the check, the chastisement opposed to all oppression, to all plunder—is it likely that we should dispute much, as citizens, on the subject of the greater or less universality of suffrage? Is it likely that it would compromise that greatest of advantages, the public peace? Is it likely that the excluded classes would not quietly wait for their turn? Is it likely that the enfranchised classes would be very jealous of their privilege? And is it not clear, that the interest of all being one and the same, some would act without much inconvenience to the others?
But if the fatal principle should come to be introduced, that, under pretence of organisation, regulation, protection, or encouragement, the law may take from one party in order to give to another, help itself to the wealth acquired by all the classes that it may increase that of one class, whether that of the agriculturists, the manufacturers, the ship owners, or artists and comedians; then certainly, in this case, there is no class which may not pretend, and with reason, to place its hand upon the law, which would not demand with fury its right of election and eligibility, and which would overturn society rather than not obtain it. Even beggars and vagabonds will prove to you that they have an incontestable title to it. They will say—"We never buy wine, tobacco, or salt, without paying the tax, and a part of this tax is given by law in perquisites and gratuities to men who are richer than we are. Others make use of the law to create an artificial rise in the price of bread, meat, iron, or cloth. Since everybody traffics in law for his own profit, we should like to do the same. We should like to make it produce the right to assistance, which is the poor man's plunder. To effect this, we ought to be electors and legislators, that we may organise, on a large scale, alms for our own class, as you have organised, on a large scale, protection for yours. Don't tell us that you will take our cause upon yourselves, and throw to us 600,000 francs to keep us quiet, like giving us a bone to pick. We have other claims, and, at any rate, we wish to stipulate for ourselves, as other classes have stipulated for themselves!" How is this argument to be answered?'
'Yes, as long as it is admitted that the law may be diverted from its true mission, that it may violate property instead of securing it, everybody will be wanting to manufacture law, either to defend himself against plunder, or to organise it for his own profit.'
=> So I wonder about the ressources of the unemployed, the elderlies and retired people, the chronically ill, the disabled...
This is Bastiat's answer:
'What then? Does it follow that, if we are free, we shall cease to act? Does it follow, that if we do not receive an impulse from the law, we shall receive no impulse at all? Does it follow, that if the law confines itself to securing to us the free exercise of our faculties, our faculties will be paralyzed? Does it follow, that if the law does not impose upon us forms of religion, modes of association, methods of instruction, rules for labour, directions for exchange, and plans for charity, we shall plunge eagerly into atheism, isolation, ignorance, misery, and egotism? Does it follow, that we shall no longer recognise the power and goodness of God; that we shall cease to associate together, to help each other, to love and assist our unfortunate brethren, to study the secrets of nature, and to aspire after perfection in our existence?'
Frédéric Bastiat also makes sure to confront Louis Blanc's socialist aspirations:
' [Louis Blanc's standpoint:] "Once for all: liberty consists, not only in the right granted, but in the power given to man, to exercise, to develop his faculties under the empire of justice, and under the protection of the law. "And this is no vain distinction; there is a deep meaning in it, and its consequences are not to be estimated. For when once it is admitted that man, to be truly free, must have the power to exercise and develop his faculties, it follows that every member of society has a claim upon it for such instruction as shall enable it to display itself, and for the instruments of labour, without which human activity can find no scope. Now, by whose intervention is society to give to each of its members the requisite instruction and the necessary instruments of labour, unless by that of the State?"
[Frédéric Bastiat:] Thus, liberty is power. In what does this power consist? In possessing instruction and instruments of labour. Who is to give instruction and instruments of labour? Society, who owes them. By whose intervention is society to give instruments of labour to those who do not possess them?
By the intervention of the State. From whom is the State to obtain them?
It is for the reader to answer this question, and to notice whither all this tends. '
One of the strangest phenomena of our time [...] is the doctrine which is founded upon this triple hypothesis: the radical passiveness of mankind,—the omnipotence of the law,—the infallibility of the legislator:—this is the sacred symbol of the party which proclaims itself exclusively democratic.
It is true that it professes also to be social.
So far as it is democratic, it has an unlimited faith in mankind.
So far as it is social, it places it beneath the mud.
Are political rights under discussion? Is a legislator to be chosen? Oh! then the people possess science by instinct: they are gifted with an admirable tact; their will is always right; the general will cannot err. Suffrage cannot be too universal. Nobody is under any responsibility to society. The will and the capacity to choose well are taken for granted. Can the people be mistaken? Are we not living in an age of enlightenment? What! are the people to be always kept in leading strings? Have they not acquired their rights at the cost of effort and sacrifice? Have they not given sufficient proof of intelligence and wisdom? Are they not arrived at maturity? Are they not in a state to judge for themselves? Do they not know their own interest? Is there a man or a class who would dare to claim the right of putting himself in the place of the people, of deciding and of acting for them? No, no; the people would be free, and they shall be so. They wish to conduct their own affairs, and they shall do so.
But when once the legislator is duly elected, then indeed the style of his speech alters. The nation is sent back into passiveness, inertness, nothingness, and the legislator takes possession of omnipotence.'
Other personal reservations/interrogations:
1) Frédéric Bastiat considers property as a fact preceding the apparition of laws, as if already given, and more, as the origin of laws.
'It is not because men have made laws, that personality, liberty, and property exist. On the contrary, it is because personality, liberty, and property exist beforehand, that men make laws.'
Apart from the narrow instance of property over oneself (although this is still highly debatable: take slavery for instance (Bastiat even refers to it in his work), is this not a case of overt challenge and disregard against the notion that one belongs to oneself? Take matrimonial strategies and family codes of behaviour applying to family members: is this belonging to oneself that obvious to begin with?). Isn't individualism a cultural construction and as such, historicized and depending on conventions codified into laws?
In short, I am still wondering how property can preexist a consensus over what constitutes property.
2) Property is described somewhere in Frédéric Bastiat's text as a natural product of individual faculties. Is it as simple as that? Aren't there other elements to factor in when it comes to any production of wealth?
-> I misheard, here is what F. Bastiat has to say over the matter of the fruits of the free exercise of the faculties of the individual:
'Self-preservation and development is the common aspiration of all men, in such a way that if every one enjoyed the free exercise of his faculties and the free disposition of their fruits, social progress would be incessant, uninterrupted, inevitable.'
'Nature, or rather God, has bestowed upon every one of us the right to defend his person, his liberty, and his property, since these are the three constituent or preserving elements of life; elements, each of which is rendered complete by the others, and cannot be understood without them. For what are our faculties, but the extension of our personality? and what is property, but an extension of our faculties?'
3) The appeals to divine providence as the foundation of Frédéric Bastiat's discourse...
When, from the seclusion of his cabinet, a politician takes a view of society, he is struck with the spectacle of inequality which presents itself. He mourns over the sufferings which are the lot of so many of our brethren, sufferings whose aspect is rendered yet more sorrowful by the contrast of luxury and wealth.
He ought, perhaps, to ask himself, whether such a social state has not been caused by the plunder of ancient times, exercised in the way of conquests; and by plunder of later times, effected through the medium of the laws? He ought to ask himself whether, granting the aspiration of all men after well-being and perfection, the reign of justice would not suffice to realise the greatest activity of progress, and the greatest amount of equality compatible with that individual responsibility which God has awarded as a just retribution of virtue and vice?
'Whatever God does, is well done; do not pretend to know more than He; and as He has given organs to this frail creature, allow those organs to develop themselves, to strengthen themselves by exercise, use, experience, and liberty. [...] God has implanted in mankind, also, all that is necessary to enable it to accomplish its destinies. There is a providential social physiology, as well as a providential human physiology. The social organs are constituted so as to enable them to develop harmoniously in the grand air of liberty. [...] Away with their artificial methods! Away with their social workshops, their governmental whims, their centralization, their tariffs, their universities, their State religions, their gratuitous or monopolising banks, their limitations, their restrictions, their moralisations, and their equalisation by taxation! And now, after having vainly inflicted upon the social body so many systems, let them end where they ought to have begun—reject all systems, and make trial of liberty—of liberty, which is an act of faith in God and in His work.'
=> What if there is no such providence? Who is to foresee?
I believe EVERYONE should read this short little book. It so clearly states what the law (government) should do, and what the law should not do. If someone desires FREEDOM in their life, they should take to heart what is presented in this very readable book. While written in 1850 (by a Frenchman!), I have never found a more clear, succinct writing on this subject.
It is in from this book that I learned an appropriate phrase for taxes: Legal Plunder. I understand now how individuals can not give to the government rights that they do not have individually. For example, if one person does not have, naturally, the right to take another persons property, then a group of individuals can not give to the government the right to take property from others.
This book substantiates why the minimalist Federal Government established in the United States provides the most freedom, and the evils and dangers of protectionism, socialism, and other means and methods of government to intrude into our lives (beyond the basic need to protect life, liberty, and property).
My husband and I have agreed that this is an important enough book that everyone in the whole world should read it!! If our government officials understood this book our budget would be far more balanced! I am not even close to a political or any kind of economist but this book was very readable and I understood it all.
Quote "The state is a great fiction by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else."
2022-07-07 A GR friend just asked me about this book and I was shocked that I had not yet reviewed it here.
I first found out about this classic little book when I was in college and a fellow student clued me in (about 1976) to the Foundation for Economic Education, which had translated, published and promoted this book highly.
The author was a Frenchman of the classical liberal persuasion, who lived in the first half of the 19th century who saw government and business for what they were and clearly wrote about them. Besides "The Law" he wrote many other great little satirical essays (e.g. "The Broken Window" "The Candlemakers' Petition" "What is seen and what is not seen" etc.) and even books on economics and politics, but this is his best known.
Although this book may not be the most tightly argued or the most logically presented it is still a GREAT intro to classical liberal/libertarian ideas, especially on the benefits (moral and practical) of the idea of limited government and the non-aggression principle.
Book #21: Had to re-read “The Law” by Frederic Bastiat after 5-6 years. It’s essential reading, especially for Millennials, today. Important to know about the consequences of legal plunder, protectionism, socialism, and communism...
This book will appeal to people who like to droll on and on about the evil statists coming for your money, guns and liberty. The Garrrrrr... Taxation is theeeeffft... people.
And on the one hand - I get it. You worked for it. You earned it. You keep it.
Bastiat discusses legal and illegal plunder. (You know, taxation vs. theft.)
And so, for a lot of it, the Libertarian/Capitalist in me wanted to clap along and write "YES!" in the margins throughout.
But then I kept wondering about other forms of legal plunder - Civil Asset Forfeitures and Corporate Exploitation, for example - and the Left-leaning/Socialist in me wanted to say, "now hold on a minute."
All my Libertarian friends point to Venezuela and shout out, "SEE! SEE!" without also looking to Scandinavia our Canada. (Or right here in the United States, in some regards.)
And that bothers me.
Here in the United States, I have the "freedom" to go to any doctor I want. But with $16.78 in my pocket, how free am I, really? Am I more free than the people of Canada?
And while, as a teacher I often question compulsory education I'm sure I don't want to live in a society where kids are on perpetual summer break. ...Or have that option. Like Malcolm Gladwell says in Outliers, it's not that American Schools are failing - they're doing really well... It's being out of school that's bad for achievement.
Bastiat rightly points out that just because Libertarians don't think the government should be doing something does not mean that they are against that thing. Still, I can't envision the education levels rising in this Utopia he wants to create.
Ultimately, it's about balance. No one is advocating for zero regulation. (Bastiat uses extremist terms in his headings, like, "The Socialist Despise Mankind" and "The Socialist Want Dictatorship." Maybe there was a Socialist in 1850 writing headings like, "The Libertarian Wants The Purge to Become Real" or "Libertarians Want the Death of Civilization.")
Balance. If I own a farm and use water for the farm, and you move upstream and start dumping toxic waste into the water... What happens? Your land, your business?
If you can make money selling nukes, what business is it of the government's to stop you? (Tyrants).
In Economics, there have been some big jumps throughout history. Cambrian explosions, if you will. Bastiat was good, and many of his principles remain, but we may soon need to do a thorough reworking of our economic systems. 1650 was not 1850, and 1850 is not 2050. Raising the minimum wage isn't pushing people out of jobs. Automation was already doing that. Raising the minimum wage may speed up that process in some places, but it's coming.
What does Bastiat do with those people? Back to the debtors prisons of old? Corporate indentured servants? Survival of the fittest?
I read this as part of a group, where (I believe) the majority claim to be Libertarian. I'm interested in hearing their thoughts on it.
I listened to this as an Audiobook and just now remembered that I have not added it to my collection. This is a reminder that I need to read it in print. It's a foundational book for anyone interested in the philosophy of Politics (with a capital "P") and wanting to understand whence comes any legitimacy of the Law itself. Hint: Much of what purports now to be legitimate law is not, per Bastiat. Only the truly heroic dare flout it, but the rest of us obey illegitimate law only out of fear of the consequences of disobedience (sometimes coupled with ignorance of its illegitimacy). And therein lies the fear and ignorance that permits tyranny to "govern". Of course, the innate human tendency to desire to control the lives of others allows lawmakers to pass illiberal laws with the full backing of illiberal constituents, whose natural inclination is to support any law that only appears to affect the freedom of others.
This is a great little book on law, government, and politics. Its main goal is to refute the socialist claim that one can create equality through the law. When law is given a goal other than its proper one, defense of rights through force, it becomes an instrument for plunder and destruction. Instead of creating equality, it ends up destroying property, liberty, and on occasion, life itself. Two goals drive that strive: greed and false philathropy.
Bastiat also argues that almost every politician in office sees the populace as a passive mold of clay, waiting to be formed according to the legislators' will. To them, humanity is completely inactive and inert, except for them. Which is why so many nations have fallen in history.
The reason why I gave this 4 and not 5 stars is because Bastiat does not recognize the root of the problem. He sees religion as a side, cultural thing, and not as the driving force behind all of society, culture, law, rights, and property. He states,
"Now, labor being in itself a pain, and man being naturally inclined to avoid pain, it follows, and history proves it, that wherever plunder is less burdensome than labor, it prevails; and neither religion nor morality can, in this case, prevent it from prevailing."
It is exactly religion and morality that prevent it, for the solutions that Bastiat proposes in The Law only come from Christianity. And it is only Christianity that believes that it is "natural" and wrong for man to avoid work (as Bastiat implies in the above quote), because Christianity is the only religion that believes the total depravity of all men. All other religions believe in the natural goodness of man, and therefore see work as evil, unless it's work to progress their religion. Plunder only becomes less burdensome when Christianity abandons its foundations in the Dominion Covenant and the Law of God. Only a return to those will drive back socialism.
Another part I found disagreement with is this quote, "When and force keep a man within the bounds of justice, they impose nothing upon him but a mere negation." This is not true at all. Every law is both positive and negative, something which it commands and something it forbids, regardless of how it is stated. A law saying "you shall not murder" states not to murder, but also states to protect life from danger. A law saying "you shall not steal" says to not steal, but it also says to work to earn one's living. Positive and negative law is an inescapable entity. The only question is which religion and system of morals will the law be derived from.
Some great quotes from the book (very applicable today):
"Law is justice."
"The law has been perverted through the influence of two very different causes--naked greed and misconceived philanthropy."
"When law and morality are in contradiction to each other, the citizen finds himself in the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense, or of losing his respect for the law--two evils of equal magnitude, between which it would be difficult to choose."
"Slavery, protection [tariffs], and monopoly find defenders, not only in those who profit by them, but in those who suffer by them. If you suggest a doubt as to the morality of these institutions, it is said directly--'You are a dangerous experimenter, a utopian, a theorist, a despiser of the laws; you would shake the basis upon which society rests." (This one reminds me of the story of William Wilberforce, and of many, many different issues in society today.)
"...in public lecterns salaried by the treasury, the professor abstain[s] rigorously from endangering in the slightest degree the respect due to the laws now in force." (Think: public schools.)
"Another effect of this deplorable perversion of the law is that it gives to human passions and to political struggles, and, in general, to politics, properly so called, an exaggerated importance." (Everything nowadays revolves around politics, and too often, to get a name in the world, you either have to be a politician or an entertainment star. While politics is important, socialism exaggerates it.)
"They [typical politicians] divide mankind into two parts. Men in general, except one, form the first; the politician himself forms the second, which is by far the most important."
"Moreover, every one of these politicians does not hesitate to assume that he himself is, under the names of organizer, discoverer, legislator, institutor or founder, this will and hand, this universal initiative, this creative power, whose sublime mission it is to gather together these scattered materials, that is, men, into society. Starting from these data, as a gardener according to his caprice shapes his trees into pyraminds, parasols, cubes, cones, vases, espaliers, distaffs, or fans; so the Socialist, following his chimera, shapes poor humanity into groups, series, and circles, subcircles, honeycombs, or social workships, with all kinds of variations. And as the gardener, to bring his trees into shape, needs hatchets, pruning hooks, saws, and shears, so the politician, to bring society into shape, needs the forces which he can only find in the laws; the law of tariffs, the law of taxation, the law of assistance, and the law of education."
"[quoting a socialist] The principle of the Republican Government is virtue, and the means to be adopted, during its establishment, is terror. We want to substitute, in our country, morality for self-indulgence, probity for honor, principles for customs, duties for decorum, the empire of reason for the tyranny of fashion, contempt of vice for contempt of misfortune, pride for insolence, greatness of soul for vanity, love of glory for love of money, good people for good company, merit for intrigue, genius for wit, truth for glitter, the charm of happiness for the weariness of pleasure, the greatness of man for the litteness of the great, a magnanimous, powerful, happy people, for one that is easy, frivolous, degraded; that is to say, we would substitute all the virtues and miracles of a republic for all the vices and absurdities of monarchy." (Tell me this isn't happening today. This is exactly the goal of socialists, and they've achieved it.)
"One of the strangest phenomena of our time, and one that will probably be a matter of astonishment to our descendants, is the doctrine which is founded upon this triple hypothesis: the radical passiveness of mankind,--the omnipotence of the law,--the infallibility of the legislator: this is the sacred symbol of the party that proclaims itself exclusively democratic." (Capitalize the first letter of the last word, and you've got the United States and its current leadership in government.)
Could be classified as an early libertarian manifesto. Bastiat sees clearly the central problem of law, which is, where to draw the line between legal and illegal plunder? For him, law is the collective defense of individual property (let us say, "persons, papers, and possessions"), and this short, easy-to-read little book is an excellent refutation of the general case for socialist or statist public policy.
However, The Law's descriptive clarity contains the kernel of its prescriptive flaw. Bastiat argues that an action which would be illegitimate for a private citizen to perform does not become legitimate simply because it has been transferred from private action to government action. This is true, and easy to forget - therefore, this reminder is very welcome - but it's too simplistic an observation to found a general theory of government upon, as Bastiat seems eager to do. Surely some actions which are not morally permissible for private citizens are indeed legitimized when performed by a legitimate government acting through due process established by collective consent (however indirect), including actions of the sort he would classify as "legal plunder."
Bastiat offers a critical check on centralized thinking, but if we accepted his argument unchecked in turn, it appears that no just government could afford to exist.
"THE MORE CORRUPT THE STATE, THE MORE NUMEROUS THE LAWS" - TACITUS
There are certain books which drastically change the way you look at the world. They will shook you down, call you a fool at your face, pass a quiver through your spine and give you goose bumps.
This is one such book.
Although written in the 19th century, every word this book utters, holds good even today. It is a strong argument put forth to defend the 'Liberty' of man. The author chides away every attempt to apply the instrument of law to anything other than to promote justice and sharply details out how the law is increasingly "perverted" for the purposes of "legal plunder". He argues that the law, instead of protecting the "personality, liberty and propery" of man, is being framed and organized to promote the interests of few group of individuals or of the state itself by depriving the interests of other group of men, all in the disguise of philanthropy and common good.
What enthralled me more is that every argument, warning, consequence of "legal plunder" is more applicable to my country, India, in its present day. For example: We have the 'National Rural Employment Guarantee Act' which guarantees 100 days of work to every citizen. It is up-roared as a triumph by the media and the ruling party although it contradicts the very logic that more the citizens are dependent on the government for work, more true that the government has failed. We have the 'Right to Education Act' (passed on April 1) but nowhere quality education is provided. The ruling party is vehemently proposing to bring-in "Food Security Act", which could dent our fiscal bills and escalate our debts, to provide food at the lowest cost possible to nearly 65% of the population, when our very system of Public distribution system is itself full of loopholes. The greater the number of laws passed everyday, the bigger is the magnitude of corruption perpetuated by people occupying the higher offices, as it increases the sphere of authority of bureaucrats and parliamentarians.
What are the consequences of such legal plunder? Bastiat answers, "It would efface from everybody’s conscience the distinction between justice and injustice". This is once again true, especially among youngsters, and the number of people engaged in plunder,corruption is increasing day-by-day and the one who stands uncorrupted or holds truth is being constantly rebuked as 'stupid, impotent and unwise' instead of being saluted, honoured and followed.
Another remarkable quality of Bastiat is, unlike Rousseau and his counterparts, he envisions a government which is stable and a society which is progressive, self-correcting and peaceful as against the one which is ever-active to go for revolution to overthrow the administration.
With the extreme clarity of thought and simple language, Bastiat singularly questions everything which we leave unquestioned and take for granted. It certainly gripped me as a fever and made me to 'Think' and 'See'. Its no wonder that it has reached us today, enduring all the test of time.
Indulge me, M. Basitat, and imagine yourself in a society where the law is but the criminal code, for that is what you propose in your pamphlet (or should I call it an essay?). Imagine a society where you are free to do everything except that which violates the persons' liberty and property. Am I missing something?
Let us make a bargain. I will sell you the beans land makes over the next Y years for a sum of money, X.
Scenario 1: war breaks out and the price of beans increases, I give you X back and sell the beans to Bonaparte for 3X, and you cannot complain of the lost profit because the beans were not your property. Pleased to meet you, hope you guessed my name. It's Scrooge. Contract law? What contract law?
Scenario 2: not a penny must be wasted so my farm hands die of starvation, because I don't pay them enough to keep them fed, and no beans are cultivated. Good thing I collected X before handing over those beans, eh? Oh, and I'm saving a bunch in operating expenses too. Shame there isn't some law protecting the farm hands. How do you like those beans?
Scenario 3: war doesn't break out and Caleb Trask has flooded the market with beans. So you grossly overpaid for my product. Well I'm rich, but you're ruined. Now I have no one to sell my product to, and it's costing me a fortune to run this farm. Wait, quickly to the economics textbook. It will have a solution for our predicament. Oh yes, there it is: a Great Depression.
What I am trying to say, M. Bastiat, is that some laws other than criminal laws prosecuting theft and assault may be necessary for the operation of society. We need to cover contract law, employment law and other types of law you disparage to have a functioning society. We would also need to make laws relating to dangerous substances, or intoxicating substances, and as far-reaching as relating to the ethics of research so that people don't become lab rats in psychology experiments (a truly undesirable possibility - by the bye, Dr. Milgram sends his regards).
Now what you saw above was an argument conducted in a logical fashion with a dash of rhetoric and decent grammar. You see I would, like you, employ excellent grammar and rhetoric in my argument, however, unlike you, I have substituted time earmarked to the study of rhetoric and grammar to better grasp logic.
Until you have done the same, please refrain from wasting readers' time. If they have come upon your work they seek intellectual gratification which can only be obtained elsewhere.
An amazing little pamphlet, and a must read and re-read. Clear and concise, this book explains the proper relationship between law and liberty, and predicts the perversion of the law - "The law has been perverted through the influence of two very different causes—naked greed and misconceived philanthropy" (i.e. good intentions).
Letting Bastiat talk about the law:
Nothing, therefore, can be more evident than this: The law is the organization of the natural right of lawful defense; it is the substitution of collective for individual forces, for the purpose of acting in the sphere in which they have a right to act, of doing what they have a right to do, to secure persons, liberties, and properties, and to maintain each in its right, so as to cause justice to reign over all.
And if a people established upon this basis were to exist, it seems to me that order would prevail among them in their acts as well as in their ideas. It seems to me that such a people would have the most simple, the most economical, the least oppressive, the least to be felt, the most restrained, the most just, and, consequently, the most stable Government that could be imagined, whatever its political form might be.
Bastiat has written a potent and concise summary of 19th century classical liberalism. The book, really an essay, offers a tenable and tenacious defence of constitutional liberty. It is a rhetorical masterpiece and a passionate, straightforward postulation of a clear moral world view that privileges individual liberty over various socialist usurpations of government power, i.e. the committing of a "legal crime," towards the furthering of minority or majority interests.
Although I disagree on some of the particulars, most notable the extent of the legitimate social functions of government, I find his main argument wholly convincing, beautifully argued and distilled down to a delightfully readable, byte-sized manifesto that still holds water today. A deserved classic of libertarian thought.
Reading this book a second time (and more carefully) really raised my opinion of the work. While it is still very much a product of that era and the style is not my favorite, Bastiat forcefully defends the principles of freedom and universal rights.
He calls out many accepted policies of that day and our own including slavery, tariffs, and many socialist policies for the way they infringe on freedom. He says the law should never infringe on freedom and that just because something is legal does not make it just. Instead he calls for an evaluation of all laws insisting that they be measured by their limitations on people. Freedom is his guiding principle.
Short read, worth adjusting to the French 1800s style.
155650 Every time I read this book I can't help but wish that everyone I know would take the time to study the principles within. Great book. Let me say that again, great book. A must have in every home, office, bathroom, car, backpack, library and shelf.
متاسفانه ترجمه این کتاب موجود نیست اما از پادکست خوره کتاب میتونید نسخه فارسی و صوتی کتاب را بشنوید. با اینکه کتاب قدیمی است اما حرف های بسیار خوبی در اون زده شده و حیف هست که چنین کتاب با ارزشی ترجمه نشده.
amazon review: The Law was originally published in French in 1850 by Frederic Bastiat. It was written two years after the third French Revolution of 1848. From Wikipedia: Claude Frédéric Bastiat (29 June 1801 – 24 December 1850) was a French classical liberal theorist, political economist, and member of the French assembly. He was notable for developing the important economic concept of opportunity cost. Bastiat was born in Bayonne, Aquitaine, France. When he was nine years old, he was orphaned and became a ward of his paternal grandparents. At 17, he left school to work in his family's export business. Economist Thomas DiLorenzo suggests that this experience was crucial to Bastiat's later work since it allowed young Frédéric to acquire first-hand knowledge of how regulation can affect markets. Sheldon Richman notes that "he came of age during the Napoleonic wars, with their extensive government intervention in economic affairs." When Bastiat was 25, his grandfather died, leaving the young man the family estate, thereby providing him with the means to further his theoretical inquiries. Bastiat developed intellectual interests in several areas including philosophy, history, politics, religion, travel, poetry, political economy and biography. After the middle-class Revolution of 1830, Bastiat became politically active and was elected justice of the peace in 1831 and to the Council General (county-level assembly) in 1832. He was elected to the national legislative assembly after the French Revolution of 1848. His public career as an economist began only in 1844. It was cut short by his untimely death in 1850. Bastiat had contracted tuberculosis, probably during his tours throughout France to promote his ideas, and that illness eventually prevented him from making further speeches (particularly at the legislative assembly to which he was elected in 1848 and 1849) and took his life. Bastiat died in Rome on 24 December 1850. Bastiat was the author of many works on economics and political economy, generally characterized by their clear organization, forceful argumentation, and acerbic wit. Economist Murray Rothbard wrote that "Bastiat was indeed a lucid and superb writer, whose brilliant and witty essays and fables to this day are remarkable and devastating demolitions of protectionism and of all forms of government subsidy and control. He was a truly scintillating advocate of an untrammeled free market." On the other hand, Bastiat himself declared that subsidy should be available, but limited: "under extraordinary circumstances, for urgent cases, the State should set aside some resources to assist certain unfortunate people, to help them adjust to changing conditions." Among his better known works is Economic Sophisms, which contains many strongly worded attacks on statist policies. Bastiat wrote it while living in England to advise the shapers of the French Republic on pitfalls to avoid. Contained within Economic Sophisms is the famous satirical parable known as the "Candlemakers' petition" which presents itself as a demand from the candlemakers' guild to the French government, asking the government to block out the Sun to prevent its unfair competition with their products. He also facetiously "advocated" forbidding the usage of everyone's right hand, based on the assumptions that more difficulty means more work and more work means more wealth. Much like Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal or Benjamin Franklin's anti-slavery works, Bastiat's argument cleverly highlights basic flaws in protectionism by demonstrating its absurdity through logical extremes. Bastiat's most famous work, however, is undoubtedly THE LAW, originally published as a pamphlet in 1850. It defines, through development, a just system of laws and then demonstrates how such law facilitates a free society. He also famously engaged in a debate, between 1849 and 1850, with Pierre-Joseph Proudhon about the legitimacy of interest.
Excellent excursus on the tyranny of the self-anointed secular priesthood, who'd opt to programme 'the machine' mass of men, whom they assume to be but dense matter. Often for supposedly benevolent means.
This low view of persons is something we can see in the intellectual and political classes of Bastiat's time and our own. Something which is rightfully resisted, for the love of freedom. This desire for centralising control appears a timeless temptation, one Frédéric shows up with suitable scorn.
What he proffers instead is a reasonable and emotionally satisfying view of liberty which doesn't have absolute faith in 'mankind' but which doesn't patronise us or damn us to hell either and relies on liberty, the work of God and Man, to play out in free associations, uninhibited by the secular magisterium.
The pattern of liberty Bastiat describes and suggests chimes pleasantly with Orthodoxy in it's disorderly order, guided ultimately by The Holy Trinity, rather than fallen men who assume to steer 'the general will' and requiring strong discernment rather than mere force and will.
Gerçekten çok özel bir metin. Liberal düşünürlerin çoğuna ilham olmuş birçok fikri içerisinde barındırıyor bu kısacık kitap. Bastiat, özellikle eşitlik, kardeşlik ya da merhamet adı altında toplum mühendisliğine girişenleri, toplum faaliyetlerini düzenlemek için hukuku yasal bir araç haline getirenleri kıyasıya eleştiriyor ve insanın biricik değeri "özgürlüğü" -kendi deyimiyle "ciğerlerinin gücü yettiğince"- savunuyor. Kesinlikle okunması gereken bir eser.
This is a book that should be read by every American citizen, especially in an election cycle in which both sides are interested in getting their bully elected in order to extort from others for their interests. In the words of J. R. R. Tolkien, "...the proper study of Man is anything but Man; and the most improper job of any man, even saints (who at any rate were at least unwilling to take it on), is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity."
“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?”