The 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!
If this is true, it is a serious fact, and moral duty requires me to call the attention of my fellow-citizens to it.
Frederic Bastiat, 1850 _ The Law
I was introduced to Frederic Bastiat’s The Law as a freshman in college. I remember being impressed by his clear thinking; but at that time in my life I was focused on getting my engineering degree and not on political or economic theory. It was not until yesterday when I came across a link to Bastiat’s famous pamphlet, The Law, the I decided to read it again. As Monty Pelerin wrote: “For anyone who wants to understand the criminality of government, this work is highly recommended. It is short and readable.”
Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850) was a French economist, statesman, an author, and a student of human nature. Bastiat may have been the first libertarian. He believed in the God-given natural rights of man: life, liberty, and property. The only reason and purpose of laws and governments, he believed, was to protect those rights and nothing more. He wrote his pamphlet as an attack on the growing trend toward socialism in the France of his day. He understood that the law had been perverted to the opposite of what it should be. He understood why because he understood human nature; about which he wrote:
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.
Bastiat went on to write:
Victims of Lawful Plunder
Men naturally rebel against the injustice of which they are victims. Thus, when plunder is organized by law for the profit of those who make the law, all the plundered classes try somehow to enter — by peaceful or revolutionary means — into the making of laws. According to their degree of enlightenment, these plundered classes may propose one of two entirely different purposes when they attempt to attain political power: Either they may wish to stop lawful plunder, or they may wish to share in it.
Woe to the nation when this latter purpose prevails among the mass victims of lawful plunder when they, in turn, seize the power to make laws! Until that happens, the few practice lawful plunder upon the many, a common practice where the right to participate in the making of law is limited to a few persons. But then, participation in the making of law becomes universal. And then, men seek to balance their conflicting interests by universal plunder. Instead of rooting out the injustices found in society, they make these injustices general. As soon as the plundered classes gain political power, they establish a system of reprisals against other classes. They do not abolish legal plunder. (This objective would demand more enlightenment than they possess.) Instead, they emulate their evil predecessors by participating in this legal plunder, even though it is against their own interests.
It is as if it were necessary, before a reign of justice appears, for everyone to suffer a cruel retribution — some for their evilness, and some for their lack of understanding.
The Law was published in 1850, the year that Bastiat died; only 49 years of age. Sadly, mankind did not head Bastiat’s warnings. I suspect he would not have been surprised by that. His last entry in The Law was a cry to the world (or, at least, to the French) to give Liberty a chance.
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! A way 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.
The baser instincts of man have won out. If we look around the world of today, where does Life, Liberty, and Property the rule and not the exception? Maybe we could point to small enclaves like Singapore, Hong Kong, or maybe Switzerland. The rest of the world has gone the way of socialism to one degree or another.
What about the United States of America? Our Founders did their very best to give us a government of minimum power and providing unto its citizens the maximum in protection of our rights of Life, Liberty, and property. But we know, for example, that Ben Franklin doubted our ability to hang on to our republic.
Imagine, if you will, the body of federal laws as a huge conical shaped mountain. At the very peak of that mountain are the first ten amendments to the constitution; the Bill of Rights. Those ten amendments are there to remind the federal government that our God-given rights are sacrosanct, But then, what of the rest of that mountain of laws? There are all about, as Bastiat warned, the perversion of the true purpose of law; the protection of our Good-given rights. They are the “legal” means to chip away at and destroy our rights of Life, Liberty, and Property.
So, my friends, we conservative/libertarian lovers of Liberty have a huge uphill battle in front of us. We are a minority; but never forget that we have Right on our side.
Well, that’s what I’m thinking. What are your thoughts?