The Law : : Francis Bastiat

Another article that I wrote:

The Law

The Law was written by an economic theorist named Frederic Bastiat in the early nineteenth century. In his book, Bastiat analyzes the purpose, meaning, and progression of modern law. He explains why law is needed, the limits of law, and he also points out many laws in effect during his lifetime that actually promoted the very thing that the legal system was formulated to restrict.

The root of The Law lies in an explanation of justice. Bastiat tells his readers that, at best, law is but a necessary evil. Or, to put it more plainly, law is necessary because of evil. God has given men certain liberties: personal freedom, the right to own and use one’s own property, and the like. These liberties are justly used for the personal gain of whoever holds them.

However, all men are sinful, and wish to gain what is not their own through underhanded means. This, Bastiat intimates, is a violation of liberty. He calls this act "plunder". Plunder, of course, is a form of injustice. How can injustice be stopped? God has given individuals the right to use force when their liberties are violated through injustice. The law is simply "the collective organization of the individual right of lawful defense."

One of the most fundamental insights in The Law relates to our understanding of this definition. Strange as it may seem, law is not put into place to create justice per se. Rather, the law exists only to prevent injustice. When we understand this key principle, our understanding of legal systems is greatly increased.

Why is this so important? Many people view the government as an instrument for providing prosperity and well-being. But that is not its purpose! All the law exists for is to counter injustice and plunder. Whenever men try to twist the government into an instrument for equalizing and justifying humankind, this inevitably results in something Bastiat calls "legal plunder".

Legal plunder, like its counterpart illegal plunder, is the non-consensual removal of one man's property for the benefit of another. The difference is that in the latter case the person guilty of plunder is the criminal, but if a person resists the legal plunderer, they themselves become criminal. The law is a powerful thing that must not be turned to immoral ends.

In reading The Law, my thinking about government responsibilities and intervention was drastically changed. I can now see the rise of socialism in America. Many, if not most, of our governmental programs today are built around legal plunder. I firmly believe that our economy is doomed for destruction unless we abolish these abuses in our legal system.

David S. MacMillan III


David Ketter said...

Hmm....I might have to check out "The Law." It seems to me that Mr. Bastiat (French though he be) knew something of law. Although, it does seem that his view of law is rather negative, it is not entirely wrong.

Does this seem like an extension of social contract theory to you? I mean, it would make a pretty good sequel to Locke's work on government.

"For by the law, we are made conscious of sin"

"For the authorities wield the sword that the wicked, not the righteous, may be punished."

"...honor the king."

David S. MacMillan III said...

It's sorta social contract oriented, but it's different because it acknowledges the right of the government, once established, to make judgements superceding any particular individual.

David Ketter said...

I guess it leans toward Hobbesian social contract theory, then. In his "Leviathan" Hobbes states that he believes that, once in the state of society, the individual loses all his natural rights and the government becomes the supreme ruler. Totilatarian and Darwinian in view, in all honesty (i.e., Hobbes believes that man's natural state is the state of war and survival).

David S. MacMillan III said...

the individual loses all his natural rights and the government becomes the supreme ruler.

That's not the idea of The Law at all. In Bastiat's book, our rights to freely pursue life, liberty, and happiness should never be lost; the government is simply the organized defense of those rights. It must have some power above the individual in order to supercede those who would violate those rights.

Of course, it isn't the responsibility of the state to make sure we realize the effects of our rights. If we choose not to work toward making the best of our right to property, our right to liberty, and our right to happiness this is not the government's business.

David Ketter said...

Okay, got it. I agree with ya. :)