Skip to comments.Bastiat: The Seductive Lure of Socialism, Proper Function of Law
Posted on 03/12/2009 8:26:46 AM PDT by Loud Mime
The Proper Function of the Law
And, in all sincerity, can anything more than the absence of plunder be required of the law? Can the law -- which necessarily requires the use of force -- rationally be used for anything except protecting the rights of everyone? I defy anyone to extend it beyond this purpose without perverting it and, consequently, turning might against right. This is the most fatal and most illogical social perversion that can possibly be imagined. It must be admitted that the true solution -- so long searched for in the area of social relationships -- is contained in these simple words: Law is organized justice.
Now this must be said: When justice is organized by law -- that is, by force -- this excludes the idea of using law (force) to organize any human activity whatever, whether it be labor, charity, agriculture, commerce, industry, education, art, or religion. The organizing by law of any one of these would inevitably destroy the essential organization -- justice. For truly, how can we imagine force being used against the liberty of citizens without it also being used against justice, and thus acting against its proper purpose?
The Seductive Lure of Socialism
Here I encounter the most popular fallacy of our times. It is not considered sufficient that the law should be just; it must be philanthropic. Nor is it sufficient that the law should guarantee to every citizen the free and inoffensive use of his faculties for physical, intellectual, and moral self-improvement. Instead, it is demanded that the law should directly extend welfare, education, and morality throughout the nation.
This is the seductive lure of socialism. And I repeat again: These two uses of the law are in direct contradiction to each other. We must choose between them. A citizen cannot at the same time be free and not free.
Enforced Fraternity Destroys Liberty
Mr. de Lamartine once wrote to me thusly: "Your doctrine is only the half of my program. You have stopped at liberty; I go on to fraternity." I answered him: "The second half of your program will destroy the first."
In fact, it is impossible for me to separate the word fraternity from the word voluntary. I cannot possibly understand how fraternity can be legally enforced without liberty being legally destroyed, and thus justice being legally trampled underfoot
Legal plunder has two roots: One of them, as I have said before, is in human greed; the other is in false philanthropy.
At this point, I think that I should explain exactly what I mean by the word plunder. 
Legal plunder has two roots: One of them, as I have said before, is in human greed; the other is in false philanthropy.
Property and Plunder
Man can live and satisfy his wants only by ceaseless labor; by the ceaseless application of his faculties to natural resources. This process is the origin of property.
But it is also true that a man may live and satisfy his wants by seizing and consuming the products of the labor of others. This process is the origin of 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. 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.
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 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.
What are the consequences of such a perversion? It would require volumes to describe them all. Thus we must content ourselves with pointing out the most striking.
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.
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.
read more at the source...
Current politics advises us to return to one of the writings of Mr. Bastiat.
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Excellent post LM...Please add me to your ping-list. TIA
philosophy - at its best
Thanks for the post....ping for later
One of the better posts i’ve ever read...
bump for later education of my children.
That’s exactly why I marked it - to read after dinner with my children, and to return to it a year from now.
1.2 There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: the bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen.
1.3 Yet this difference is tremendous; for it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous, and vice versa. Whence it follows that the bad economist pursues a small present good that will be followed by a great evil to come, while the good economist pursues a great good to come, at the risk of a small present evil.
1.4 The same thing, of course, is true of health and morals. Often, the sweeter the first fruit of a habit, the more bitter are its later fruits: for example, debauchery, sloth, prodigality. When a man is impressed by the effect that is seen and has not yet learned to discern the effects that are not seen, he indulges in deplorable habits, not only through natural inclination, but deliberately.
1.5 This explains man's necessarily painful evolution. Ignorance surrounds him at his cradle; therefore, he regulates his acts according to their first consequences, the only ones that, in his infancy, he can see. It is only after a long time that he learns to take account of the others. Two very different masters teach him this lesson: experience and foresight. Experience teaches efficaciously but brutally. It instructs us in all the effects of an act by making us feel them, and we cannot fail to learn eventually, from having been burned ourselves, that fire burns. I should prefer, in so far as possible, to replace this rude teacher with one more gentle: foresight. For that reason I shall investigate the consequences of several economic phenomena, contrasting those that are seen with those that are not seen.
. . . . . Frédéric Bastiat, What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen
Freddie Mac & Fannie Mae. Anyone?
Chris Dodd & Bawney Fwank. Still in their diapers?
Thanks, Loud Mime, for the beep.
Plunder is the corner stone of earmarks. The use of the law to steal from those who work for themselves in order to harvest slaves among those who refuse to work is the essence of legal plunder.
The slaves, for their part, are content to be fed, clothed, sheltered, educated and drugged in exchange for serving their masters with their vote.
If the vote were denied to citizens on the public dole there would be no government social programs.
To further advance knowledge of what constitutes socialism so as to try to stem its advance, it would be extremely beneficial to make available to the general public examples that illustrate what can be defined as for the general good of society and what is not.
Example (maybe not the best, but here goes): Public roads, highways and waterways that promote commerce do serve all of a society, directly or indirectly, and as thus should not be construed as socialism. Highway funds raised by government under the guise of being earmarked for highway maintenance and construction, but used instead for highway beautification projects to the immediate financial benefit of a very small segment of society is an act of socialism. This is especially true when those enjoying the immediate financial benefits are compelled to reward the legislators, by way of campaign contributions, that made such projects available.
I am hopeful that you or another reader of this thread knows of a well-written, short and concise presentation of what constitutes socialism. Such a piece, when presented to the general public, could go a long way in stopping the long push of socialism.
Thanks again for the ping.
Bastiat BTT. This is an economist who - gasp! - actually ran a business before he started to write. Brilliant stuff, and thanks for posting.
Thanks for the ping.
I particularly like Bastiat’s description of welfare as “organized beggary”.
You could take the opposite of all his points,
and teach a “social justice” class.
And THIS is the philosophy our current PRESidENT was indoctrinated in throughout his life.
Next Week I’ll have some Hayek on Socialism.
I’m on a federal jury now, not much time for Freepin’
The “organized beggary” remark draws up quite an image...and an odor as well.
I’ve read this book/essay several times now; its clarity still amazes me.
Thanks for a great addition.....and for giving us material for a later thread!
There was a good discussion on that thread before it turned toward ad hominems.
Bastiat is one of my two favorite Frenchmen. As I'm sure you can guess, de Tocqueville is the other. I look forward to any future threads about either of these two.