Claude Frédéric Bastiat 1801 - 1850
Claude Frédéric Bastiat 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, and for penning the influential ”Parable of the Broken Window”.
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.
LIFE IS A GIFT FROM GOD
We hold from God the gift which includes all others. This gift is life - physical, intellectual, and moral life.
But life cannot maintain itself alone. The Creator of life has entrusted us with the responsibility of preserving, developing, and perfecting it. In order that we may accomplish this, He has provided us with a collection of marvelous faculties. And He has put us in the midst of a variety of natural resources. By the application of our faculties to these natural resources we convert them into products, and use them. This process is necessary in order that life may run its appointed course.
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.
WHAT IS LAW ?
What, then, is law? It is the collective organization of the individual right to lawful defense.
Each of us has a natural right from God to defend his person, his liberty, and his property. These are the three basic requirements of life, and the preservation of any one of them is completely dependent upon the preservation of the other two. For what are our faculties but the extension of our individuality ? And what is property but an extension of our faculties ?
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.
Such a perversion of force would be, in both cases, contrary to our premise. Force has been given to us to defend our own individual rights. Who will dare to say that force has been given to us to destroy the equal rights of our brothers ? Since no individual acting separately can lawfully use force to destroy the rights of others, does it not logically follow that the same principle also applies to the common force that is nothing more than the organized combination of the individual forces ?
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.
THE FATE OF NON-CONFORMISTS
If you suggest a doubt as to the morality of these institutions, it is boldly said that "You are a dangerous innovator, a utopian, a theorist, a subversive; you would shatter the foundation upon which society rests."
If you lecture upon morality or upon political science, there will be found official organizations petitioning the government in this vein of thought: "That science no longer be taught exclusively from the point of view of free trade (of liberty, of property, and of justice) as has been the case until now, but also, in the future, science is to be especially taught from the viewpoint of the facts and laws that regulate French industry (facts and laws which are contrary to liberty, to property, and to justice). That, in government-endowed teaching positions, the professor rigorously refrain from endangering in the slightest degree the respect due to the laws now in force." (General Council of Manufacturers, Agriculture, and Commerce, May 6, 1850.)
Thus, if there exists a law which sanctions slavery or monopoly, oppression or robbery, in any form whatever, it must not even be mentioned. For how can it be mentioned without damaging the respect which it inspires ? Still further, morality and political economy must be taught from the point of view of this law; from the supposition that it must be a just law merely because it is a law.
Another effect of this tragic perversion of the law is that it gives an exaggerated importance to political passions and conflicts, and to politics in general.
I could prove this assertion in a thousand ways. But, by way of illustration, I shall limit myself to a subject that has lately occupied the minds of everyone: universal suffrage.
TWO KINDS OF PLUNDER
Mr. de Montalembert [politician and writer] adopting the thought contained in a famous proclamation by Mr. Carlier, has said: "We must make war against socialism." According to the definition of socialism advanced by Mr. Charles Dupin, he meant: "We must make war against plunder."
But of what plunder was he speaking ? For there are two kinds of plunder: legal and illegal.
I do not think that illegal plunder, such as theft or swindling, which the penal code defines, anticipates, and punishes can be called socialism. It is not this kind of plunder that systematically threatens the foundations of society. Anyway, the war against this kind of plunder has not waited for the command of these gentlemen. The war against illegal plunder has been fought since the beginning of the world. Long before the Revolution of February 1848 long before the appearance even of socialism itself France had provided police, judges, gendarmes, prisons, dungeons, and scaffolds for the purpose of fighting illegal plunder. The law itself conducts this war, and it is my wish and opinion that the law should always maintain this attitude toward plunder.
LEGAL PLUNDER HAS MANY NAMES
Now, legal plunder can be committed in an infinite number of ways. Thus we have an infinite number of plans for organizing it: tariffs, protection, benefits, subsidies, encouragements, progressive taxation, public schools, guaranteed jobs, guaranteed profits, minimum wages, a right to relief, a right to the tools of labor, free credit, and so on, and so on. All these plans as a whole with their common aim of legal plunder constitute socialism.
Now, since under this definition socialism is a body of doctrine, what attack can be made against it other than a war of doctrine ? If you find this socialistic doctrine to be false, absurd, and evil, then refute it. And the more false, the more absurd, and the more evil it is, the easier it will be to refute. Above all, if you wish to be strong, begin by rooting out every particle of socialism that may have crept into your legislation. This will be no light task.
SOCIALISM IS LEGAL PLUNDER
Mr. de Montalembert has been accused of desiring to fight socialism by the use of brute force. He ought to be exonerated from this accusation, for he has plainly said: "The war that we must fight against socialism must be in harmony with law, honor, and justice."
But why does not Mr. de Montalembert see that he has placed himself in a vicious circle ? You would use the law to oppose socialism ? But it is upon the law that socialism itself relies. 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.
To prevent this, you would exclude socialism from entering into the making of laws ? You would prevent socialists from entering the Legislative Palace ? You shall not succeed, I predict, so long as legal plunder continues to be the main business of the legislature. It is illogical in fact, absurd to assume otherwise.
THE CHOICE BEFORE US
This question of legal plunder must be settled once and for all, and there are only three ways to settle it:
1. The few plunder the many.
2. Everybody plunders everybody.
3. Nobody plunders anybody.
We must make our choice among limited plunder, universal plunder, and no plunder. The law can follow only one of these three.
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. Until the day of my death, I shall proclaim this principle with all the force of my lungs (which alas! is all too inadequate).*
*Translator's note: At the time this was written, Mr. Bastiat knew that he was dying of tuberculosis. Within a year, he was dead.
THE LAW AND CHARITY
You say: "There are persons who have no money," and you turn to the law. But the law is not a breast that fills itself with milk. Nor are the lacteal veins of the law supplied with milk from a source outside the society. Nothing can enter the public treasury for the benefit of one citizen or one class unless other citizens and other classes have been forced to send it in. If every person draws from the treasury the amount that he has put in it, it is true that the law then plunders nobody. But this procedure does nothing for the persons who have no money. It does not promote equality of income. The law can be an instrument of equalization only as it takes from some persons and gives to other persons. When the law does this, it is an instrument of plunder.
With this in mind, examine the protective tariffs, subsidies, guaranteed profits, guaranteed jobs, relief and welfare schemes, public education, progressive taxation, free credit, and public works. You will find that they are always based on legal plunder, organized injustice.
THE LAW AND EDUCATION
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 this second case, the law commits legal plunder by violating liberty and property.
A CONFUSION OF TERMS
Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all.
We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.
THE INFLUENCE OF SOCIALIST WRITERS
How did politicians ever come to believe this weird idea that the law could be made to produce what it does not contain the wealth, science, and religion that, in a positive sense, constitute prosperity ? Is it due to the influence of our modern writers on public affairs ?
Present day writers especially those of the socialist school of thought base their various theories upon one common hypothesis: They divide mankind into two parts. People in general with the exception of the writer himself from the first group. The writer, all alone, forms the second and most important group. Surely this is the weirdest and most conceited notion that ever entered a human brain !
In fact, these writers on public affairs begin by supposing that people have within themselves no means of discernment; no motivation to action. The writers assume that people are inert matter, passive particles, motionless atoms, at best a kind of vegetation indifferent to its own manner of existence. They assume that people are susceptible to being shaped by the will and hand of another person into an infinite variety of forms, more or less symmetrical, artistic, and perfected.
Moreover, not one of these writers on governmental affairs hesitates to imagine that he himself under the title of organizer, discoverer, legislator, or founder is this will and hand, this universal motivating force, this creative power whose sublime mission is to mold these scattered materials persons into a society.
These socialist writers look upon people in the same manner that the gardener views his trees. Just as the gardener capriciously shapes the trees into pyramids, parasols, cubes, vases, fans, and other forms, just so does the socialist writer whimsically shape human beings into groups, series, centers, sub-centers, honeycombs, labor corps, and other variations. And just as the gardener needs axes, pruning hooks, saws, and shears to shape his trees, just so does the socialist writer need the force that he can find only in law to shape human beings. For this purpose, he devises tariff laws, tax laws, relief laws, and school laws.
THE SOCIALISTS WISH TO PLAY GOD
Socialists look upon people as raw material to be formed into social combinations. This is so true that, if by chance, the socialists have any doubts about the success of these combinations, they will demand that a small portion of mankind be set aside to experiment upon. The popular idea of trying all systems is well known. And one socialist leader has been known seriously to demand that the Constituent Assembly give him a small district with all its inhabitants, to try his experiments upon.
In the same manner, an inventor makes a model before he constructs the full-sized machine; the chemist wastes some chemicals the farmer wastes some seeds and land to try out an idea.
But what a difference there is between the gardener and his trees, between the inventor and his machine, between the chemist and his elements, between the farmer and his seeds! And in all sincerity, the socialist thinks that there is the same difference between him and mankind !
It is no wonder that the writers of the nineteenth century look upon society as an artificial creation of the legislator's genius. This idea the fruit of classical education has taken possession of all the intellectuals and famous writers of our country. To these intellectuals and writers, the relationship between persons and the legislator appears to be the same as the relationship between the clay and the potter.
Moreover, even where they have consented to recognize a principle of action in the heart of man and a principle of discernment in man's intellect they have considered these gifts from God to be fatal gifts. They have thought that persons, under the impulse of these two gifts, would fatally tend to ruin themselves. They assume that if the legislators left persons free to follow their own inclinations, they would arrive at atheism instead of religion, ignorance instead of knowledge, poverty instead of production and exchange.
A DEFENSE OF PATERNAL GOVERNMENT
Bossuet carries this idea of the state as the source of all progress even so far as to defend the Egyptians against the charge that they rejected wrestling and music. He said:
"How is that possible ? These arts were invented by Trismegistus [who was alleged to have been Chancellor to the Egyptian god Osiris]".
And again among the Persians, Bossuet claims that all comes from above:
"One of the first responsibilities of the prince was to encourage agriculture.... Just as there were offices established for the regulation of armies, just so were there offices for the direction of farm work.... The Persian people were inspired with an overwhelming respect for royal authority."
And according to Bossuet, the Greek people, although exceedingly intelligent, had no sense of personal responsibility; like dogs and horses, they themselves could not have invented the most simple games:
"The Greeks, naturally intelligent and courageous, had been early cultivated by the kings and settlers who had come from Egypt. From these Egyptian rulers, the Greek people had learned bodily exercises, foot races, and horse and chariot races.... But the best thing that the Egyptians had taught the Greeks was to become docile, and to permit themselves to be formed by the law for the public good."
LEGISLATORS DESIRE TO MOLD MANKIND
Now let us examine Raynal on this subject of mankind being molded by the legislator:
"The legislator must first consider the climate, the air, and the soil. The resources at his disposal determine his duties. He must first consider his locality. A population living on maritime shores must have laws designed for navigation.... If it is an inland settlement, the legislator must make his plans according to the nature and fertility of the soil....
It is especially in the distribution of property that the genius of the legislator will be found. As a general rule, when a new colony is established in any country, sufficient land should be given to each man to support his family....
On an uncultivated island that you are populating with children, you need do nothing but let the seeds of truth germinate along with the development of reason.... But when you resettle a nation with a past into a new country, the skill of the legislator rests in the policy of permitting the people to retain no injurious opinions and customs which can possibly be cured and corrected. If you desire to prevent these opinions and customs from becoming permanent, you will secure the second generation by a general system of public education for the children. A prince or a legislator should never establish a colony without first arranging to send wise men along to instruct the youth...."
In a new colony, ample opportunity is open to the careful legislator who desires to purify the customs and manners of the people. If he has virtue and genius, the land and the people at his disposal will inspire his soul with a plan for society. A writer can only vaguely trace the plan in advance because it is necessarily subject to the instability of all hypotheses; the problem has many forms, complications, and circumstances that are difficult to foresee and settle in detail.
LEGISLATORS TOLD HOW TO MANAGE MEN
Raynal's instructions to the legislators on how to manage people may be compared to a professor of agriculture lecturing his students: "The climate is the first rule for the farmer. His resources determine his procedure. He must first consider his locality. If his soil is clay, he must do so and so. If his soil is sand, he must act in another manner. Every facility is open to the farmer who wishes to clear and improve his soil. If he is skillful enough, the manure at his disposal will suggest to him a plan of operation. A professor can only vaguely trace this plan in advance because it is necessarily subject to the instability of all hypotheses; the problem has many forms, complications, and circumstances that are difficult to foresee and settle in detail."
Oh, sublime writers ! Please remember sometimes that this clay, this sand, and this manure which you so arbitrarily dispose of, are men ! They are your equals ! They are intelligent and free human beings like yourselves ! As you have, they too have received from God the faculty to observe, to plan ahead, to think, and to judge for themselves !
A TEMPORARY DICTATORSHIP
Here is Mably on this subject of the law and the legislator. In the passages preceding the one here quoted, Mably has supposed the laws, due to a neglect of security, to be worn out. He continues to address the reader thusly:
"Under these circumstances, it is obvious that the springs of government are slack. Give them a new tension, and the evil will be cured.... Think less of punishing faults, and more of rewarding that which you need. In this manner you will restore to your republic the vigor of youth. Because free people have been ignorant of this procedure, they have lost their liberty ! But if the evil has made such headway that ordinary governmental procedures are unable to cure it, then resort to an extraordinary tribunal with considerable powers for a short time. The imagination of the citizens needs to be struck a hard blow."
In this manner, Mably continues through twenty volumes.
Under the influence of teaching like this which stems from classical education there came a time when everyone wished to place himself above mankind in order to arrange, organize, and regulate it in his own way.
WHAT IS LIBERTY ?
Actually, what is the political struggle that we witness ? It is the instinctive struggle of all people toward liberty. And what is this liberty, whose very name makes the heart beat faster and shakes the world ? Is it not the union of all liberties liberty of conscience, of education, of association, of the press, of travel, of labor, of trade ? In short, is not liberty the freedom of every person to make full use of his faculties, so long as he does not harm other persons while doing so ? Is not liberty the destruction of all despotism including, of course, legal despotism ? Finally, is not liberty the restricting of the law only to its rational sphere of organizing the right of the individual to lawful self defense; of punishing injustice ?
It must be admitted that the tendency of the human race toward liberty is largely thwarted, especially in France. This is greatly due to a fatal desire learned from the teachings of antiquity that our writers on public affairs have in common: They desire to set themselves above mankind in order to arrange, organize, and regulate it according to their fancy.
While society is struggling toward liberty, these famous men who put themselves at its head are filled with the spirit of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They think only of subjecting mankind to the philanthropic tyranny of their own social inventions. Like Rousseau, they desire to force mankind docilely to bear this yoke of the public welfare that they have dreamed up in their own imaginations.
This was especially true in 1789. No sooner was the old regime destroyed than society was subjected to still other artificial arrangements, always starting from the same point: the omnipotence of the law.
Listen to the ideas of a few of the writers and politicians during that period:
SAINT-JUST: "The legislator commands the future. It is for him to will the good of mankind. It is for him to make men what he wills them to be."
ROBESPIERRE: "The function of government is to direct the physical and moral powers of the nation toward the end for which the commonwealth has come into being."
BILLAUD-VARENNES: "A people who are to be returned to liberty must be formed anew. A strong force and vigorous action are necessary to destroy old prejudices, to change old customs, to correct depraved affections, to restrict superfluous wants, and to destroy ingrained vices.... Citizens, the inexible austerity of Lycurgus created the firm foundation of the Spartan republic. The weak and trusting character of Solon plunged Athens into slavery. This parallel embraces the whole science of government."
LE PELLETIER: "Considering the extent of human degradation, I am convinced that it is necessary to effect a total regeneration and, if I may so express myself, of creating a new people."
THE SOCIALISTS WANT DICTATORSHIP
Again, it is claimed that persons are nothing but raw material. It is not for them to will their own improvement; they are incapable of it. According to Saint- Just, only the legislator is capable of doing this. Persons are merely to be what the legislator wills them to be. According to Robespierre, who copies Rousseau literally, the legislator begins by decreeing the end for which the commonwealth has come into being. Once this is determined, the government has only to direct the physical and moral forces of the nation toward that end. Meanwhile, the inhabitants of the nation are to remain completely passive. And according to the teachings of Billaud- Varennes, the people should have no prejudices, no affections, and no desires except those authorized by the legislator. He even goes so far as to say that the inflexible austerity of one man is the foundation of a republic.
In cases where the alleged evil is so great that ordinary governmental procedures cannot cure it, Mably recommends a dictatorship to promote virtue: "Resort," he says, "to an extraordinary tribunal with considerable powers for a short time. The imagination of the citizens needs to be struck a hard blow." This doctrine has not been forgotten. Listen to Robespierre:
"The principle of the republican government is virtue, and the means required to establish virtue is terror. In our country we desire to substitute morality for selfishness, honesty for honor, principles for customs, duties for manners, the empire of reason for the tyranny of fashion, contempt of vice for contempt of poverty, pride for insolence, greatness of soul for vanity, love of glory for love of money, good people for good companions, merit for intrigue, genius for wit, truth for glitter, the charm of happiness for the boredom of pleasure, the greatness of man for the littleness of the great, a generous, strong, happy people for a good-natured, frivolous, degraded people; in short, we desire to substitute all the virtues and miracles of a republic for all the vices and absurdities of a monarchy."
At what a tremendous height above the rest of mankind does Robespierre here place himself ! And note the arrogance with which he speaks. He is not content to pray for a great reawakening of the human spirit. Nor does he expect such a result from a well-ordered government. No, he himself will remake mankind, and by means of terror.
This mass of rotten and contradictory statements is extracted from a discourse by Robespierre in which he aims to explain the principles of morality which ought to guide a revolutionary government. Note that Robespierre's request for dictatorship is not made merely for the purpose of repelling a foreign invasion or putting down the opposing groups. Rather he wants a dictatorship in order that he may use terror to force upon the country his own principles of morality. He says that this act is only to be a temporary measure preceding a new constitution. But in reality, he desires nothing short of using terror to extinguish from France selfishness, honor, customs, manners, fashion, vanity, love of money, good companionship, intrigue, wit, sensuousness, and poverty. Not until he, Robespierre, shall have accomplished these miracles, as he so rightly calls them, will he permit the law to reign again.*
*At this point in the original French text, Mr. Bastiat pauses and speaks thusly to all do-gooders and would-be rulers of mankind: "Ah, you miserable creatures ! You who think that you are so great! You who judge humanity to be so small! You who wish to reform everything! Why don't you reform yourselves ? That task would be sufficient enough."
THE INDIRECT APPROACH TO DESPOTISM
Usually, however, these gentlemen, the reformers, the legislators, and the writers on public affairs do not desire to impose direct despotism upon mankind. Oh no, they are too moderate and philanthropic for such direct action. Instead, they turn to the law for this despotism, this absolutism, this omnipotence. They desire only to make the laws.
To show the prevalence of this queer idea in France, I would need to copy not only the entire works of Mably, Raynal, Rousseau, and Fenelon plus long extracts from Bossuet and Montesquieu but also the entire proceedings of the Convention. I shall do no such thing; I merely refer the reader to them.
SOCIALISTS FEAR ALL LIBERTIES
Well, what liberty should the legislators permit people to have ? Liberty of conscience ? (But if this were permitted, we would see the people taking this opportunity to become atheists.)
Then liberty of education ? (But parents would pay professors to teach their children immorality and falsehoods; besides, according to Mr. Thiers, if education were left to national liberty, it would cease to be national, and we would be teaching our children the ideas of the Turks or Hindus; whereas, thanks to this legal despotism over education, our children now have the good fortune to be taught the noble ideas of the Romans.)
Then liberty of labor ? (But that would mean competition which, in turn, leaves production unconsumed, ruins businessmen, and exterminates the people.)
Perhaps liberty of trade ? (But everyone knows and the advocates of protective tariffs have proved over and over again that freedom of trade ruins every person who engages in it, and that it is necessary to suppress freedom of trade in order to prosper.)
Possibly then, liberty of association ? (But, according to socialist doctrine, true liberty and voluntary association are in contradiction to each other, and the purpose of the socialists is to suppress liberty of association precisely in order to force people to associate together in true liberty.)
Clearly then, the conscience of the social democrats cannot permit persons to have any liberty because they believe that the nature of mankind tends always toward every kind of degradation and disaster. Thus, of course, the legislators must make plans for the people in order to save them from themselves.
This line of reasoning brings us to a challenging question: If people are as incapable, as immoral, and as ignorant as the politicians indicate, then why is the right of these same people to vote defended with such passionate insistence ?
THE SUPERMAN IDEA
The claims of these organizers of humanity raise another question which I have often asked them and which, so far as I know, they have never answered: 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 ? The organizers maintain that society, when left undirected, rushes headlong to its inevitable destruction because the instincts of the people are so perverse. The legislators claim to stop this suicidal course and to give it a saner direction. Apparently, then, the legislators and the organizers have received from Heaven an intelligence and virtue that place them beyond and above mankind; if so, let them show their titles to this superiority.
They would be the shepherds over us, their sheep. Certainly such an arrangement presupposes that they are naturally superior to the rest of us. And certainly we are fully justified in demanding from the legislators and organizers proof of this natural superiority.
THE SOCIALISTS REJECT FREE CHOICE
Please understand that I do not dispute their right to invent social combinations, to advertise them, to advocate them, and to try them upon themselves, at their own expense and risk. But I do dispute their right to impose these plans upon us by law by force and to compel us to pay for them with our taxes.
I do not insist that the supporters of these various social schools of thought the Proudhonists, the Cabetists, the Fourierists, the Universitarists, and the Protectionists renounce their various ideas. I insist only that they renounce this one idea that they have in common: They need only to give up the idea of forcing us to acquiesce to their groups and series, their socialized projects, their free credit banks, their Graeco-Roman concept of morality, and their commercial regulations. I ask only that we be permitted to decide upon these plans for ourselves; that we not be forced to accept them, directly or indirectly, if we find them to be contrary to our best interests or repugnant to our consciences.
But these organizers desire access to the tax funds and to the power of the law in order to carry out their plans. In addition to being oppressive and unjust, this desire also implies the fatal supposition that the organizer is infallible and mankind is incompetent. But, again, if persons are incompetent to judge for themselves, then why all this talk about universal suffrage ?
POLITICS AND ECONOMICS
[Now let us return to a subject that was briefly discussed in the opening pages of this thesis: the relationship of economics and of politics - political economy.*]
*Translator's note: Mr. Bastiat has devoted three other books and several articles to the development of the ideas contained in the three sentences of the following paragraph.
A science of economics must be developed before a science of politics can be logically formulated. Essentially, economics is the science of determining whether the interests of human beings are harmonious or antagonistic. This must be known before a science of politics can be formulated to determine the proper functions of government.
Immediately following the development of a science of economics, and at the very beginning of the formulation of a science of politics, this all-important question must be answered: What is law ? What ought it to be ? What is its scope; its limits ? Logically, at what point do the just powers of the legislator stop ?
I do not hesitate to answer: Law is the common force organized to act as an obstacle to injustice. In short, law is justice.
PROPER LEGISLATIVE FUNCTIONS
It is not true that the legislator has absolute power over our persons and property. The existence of persons and property preceded the existence of the legislator, and his function is only to guarantee their safety.
It is not true that the function of law is to regulate our consciences, our ideas, our wills, our education, our opinions, our work, our trade, our talents, or our pleasures. The function of law is to protect the free exercise of these rights, and to prevent any person from interfering with the free exercise of these same rights by any other person.
Since law necessarily requires the support of force, its lawful domain is only in the areas where the use of force is necessary. This is justice.
Every individual has the right to use force for lawful self- defense. It is for this reason that the collective force which is only the organized combination of the individual forces may lawfully be used for the same purpose; and it cannot be used legitimately for any other purpose.
Law is solely the organization of the individual right of self-defense which existed before law was formalized. Law is justice.
LAW AND CHARITY ARE NOT THE SAME
The mission of the law is not to oppress persons and plunder them of their property, even though the law may be acting in a philanthropic spirit. Its mission is to protect persons and property.
Furthermore, it must not be said that the law may be philanthropic if, in the process, it refrains from oppressing persons and plundering them of their property; this would be a contradiction. The law cannot avoid having an effect upon persons and property; and if the law acts in any manner except to protect them, its actions then necessarily violate the liberty of persons and their right to own property.
The law is justice, simple and clear, precise and bounded. Every eye can see it, and every mind can grasp it; for justice is measurable, immutable, and unchangeable. Justice is neither more than this nor less than this.
If you exceed this proper limit if you attempt to make the law religious, fraternal, equalizing, philanthropic, industrial, literary, or artistic you will then be lost in an uncharted territory, in vagueness and uncertainty, in a forced utopia or, even worse, in a multitude of utopias, each striving to seize the law and impose it upon you. This is true because fraternity and philanthropy, unlike justice, do not have precise limits. Once started, where will you stop ? And where will the law stop itself ?
THE HIGH ROAD TO COMMUNISM
Mr. de Saint-Cricq would extend his philanthropy only to some of the industrial groups; he would demand that the law control the consumers to benefit the producers.
Mr. Considerant would sponsor the cause of the labor groups; he would use the law to secure for them a guaranteed minimum of clothing, housing, food, and all other necessities of life.
Mr. Louis Blanc would say, and with reason, that these minimum guarantees are merely the beginning of complete fraternity; he would say that the law should give tools of production and free education to all working people.
Another person would observe that this arrangement would still leave room for inequality; he would claim that the law should give to everyone even in the most inaccessible hamlet luxury, literature, and art.
All of these proposals are the high road to communism; legislation will then be in fact, it already is the battlefield for the fantasies and greed of everyone.
THE PATH TO DIGNITY AND PROGRESS
Law is justice. And it is under the law of justice under the reign of right; under the influence of liberty, safety, stability, and responsibility that every person will attain his real worth and the true dignity of his being. It is only under this law of justice that mankind will achieve slowly, no doubt, but certainly God's design for the orderly and peaceful progress of humanity.
It seems to me that this is theoretically right, for whatever the question under discussion whether religious, philosophical, political, or economic; whether it concerns prosperity, morality, equality, right, justice, progress, responsibility, cooperation, property, labor, trade, capital, wages, taxes, population, finance, or government at whatever point on the scientific horizon I begin my researches, I invariably reach this one conclusion: The solution to the problems of human relationships is to be found in liberty.
PROOF OF AN IDEA
And does not experience prove this ? 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.