"No one would have any argument with government, provided that his person was respected, his labor was free, and the fruits of his labor were protected against all unjust attack. When successful, we would not have to thank the state.
But, unfortunately, law by no means confines itself to its proper functions. And when it has exceeded its proper functions, it has not done so merely in some inconsequential and debatable manners. The law has gone further than this; it has acted in direct opposition to its own purpose. The law has been used to destroy its own objective: It has been applied to annihilating the justice that it was supposed to maintain; to limiting, and destroying rights which its real purpose was to respect. The law has placed the collective force at the disposal of the unscrupulous who wish, without risk, to exploit the person, liberty, and property of others. It has converted plunder into a right, in order to protect plunder. How has this perversion of the law been accomplished? And what have been the results?
The law has been perverted by the influence of two entirely different causes: stupid greed and false philanthropy [which are unfortunately both prevalent in America's laws today].
Sometimes the law defends plunder and participates in it. 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 others persons to whom is 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. When a portion of wealth is transferred from the person who owns it-without his consent and without compensation, and whether by force or by fruad-to anyone who does not own it, then I say that property is violated; that an act of plunder is committed. [Of course, in America, we have unfortunately consented to this transfer of wealth via our representatives in Congress, but we don't typically get compensation for this wealth transferred via equal benefits in return]
Under the pretense of organization [planning], regulation, protection, or encouragement, the law takes property from one person and gives it to another; the law takes the wealth of all and gives it to a few.
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 [enticements], progressive taxation [& selective 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.
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 [an armed police officer], and your prisons. Rather, it may call upon them for help.
This question of legal plunder must be settled once and for all, and there are only three ways to settle it: We must make our choice among limited plunder, universal plunder, and no plunder. 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.
Law is organized justice. 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 liberty of citizens without also being used against justice, and thus acting against its proper purpose?
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. A citizens cannot at the same time be free and not free.
I cannot possibly understand how fraternity can be legally enforced without liberty being legally destroyed, and thus justice being legally trampled underfoot.
It is to be pointed out, however, that protectionism, socialism, and communism are basically the same plant in three different stages of its growth. All that can be said is that legal plunder is more visible in communism because it is complete plunder; and in protectionism because the plunder is limited to specific groups and industries. Thus it follows that, of the three systems, socialism is the vaguest, the most indecisive, and, consequently, the most sincere stage of development. But sincere or insincere, the intentions of persons are not here under question. In fact, I have already said that legal plunder is based partially on philanthropy, even though it is a false philanthropy."
Indeed, it appears that America is socialist, unhappily as it may be for friends of liberty, justice, and equality before the law, yet happily for those socialists and false philanthropists amongst us...
12/15/11, More commentary on Bastiat's "The Law:"
The only problem with Bastiat's reasoning in the following excerpt from "The Law" is not the reasoning itself; the reasoning and conclusions he comes to are indeed correct, I believe. But due to the difference in times between Bastiat's age and our age, Bastiat was not probably able to comprehend the lengths to which the opposers of just law, those proponents of coercion, socialism, and authoritarian government and dictatorship are actually willing to go to obtain their ends, for whatever purposes, be they greed/power or false philanthropy. For we see today that the proponents of these forms of government have bastardized the words "liberty," "equality," and especially "justice." To them, "justice" is giving to others who don't have as much by taking from those who have more, with it's sole meaning being that only of "social justice." And any natural rights of the people standing in the way must be sacrificed for this supposedly "higher good," "good" in the eyes of them alone yet UNJUST in the eyes of those whose rights they violate in order to shape society according their desires. Such a society practices unjust means in the name of a false justice, in order to bring about an artificial "justice" that actually is the exact opposite of true JUSTICE. Supporters of such methods of bringing about their artificial "equality" and "justice" through unjust and unequal means have indeed tried to make the government responsible for and capable of anything, including the temperature, and have attempted to blame the corporations and humanity for changes in the temperatures and weather as if man could have control over nature. Ha! As if! We can't even consistently and accurately predict the weather and temperatures, much less be responsible for them. Thus, Mr. Bastiat's words, while wholly appropriate and relevant to our time, must be taken within the context of what justice truly means, meaning it is blind and favors no one over any other.
With this warning in mind, please kindly proceed with reading Bastiat's words:
"The Basis for Stable Government:
Law is justice. In this proposition a simple and enduring government can be conceived. And I defy anyone to say how even the thought of revolution, of insurrection, of the slightest uprising could arise against a government whose organized force was confined only to suppressing injustice.
Under such a regime, there would be the most prosper- ity—and it would be the most equally distributed. As for the sufferings that are inseparable from humanity, none would even think of blaming the government for them. This is true because, if the force of government were limited to suppressing injustice, then government would be as innocent of these sufferings as it is now innocent of changes in the temperature.
As proof of this statement, consider this question: Have the people ever been known to rise against the Court of Appeals, or mob a Justice of the Peace, in order to get higher wages, free credit, tools of production, favorable tariffs, or government-cre- ated jobs? Everyone knows perfectly well that such matters are not within the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals or a Justice of the Peace. And if government were limited to its proper func- tions, everyone would soon learn that these matters are not within the jurisdiction of the law itself.
But make the laws upon the principle of fraternity—proclaim that all good, and all bad, stem from the law; that the law is responsible for all individual misfortunes and all social inequalities—then the door is open to an endless succession of complaints, irritations, troubles, and revolutions.
Justice Means Equal Rights
Law is justice. And it would indeed be strange if law could properly be anything else! Is not justice right? Are not rights equal? By what right does the law force me to conform to the social plans of Mr. Mimerel, Mr. de Melun, Mr. Thiers, or Mr. Louis Blanc? If the law has a moral right to do this, why does it not, then, force these gentlemen to submit to my plans? Is it log- ical to suppose that nature has not given me sufficient imagina- tion to dream up a utopia also? Should the law choose one fan- tasy among many, and put the organized force of government at its service only?
Law is justice. And let it not be said—as it continually is said—that under this concept, the law would be atheistic, indi- vidualistic, and heartless; that it would make mankind in its own image. This is an absurd conclusion, worthy only of those wor- shippers of government who believe that the law is mankind.
Nonsense! Do those worshippers of government believe that free persons will cease to act? Does it follow that if we receive no energy from the law, we shall receive no energy at all? Does it follow that if the law is restricted to the function of protecting the free use of our faculties, we will be unable to use our faculties? Suppose that the law does not force us to follow certain forms of religion, or systems of association, or methods of education, or regulations of labor, or regulations of trade, or plans for charity; does it then follow that we shall eagerly plunge into atheism, hermitary, ignorance, misery, and greed? If we are free, does it follow that we shall no longer recognize the power and goodness of God? Does it follow that we shall then cease to associate with each other, to help each other, to love and succor our unfortunate brothers, to study the secrets of nature, and to strive to improve ourselves to the best of our abilities?"