on April 12, 2004
Frederic Bastiat (1801-50) was a French economist, philosopher and statesman, and this book was written by him as he was already dying of tuberculosis. In The Law, Monsieur Bestiat examines what the natures of law and government are and what they should be, and shows how the natural greed of humanity leads to a perversion of them. He goes on to show that the natural result of this "legal plunder" is ultimately communism and a dictatorship, not of the proletariat, but of a self-styled elite that views the proletariat as a raw material to be molded and, if necessary, broken.
I must say that Frederic Bastiat was able to pack more fascinating analysis into a short space than any other writer I have ever seen. He was definitely cast in the same mold as the founding fathers of the United States, with his belief that life, liberty and property are the unalienable gifts of God. He persuasively argues for the defense of these rights, and shows what happens when a people decide to trample upon them.
If you are interested in the philosophy that produced the United States of America, then I highly recommend that you read this fascinating and thought-provoking book!
on February 2, 2004
This was written in 1850, just after the 1848 revolution in France. Bastiat was concerned by all the different groups that were trying to use "The Law" or in Hayek's words, "The State" to remake society into their vision of a more perfect society. Bastiat argues that trying to use the law to help out one group does so at the expense of another group, he calls this "legal plunder" and points out how in the long run this will ruin society.
Bastiat starts off saying that the basic gifts man has from God are: life, liberty, and property. It is appropriate and correct to defend yourself, your liberty, and your property. "The Law" was created to ensure that individuals in society were allowed to use these gifts.
Bastiat says that unfortunately "The Law" is abused by the greed and false philanthropy of man. There are two basic ways of getting ahead in life, the first is to work hard and produce, the second is to plunder from others. When trade off and risks for plunder are better than labor, many people will turn to plunder. It is very tempting for those who make laws to use the law to plunder. Bastiat says "legal plunder" is to use the law to take property, which if was done without the benefit of the law would have been considered a crime.
He has some fairly pointed barbs at socialists. He says many of the writers at his time seem to view people as raw material, to be formed or controlled. He says that most socialists see mankind as evil, while they (the socialists) are good. This leads the socialists to feeling justified in using "The Law" to make mankind be good. Bastiat asks why so many people in government feel that mankind makes too many mistakes, but that they in government are nobler and will make better choices.
This is short, and because the original format was a pamphlet, Bastiat acknowledges that it is not complete. So many of his points and arguments are brief.
This is a good call to action, to encourage people to be more informed about their government, and to work to limit the government. So much of what Bastiat said long ago is still true.
on October 26, 2013
I ordered the lowest priced edition, thinking that the low cost would be a result of the cheaper materials used in production. I did not realize that there are several translations of the original French edition. This is a very uninteresting translation, published in 2012, compared with the one by Dean Russell, published in 1996 by the Foundation for Economic Education. If you want to read good literature, choose the latter.
The Law is a refutation of the systems of socialism, communism and government interventionism written prior to it's publication or since. It is a logical, well-reasoned, effectively argued refutation which, in the opinion of this reader, truly does expose the unjust foundations of these economic systems and show them for the unworkable, freedom-crushing and ultimately counter-productive models that they are. All forms of statist government are based on a naïve understanding of human nature, thinking only (some) individuals are subject to corruption and not understanding that the inherent corruption of human nature only deepens with the power granted at the organized state level. This is a true classic of economics and politics and deserves to be universally read not only by all those in government but by every voter as well.
But more than just a negative refutation, Bastiat makes the positive case that the law has only one purpose: to preserve justice. Bastiat convincingly bases this assertion on self evident natural law. In order to preserve and ensure justice, the law must protect the safety of persons, their property, and their freedom to make choices as they see fit. Therefore the law's purpose is negative, serving as a protection against violence, coercion and theft. The law is not to be a positive force which prescribes behaviors, even if those behaviors are generally agreed to be good things.
In opposition to this limited role of the law, Bastiat shows that in socialist/communist states, the government has expanded the purpose and role of the law to include things it was never intended to. In order to do this, the government passes laws that extend far beyond the goal of justice and the law becomes grossly prescriptive rather than penal; the law legalizes behaviours for the state that, if they were perpetrated by individuals, would be considered theft and coercion. Some examples are things like social healthcare, (for example, health-conscious citizens paying for the medical bills of drug users, smokers, alcoholics and those who drive recklessly and don't wear their seatbelts), social welfare (those gainfully employed, paying with their taxes the living expenses of those who perennially refuse to work), forbidding certain behaviours because those who happen to be in power don't approve of them (certain religious practices, certain businesses because they would put a state sanctioned/owned company out of business, etc.). Basiat calls this legalized plunder. He shows convincingly that socialist and communist nations simply pass laws that make it acceptable to do at the state level what would be clearly seen as an injustice at the individual level. Legalized plunder is the correct term for the practices of wealth transfer payments and redistribution programs. Such policies make the law and the state that enforces it the worst enemy of the individuals who make up a nation. Contra this, Bastiat argues the true purpose of the law is not to enforce charity but simply to protect citizens and to ensure justice. As an aside, Bastiat is not saying there is no place for charity. He is simply saying that for charity to be charity, it must come of the free choice of individuals and not from a state-enforced policy. In the latter case, charity is no longer charity but enforced robbery (what if my state-enforced "charity" is going toward a cause that is diametrically opposed to my religious convictions or personal principles?).
Basiat's thinking penetrates through the jargon used by socialists and interventionists to show that, at its heart, such systems are based on an untenable and irrational belief in human nature. Basiat observes that politicians and policy makers place blind trust in the masses to make a wise choice of who to elect, and then once those politicians are elected, they take the reigns and make decisions on behalf of the people because the people cannot be trusted to know what is best for them. You can't have it both ways...wise enough to elect the right people but too dumb to understand what would make for the best economic and punitive policies. Thus, socialist/communist tendencies are alive and well within all of the world's democracies and so-called republics, where the social elites think they are ordained to be the saviours of the common masses.
Bastiat's book is a clear, concise and effective refutation of the form of government that all western democracies have become and a call to return to an era of small, limited government whose job it is to simply ensure people's physical safety from violence and people's free use of their resources as they see fit, punishing the robber and the thug. Though it was written in the mid-1800s, it is even more crucial today, in our era of huge government debt and deficits, massive bureaucracies, stifling taxation, and greedy and power-hungry politicians who bill themselves as the saviours of society. Sadly the state has become the robbers and thugs, succeeding beyond the wildest imaginations of the most successful criminals because the state can write laws which sanction their evil and greedy behaviours.
The Law can be read in one sitting but really should be pondered for some time afterward with one eye on the media, listening carefully to the news about the latest proposed government program or the cries of the manifold special interest lobby groups, both of whom see it as their purpose to take the hard earned money of and privately held resources of individuals and use it for their own pet projects and to further their own ideologies.
on June 22, 2003
Bastiat's The Law is a liberal's nightmare. Written over 150 years ago ago, it clearly defines what is wrong with socialism and explains (actually Bastiat accurately predicted) why socialist programs breed their own corruption and defines "Legal Plunder" in the clearest of terms. Don't be put off by the age of the book; the writing is more clear and more concise than almost any current book.
Here is a quote, "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 other persons to whom it 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."
I have given away at least a dozen copies of this book; I believe the book is that important. I can think of no higher personal endorsement.
on January 17, 2004
I have advanced degrees in economics and engineering, a successful career both within the corporate world and as an entrepeneur, have had the great fortune to know senators, justices and generals. My life has been blessed by a rise from scarce means and an absence of fear. Until I stumbled upon this book, which says a lot about my Magnolia League education, I had not ever felt compelled to examine the conditions under which I have been successful. I have been able to follow my talents and conscience due to my own persistance and due to the freedom afforded me by the rule of law. It is amazing that someone in France decades ago was able to desribe this environment we live in so succinctly with such relevance.
Regardless of your political persuasion, please read this book. It defines the american mind and experience in the same way that "Grapes of Wrath," "Casablanca" and "Apocalypse Now" have told the stories of america in crisis. Bastiat's simple statement of the sanctity of the rule of law produces a visceral conviction that individuals should and will triumph; this should satisfy eveyone who believes that men and women can excell.
on June 6, 2004
Fredric Bastiat's "The Law" covers much more than simply legal constructs. It is an in-depth study of the nature of ordered liberty, economics, socialism, law, the human drive to control others and the interaction between them.
It is amazing to read Bastiat's (he was a French economist) dire warnings about socialism and compare those warnings to what is happening in modern day France. France faces high unemployment, its economic growth is non-existant and it is a welfare state where the 35 hour work week recently led to 35,000 deaths during a heat wave because doctors on vacation refused to return to treat the sick.
I recognize that capitalism has its problems as well, and I would have loved to see Bastiat deal more with the problem of the poor in capitalist societies, but I suppose that is a topic for another book. I suspect that Bastiat would have supported private charities to support the poor as this would not have conflicted with his notion of "forced charity" and the degradation of liberty.
In sum, "The Law" is a magnificent thesis on the importance of liberty. It is genius in its simplicity and compelling in its argument. This book will help you understand why Patrick Henry proudly proclaimed hundreds of years ago: "Give me liberty or give me death!"
on May 10, 2012
Almost every paragraph of this masterpiece contains a quote for the ages. Every sentence a dagger through the heart of socialism and proponents of its policies from antiquity to 19th century France.
The author wrote this as he was dying of tuberculosis. I consider this his deathbed love letter to humanity.
NB I deduct two stars for the frequent typos in what is a short, 58-page document, not to mention the sloppy formatting (widow and orphan headings and paragraphs, full-size superscripts and footnotes). I will look for another publisher's edition for my library and donate this shoddy Cosimo copy to a friend.
on June 17, 2003
While Bastiat may make one never want to hear the phrase "legal plunder" again, the message of this pamphlet is as relevant now as it was in 1850. Bastiat, a little known Philosopher, and Economist, as well as a personal hero shows how the state lacks the morality of private actors. In so doing, he uses an approach to show that socialism, and the state are contrary to any fundamental system of "law". Bastiat vividly and cogently attacks institutionalized theft, and notes that all government leeches off stolen money to operate. His book suggests that government be limited to protecting from force or fraud. Very intuitive, reccomended as an introduction to liberty for any reader, middle school or older.
on July 9, 2002
There are many good books on freedom, rights, good government, etc. But only rarely do we come across something as fundamental as Common Sense, The Declaration of Independence, The Federalist, or the U.S. Constitution. THIS IS ONE OF THOSE FUNDAMENTAL DOCUMENTS OF LIBERTY.
Short, consise, this book explains in simple terms the importance of freedom of choice and the evils of "legalized plunder." He also shows that despots usually are attracted to using the law to do their dirty work for them.
THIS BOOK CAN CHANGE THE WORLD IF ENOUGH PEOPLE READ IT.