Frédéric Bastiat was a contemporary with Alexis de Toqueville and they both came from France. Both were admirers of the United States who noted risks to that wonderful experiment in constitutional republicanism with democratic features. While Toqueville focused on the United States in the most familiar of his writing, Bastiat focused on France while touching on the United States system. I find Bastiat’s writing to be prescient. He spoke to his own time and society, but he could have been addressing his comments to American circa 2017.
To read the entire series, here is the Table of Contents.
For a modern libertarian-conservative, Bastiat’s own example in France is interesting. The head of state at the time was concerned about socialism because socialism always leads to plunder.
Socialists are not thieves in the usual sense of the word. The plunder they exercise is typical of what collectivists have exercised since the beginning of time. Plunder is not new to socialists. Yet, in Bastiat’s time, the government wanted to stand against socialism, never noting the irony that the government itself had been plundering for a long time before the socialists arose.
When the law is discovered to be perverted, the best thing we can do is remove the perversion quickly and completely. How do we distinguish when the law has been perverted? Whenever the law allows property to be taken from some and given to others, that allows a citizen to do something that would ordinarily be considered a crime, then the law is perverted.
It’s not legal to steal from random strangers in the park to fund your drug habit. Nor is it legal to steal from your neighbor’s paycheck to fund the creation of that park.
Abolish this law without delay; it is not merely an iniquity—it is a fertile source of iniquities, for it invites reprisals; and if you do not take care, the exceptional case will extend, multiply, and become systematic.
Of course, those who benefit from this law, will complain that they have a “right” to be protected and encouraged. He will insist that it is good for society, so the State should support it. “The delusion of the day is to enrich all classes at the expense of each other; it is to generalize plunder under pretense of organizing it.”
Legal plunder can take many forms, so are seen an infinite multitude of organization, tariffs, protection, perquisites, gratuities, encouragements, progressive taxation, free public education, right to work, right to profit, right to wages, right to assistance, right to instruments of labor, gratuity of credit. Socialism is a false and absurb doctine that must be refuted, but that will be easier if you root it out of existing legislation where it has crept in unnoticed.
The problem, Bastiat saw, was not just that socialism was on the rise, but that the French government had perverted the law to allow legal plunder. There are only three ways for society to organize itself.
- When the few plunder the many. (Partial Plunder)
- When everybody plunders everybody else. (Universal Plunder)
- When nobody plunders anybody. (Absence of Plunder)
These are the only three choices that the law can produce.