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.
Remembering that Bastiat defined plunder as anytime property is transferred from the person who produced it to one who has not earned it against the will of the producer.
With this understanding, let us examine the value, the origin, and the tendency of this popular aspiration, which pretends to realize the general good by general plunder.
Bastiat heard the socialists say that the law organizes justice, so it made sense to them that it should organize labor, education, and religion. Unfortunately, the law can’t organization labor, education and religion without disorganizing justice.
Law is force, and … the domain of the law cannot properly extend beyond the domain of force.
When the law’s force keeps people within the bounds of justice, nothing is imposed upon the individual beyond an obligation to abstain from doing harm. The law is not violating a man’s personality, liberty or property when it holds him to justice, which guards the personality, liberty and property of others. The law defends the equal right of all.
The aim of the law is to prevent injustice from reigning.
Injustice results from the absence of justice. When the law uses its force to impose a form of labor, a method or subject of education, a creed, or worship, it is no longer negative. It has acted positively upon people. It has substituted the will of the legislator for the will of the individual. The individual no longer as to think for himself. The law does that for him.
They cease to be men; they lose their personality, their liberty, their property.
- How is any form of labor imposed by force not a violation of liberty?
- How is any transmission of wealth by force not a violation of property?
The law cannot organize labor and industry without organizing injustice. When a politician views inequality from his ivory tower, he mourns the sufferings of so many people, comparing their state to that of the rich and comfortable. He wants to remedy that sorry condition. Maybe he should look at history and ask if that social state has not been caused by plunder in ancient times when conquest was everywhere or, conversely, by plunder in more recent times, embodied by taxes levied by government.
The politician’s mind turns toward combinations, arrangements, legal or organizations. Instead of allowing justice to work, he tries to fix the problem by increasing the very thing that produced the evil of inequality in the first place. Rather than impose mere limits on oppressive behavior, he seeks instead to plunder some for the advantage of others.
But wait – there are people who have no money. Shouldn’t they be able to apply to the law for relief? But the government has no resources of its own. It must obtain whatever it has from society.
Nothing can enter the public treasury, in favor of one citizen or one class, but what other citizens and other classes have been forced to send to it.
If everyone were to draw from the public storehouse only what he as contributed, then the law wouldn’t be a plunderer, but that doesn’t help the guy with no money, so this law doesn’t promote equality. It is an instrument of equalization (only so) far as it takes from one party to give to another, and then it is an instrument of plunder.
France had tariffs and subsides in the 1840s, and all sorts of other economic “rights. At the bottom of all this legal plunder, Bastiat saw an organized injustice.
But, people need to be educated, so we apply to the law. But the law has no enlightenment of itself. It extends over a society where there are men who have knowledge, and others who have not; citizens who want to learn, and others who are disposed to teach.
It can only do one of two things:
- allow a free operation to this kind of transaction
- else preempt the will of the people in the matter, and take from some of them sufficient to pay professors commissioned to instruct others for free.
The second suggestion would be a violation of liberty and property – legal plunder.
But, there are people wanting in morality or religion and those concerned about this apply to the law; but law is force, and it is foolishness to introduce force into matters of labor, education and faith.