Roots of Government Interference   Leave a comment

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.

Image result for image of government interferenceThe socialists were in ascendancy in France in Bastiat’s day, which was the primary purpose he wrote this essay The Law. Bastiat hoped to convince his fellow citizens that socialism was a bad, bad mistake. He actually managed that for a while, until people stopped reading his essay and started listening to socialists again. Lela

We are therefore left to conjecture, in this case, upon
what foundation universal suffrage is claimed for them
with so much importunity.
The pretensions of organizers suggest another question,
which I have often asked them, and to which I am
not aware that I ever received an answer: Since the natural
tendencies of mankind are so bad that it is not safe to
allow them liberty, how comes it to pass that the tendencies
of organizers are always good? Do not the legislators
and their agents form a part of the human race? Do they
consider that they are composed of different materials
from the rest of mankind? They say that society, when left
to itself, rushes to inevitable destruction, because its
instincts are perverse. They presume to stop it in its downward
course, and to give it a better direction. They have,
therefore, received from heaven, intelligence and virtues
that place them beyond and above mankind: let them
show their title to this superiority. They would be our
shepherds, and we are to be their flock. This arrangement
presupposes in them a natural superiority, the right to
which we are fully justified in calling upon them to prove.
You must observe that I am not contending against
their right to invent social combinations, to propagate
them, to recommend them, and to try them upon themselves,
at their own expense and risk; but I do dispute
their right to impose them upon us through the medium
of the law, that is, by force and by public taxes.
I would not insist upon the Cabetists, the Fourierists,
the Proudhonians, the Academics, and the Protectionists
renouncing their own particular ideas; I would only have
them renounce the idea that is common to them all—viz., that of subjecting us by force to their own categories and
rankings to their social laboratories, to their ever-inflating
bank, to their Greco-Roman morality, and to their commercial
restrictions. I would ask them to allow us the faculty
of judging of their plans, and not to oblige us to
adopt them if we find that they hurt our interests or are
repugnant to our consciences.
To presume to have recourse to power and taxation,
besides being oppressive and unjust, implies further, the
pernicious assumption that the organized is infallible, and
mankind incompetent.
And if mankind is not competent to judge for itself,
why do they talk so much about universal suffrage?
This contradiction in ideas is unhappily to be found
also in facts; and whilst the French nation has preceded all
others in obtaining its rights, or rather its political claims,
this has by no means prevented it from being more governed,
and directed, and imposed upon, and fettered, and
cheated, than any other nation. It is also the one, of all
others, where revolutions are constantly to be dreaded,
and it is perfectly natural that it should be so.
So long as this idea is retained, which is admitted by
all our politicians, and so energetically expressed by Mr.
Louis Blanc in these words—“Society receives its impulse
from power,” so long as men consider themselves as capable
of feeling, yet passive—incapable of raising themselves
by their own discernment and by their own energy to any
morality, or well-being, and while they expect everything
from the law; in a word, while they admit that their relations
with the State are the same as those of the flock with
the shepherd, it is clear that the responsibility of power is
immense. Fortune and misfortune, wealth and destitution,
equality and inequality all proceed from it. It is charged with everything, it undertakes everything, it does everything;
therefore it has to answer for everything. If we are
happy, it has a right to claim our gratitude; but if we are
miserable, it alone must bear the blame. Are not our persons
and property in fact, at its disposal? Is not the law
omnipotent? In creating the educational monopoly, it has
undertaken to answer the expectations of fathers of families
who have been deprived of liberty; and if these
expectations are disappointed, whose fault is it?
In regulating industry, it has undertaken to make it
prosper, otherwise it would have been absurd to deprive
it of its liberty; and if it suffers, whose fault is it? In pretending
to adjust the balance of commerce by the game
of tariffs, it undertakes to make commerce prosper; and
if, so far from prospering, it is destroyed, whose fault is
it? In granting its protection to maritime armaments in
exchange for their liberty, it has undertaken to render
them self-sufficient; if they become burdensome, whose
fault is it?
Thus, there is not a grievance in the nation for which
the Government does not voluntarily make itself responsible.
Is it any wonder that every failure threatens to
cause a revolution? And what is the remedy proposed?
To extend indefinitely the dominion of the law, i.e., the
responsibility of Government. But if the Government
undertakes to raise and to regulate wages, and is not able
to do it; if it undertakes to assist all those who are in
want, and is not able to do it; if it undertakes to provide
work for every laborer, and is not able to do it; if it
undertakes to offer to all who wish to borrow, easy
credit, and is not able to do it; if, in words that we regret
should have escaped the pen of Mr. de Lamartine, “the
State considers that its mission is to enlighten, to develop, to enlarge, to strengthen, to spiritualize, and to
sanctify the soul of the people”—if it fails in this, is it
not obvious that after every disappointment, which,
alas! is more than probable, there will be a no less
inevitable revolution?

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