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April 2017 Policy Study, Number 17-8


A Commentary on American Public Policy


Part 7



Earlier in this essay, it was stated that Marx and his cronies no doubt looked upon themselves as very special people, much superior to the common man.  (Lenin and Stalin were of the same mold.)  This passage gives me no reason to change my mind.  All those who behave in the manner described above have one thing in common:  they want to create their vision of paradise here on earth, and in order to achieve this, they are most willing to interject themselves as an earthly omnipotent god, on behalf their inferiors of course.  We are the sheep, and they are our shepherds.


Actually, what is the political struggle that we witness?  It is the instinctive struggle of all people toward liberty.  And what is this liberty, whose very name makes the heart beat faster and shakes the world?  Is it not the union of all liberties — liberty of conscience, of education, of association, of the press, of travel, of labor, of trade?  In short, is not liberty the freedom of every person to make full use of his faculties, so long as he does not harm other persons while doing so?  Is not liberty the destruction of all despotism — including, of course, legal despotism?  Finally, is not liberty the restricting of the law [limited government] only to its rational sphere of organizing the right of the individual to lawful self-defense; of punishing injustice?  It must be admitted that the tendency of the human race toward liberty is largely thwarted, especially in France.  This is greatly due to a fatal desire — learned from the teaching of antiquity — which our writers on public affairs have in common: They desire to set themselves above mankind in order to arrange, organize, and regulate it according to their fancy.  (The Law).


In the foregoing passages, Bastiat places most of the blame for this state of affairs on the heads of socialist writers, but you should see there is plenty of blame to go around.  One can observe that the majority of our present-day legislators are described quite nicely by the passages, and the great majority of the remaining minority acquiesce to the actions of the former group out of a fear of being labeled a “bad or uncaring” person.  And the most depressing aspect of the current situation is that far too many of our clergy acquiesce, condone, or even encourage these socialist activities.  They, of all people, should know better.


Oh, sublime writers [and legislators]!  Please remember sometimes that this clay, this sand, and this manure which you so arbitrarily dispose of, are men!  They are your equals!  They are intelligent and free human beings like yourselves!  As you have, they too have received from God the faculty to observe, to plan ahead, to think, and to judge for themselves!  (Emphasis added).  (The Law).


The preceding passage finds me quite uncharacteristically without comment.  So read on:


A science of economics must be developed before a science of politics can be logically formulated.  Essentially, economics is the science of determining whether the interests of human beings are harmonious or antagonistic.  This must be known before a science of politics can be formulated to determine the proper functions of government. 


Immediately following the development of a science of economics, and at the very beginning of the formulation of a science of politics, this all-important question must be answered:  What is law?  What ought it to be?  What is its scope; its limits?  Logically, at what point do the just powers of the legislator stop?  I do not hesitate to answer:  Law is the common force organized to act as an obstacle to injustice.  In short, law is justice.  (Emphasis in original). 


It is not true that the legislator has absolute power over our persons and property.  The existence of persons and property preceded the existence of the legislator, and his function is only to guarantee their safety.  It is not true that the function of law is to regulate our consciences, our ideas, our wills, our education, our opinions, our work, our trade, our talents, or our pleasures.  The function of law is to protect the free exercise of these rights, and to prevent any person from interfering with the free exercise of these same rights by any other person. 


Since law necessarily requires the support of force, its lawful domain is only in the areas where the use of force is necessary.  This is justice.  Every individual has the right to use force for lawful self-defense.  It is for this reason that the collective force — which is only the organized combination of the individual forces — may lawfully be used for the same purpose; and it cannot be used legitimately for any other purpose.  Law is solely the organization of the individual right of self-defense which existed before law was formalized.  Law is justice. 


The mission of the law is not to oppress persons and plunder them of their property, even though the law may be acting in a philanthropic spirit.  Its mission is to protect persons and property.  Furthermore, it must not be said that the law may be philanthropic if, in the process, it refrains from oppressing persons and plundering them of their property; this would be a contradiction.  The law cannot avoid having an effect upon persons and property; and if the law acts in any manner except to protect them, its actions then necessarily violate the liberty of persons and their right to own property.  The law is justice — simple and clear, precise and bounded. 


Every eye can see it, and every mind can grasp it; for justice is measurable, immutable, and unchangeable.  Justice is neither more than this nor less than this.  If you exceed this proper limit — if you attempt to make the law religious, fraternal, equalizing, philanthropic, industrial, literary, or artistic — you will then be lost in an uncharted territory, in vagueness and uncertainty, in a forced utopia or, even worse, in a multitude of utopias, each striving to seize the law and impose it upon you.  This is true because fraternity and philanthropy, unlike justice, do not have precise limits.  Once started, where will you stop?  And where will the law stop itself?  (The Law).


This is a terrific prose, for within Bastiat’s explanation, he encapsulates the proper origins of political government, its proper function, and proper execution of the law, and he proposes a rational limit to the use of political government at the procurement of justice.  For myself, I find it very hard to argue with his facts and logic.  In a word, we ought to heed his voice.


Capitalism and socialism are not two sides of the same coin.  In fact, they couldn’t be any more disparate.  Capitalism accepts the human condition as it finds it.  Capitalism is a response to human nature.  It is based on voluntary action and voluntary exchange.  Its only defining limit, albeit a very strict limit, is natural justice — your right to action is limited to that point at which you infringe the rights of your fellow man.  That is, your action is contrary, not just to the legal statutes, but much more importantly, your action is contrary to the Laws of Nature — your action is unlawful.  Capitalism then, if practiced within the Laws of Nature, is in a word — liberty.


By contrast, socialism denies the human condition and seeks to mold it to the liking of the party in power.  It is based on the presumed power of coercion as to your activity and exchange.  It is unlimited in that it can be, and is, enlarged to accommodate any vision for humanity those in power may hold.  Your natural rights count for naught, other than those the tyrant and the bully majority alike may choose to allow you.  In a nutshell, you are made to be subservient to the demigods in charge.  You live an existence devoid of liberty.




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