Saturday, December 31, 2011

Frédéric Bastiat, The Law

A government that confined itself accordingly would be most simple, economical, limited, non-oppressive, just, and enduring. If law did nothing more than punish all oppression and plunder, society would be so tranquil and prosperous that political questions would lose most of their importance, thus creating a more civil and unified society. The constant political upheaval would cease, as men would know that government is no more responsible for natural suffering and recession, which are inseparable from humanity, as it is for changes of temperature.
Alas, two entirely different influences--greed and false philanthropy--use law to destroy its own objective.
Greed: Human nature impels man to satisfy his desires with the least possible expenditure of effort, which often requires his satisfaction at the expense of others. Law makers often shape law to plunder the people and benefit themselves. The rebelling plundered classes then attempt either to stop legal plunder or to share in it. Legal plunder forces citizens to choose between their moral sense and their respect for the law and eliminates the correlation between justice and law.
False philanthropy: Under the pretexts of organization, regulation, protection, and encouragement, law takes property from one person and gives it to another. Socialists do not consider the law sufficient that it should guarantee to every citizen the free and inoffensive use of his faculties for physical, intellectual, and moral self-improvement. Instead, they demand the law directly to extend welfare, education, and morality throughout the nation.

Frederic Bastiat, The Law

The law by no means confines itself to its proper functions. And when it has exceeded its proper functions, it has not done so merely in some inconsequential and debatable matters. The law has gone further than this; it has acted in direct opposition to its own purpose. The law has been used to destroy its own objective: It has been applied to annihilating the justice that it was supposed to maintain; to limiting and destroying rights which its real purpose was to respect. The law has placed the collective force at the disposal of the unscrupulous who wish, without risk, to exploit the person, liberty, and property of others. It has converted plunder into a right, in order to protect plunder. And it has converted lawful defense into a crime, in order to punish lawful defense.
How has this perversion of the law been accomplished? And what have been the results?
The law has been perverted by the influence of two entirely different causes: stupid greed and false philanthropy.