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Frédéric Bastiat (1801 - 1850)

 


 

In war, the stronger overcomes the weaker.

In business, the stronger imparts strength to the weaker.


It is impossible to introduce into society a greater change and a greater evil than this: the conversion of the law into an instrument of plunder.



But how is this legal plunder to be identified? Quite simply.

See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong.

See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.



Life, faculties, production -- in other words, individuality, liberty, property -- this is man.

And in spite of the cunning of artful political leaders, these three gifts from God precede all human legislation, and are superior to it.


Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws.

On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.



Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.



By virtue of exchange, one man's prosperity is beneficial to all others.



Now, legal plunder can be committed in an infinite number of ways. Thus we have an infinite number of plans for organizing it:

  • tariffs
  • protection
  • benefits
  • subsidies
  • encouragements
  • progressive taxation
  • public schools
  • guaranteed jobs
  • guaranteed profits
  • minimum wages
  • a right to relief
  • a right to the tools of labor
  • free credit
  • and so on, and so on.

All these plans as a whole - with their common aim of legal plunder - constitute socialism.



Property, the right to enjoy the fruits of one's labor, the right to work, to develop, to exercise one's faculties, according to one's own understanding, without the state intervening otherwise than by its protective action -- this is what is meant by liberty.



The law is the organization of the natural right of lawful defense.

It is the substitution of a common force for individual forces.

And this common force is to do only what the individual forces have a natural and lawful right to do: to protect persons, liberties, and properties; to maintain the right of each, and to cause justice to reign over us all.


According to their degree of enlightenment, [the] plundered classes may propose one of two entirely different purposes when they attempt to attain political power: Either they may wish to stop lawful plunder, or they may wish to share in it.



Everyone wants to live at the expense of the state. They forget that the state lives at the expense of everyone.

 


When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law.



Sometimes the law defends plunder and participates in it.

Thus the beneficiaries are spared the shame and danger that their acts would otherwise involve ...



The worst thing that can happen to a good cause is not to be skillfully attacked, but to be ineptly defended.



No legal plunder: This is the principle of justice, peace, order, stability, harmony, and logic. Until the day of my death, I shall proclaim this principle with all the force of my lungs (which alas! is all too inadequate).

 



When under the pretext of fraternity, the legal code imposes mutual sacrifices on the citizens, human nature is not thereby abrogated. Everyone will then direct his efforts toward contributing little to, and taking much from, the common fund of sacrifices.

 

Now, is it the most unfortunate who gains from this struggle?

Certainly not, but rather the most influential and calculating.



People are beginning to realize that the apparatus of government is costly. But what they do not know is that the burden falls inevitably on them.

Law cannot organize labor and industry without organizing injustice.

 



The plans differ; the planners are all alike ...


It is easy to understand why the law is used by the legislator to destroy in varying degrees among the rest of the people their personal independence by slavery, their liberty by oppression, and their property by plunder.

This is done for the benefit of the person who makes the law, and in proportion to the power that he holds.




If you wish to prosper, let your customer prosper
.

When people have learned this lesson, everyone will seek his individual welfare in the general welfare.



Here I encounter the most popular fallacy of our times. It is not considered sufficient that the law should be just; it must be philanthropic.

Nor is it sufficient that the law should guarantee to every citizen the free and inoffensive use of his faculties for physical, intellectual, and moral self-improvement. Instead, it is demanded that the law should directly extend welfare, education, and morality throughout the nation.



It is easier to show the disorder that must accompany reform than the order that should follow it.



Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society.

As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all.



We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education.

We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all.

We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality.

And so on, and so on.

It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.



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.



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?



If the natural tendencies of mankind are so bad that it is not safe to permit people to be free, how is it that the tendencies of these organizers are always good?

Do not the legislators and their appointed agents also belong to the human race?

Or do they believe that they themselves are made of a finer clay than the rest of mankind?



The solution to the problems of human relationships is to be found in liberty.



Away with the whims of governmental administrators, their socialized projects, their centralization, their tariffs, their government schools, their state religions, their free credit, their bank monopolies, their regulations, their restrictions, their equalization by taxation, and their pious moralizations!



And now that the legislators and do-gooders have so futilely inflicted so many systems upon society, may they finally end where they should have begun: May they reject all systems, and try liberty ...