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Bastiat’s Wisdom, Part Deux

31 October 2009

From Frederic Bastiat’s The Law:

The harmlessness of the mission performed by law and lawful defense is self-evident; the usefulness is obvious; and the legitimacy cannot be disputed.

As a friend of mine once remarked, this negative concept of law is so true that the statement, the purpose of the law is to cause justice to reign, is not a rigorously accurate statement. It ought to be stated that the purpose of the law is to prevent injustice from reigning. In fact, it is injustice, instead of justice, that has an existence of its own. Justice is achieved only when injustice is absent.

But when the law, by means of its necessary agent, force, imposes upon men a regulation of labor, a method or a subject of education, a religious faith or creed — then the law is no longer negative; it acts positively upon people. It substitutes the will of the legislator for their own wills; the initiative of the legislator for their own initiatives. When this happens, the people no longer need to discuss, to compare, to plan ahead; the law does all this for them. Intelligence becomes a useless prop for the people; they cease to be men; they lose their personality, their liberty, their property.

Try to imagine a regulation of labor imposed by force that is not a violation of liberty; a transfer of wealth imposed by force that is not a violation of property. If you cannot reconcile these contradictions, then you must conclude that the law cannot organize labor and industry without organizing injustice.

We have lost the national capacity to understand these things.  But we still have time to ponder them before 1,990 pages of indisputable injustice are foisted upon a nation of good-hearted but naive subjects.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. 3 November 2009 1:37 pm

    Preventing injustice does not guarentee justice. Sometimes “positive” law is needed. I think many understand that such libertarian notions are at bottom supportive of corporate whiners and their epigoni who are forever claiming victim status wherever markets are regulated. Some of the loudest complainers about toll roads are conservative Republicans who support “socialized” or “public option” highways.


  2. 10 November 2009 10:15 pm

    Coop, show me a nation – a real one, not some figment of Augustine’s or Plato’s imagination – that is capable of guaranteeing justice to the same extent that it can guarantee liberty. (qb stipulates free will, FWIW.)

    Look, you’re the one who used the term “guarantee,” not qb. The notion of “guaranteeing justice” is, as a practical matter, stillborn in perpetuity.


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