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Review of “The Law”

By Frederic Bastiat, 58 pgs.

December 1, 2010 Amanda Powell Business Law Instructor: Mrs. Washington

Put in the context of his experiences at the time. As an adult. (DiLorenzo) Page 2 of 8 .Review of “The Law” Amanda Powell Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850) “The Law” by Frederic Bastiat is a short and concise essay calling for the creation of legal systems to rigorously guard the personal liberty and private property of all citizens. His beliefs in limited governmental power and free markets have influenced many in the years since his death in 1850. Upon the death of his grandfather he inherited the family exporting business. and his ideology of law as an instrument for property protection was shared by the authors of the United States Constitution. essentially. he inherited the estate and hired workers to operate the family farm which allowed him to live as a writer and scholar for the remainder of his life.” (Bastiat. or it may be the legal violation of property as allowed to the government by the laws. and total personal liberty at the expense of social policy are not entirely unexpected.” According to the text. Bastiat’s views on the free market. Bastiat was a French writer and economist who served as a lawmaker for a short time in the mid – nineteenth century. plunder is defined as the transfer of a portion of wealth “from the person who owns it – without his consent and without compensation. a business – owner. Legal Plunder The author makes several references to the evils of legal plunder throughout “The Law. pg. He was not a laborer for the majority of his adult life. and whether by force or by fraud – to anyone who does not own it. while maintaining free – trade economies. limited government interference in trade. 17) This act may take the form of illegal theft. This sort of legal plunder as defined by the author is a law created which “takes from some persons what 1 Bastiat was orphaned as a child and educated by his paternal grandparents. Bastiat was raised by his grandparents and grew up working on a farm.1 Bastiat was.

” and that which “benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime. During the political upheaval of the early nineteenth century in France.” (Bastiat.” Introducing those laws into society that force citizens to reconsider their level of respect for the legal system is disheartening at best. and sometimes people will accept laws and the legal system as an adequate substitute for their own moral judgment. it seems to become acceptable for people to lose respect for that system. any country may experience the brain drain we are seeing in many socialist European countries today. 13) When the government incorporates legal plunder into the legal system. This seems to have been as true in Bastiat’s time as it is today. not only for the laws that are blatantly unfair to some. When law and morality contradict each other. Bastiat believed that “the safest way to make laws respected is to make them respectable. pg.Review of “The Law” Amanda Powell belongs to them and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. People will lose their ambition to succeed if their financial reward is taken away. people will do what the law will allow them to get away with. but also for other laws which may or may not be unjust. It causes people to blur their line between right and wrong and to rationalize their immoral or illegal behavior. Also. the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law. the government is so entwined in the daily lives of its citizens that it is difficult to separate the law’s morality from one’s own personal beliefs. citizens looked to the standing set of laws as guidelines for their behaviors and interactions in those tumultuous times. as in the concept of governing for total equality. In America today. if legal plunder is taken too far. Morality in Law There is a tendency to want to believe that the laws governing society are morally sound. without having to feel guilty about their behavior. and dangerous at Page 3 of 8 .

19) This sentiment holds true today. There are also new credit card laws taking effect next year that will restrict the freedom of the banking industry to operate according to their own company policies. Actually. which may have the undesired effect of limiting available credit to consumers while simultaneously making it more expensive to obtain. without consent or compensation. This creates a situation that is undeniably bad for American workers. it “erases from everyone’s conscience the distinction between justice and injustice.” (Bastiat. pg. strictly speaking. the government has overstepped its bounds as the negative concept for which the purpose is to “prevent injustice from reigning over the land. for when the capitalist economy demanded by the U. 7) Distortion of the Law The author firmly believed that the one true purpose of the law is to protect the liberty and property of its people. and sometimes lower wages for laborers. the United States government as it operates today is undoubtedly vastly different and much more powerful than the authors of the Constitution could have foreseen. Constitution is restricted. the results include monopolies in certain industries. When the principles of property protection and free trade are restricted or distorted. without the consent of taxpayers. The Social Security program is another example of the transfer of money. We have gun ownership restriction laws in this country which directly violate our 2nd Amendment right to bear arms. There are several laws and programs in place today that amount to legal plunder. pg. from active workers to retired workers. and for our standard of living in this country. Page 4 of 8 .Review of “The Law” Amanda Powell worst.S. The recent major bank bailouts and the pending health care reform are two instances where the federal government is transferring money and resources from those who earned them to those that did not.” (Bastiat.

no ruler of any kind. the Romans. He wrote that legislators have no right to regulate trade and commerce. people without a sense of law and order seem to seek safety in establishing a government that administers justice 2 3 (Shmoop Editorial Team) In “The Tax Gatherer. because “the existence of persons and property precede the existence of the legislator. but also to the histories of the societies of the Greeks.” (Bastiat. that socialistic governments breed economies that stifle financial growth and personal wealth. pg. By the time he wrote “The Law” he had shifted to the more radical position that taxation for public policy was legal plunder.” one of his earlier works. and history has proved him right.2 They referred not only to their own experiences.Review of “The Law” Amanda Powell Concepts Shared by Bastiat Influence America’s Founders The now almost foreign concept of vigorously protecting personal property rights was incorporated into the Constitution and Amendments III and IV because early Americans believed the right to own and control property was one of the unalienable rights granted by God. people seem to crave organization and order. without consent and compensation.” (Bastiat. and the Normans to build on their ideas that maintaining property rights were central to any stable governmental system. but near the end of his life when he wrote “The Law. I have learned that in the absence of a governmental system which citizens perceive as stable. to “transfer tools of production to those who do not own them. the writers of the Constitution wanted to make clear that no president. 45) In my research for this paper. pg. Bastiat would agree with this idea. Bastiat concedes that certain taxes are acceptable to cover public debt. and his function is only to guarantee their safety. could take away a free person’s right to his own property. by the government.3 Bastiat also believed. Following in the footsteps of the authors of the Magna Carta of 1215. 52) His earlier works would refute this idea.” Bastiat had adopted the more radical libertarian belief that there is absolutely no justification for the taxing or seizing of personal property. (Baugus) Page 5 of 8 . Similar to the way small children misbehave in search of stable boundaries from a parent.

and Wolfius. Americans fought for and won independence from England only to waste no time in organizing their own administrative system. I had previously been taught that the verbiage in the Constitution were purposely designed to be set in stone and that the Supreme Court was responsible to try to interpret the laws by the “original intent” of the authors. but also were known to “favor political writings. Viscount Bolingbroke. In crafting the Constitution. They were well – read in history. the fathers also agreed with Bastiat’s libertarian ideology.Review of “The Law” Amanda Powell and fairness in the lease intrusive manner. John. the more it makes sense to me that they were aware the legal system would necessarily change with the times. (Shmoop Editorial Team) 5 (McDonald) Page 6 of 8 . the founding fathers seem to have cultivated their philosophy of good government mostly from their expansive knowledge of world history and from their own experiences with the English legal system. there is a “fatal 4 Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer argued that the founders intended to promote active democracy by setting up institutions whereby citizens could allow the Constitution to evolve over time. but one idea they rejected was the author’s notion that people are inherently selfish. people overthrew or broke away from several political leaders only to realign themselves with another. or that they will resort to plunder or immorality when those options are easier than work. In Bastiat’s environment. in contrast to what I had learned in the past.5 Generally. Also. mostly those of seventeenth and eighteenth century British writers. the founding fathers of our Constitution quite likely set up the document assuming that the legal system in our country would adapt and change with the times. and that it is the concepts of personal liberty and limited national power that were meant to endure.” (McDonald) They read the works of John Locke.4 The more I read about the circumstances surrounding the break from English rule and the influences of the founding fathers. Bastiat wrote that although people are not usually evil or stupid. These writers agreed that a limited government was best. Henry St. with an emphasis on personal liberty and property protection.

pg. less than well – intentioned. and his opinions on economics and property rights have stood the test of time. because we are “naturally inclined to avoid pain. The fundamental beliefs that people are good. for the people. (McDonald) Page 7 of 8 . Works Cited 6 John Locke’s idea was that people are not born good or evil. 48) to avoid work if legal plunder is possible.Review of “The Law” Amanda Powell tendency of mankind” (Bastiat.6 Governance with Optimism Bastiat writes a convincing essay. based on Locke’s tabula rasa theory. but can develop either way. however. the better the government will be because people do strive to be good and moral. ultimately. I am sure this is a better way to build a government than to begin with the premise that your fellow citizens are. pg. chose to believe that people are basically good. The Constitution stipulates that the more involvement citizens have.” (Bastiat. however I will have to side with the founding fathers on this last point. I would choose to believe this also. 5) The authors of the Constitution. and strive to be honest and moral – this is the basis of our system of government that is by the people. Despite any evidence to the contrary.

Barack. 2008.com. “Frederic Bastiat: Libertarian Challenger or Political Bargainer?” Independent. Copyright 2007. Web 06 Dec 2009. “A Founding Father’s Library.org. 11 Nov 2008. 2006. The Independent Review.” Libertyfund.” Shmoop.. 2005. Shmoop University. Inc.” 58 pages.. “Ideology in Making the Constitution. Frederic. Ludwig von Mises Institute. Patrick. Liberty Fund. “Bastiat. Foundation for Economic Education.” JBS. Forrest.com. Web 07 Dec 2009.” Mises. 2009. The John Birch Society. Inc. “The Law – The Classic Blueprint for a Free Society. Web 06 Dec 2009. Brian. and Bail-Outs.org. Web 07 Dec 2009. Page 8 of 8 . Thomas J. Web 07 Dec 2009 McDonald.Review of “The Law” Amanda Powell Bastiat.org. Baugus. Krey. “Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850): Between the French and Marginalist Revolutions. DiLorenzo. Shmoop Editorial Team.