The Proper Function of the Law
And, in all sincerity, can anything more than the absence of plunder be required of the law? Can the law -- which necessarily requires the use of force -- rationally be used for anything except protecting the rights of everyone? I defy anyone to extend it beyond this purpose without perverting it and, consequently, turning might against right. This is the most fatal and most illogical social perversion that can possibly be imagined. It must be admitted that the true solution -- so long searched for in the area of social relationships -- is contained in these simple words: Law is organized justice.
Now this must be said: When justice is organized by law -- that is, by force -- this excludes the idea of using law (force) to organize any human activity whatever, whether it be labor, charity, agriculture, commerce, industry, education, art, or religion. The organizing by law of any one of these would inevitably destroy the essential organization -- justice. For truly, how can we imagine force being used against the liberty of citizens without it also being used against justice, and thus acting against its proper purpose?
The Seductive Lure of Socialism
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.
This is the seductive lure of socialism. And I repeat again: These two uses of the law are in direct contradiction to each other. We must choose between them. A citizen cannot at the same time be free and not free.
Enforced Fraternity Destroys Liberty
Mr. de Lamartine once wrote to me thusly: "Your doctrine is only the half of my program. You have stopped at liberty; I go on to fraternity." I answered him: "The second half of your program will destroy the first."
In fact, it is impossible for me to separate the word fraternity from the word voluntary. I cannot possibly understand how fraternity can be legally enforced without liberty being legally destroyed, and thus justice being legally trampled underfoot.
Legal plunder has two roots: One of them, as I have said before, is in human greed; the other is in false philanthropy.
At this point, I think that I should explain exactly what I mean by the word plunder.*
*Translator's note: The French word used by Mr. Bastiat is spoliation.
Continue | Back to Table of Contents