The Law Illustrated Edition
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- Publisher : Creative Commons; Illustrated edition (May 24, 2013)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 70 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1940177014
- ISBN-13 : 978-1940177014
- Item Weight : 3.53 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.17 x 8.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #24,400 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Law is justice. What is justice, though? Bastiat thinks that if a person would do something and it would be considered wrong, then if a government does it, likewise it is wrong [focusing on taking what others have]. This sounds like a sound principle, but falls apart almost immediately upon some inspection. A group may have properties that an individual does not (the famous example being atoms are invisible, but things made of atoms are not necessarily so), and so it seems to me that we can accept governments can do things that we would not individuals to do. It may or may not be true, but the reason cannot come from examples for individuals. For example, we let governments enforce the law and carry-out punishments. I'm sure Bastiat would answer that these sorts of things are only the sorts of things that people would agree to, and so it would not be compulsory, but undoubtedly some would not agree, and so then it is not clear what should be done. Perhaps he's right that without a government people will rationally choose to give up things, but my own experience tends to tell me that poor Nash equilibria (such as for air pollution) do occur if we don't have some sort of strong third-party to enforce some standards (usually the government is one of the few entities that can do this). People's decisions affect each other in various ways, and so we should be careful about how much we limit others' decisions, we have to acknowledge that others' choices make a substantial difference to our lives. It should perhaps be of last resort to let governments do these sorts of things, but Bastiat has few concrete examples to let us ponder actual circumstances.
Also, free public education is mentioned, (as are almost all taxes) as a type of plunder. Free public education has been fairly important for creating economic wealth. It is not obvious how the supposed harm from taking taxes to support this necessarily outweighs the actual harm of depriving some of education. It seems to simply be a fact that left to our own means, society does not provide for those less fortunate as often as would be beneficial. The argument against philanthropy by the government also does not seem very strong. It could lead to problems, but governments around the world do quite well with all sorts of varying levels of philanthropy.
There is a deeper issue, as well. His argument seems to implicitly assume that we know what we own (and so deserve). I don't think it is obvious what we "deserve" and therefore have a right to own. What sort of things become my property? Land? If this land came from some act of plunder previously, is it still my property? In addition, if my abilities come from natural talents rather than hard work, do I truly deserve it? Is it justice? I think the idea of justice needs to be more strongly motivated. It isn't hard to come up with some reasonable but by no means definitive answers to these questions that are favorable to a Bastiat-like viewpoint, but this is not touched. Bastiat talks clearly of the evil of slavery, but in this short essay he doesn't explore what the consequences are. What is the status of a slave owner's (non-human) properties that come through plunder?
I think Bastiat is on stronger ground when he cautions about believing leaders who claim they have everyone's best interests in mind, and that we should not rush into societal experiments without strong amounts of evidence and experience to guide us. While I personally didn't find Bastiat's arguments for such a hands-off government, he does write well, and if you think that you know what property is proper, his arguments are sound enough. It is a short essay, and so it is possible Bastiat answers these questions in other writings.
So amazingly far ahead of its time, you realize that none of the current political world is new. This has all been tried before...
There are so many errors and typos that it makes it hard to understand and read.
The way it's formatted doesn't make sense either.
I will repeat the work of author itself is great, the translation copy is complete waste of money.
Top reviews from other countries
Bastiat considered the law to be the collective defence of life, liberty and property, nothing more, nothing less. He considered that individuals had a right to protect their life, liberty and property, including by use of force. He posited that that contrary to the assumption that people are granted rights to life, liberty and property by the law, it was rather that life, liberty and property allowed the creation of laws. That is still a truly profound idea and one which challenges the almost universal belief in much of the Western world in particular. However although the law should only be concerned with protecting life, liberty and property, or as Bastiat puts it, justice, it ends up undermining justice when it is used to promote plunder and false philanthropy. Once the law exploits it's unique position of legitimacy and call on obedience to promote various "progressive" ideals such as wealth redistribution and attempts to improve mankind then the engine of justice becomes an engine of oppression. Bastiat contrasted societal and state attitudes towards non-legal plunder such as criminal theft with those to legalised plunder (i.e. taxes, monopolies and tariffs), he considered both to be plunder.
One of the most powerful sections of the book is his complete destruction of the conceit of ruling classes who venerate state plunder to improve the lot of people whilst simultaneously seeing those they rule as nothing more than live stock, inanimate beings not possessed of sound judgement or thought. This patronising attitude of those who take it upon themselves to rule towards those they rule has not changed since Bastiat's time.
Bastiat saw three possible outcomes for society:
-the few plunder everybody (such as traditional monarchies)
-everybody plunders everybody (i.e. socialism, the modern state)
-nobody plunders anybody
Bastiat favoured a state in which there was no plunder but we live in a world which proves the truth of Bastiat's pithy observation that "the state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else". Writing in the first half of the 19th Century it is almost as if Bastiat could see into the 20th Century, the expansion of the state and its associated legal plunder, false philanthropy and abuse of the law leading to injustice and worse, like I say he basically synthesised the entire basis of libertarian ideals in under 100 pages and did in a very readable, accessible way. Despite the age of the book it is very easy to read.
Some may disagree with Bastiat's ideas and values, but I would challenge anybody to read this book and not find many elemental truths.