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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 international reviews
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.
According to Bastiat, man is Personality, Liberty, and Property. He argues these properties to be god-given. Infringe upon them and man ceases to be. So far so good, forgoing the double fallacy he commits at this point, in light of how this idea is laid out with reason further in the text.
It is in his definition of law, where we get to the meat of matter: "Law is the collective organisation of the individual right to lawful defence." Bingo! Contrary to the Socialist argument that law makes man, Bastiat argues, that in defence of Personhood, Liberty, and Property, man makes the law. And if every individual has the right to defend these properties, they also have a right to band together to provide for defence regularly (i.e. government). The elegant simplicity of his argument comes full circle, when you consider that this collective right, by its nature, cannot have any other end, than the defence of the individual. Its sole reason for existence lies within the individual right for defence. It may never 'destroy the person', as Bastiat puts it, just like the individual force may not.
"Within justice, law and force impose upon a man nothing more than a negation. Keeping him from harming others."
There are people who then argue, that nobody has a 'right' to anything. That rights are a man-made construct. These people are enemies of civilisation. I am a Darwinist through and through, but I don't want society to be darwinistic. Humans have a potential to go beyond their primal urges, and if we are to advance the human condition peacefully, everyone has to have the right to pursue in their own enterprise. And but how are we to do so, if government wills over us by means of coercion? Application of force can by definition never peaceful. Liberty therefore is not a question of entitlement, it is the basis for human prosperity and aspiration. People have to be on their own agenda. And Bastiat saw the people of France giving away these inherent liberties willingly. Socialism ultimately became the law. And with it being the law, it was nigh impossible to combat it.
According to him, Socialism really divides mankind into two categories: people and politicians. The all-knowing legislator stands above the plebs, whom he forms and moulds for a perceived greater good. But if people are so bad--Bastiat asks--that they need to be reigned-in by the power of the legislator, how can it be that his intentions are always good? Is he not himself just a man?
The last part of the book is filled with quotes from the 'classics' of his age. Quotes about Ancient Societies and how their prime movers saw their citizens as nothing more than kettle, who tend towards degradation and can only be saved by the hidden power of the legislator. I found these last pages, as he goes on and on quoting from older sources, to be rather dull.
I consider myself a Classical Liberal, so I am predisposed to liking this seminal piece of writing. However, I wasn't always and my Progressive younger self would probably be at awe with which reverence I speak of Bastiat's pamphlet. Now that I am older, I can see through the inherent pessimism in Socialist dogma, that people are not to be trusted and that they have to be engineered into conformity. In learning of the Enlightenment and its proponents, the marketplace of ideas, and the opposition to tyranny in its many forms, I came to reject this pessimistic world-view. And when I have the chance, I always choose peace through individual liberty, as far as I am still free to do so.
I highly recommend this book not only to Classical Liberals or Libertarians, but to all those who purport to live according to enlightenment era principles. It is a rough ride and not always logically consistent, but the core of the argument is powerful and Frédéric Bastiat communicates it with contagious passion.
The text seems to have been produced by a cheap version of google translate. Phrases end abruptly before reaching any conclusion, and words are used wrongly due to similar alternative meanings (for example, "propers" and "corrects" are used instead of "rights").
Jeder Politiker sollte dieses Buch lesen müssen, bevor zu Wahlen antreten darf (im Prinzip reichen die ersten 14 Seiten). Würden sie sich daran halten, hätten wir den mehrfachen Wohlstand, (vermutlich) keine Armut mehr und in unseren Gerichten würde "Recht" gesprochen werden. Leider sind wir so weit davon entfernt, daß man gar nicht weiß wo man anfangen soll.
Dieses Buch ist gefährlich, weil darin die Wahrheit steht. Man kann die Argumente für das Einmischen des Staates in Umverteilung des Wohlstandes, mittels Steuern und Wohlfahrtsleistungen, nicht mehr rechtfertigen oder erklären, wenn man die Wahrheit kennt. Es gibt kein zurück mehr, wenn man die Matrix verlassen hat.
Dieses Buch schafft freiheitsliebende Denker, die der Welt erklären können was der Staat darf und was nicht.
Sozialismus (ja, das ist etwas negatives) wäre unmöglich, wenn man dieses Wissen in Schulen unterrichten würde.