The Law – by Frederic Bastiat (paraphrased)
The law has been changed into something it was not meant to be! The power of the government has become more likely to encroach on liberties as well! The law has become a way of making greedy men rich! The law was meant to protect us from encroachment and fraud, but now it causes these things to happen!
Life Is a Gift From God
God gave us a gift that has every other gift inside of it. This gift is life: our bodies, our minds, and our souls.
But we need things to keep us alive. God has given to us the job of keeping ourselves alive, working on making our lives better, and perfecting it. So God gave us things that we could do – like work, and things to work with – like dirt and seeds, and He also allows us to enjoy what we make. This is the way life should be.
Living, working, and enjoying what we make – in other words, individuality, liberty, property – this is man. And even though some tricky politicians try to hide the fact, these three gifts from God came before any law made by a man, and are better than any law invented by any man.
Life, liberty, and property did not come to be because men wrote laws. Actually, it was because life, liberty, and property already existed that men wanted to make laws in the first place.
What Is Law?
Why do we have laws then? We have laws to protect ourselves.
God gave us the right to protect our bodies, our liberty, and our property. These are the three things we need to live, but we need all three because each of them depends on the other two. You see, no one can do what you were made to do better than you can, so your work, your liberty, is a part of you. And your property is what you get for working.
Since we all have the right to protect our body, our liberty, and our property, even if we have to use force to do so; then any group of men has the right to get together and hire someone to protect them. The group has the right to hire a protector because each of them has a right to protect themselves on their own. The man that they hire to protect them was hired only to protect them. If no one is allowed to encroach on anyone else, then the hired man doesn’t have a right to encroach either.
If the hired man were allowed to encroach, it would ruin the reason he was hired. We have been given force by God in order to protect our rights. No one can say that we have been given force in order to encroach on others. In the same way, the hired protector was not hired to encroach on others, but to protect all of the men who hired him. If it is not right for one man to encroach, it is not right for a man hired by many men to encroach either.
Since this is true, we can know that the law exists so that people can together protect their natural rights of life, liberty, and property. The law is the hired man, it takes the place of each man’s right to protect himself. The only thing that law should be allowed to do is what each man on his own is allowed to do: protect life, liberty, and property; to protect these rights, and to cause justice to be with us.
A Good and Lasting Government
If a whole nation of good men hired a good government to protect them in this way, then that nation would be peaceful. Such a nation would have the most simple, easy to accept, economical (not wasteful), small, free, just, and long lasting government possible – no matter what kind of government it was.
In such a nation everyone would know that he alone was in charge of his life: both for enjoying it, and for taking care of it. Nobody would ever have a problem with the government if he was allowed to live, work, and enjoy what he worked for. If someone in such a nation did well and got rich, no one could say it was because of the government. And no one could blame the government for being poor, or not doing well, either. We would only know that the government existed because we were safe and protected.
If the government only did what it what it was supposed to do then people would live normal lives of progress. People need food more than books, so they would try to get food first, and having gotten enough to eat, then they might try to learn to read. We wouldn’t see people moving away from places where there are good jobs, or moving to places where there are not good jobs. We would not see all the money over here, all the jobs over there, and all people in another place; no, everything would balance out.
But if a government starts trying to help people do their jobs, or live, or get property they haven’t worked for, then the balance is ruined, and things don’t run the way they should. As a matter of fact, such a government will have more to do than it can handle. If you have more to do than you can handle one of two things happens: Either you do some things well and other things not at all, or You do everything, but none of it very well at all.
The Law Used for What It Was Never Meant To Do
The law will not keep itself from encroaching. When it has gone beyond what it was meant to be, it has not been in just some small or unimportant way. The law has gone so far as to do exactly the opposite of what it was meant to do. It has been used to destroy the justice it was supposed to protect by limiting and destroying people’s rights. The law has given the right to use force to bad men who want to use the body, liberty, and property of others. It has made stealing into a right for the government, so it is allowed to steal. It has made self defense into a crime, so that those who would try to protect themselves from the government while it is trying to steal from them would be punished.
How did this happen? What are the results?
Two things caused this to happen: stupid greed, and fake kindness.
The Deadly Way of Mankind
All people seek to keep themselves alive, and to make progress in life. If everyone were allowed to work freely and to keep what they worked for progress would happen without any stopping or failing.
But people also have the desire to get something for free if they can. They will even do this if it means someone else will have to pay. Look at history and you will see that there have been many wars, many times when people moved in large groups from one place to another, many times when people were hurt for the religion they believed in, many times when people were made to be slaves for others, many times people were lied to at work or in business, and many times when someone selfishly tried to get “all the candy for himself,” except sometimes the “candy” was houses or food or some other necessary thing. This way of men started because people are basically selfish, and they will always try to get what they want with as little work or pain as they can.
Property and Stealing
Man can live and get what he wants only by working long and hard. By taking the things that he has and can get and using what he knows to make something better. This is how we get property.
But man could also live and get what he wants by taking it from someone else who has worked for it. This is stealing.
Since men will always try to get what they want with as little pain as they can, and you know work involves pain, some men will then steal when stealing is easier than working. It has happened over and over again. Most of the time morality and religion can’t even stop it.
So how do we stop the stealing? We have to make stealing more painful than working. Well then, the law should use its power to stop people from stealing by making it painful to steal. All of the law should protect property and punish stealing.
But most of the time it is one group of men that makes the laws. And the laws have to have the power to use force. So these few men have control of the force.
We have seen that men will steal if it is less painful than working. This is how the law starts to be used for what it was never meant to. The law starts to enslave, hurt, and steal from the people it was meant to protect because the law makers would rather steal than work themselves. This is because the law maker has control of the force and no one can argue with him. The more force he has control of the more he will steal.
Those Who Suffer When the Law Steals
Men fight against those who try to hurt or steal from them. When the law is used as a reason for stealing, then everyone tries to use the law – sometimes peacefully, but sometimes by fighting. Everyone will want to be the one who makes the laws. Some people will try to stop the law from stealing, other people will try to get the law to steal for them.
When most of the people are trying to use the law to steal for them there will be big trouble.
That hasn’t happened yet, so right now a few people use the law to steal from many. This is what usually happens when only a few people are allowed to make the laws. Later, everyone will be allowed to make the laws. At that point men will try to make things fair by having the law steal from everyone. Instead of making wrong things wrong for everybody, they give everyone permission to do what is wrong. As soon as the people who have been stolen from get political power, they use it to punish everyone else. They do not make it illegal to steal, they are too angry. Instead, they do the same wrong things to others that were done to them, even if it does not help them make their lives any better.
It seems that everyone wants to get revenge before they will think of what is right. Some are evil, and some just don’t understand.
What Happens When Stealing is Made Law
Nothing could change things more, and for the worse, than to have the law be used for stealing. No one would be able to tell right from wrong anymore. There would be no understanding of justice or injustice in people’s hearts.
For people to get along, laws must be respected and obeyed. To make people respect the laws, only make respectable laws. When laws and morality (right and wrong) don’t agree people will either give up right and wrong or they will give up on the law. Both choices are evil, and to make such a choice would be hard.
Law should take care of justice. Most people think law and justice is the same thing. (They should be.) Most people believe that if something is lawful it must also be right. Some people get confused and think that the laws came first, and then the difference between right and wrong. So they think that to make stealing right all we have to do is make it a law. People get so confused about this that some slaves think slavery is good, just because its legal.
What Happens When Someone Tries To Tell The Truth
If someone tried to show how wrong the laws were, and tried to help the people understand things better, they would get into trouble with the law. That person would be blamed of having lots of silly ideas and of trying to cause confusion. Teachers will be forced to tell lies about science and the way money works. If a teacher is paid by the people who use the law to steal, they will have no choice but to tell their students to obey the laws (even though they are bad).
If there is a bad law that everyone knows about, the teacher must not even talk about it. Common sense tells people when a law is bad, but the teacher can’t say anything bad about it, or they will get in trouble, so they say nothing at all. Everything will be taught the way the power holders want it to be taught, and everyone will be taught to obey the laws even if they seem to be bad laws.
Also, when people believe that making laws makes something right or wrong, they will all be more interested in what laws are being made. This makes politics more interesting and everyone wants to talk about it, and be part of it.
When Everyone Wants To Be A Part; Or, Who Should Vote?
Some people say everyone should vote. Do they mean children should vote? No, of course not! What about insane people? No! What about criminals? No! Why not? Because everyone has to live by the choices of the voters, and children, insane people, and criminals don’t always make good choices. Well, who should vote then?
The truth is it shouldn’t really matter who votes. If the law were only allowed to protect life, liberty, and property, and not do anything else, then no one would be so interested in it. There would be no arguing about who gets to vote, because it wouldn’t matter who voted. The laws would be the same.
When Stealing is Made Law, Part II
Imagine if the law were used to take property from one person and give it to another, or to take the wealth of everybody and give it to just a few people. Then everyone would want to be in control of the law, so that they could get the money.
The people being stolen from would fight for a right to vote and make laws. They would start a war if they had to. Even beggars would join in, even though they didn’t have anything to begin with. They’d say, “When I buy cigarettes or beer I have to pay taxes. That money goes to people who have more money than me! And it’s the law! The law even makes food and clothes more expensive. If everyone else gets to use the law to get rich, then I want to use the law too. Now, don’t just try to pay me off, I want the right to vote, too, so that I can get more money later if I want to.” He’s got a good point!
Bad Laws Cause Fights
As long as bad laws are made everyone will want to make them, either to steal from others, or just to protect themselves. Politicians will fight all the time, and people will hate each other over politics. This happened in America in the 1850’s. No other country had better laws than America. Everybody had protection of their life, liberty, and property. That’s how America became so great and rich. But because of two issues there was a war in America, and many people died full of hatred.
Slavery and Tariffs Are Stealing
Why did America have a Civil War? Because of slavery and tariffs. Slavery takes away a person’s liberty. Tariffs are taxes paid when going from one place to another, and so they steal people’s property. Before the Civil War the southern states practiced slavery, and many people lived their whole lives never knowing freedom. Their liberty, their labor, was taken from them, and they never got to enjoy the fruits of it. Also before the Civil War, the northern states charged tariffs. Most nice and expensive things were made in the north, and if any southerner wanted to buy these things they had to pay an extra tax to the northern state. If any southerner wanted to sell anything in the north, they would have to pay a tax to sell it, and make less money off what they sold. Both of these crimes were laws that America had kept from the Old World.
Some say that we must make war against Socialism. Others say this means to make war against stealing. But what kind of stealing? There are two kinds of stealing: legal and illegal.
I do not think illegal stealing, which includes theft, or trickery, or anything which has a legal punishment, can be called Socialism. These kinds of stealing do not try to destroy liberty. The war against this kind of stealing has existed longer than Socialism.