The Law by Fredric Bastiat

The Law by Frederic Bastiat – Defense of Life, Liberty, and Property: A Collective Action Based Upon Individual Rights

Summary

  • “Each of us has a natural right –from God –to defend his person, his liberty, and his property.”
  • “If every person has the right to defend –even by force –his person, his liberty, and his property, then it follows that a group of men have the right to organize and support a common force to protect these rights constantly. Thus the principle of collective right –its reason for existing, its lawfulness –is based on individual right.”
  • “Thus, since an individual cannot lawfully use force against the person, liberty, or property of another individual, then the common force –for the same reason –cannot lawfully be used to destroy the person, liberty, or property of individuals or groups.”
  • “The law is the organization of the natural right of lawful defense. It is the substitution of a common force for individual forces. And this common force is to do only what the individual forces have a natural and lawful right to do: to protect persons, liberties, and properties; to maintain the right of each, and to cause justice to reign over us all.”

My Thoughts

Bastiat’s concise writing makes saying anything about it seem redundant. He has covered all the angles, and thought through his writing with an extraordinary degree of precision and logic. It makes me wonder how anybody could read “The Law” with its simple logic and not come away from it convinced that the law should be limited to three purposes: protect life, protect liberty, and protect property. 

Life, liberty, and property are all gifts of God, and people have the right (though not necessarily the obligation) to protect them using force if necessary. These claims are backed up by scripture. 

“If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed. If the sun has risen on him, there shall be guilt for his bloodshed.” – Exodus 22:2-3

“By these letters the king permitted the Jews who were in every city to gather together and protect their lives — to destroy, kill, and annihilate all the forces of any people or province that would assault them, both little children and women, and to plunder their possessions…” – Esther 8:11-12

I do not find any specific Biblical reference for the use of force to protect liberty. However, a simple reading of the scriptures shows us that freedom is something that is important to God. He is the God who set his people free from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 20:2). He is the God who set his people free from bondage to sin(Galatians 5:1). Jesus died so that we might be free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:1-2). Christ’s death and resurrection was even meant to free creation from bondage and corruption (Romans 8:21). Jesus came to proclaim freedom to the captives (Luke 4:18). Though there is no scriptures that I could specifically find that say, “Defend your liberty with violence if necessary,” it’s quite clear that the LORD was willing to kill (in the case of the Egyptians) and die (in the case of Christ) to defend and protect liberty. In fact, the New Covenant in Christ is one of freedom (Galatians 5:1).

Any so-called truth that doesn’t conform to God’s word is not a truth, but a falsehood. Bastiat’s reasoning so far passes the Bible test, so we can continue with our analysis.

Bastiat’s argument is, since we individually have the right to protect our life, liberty, and property, then we have the ability to collectively protect the same. Since collective force is permitted due to the individual right, and to explicitly protect and defend the individual right, then the law (collective force) is no longer lawful if it is used to violate an individual’s life, liberty, or property. 

If this is the case, and I believe it is, then the vast majority of our so-called law is illegitimate. The volumes of law that emminate from Washington DC, our state, and local governments does nothing to protect life, liberty, or property. In fact, most of it costs people their lives, robs them of their God-given liberty, and steals their property. 

How does a Christian react interact with illegitimate authority? I see some exegesis of Romans 12 and 1 Peter 2 in my near future…

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The Law by Frederic Bastiat – Life, Liberty, Property Are Gifts

Summary

  1. The law, which was supposed to prevent crime, has been perverted. Instead of preventing crime, it is a weapon of criminality. Instead of preventing crime, it codifies it.
  2. Life, liberty, and property do not exist because of human legislation. The are the gift of God. Human legislation exists because humanity has life, liberty, and property.

My Thoughts

As a pastor, I appreciate that Bastiat starts in the right place. That is, he starts with the recognition that life, liberty, and property are gifts from God. It is God who created humanity. It is God who gives us life (Job 33:4), liberty (1 Peter 2:16), and property (Psalm 115:16). It is worth noting that while life and property are universal according to the scriptures, liberty is not. In fact, the only way to true liberty is through Jesus Christ. It is Christ who sets us free from bondage to sin and sets the captives free.

What does it mean that God gives us life, liberty, and property? I don’t believe these gifts are all given in the same manner. God gives us life because he creates all life. Nobody but God gives us life because we don’t have extra life laying around that we can distribute. For example, we can’t take some extra life and give it to our dead loved ones. We have no power to give life or take life . Human science has yet to create life from scratch. We did nothing for it. It’s a pure gift. Though people may do acts of violence against others, nobody dies without God’s sovereign decree (1 Samuel 2:6). Bastiat, while acknowledging God’s creation of life, also charges humanity with good stewardship of life. “The Creator of life has entrusted us with the responsibility of preserving, developing, and perfecting it.”

Property is different from life and liberty because it is something tangible. We can give, exchange, and steal property. However, even in the giving or exchange of property. we must recognize that these material possessions are the gift of God. Ultimately, all things are God’s things (Psalm 24:1) which he is free to give and take away (Job 1:21). If all things are ultimately God’s, does that mean we can’t own anything? Yes and no. We can’t own anything forever. When we die we can’t take it with us. However, God does give us the rights of stewardship over his gifts for a time that he determines. Hence, the eighth commandment – thou shalt not steal!

Liberty is the only one of the three gifts of God Bastiat focuses on that is entirely immaterial. We cannot hold liberty in our hands like we can hold life and property. We can’t accumulate a pile of liberty to save for retirement. We can’t get get a liberty transfusion so that we can have more liberty. We can’t exchange it. The only thing it seems we can do with liberty is steal or lawfully remove it from others. We do this when we lock them up in prison. So, the government and the law can’t give us liberty for two reasons. First, it’s not the government’s to give. It’s God’s to give. Second, the government doesn’t have any accumulated freedom that it can distribute. Liberty existed before government and it will exist in any non-coercive environment.

Therefore, like life and property, God has given us liberty that we might be good stewards of it. He has entrusted us with his gifts, not so we may abuse them, but so we may care for them and help them flourish.

God’s gifts of life, liberty, and property are the basis for Bastiat’s argument that the law, which is supposed to prevent crime, is actually a tool used to perpetrate crime. This idea will be more fully developed as I continue looking at Bastiat’s “The Law”.

The Law by Fredric Bastiat – Introduction

I’m completely unfamiliar with this work and picked it up solely upon the recommendation of people like libertarian thinker Tom Woods. Since I don’t really know what I’m getting myself into with this book, I took a look at the preface. Turns out, this book isn’t really a book. It’s a pamphlet written by Bastiat before and during the French Revolution.

Let me say right out of the gate that I’m not particularly knowledgable about the French Revolution. I remember a bit of what I learned in school. That is, the monarchy had been abusing its power. The Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, made light of the suffering of peasants who were starving due to famine by saying, “Let them eat cake.” A bit of research reveals that these words were never actually spoken by the queen, but this supposed quote was used after the French Revolution by supporters of the Revolution to make political hay for the cause. I also remember that King Leo, during a famine, was so fat that guillotine couldn’t cut through the girth of his neck.

The rhetoric of the French Revolution was that there were two types of people in France: the haves and the have nots. This should sound familiar to us today. It’s a narrative that people like Bernie Sanders have been peddling. There is the 1%, who have the vast majority of wealth and privilege in the United States, and then there is the 99% who live off the meager scraps that fall from the fat 1%’s table.

Of course, the difference in living standards between the 99% of Americans in the 21st century is vastly different than the life of the 99% in 19th century France. Yet, we see violence constantly simmering under the surface in American politics. It seems not a day goes by without some Trump supporter smacking a non-Trump supporter. Likewise, anti-Trump protesters don’t seem to understand the concept of peaceful protest. Just yesterday anti-Trump supporters attempted to violently interfere with a peaceful gathering of California Republicans. Politics brings the worst out of people – including me.

Within the two primary sides of American politics, we find fear peddlers. The fools on the left peddle fear of the 1%, fear of declining wages, fear of Christians, fear of the death of the American Dream due to the influence of the rich and powerful upon our legislative process. The fools on the right peddle fear of the immigrant, fear of the Muslim, fear of the media elite, and fear of the masses rising up against traditional power structures. These fools aren’t necessarily fools because they are misdiagnosing problems within our country. It seems to me both sides have some valid complaints. They are fools because they look to the institution of government, which causes most of these problems, to be the mechanism for remedy of these problems.

Bastiat offers a voice that we cannot find within the American political system. From what I understand, this work contains presents the political theory of Classical Liberalism. My hope, in reading this pamphlet is that Bastiat will help shed some light on our current political morass. We shall see.