- 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.
- 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.
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”.