Leftist have always talked as if their ideas were the wave of the future. But their ideas are as old as mud. Anyone who thinks Leftist ideas are new simply doesn’t know that those ideas have failed in the past. Not just today in Venezuela and Cuba, or in the recent past like the Soviet Union. They failed in the aftermath of the French Revolution, and again in the revolutions of 1848. Socialism and communism have been around for more than a hundred years and one of the best polemics against these ideas is one that was written in 1850, Frederic Bastiat’s The Law.
Frederick Bastiat wrote his pamphlet in the wake of multiple revolutions of 1848, when Socialists tried to take over several European countries. Those revolutions failed, but the intellectual climate that promoted that violence still lingered. It was those ideas that he attacks with vigor. The foundational idea of Socialism, that the State should use Law to redistribute wealth, he calls “legal plunder.”
Bastiat argues that Law should be used to protect an individual’s rights to life, liberty, and property. Since there will always be individuals who wish to steal rather than work, we need a collective organization of individuals (a State and its Laws) in order to protect those rights. But these rights do not exist because men have made laws, but men made laws to protect those fundamental rights. Collective rights are based on individual’s rights, and since no individual can rightfully take away another individual’s rights through the use of force, then neither can the Law be used to take away an individual’s right to life, liberty, and property.
This is in direct contrast with the socialist vision. Socialist writers see themselves as gardeners and the rest of us as their garden, without any explanation of how they received this authority. They disagree with the results of liberty, and make themselves self-appointed arbitrators of what those results should be. Therefore, they seek to FORCE equality of wealth. And they can only do this by taking away individuals’ rights to their property. They rationalize this by saying that the law must not only be just, but must also be philanthropic. But the law cannot be made philanthropic without making it unjust. Anytime wealth is transferred from one person to another by the use of legal force, it is an act of “legal plunder.” And legal plunder is unjust. These two concepts contradict each other.
The socialist vision has other negative effects. In a society where the law is used to protect the life, liberty, and property of all individuals, and not for “legal plunder”, the citizens would never depend on the government for their personal success. If they were successful, they would not thank the State. And if they failed, they would not blame the State for their misfortune.
But when law is used to plunder, the importance of political differences are magnified and exaggerated. When law becomes, through whatever pretense, a way of taking property from one person and giving it to another, then every person will aspire to grasp the law, either to protect themselves or to partake in the plunder. All citizens fight each other to ensure they get the benefits of “legal plunder.”
Bastiat also points out that, as long as these ideas prevail, there is nothing that government cannot be made responsible for. It becomes responsible for every grievance. And therefore demands more control and power for itself, indefinitely. And because socialist see themselves as the gardeners of mankind, who not only want to force equality of wealth, but to FORCE conformity, and desire to use the LAW to mold mankind.
If there’s no limit to what the government can be made responsible for (including the thoughts in our minds) and for which the Law can be used to justify Force, this will always lead to totalitarianism and dictatorships. Socialists are the heirs of the French Revolution. Bastiat quotes Robespierre, the leader of the French Revolution.
“The principle of the republican government is virtue, and the means required to establish virtue is terror.”
Robespierre goes on to give a laundry list of virtues that must be instilled into the people, using terror. He wants a dictatorship in order that he may use terror to force upon the country his own principles of morality.
Bastiat notices that the socialist ideas of the French Revolution did not prevent France from becoming the most governed, the most regulated, the most imposed upon, the most harnessed, and the most exploited people in Europe.
This is still germane in 2019. America, like France in the 1850’s, is over-governed and over-regulated beyond anything the Founding Fathers envisioned. We have had a government with a “philanthropic” spirit for many decades, but we are also seeing the totalitarian nature of socialism rising. We have had past and current presidential candidates threaten Christian churches with punishment if they preach “against” same-sex marriage. We have a public education establishment that fights against the freedom for parents to choose where to send their children to school (Where they might be out of reach of the socialist gardeners). And of course, only the gardeners can be entrusted to protect “we the plants.” Therefore the right to self-defense must be infringed.
Bastiat ends The Law by stating that the Law is for guaranteeing the safety of our lives and property. It is not to regulate our “consciences, our ideas, our wills, our education, our opinions, our work, our trade, our talents, or our pleasures.” It is NOT to plunder their property, even if it’s in a philanthropic spirit.
“The solution to the problems of human relationships is to be found in liberty. And does not experience prove this? Look at the entire world. Which countries contain the most peaceful, the most moral, and the happiest people? Those people are found in the countries where… all hope rests upon the free and voluntary actions of persons within the limits of right: law or force is to be used for nothing except the administration of universal justice.”
That was true in 1850, and it’s true for us today.