Kindred Spirit

“If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants” – Sir Isaac Newton

As the father of three boys under the age of five, I don’t often get a chance to sit and read books; something worthy of a mild lament. I have attempted to “take the bull by the horns” with regards to this and force time in my day to read.

I’ve begun by picking up a copy of The Law by Frederic Bastait. While I’m only a few dozen pages in, I must say, I have found my kindred spirit in the realm of politics, law, justice, and government. Tonight I’ll pull out a few key points from The Law that really struck home with me. It will be difficult, the entire thing (the few dozen pages I’ve read) is masterfully written and dense with meaning and purpose. No doubt it will impact the next few posts.

First, rights derive from God and are given to each man. “We hold from God the gift that, as far as we are concerned, contains all others, Life – physical, intellectual, and moral life.”

From this gift of life, we derive freedom and property rights. “But life cannot support itself. He who has bestowed it, has entrusted us with the care of supporting it, of developing it, and of perfecting it. To that end, He has provided us with a collection of wonderful faculties; He has plunged us into the midst of a variety of elements. It is by application of our faculties to these elements that the phenomena of assimilation and of appropriation, by which life pursues the circle that has been assigned to it are realized. Existence, faculties, assimilation – in other words, personality, liberty, property – this is man.”

Because of these rights, men have organized governments to defend rights from oppression. “It is not because men have made laws, that personality, liberty, and property exist. On the contrary. It is because personality, liberty, and property exist beforehand that men make laws. What, then, is law? As I have said elsewhere, it is the collective organization of the individual right to lawful defense.”

As government and law derive their rightful purpose from individual rights, they cannot, as a collective violate those rights without violating their very purpose for existing. “Collective right, then, has its principle, its reason for existing, its lawfulness, in individual right; and the common force cannot rationally have any other end, or any other mission, than that of the isolated forces for which it is substituted. Thus, as the force of an individual cannot lawfully touch the person, the liberty, or the property of another individual – for the same reason, the common force cannot lawfully be used to destroy the person, the liberty, or the property of individuals or of classes.”

The law and government have been corrupted and have run afoul (dramatically) of their true purpose. “Unhappily, law is by no means confined to its own sphere. Nor is it merely in some ambiguous and debatable views that it has left its proper sphere. It has done more than this. It has acted in direct opposition to its proper end; it has destroyed its own object; it has been employed in annihilating that justice which it ought to have established, in effacing amongst Rights, that limit which it was its true mission to respect; it has placed the collective force in the service of those who wish to traffic, without risk and without scruple, in the persons, the liberty, and the prosperity of others; it has converted plunder into a right, that it may protect it, and lawful defense into a crime, that it may punish it.”

The causes of these corruptions are plain and rather consistent (he wrote in 1850). “The law has been perverted through the influence of two very different causes – naked greed and misconceived philanthropy.”

OK, I should stop before I quote the entire book to you (it’s actually a short missive).

I work in a technical field. Often, when developing new systems, algorithms, etc. we do some background research to understand the state of the art relevant to the problem at hand. Sometimes, we run across folks who have already done it all.

This book certainly gives that feel. I’ve never had all of my ideals of government expressed so precisely as Bastait has done. Never fear, I have no intention of ceasing with this blog. However, I doubt I can effectively do Bastait justice and strongly recommend everybody check out a copy of The Law.

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3 Responses to Kindred Spirit

  1. Eric says:

    Another very interesting post. I like not only what Bastiat has to say (most of it, anyway), but as you point out, also the way that he says it. A few additional thoughts:

    In any logical argument, we can follow the reasoning backward, eventually reaching a set of claims that are taken to be axiomatic, claims that we all agree to agree upon without further proof. In this case, those “axioms” are the fundamental, obvious, unalienable rights of each of us as individual humans that the law should protect.

    You suggest that these several rights are given to us by God. Bastiat suggests that life, at least, is given to us by God, and seems to argue that liberty and property are natural follow-on requirements “in order that life may run its appointed course.”

    Whatever the motivation, I think it is interesting to note the subtle difference in choice of axioms– life, liberty, and property— compared to those suggested in the Declaration of Independence, namely life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. As you have heard me say before, it is that last phrase, “pursuit of happiness,” that I think is the root source of contention between all of the various camps. The problem is that the phrase is so vague, and has so much potential to be so broadly interpreted.

    Is that broadness of interpretation a bad thing? How do we precisely characterize those injustices against which the law should defend? (I love Bastiat’s notion of “negativity of law,” the defense against injustice rather than the enforcement of justice.) I’m not sure. But I think that it is there, at the beginning of the argument, that we must all figure out where we stand.

  2. Pingback: Politics Shouldn’t Be This Important | Freedom at Bethsaida

  3. beverlylynn says:

    Note that you can get this essay and some of his other work for free on Google books. http://books.google.com/books?id=oDya0ULoe-gC&lpg=RA1-PA49&dq=The%20Law%20%20Frederic%20Bastiat&pg=RA1-PA49#v=onepage&q&f=false

    I really love Google books.

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