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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/6759/the-law-perverted/

The Law Perverted!

June 19, 2007 by

How is it that the law enforcer itself does not have to keep the law? How is it that the law permits the state to lawfully engage in actions which, if undertaken by individuals, would land them in jail?

These are among most intriguing issues in political and economic philosophy. More specifically, the problem of law that itself violates law is an insurmountable conundrum of all statist philosophies.

The problem has never been discussed so profoundly and passionately as in this essay by Frederic Bastiat from 1850. The essay might have been written today. It applies to our own time. It applies in all times in which the state assumes unto itself different rules and different laws from that by which it expects other people to live.

And so we have this legendary essay, written in a white heat against the leaders of 19th century France, the reading of which has shocked millions out of their toleration of despotism. This new edition from the Mises Institute revives a glorious translation that has been out of print for a hundred years, one that circulated in Britain in the generation that followed Bastiat’s death.

This newly available translation provides new insight into Bastiat’s argument.

The question that Bastiat deals with: how to tell when a law is unjust or when the law maker has become a source of law breaking? When the law becomes a means of plunder it has lost its character of genuine law. When the law enforcer is permitted to do with others’ lives and property what would be illegal if the citizens did them, the law becomes perverted.

Bastiat doesn’t avoid the difficult issues, such as why should we think that that a democratic mandate can convert injustice to justice. He deals directly with the issue of the expanse of legislation:

“It is not true that the mission of the law is to regulate our consciences, our ideas, our will, our education, our sentiments, our works, our exchanges, our gifts, our enjoyments. Its mission is to prevent the rights of one from interfering with those of another, in any one of these things. Law, because it has force for its necessary sanction, can only have as its lawful domain the domain of force, which is justice.”

This special Mises Institute edition is priced for the largest possible distribution. Whether you buy one or one hundred, you can look forward to one of the most penetrating and powerful essays written in the history of political economy.

{ 24 comments }

Brad June 19, 2007 at 2:44 pm

Simply put, people get the government they deserve, and as long as people allow a leap of faith out of what they expect of government, it will ultimately allow a schism between what private individuals can do and those individuals on other side of the magical line can do.

I suppose the difference between despotism and fine government function is whether it is your head getting thumped. If it someone else’s there is a presumption that since the government does fine work, they deserved it, and the deserve it because the government does only fine work.

Matt June 19, 2007 at 3:33 pm

Has that been translated into Chinese?

Jon Isaac June 19, 2007 at 4:49 pm

Ron Paul Excluded in Iowa
Posted by Lew Rockwell: lewrockwell.com

On Saturday, June 30th, in Des Moines, Iowans for Tax Relief and the Iowa Christian Alliance will hold a presidential candidates forum. Present will be Messrs. Romney, Brownback, Gilmore, Huckabee, Thompson, and Tancredo. Ron Paul will not be there because he has been barred.

The heads of the two organizations refuse to say why. If you can find out, let me know.

Please spread the word

Edward Failor
Iowans for Tax Relief
Phone: 563-288-3600 or 877-913-3600
Fax: 563-264-2413
E-mail.

Steve Sheffler
Iowa Christian Alliance
Phone: 515-225-1515
Fax: 515-225-1826
E-mail.

greg June 19, 2007 at 7:43 pm

“This newly available translation provides new insight into Bastiat’s argument.”

It isn’t the Russell or Stirling-Wells translation? Who translated?

On a related note, while freeaudio.org was down for a good time, it is back up now. (http://www.freeaudio.org/) It has, if I remember right, the Russell translation of The Law read by Marvin Payne. (http://www.freeaudio.org/fbastiat/) The introductions are by Walter Williams and Sheldon Richman, again IIRC. It is highly recommended.

Freeaudio.org is a benefit provided by Art Pollard. It looks like there are many new titles.

jeffrey June 20, 2007 at 7:36 am

Yes, it is the Stirling translation, modernized in many respects by our own editorial team.

DC June 20, 2007 at 8:43 am

Greg, I also listened to The Law using freeaudio.org’s reading by Marvin Payne. A very well done piece.

Devin June 20, 2007 at 12:31 pm

Yay! Now I don’t have to buy The Law on Amazon that has the freaky looking Illuminati All-Seeing Eye on the cover.

Bogdan Enache June 20, 2007 at 1:51 pm

There’s just one problem with the translation : on the Mises Store page the author’s first name is Frederick, but the correct spelling in French is Frédéric (Frederick would be ok if Bastiat were German).

Niccolo June 20, 2007 at 5:13 pm

One of the things that makes me happy about being multi-lingual is that I rarely need translations.

Because I speak French and a lot of the best books around are written in French or Italian, I don’t need to suffer through translations or wait for them either.

Niccolo June 20, 2007 at 5:19 pm

“Simply put, people get the government they deserve, and as long as people allow a leap of faith out of what they expect of government, it will ultimately allow a schism between what private individuals can do and those individuals on other side of the magical line can do.

I suppose the difference between despotism and fine government function is whether it is your head getting thumped. If it someone else’s there is a presumption that since the government does fine work, they deserved it, and the deserve it because the government does only fine work.”

Whether you mean this to come off like it does or not, it almost sounds like you’re saying people under dictatorships deserve those dictatorships.

In that case, why are you here? Why do you care about any of this?

The people deserve the punishments they get, quit your complainin’, eh brother?

Its simply absurd to suggest that people deserve coercive dictatorships, they’re very simply exploited by the organization of government that routinely pushes them into undesirable positions not viz a viz free market interaction, but rather forced nepotism and systematic debasement of fundamental property rights.

Philemon June 20, 2007 at 7:30 pm

Brad wrote: “Simply put, people get the government they deserve…”

So, people who are robbed and murdered by their government, e.g., Jewish Germans, deserve that treatment by the government.

Well, I don’t think you can mean that. So, what do you mean?

As for the rest of what you wrote:

“…and as long as people allow a leap of faith out of what they expect of government, it will ultimately allow a schism between what private individuals can do and those individuals on other side of the magical line can do.

“I suppose the difference between despotism and fine government function is whether it is your head getting thumped. If it someone else’s there is a presumption that since the government does fine work, they deserved it, and the deserve it because the government does only fine work.”

Unfortunately, the quoted material above, which you wrote, makes no sense whatsoever. So, can you make your point clearly, or are you just deeply confused?

Jonathan Bostwick June 20, 2007 at 8:03 pm

Philemon,

He does mean that people get the government they deserve.
It may be more clear to specify that people(meaning the population as a whole) get the government they allow. Because we all know that government grows whenever left unopposed.

Government can be defined as a few ruling the whole with the consent of most, regardless of style of governance.

That cliche reveals a concept important in understanding how society will work without the state. It is people who shape government, and not the other way around.

When we talk about government’s role in society, its usually a case of the fly on the wheel thinking he causing the cart to move. Government does not define crime or reveal justice, it only perverts the sense of justice that individuals and societies already possess.
Government does not make people better than they are and lack of government will not result in a failure of law and order.

TLWP Sam June 20, 2007 at 8:18 pm

I thought the notion that ‘people get xxx they deserved’ is based on the notion of ‘don’t be jealous of what others have instead go out and get yer own’. I thought one of the great observations of history was that freedom was not handed down by the grace of kings and emperors but had to fought and struggled for. The moment that people forgot that freedom is not a birthright but a privilege that was earned throughout history, they’d could kiss it goodbye.

Then again there’s the issue of security versus freedom as in some people are like birds who want to fly and be free whereas others are quite happy to live in cages as long as they’re fed and watered. I remember a Libertarian commentator who said that someone wanting to enslave you isn’t enough to be considered slavery, instead it’s when you allow him to enslave you is when the transaction is complete. Yeah yeah, ‘in a perfect world no one would be trying to harm anyone else’, heard that all before. Reality is plenty of people are willing to hurt and enslave others to get ahead in life. The real world solution is to be strong enough to repel others’ aggressive action on your part.

The fact that U.S. Libertarians holding onto the 2nd Amendment like an angry dog with a bone means they know this to be true.

Philemon June 20, 2007 at 8:35 pm

Jonathan, how did the “population as a whole” allow the government? The “population as a whole” is simply a group, shall we say, a mereological collection of individuals. So, are you saying that every individual who did not do some unspecified thing is thereby “consenting”?

What does the “consent of most” mean? What does consenting involve? As far as I can make out, it means they aren’t in active revolt.

Is this the view that a person who didn’t take up arms as soon as they reached the age of reason has thereby consented to that government and is no longer entitled to protest, or even complain, should that government later decide to annihilate them or anyone else for that matter?

So, what has any of this got to do with justification or moral deserts? Or is this just a positive theory of how government, viewed as a criminal enterprise, can continue?

Jonathan Bostwick June 20, 2007 at 9:07 pm

Philemon,

Yes, “consent” means complacence. To use ‘king’ as a stand in for ‘government’: The person whom the most people think is the king becomes the king. If as many people think another person is king there is a civil war. And even more importantly, every single person argues that they need a king to direct them.
Majority rules is not an ideal in governance, its a fact. The most valuable resource in the world is human labor, he that commands the most wins, especially in a civil war.
Democracy exists to prevent war. Acknowledging that ‘the people’ eventually, inevitably get government they want, a system was created where they can get it without killing the existing leaders.

Nothing I’ve said has claimed that minorities deserve oppression. So why put those words in my mouth?

I’ve described government’s true nature, are you arguing against my description or government’s existence?

Ron Paul has been saying that you can not change the role of government until you change people’s ideas of what government should do. Well said.

Jonathan Bostwick June 20, 2007 at 9:25 pm

Brad had a much more important part, anyways.

“I suppose the difference between despotism and fine government function is whether it is your head getting thumped. If it someone else’s there is a presumption that since the government does fine work, they deserved it, and the deserve it because the government does only fine work.”

So long as everyone agrees that we need a government there will be the oppressors and the oppressed.

Brad stated that the oppressors believe the oppressed deserve it because “the government does only fine work”. Even the oppressed believe that the government does fine work…most of the time.

RogerM June 21, 2007 at 9:28 am

Brad: “Simply put, people get the government they deserve…”

I heard a distinguished history professor at MIT make this comment one time. He said he meant by it that people with self-control will tend to have limited government while those with the least self-control will have totalitarian governments. That doesn’t mean that every individual gets what he deserves; a minority may suffer for the actions of the majority.

I think there is a lot of truth in that statement, though exceptions may exist. No one forced socialism on the US; the people had begun to worship socialism long before the government became socialist, as Rothbard has shown. No one forced Hitler upon the Germans, who were socialist before WWI.

TLWP Sam June 21, 2007 at 9:54 am

I still reckon in the realm of realist philosophy whilst it’s nice to hope to live in peace in the company of others there’s still a cringeworthyness of your peace being solely reliant on others’ politeness. Which is to say if your neighbour wants to deprive you of your rights then you’re pretty much stuffed. Rather it’s good to have a Plan B to repel your neighbour he does something nasty but hope that you’d never have to use it.

D. Saul Weiner June 21, 2007 at 12:00 pm

Brad: “Simply put, people get the government they deserve…”

This is an example of a statement that is not literally and absolutely true, yet OTOH it is a good attitude to take, i.e. that he must take some responsibility for the government to which he is subjected.

Jonathan Bostwick June 21, 2007 at 2:02 pm

It is true.

Governments are a minority, they are always out numbered greatly by the people they rule. That does not mean that people like everything the government does.

The only thing that keeps the government in place, supplied with money and guns, is people’s willingness to give them to it. If not for freely given contributions government would not be in a position to demand more.

This is why you can not lobby for a government for freedom, freedom can only come from the citizens.
Our failed Republic has shown this to be true. The government was intended to control the people, preventing democracy. But as we all know democracy has prevailed and the constitution means whatever the most people say it means.

TWLP,
What I’m saying the ultimate in realism.

Trying to repel your neighbors when they do bad things is fine. However, if more of your neighbors want to kill you than want to protect you, you wont win the fight. This is as true under a government as it is in a stateless society.

You existence will always depends on other individuals respecting your rights, no government can change that.

Philemon June 21, 2007 at 7:35 pm

Still waiting to hear back from Brad.

RogerM wrote: “I heard a distinguished history professor at MIT make this comment one time. He said he meant by it that people with self-control will tend to have limited government while those with the least self-control will have totalitarian governments. That doesn’t mean that every individual gets what he deserves; a minority may suffer for the actions of the majority.”

Or a majority may suffer from the actions of a minority. (By the way, which MIT historian was that?)

As Jonathan wrote: “Governments are a minority, they are always out numbered greatly by the people they rule. That does not mean that people like everything the government does.”

Rothbard never claimed people deserved their government. He knew that government was an elite minority which managed to keep people subjugated because most people are too busy making a living to worry about the craziness of government. He knew that the only people who have time to worry about politics are the professional politicians and their academic minions and bureaucrats (or the ideologues, among whom Rothbard counted himself.)

Most honest or, indeed, sane people will openly confess to being against the IRS. Even most of those who consider themselves socialists and redistributionists recoil in horror from the idea of actually killing someone who doesn’t agree with them.

Jonathan Bostwick June 21, 2007 at 8:06 pm

“He knew that government was an elite minority which managed to keep people subjugated because most people are too busy making a living to worry about the craziness of government.”

I’m not Rothbard.

Thats clearly not true, people kill and die to create and maintain their governments.

What you are saying is that people do not support their governments, that is completely false.

Philemon June 21, 2007 at 8:19 pm

Jonathan wrote: “What you are saying is that people do not support their governments, that is completely false.”

How many people voluntarily contribute, in money or even time, to the government they supposedly support.

Jonathan Bostwick June 21, 2007 at 9:16 pm

A staggeringly large number of people.

The Federal Government is the largest employer in the country.

Its highly unlikely that anyone who believes the Feds to be illegitimate would work for them.

Of course, the frequency that people run to government to solve troubles in their lives reveals their beliefs on not only the legitimacy, but also the abilities, of government.

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