Many activists today resent what is incorrectly referred to as “the law.” They view the United States Code with profound disgust and abject horror. Their entire lives have been infringed upon by these codified threats of violence against their property, their liberty, and even their very lives. What they fail to understand is that when “the law” ceases to provide justice, it is no longer the actual Law, but now a malleable instrument of oppression.
Classical liberal political philosophy has always held that collective rights have their basis in individual rights; put another way, a defined group has no more inalienable rights than what individuals don’t already possess. Provided this assertion is true and accurate, then the author’s definition of the Law is correct when he defines it as the “collective organization of the individual right to self-defense….[as a] common force organized to prevent injustice.” Of course, anytime the Law is used to initiate aggression against people, then it contradicts its original purpose of collective self-defense.
The Law was never meant to be used as a tool for social engineering, as Bastiat clearly states, “It may further be affirmed, that, thanks to the non-intervention of the State in private affairs, our wants and their satisfactions would develop themselves in their natural order.” He defines plunder as “When a portion of wealth passes out of the hands of him who has acquired it, without his consent, and without compensation, to him who has not created it, whether by force or by artifice, I say that property is violated, that plunder is perpetrated. I say that this is exactly what the law ought to repress always and everywhere.” Bastiat goes on to delinate the three types of “legal” plunder; partial plunder (“when the few plunder the many”), universal plunder (“when everybody plunders everybody else”), and the absence of plunder (“when nobody plunders anybody”). The principle of justice is based on the absence of plunder.
Bastiat attributes the perversion of the law to “naked greed and misconceived philanthropy.” He claims that socialism is advanced through philanthropic rhetoric and that artificial notions of fraternity will destroy Liberty when he said, “I cannot possibly conceive fraternity legally enforced, without liberty being legally destroyed, and justice legally trampled under foot….we can assure them that what we repudiate is not natural organization, but forced organization. It is not free association, but the forms of association that they would impose upon us. It is not spontaneous fraternity, but legal fraternity. It is not providential solidarity, but artificial solidarity, which is only an unjust displacement of responsibility. Socialism, like the old policy from which it emanates, confounds Government and society.”
The law has become the “most invincible instrument” of injustice because it is made “by one man, or by one class of men.” Resistance to its inherent tyrannical behavior is to be expected, since “it is the nature of men to rise against injustice of which they are the victims.” When what is illegal contradicts with what is immoral, the law is not respected by the population, and thus “the citizen finds himself in the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense, or losing his respect for the law – two evils of equal magnitude, between which it would be difficult to choose.” Since, “Law is force, and that consequently the domain of the law cannot properly extend beyond the domain of force…when law and force keep a man within the bounds of justice, they impose nothing upon him but a mere negation. They only oblige him to abstain from doing harm…..but when the law, through the medium of its necessary agent – force – imposes a form of labor, a method or a subject of instruction, a creed, or a worship, it is no longer negative; it acts positively upon men.”
With regard to so-called “social democracy,” Bastiat repudiates those statists with his challenge for them to “Try to imagine a form of labor imposed by force, that is not a violation of liberty; a transmission of wealth imposed by force, that is not a violation of property. If you cannot succeed in reconciling this, you are bound to conclude that the law cannot organize labor and industry without organizing injustice.” This is followed with the amazing observation that “You must see, then that the socialist democrats cannot in conscience allow men any liberty, because, by their own nature, they tend in every instance to all kinds of degradation and demoralization. We are therefore left to conjecture, in this case, upon what foundation universal suffrage is claimed for them with so much importunity.” He ameliorates somewhat by stating, “You must observe that I am not contending against their right to invent social combinations, to propagate them, to recommend them, and to try them upon themselves, at their own expense and risk; but I do dispute their right to impose them upon us through the medium of the law, that is, by force and by public taxes.”
So, if the Law is, in reality, collective self-defense providing justice by safeguarding the Lockean triad of life, liberty, and property, then all these statutes, ordinances, and rulemaking policies as they are constructed and applied ARE NOT THE LAW, since they encourage both partial and universal plunder, which is antithetical to the purpose of the Law. If such is the case, what can be done to restore the rule of law? Bastiat explains, “Thus, there is not a grievance in the nation for which the Government does not voluntarily make itself responsible. Is it any wonder that every failure threatens to cause a revolution? And what is the remedy proposed? To extend indefinitely the dominion of the law, i.e., the responsibility of Government….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….and now, after having vainly inflicted upon the social body so many systems, let them end where they ought to have begun – reject all systems, and try liberty – liberty, which is an act of faith in God and in His work.”
“The Law” by Frederic Bastiat is a work that I must insist be read by every dissident, regardless of your own particular political orientation. It crystallizes how the purpose of the Law was subverted into an instrument of tyranny. As part of the attempt to reinstate the rule of Law, I suggest that the practice of holding allodial title be reinvigorated; if we cannot even hold land, the rest of our personal property are then mere tokens of what we think of as wealth. A good place to start is to realize that the Law is not your enemy, but instead those who use legal fictions they claim have “the force of law” (or even have legitimacy under “color of law”) to force punishments on you when you have not aggressed against anyone.