Book Review: The Law

Posted by : Brian | On : March 23, 2014


“But what would we do without laws?” How many times have I heard this question? I’m unclear how my critique of a law here or a law there (ok…really, it’s probably closer to 95% of all current laws) makes others think that anarchy is my  political ideology of choice.

No other book so far, has illustrated the view that I have so perfectly on the proper role of the government and its enforcement of laws. On the drive over to North Carolina, I listened to it on audiobook four times and then read it again one of the nights in the hotel room. Just thinking about it now makes me want to read it again. It’s that good. You should read/listen to it.

The book was written by Frédéric Bastiat, a French political economist and member of the French Assembly. The book was published in 1850, shortly after the French Revolution of 1848. That’s approximately 166 years ago, but it applies perfectly to today. Bastiat was very influential in economics and described the theory of opportunity cost in his book “Ce qu’on voit et ce qu’on ne voit pas” (What is Seen and What is Unseen). He also penned the famous “broken window fallacy” which Henry Hazlitt has a whole chapter on in his book “Economics in One Lesson” (which I did a review of here).

Bastiat begins with this firecracker of a statement:

“The law perverted! And the police powers of the state perverted along with it! The law, I say, not only turned from its proper purpose but made to follow an entirely contrary purpose! The law become the weapon of every kind of greed! Instead of checking crime, the law itself guilty of the evils it is supposed to punish!

If this is true, it is a serious fact, and moral duty requires me to call the attention of my fellow-citizens to it.”

He premises his book on John Locke’s idea that every individual has a natural right to life, liberty, and property; and that every individual has the right to defend – by way of force – those natural rights. “What then is law?” he writes. “It is the collective organization of the individual right to lawful defense.” Of course, this is law as it is intended to be. Throughout the remainder of the book, he discusses how the law has been perverted, specifically through the two avenues of stupid greed and false philanthropy. Let me know if you can’t instantly think of examples of each of these.

His most intriguing section of the book critiqued the idea of universal suffrage. I know what you’re thinking. “How can anyone critique universal suffrage? Everyone should have the right to vote!” I thought the same thing when I heard it. His argument is not necessarily that everyone shouldn’t have the right to vote, but that it SHOULD be of little importance, if laws were restricted to their proper function. The moment that the law can be used to take from one and give to another, everyone will demand their right to vote in order to grab hold of their share of the government’s loot. As Bastiat put it in a hypothetical argument, “We cannot buy wine, tobacco, or salt without paying the tax. And a part of the tax that we pay is given by law — in privileges and subsidies — to men who are richer than we are. Others use the law to raise the prices of bread, meat, iron, or cloth. Thus, since everyone else uses the law for his own profit, we also would like to use the law for our own profit.”

I had never thought of this before. Would I care about my right to vote if the law were restricted to equal justice for everybody? The moment government grants itself the ability to take tax dollars to bail out banks and corporations, or to subsidize farmers, or even give me school grants, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc… my vote all of a sudden becomes very important because I need to make sure I can get the most out of these laws that benefit one group of society at the expense of the other. If I must be in one of those two groups, I had better vote to be in the “benefit” group and not the “expense” group.

You really ought to read/listen to this book.

Since I gave the opening statement, I feel compelled to copy his closing statement as well.

And now that the legislators and do-gooders have so futilely inflicted so many systems upon society, may they finally end where they should have begun: May they reject all systems, and try liberty; for liberty is an acknowledgment of faith in God and His works.”

I really don’t want to give too much away. It’s a rather short book; clear and concise. Did I mention it’s free online? And short (55 pages)? The audio book is on YouTube, as well as a few other sites if you just google it. It takes a little over an hour. Do it.

If I could force everyone I know to read one book about politics, this would be it. Of course I don’t believe in initiating force, so I would never do that. Hence my attempt at persuading you. Let me know what you think when you’re done.

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