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Added to this Library with permission from the Foundation for Economic Education

Frederic Bastiat

About the Author

Claude Frederic Bastiat was born on June 29, 1801 in the southwestern French port city of Bayonne. He was orphaned at the age of ten and raised and educated by his father's parents. At the age of 17, he left school and worked in his family's exporting business. At age 25, Bastiat's grandfather died and Bastiat inherited the family estate.

Now living the life of a moneyed gentleman, Bastiat was able to focus on his intellectual pursuits, studying philosophy, history, politics, religion, travel, poetry, political economy, biography, etc.. Bastiat wrote a number of pro free-market articles opposing tariffs, taxes on wine, land taxes etc.. Inspired by the British Anti-Corn Law League in Britain, Bastiat organized the French Free Trade Association to fight trade barriers in France. He was the editor of the Association's newspaper. In 1844, Bastiat received widespread attention with his "The Influence of French and English Tariffs on the Future of the Two Peoples," published in the Journal des Économistes. Numerous essays and pamphlets on economics followed, some of which comprised his best-selling collection of essays, Economic Sophisms (1845). Bastiat won a seat in the French legislature. His influential essay on the philosophy of law and government, "The Law", was published in 1850, as were his "Economic Harmonies" and "What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen". Bastiat died on Christmas Eve, 1850.

About the Book

Is taxation theft? Where does government get its authority to use force? What is the scope of the power held by government? What happens to society when government ignores limits on the scope of its power, and establishes for itself the power to violate individual rights of life, liberty and/or property?

These are the questions focussed upon by Bastiat in his famous pamphlet, "The Law". Owing much to John Locke (in particular, Locke's "Second Treatise of Government"), the essence of Bastiat's message is that "Life is a gift from God", that life requires an individual to exercise his thoughts and body so as to survive (liberty), and that the fruits of one efforts cannot sustain one if one is deprived of his right to use those fruits in the way he or she sees fit (property). Bastiat states that rights of life, liberty and property justify the use of force when one is faced with force (or the threat of force ) as against his person or property (self defence). Bastiat explains that a government's authority to use force is delegated to it by the citizens whose behaviour it governs: accordingly, government is to use force only to protect the life, liberty and property of those it governs. When it uses force against the governed to deprive them of life, liberty or property - except in response to the initiation of coercive physical force - government is doing so without authority because no individual has the authority to initiate the coercive use of physical force, and a person cannot delegate to government an authority that the person does not have. Bastiat states that when government steps outside of the role of protector, and initiates the coercive use of force against an individual, the law is perverted. The law then becomes a means of plundering, rather than protecting, the governed. This enhances the importance of government, and the importance of befriending and influencing government, because government determines the beneficiaries of the ill-gotten gains. In the result, everyone is turned against everyone else, in a formalized version of a Hobbesian state of nature: government becomes little more than a large gang in a society without justice.

Long treasured by those opposed to socialism or communism, "The Law" is undeniably a rich source of topics for debate for politicos of all stripes. It challenges those in favour of collectivism to examine the logical consistency, and the moral implications, of their philosophy. But it also challenges strong proponents of life, liberty and property to examine the economic and governmental implications of their stance. For example, how is one to finance the operations of government without taxation?

Whatever your political orientation, you are sure to find "The Law" to be an interesting read.

A brief word of thanks: "The Law" was originally written in French. Mondo Politico is thankful to the Foundation for Economic Education ("F.E.E.") for granting permission to add the Dean Russell translation of this important text to the Mondo Politico library.