to this Library with permission from the Foundation
for Economic Education
The Political Approach
When a politician views society from the seclusion of his office,
he is struck by the spectacle of the inequality that he sees.
He deplores the deprivations which are the lot of so many of our
brothers, deprivations which appear to be even sadder when contrasted
with luxury and wealth.
Perhaps the politician should ask himself whether this state
of affairs has not been caused by old conquests and lootings,
and by more recent legal plunder. Perhaps he should consider this
proposition: Since all persons seek well-being and perfection,
would not a condition of justice be sufficient to cause the greatest
efforts toward progress, and the greatest possible equality that
is compatible with individual responsibility? Would not this be
in accord with the concept of individual responsibility which
God has willed in order that mankind may have the choice between
vice and virtue, and the resulting punishment and reward?
But the politician never gives this a thought. His mind turns
to organizations, combinations, and arrangementslegal or
apparently legal. He attempts to remedy the evil by increasing
and perpetuating the very thing that caused the evil in the first
place: legal plunder. We have seen that justice is a negative
concept. Is there even one of these positive legal actions that
does not contain the principle of plunder?
The Law and Charity
You say: "There are persons who have no money," and you turn
to the law. But the law is not a breast that fills itself with
milk. Nor are the lacteal veins of the law supplied with milk
from a source outside the society. Nothing can enter the public
treasury for the benefit of one citizen or one class unless other
citizens and other classes have been forced to send it
in. If every person draws from the treasury the amount that he
has put in it, it is true that the law then plunders nobody. But
this procedure does nothing for the persons who have no money.
It does not promote equality of income. The law can be an instrument
of equalization only as it takes from some persons and gives to
other persons. When the law does this, it is an instrument of
With this in mind, examine the protective tariffs, subsidies,
guaranteed profits, guaranteed jobs, relief and welfare schemes,
public education, progressive taxation, free credit, and public
works. You will find that they are always based on legal plunder,
The Law and Education
You say: "There are persons who lack education," and you turn
to the law. But the law is not, in itself, a torch of learning
which shines its light abroad. The law extends over a society
where some persons have knowledge and others do not; where some
citizens need to learn, and others can teach. In this matter of
education, the law has only two alternatives: It can permit this
transaction of teaching-and-learning to operate freely and without
the use of force, or it can force human wills in this matter by
taking from some of them enough to pay the teachers who are appointed
by government to instruct others, without charge. But in this
second case, the law commits legal plunder by violating liberty
The Law and Morals
You say: "Here are persons who are lacking in morality or religion,"
and you turn to the law. But law is force. And need I point out
what a violent and futile effort it is to use force in the matters
of morality and religion?
It would seem that socialists, however self-complacent, could
not avoid seeing this monstrous legal plunder that results from
such systems and such efforts. But what do the socialists do?
They cleverly disguise this legal plunder from othersand
even from themselvesunder the seductive names of fraternity,
unity, organization, and association. Because we ask so little
from the lawonly justicethe socialists thereby assume
that we reject fraternity, unity, organization, and association.
The socialists brand us with the name individualist.
But we assure the socialists that we repudiate only forced
organization, not natural organization. We repudiate the forms
of association that are forced upon us, not free association.
We repudiate forced fraternity, not true fraternity. We
repudiate the artificial unity that does nothing more than
deprive persons of individual responsibility. We do not repudiate
the natural unity of mankind under Providence.
A Confusion of Terms
Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses
the distinction between government and society. As a result of
this, every time we object to a thing being done by government,
the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all.
We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that
we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion.
Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object
to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against
equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were
to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want
the state to raise grain.
The Influence of Socialist Writers
How did politicians ever come to believe this weird idea that
the law could be made to produce what it does not containthe
wealth, science, and religion that, in a positive sense, constitute
prosperity? Is it due to the influence of our modern writers on
Present-day writersespecially those of the socialist school
of thoughtbase their various theories upon one common hypothesis:
They divide mankind into two parts. People in generalwith
the exception of the writer himselfform the first group.
The writer, all alone, forms the second and most important group.
Surely this is the weirdest and most conceited notion that ever
entered a human brain!
In fact, these writers on public affairs begin by supposing that
people have within themselves no means of discernment; no motivation
to action. The writers assume that people are inert matter, passive
particles, motionless atoms, at best a kind of vegetation indifferent
to its own manner of existence. They assume that people are susceptible
to being shapedby the will and hand of another personinto
an infinite variety of forms, more or less symmetrical, artistic,
Moreover, not one of these writers on governmental affairs hesitates
to imagine that he himselfunder the title of organizer,
discoverer, legislator, or founderis this will and hand,
this universal motivating force, this creative power whose sublime
mission is to mold these scattered materialspersonsinto
These socialist writers look upon people in the same manner that
the gardener views his trees. Just as the gardener capriciously
shapes the trees into pyramids, parasols, cubes, vases, fans,
and other forms, just so does the socialist writer whimsically
shape human beings into groups, series, centers, sub-centers,
honeycombs, labor-corps, and other variations. And just as the
gardener needs axes, pruning hooks, saws, and shears to shape
his trees, just so does the socialist writer need the force that
he can find only in law to shape human beings. For this purpose,
he devises tariff laws, tax laws, relief laws, and school laws.
The Socialists Wish to Play God
Socialists look upon people as raw material to be formed into
social combinations. This is so true that, if by chance, the socialists
have any doubts about the success of these combinations, they
will demand that a small portion of mankind be set aside to
experiment upon. The popular idea of trying all systems
is well known. And one socialist leader has been known seriously
to demand that the Constituent Assembly give him a small district
with all its inhabitants, to try his experiments upon.
In the same manner, an inventor makes a model before he constructs
the full-sized machine; the chemist wastes some chemicalsthe
farmer wastes some seeds and landto try out an idea.
But what a difference there is between the gardener and his trees,
between the inventor and his machine, between the chemist and
his elements, between the farmer and his seeds! And in all sincerity,
the socialist thinks that there is the same difference between
him and mankind!
It is no wonder that the writers of the nineteenth century look
upon society as an artificial creation of the legislator's genius.
This ideathe fruit of classical educationhas taken
possession of all the intellectuals and famous writers of our
country. To these intellectuals and writers, the relationship
between persons and the legislator appears to be the same as the
relationship between the clay and the potter.
Moreover, even where they have consented to recognize a principle
of action in the heart of manand a principle of discernment
in man's intellectthey have considered these gifts from
God to be fatal gifts. They have thought that persons, under the
impulse of these two gifts, would fatally tend to ruin themselves.
They assume that if the legislators left persons free to follow
their own inclinations, they would arrive at atheism instead of
religion, ignorance instead of knowledge, poverty instead of production
The Socialists Despise Mankind
According to these writers, it is indeed fortunate that Heaven
has bestowed upon certain mengovernors and legislatorsthe
exact opposite inclinations, not only for their own sake but also
for the sake of the rest of the world! While mankind tends toward
evil, the legislators yearn for good; while mankind advances toward
darkness, the legislators aspire for enlightenment; while mankind
is drawn toward vice, the legislators are attracted toward virtue.
Since they have decided that this is the true state of affairs,
they then demand the use of force in order to substitute their
own inclinations for those of the human race.
Open at random any book on philosophy, politics, or history,
and you will probably see how deeply rooted in our country is
this ideathe child of classical studies, the mother of socialism.
In all of them, you will probably find this idea that mankind
is merely inert matter, receiving life, organization, morality,
and prosperity from the power of the state. And even worse, it
will be stated that mankind tends toward degeneration, and is
stopped from this downward course only by the mysterious hand
of the legislator. Conventional classical thought everywhere says
that behind passive society there is a concealed power called
law or legislator (or called by some other terminology
that designates some unnamed person or persons of undisputed influence
and authority) which moves, controls, benefits, and improves mankind.
A Defense of Compulsory Labor
Let us first consider a quotation from Bossuet [tutor to the
Dauphin in the Court of Louis XIV]:
One of the things most strongly impressed (by
whom?) upon the minds of the Egyptians was patriotism.... No
one was permitted to be useless to the state. The law assigned
to each one his work, which was handed down from father to son.
No one was permitted to have two professions. Nor could a person
change from one job to another.... But there was one task to which
all were forced to conform: the study of the laws and of
wisdom. Ignorance of religion and of the political regulations
of the country was not excused under any circumstances.
Moreover, each occupation was assigned (by whom?) to a
certain district.... Among the good laws, one of the best was
that everyone was trained (by whom?) to obey them. As a
result of this, Egypt was filled with wonderful inventions, and
nothing was neglected that could make life easy and quiet.
Thus, according to Bossuet, persons derive nothing from themselves.
Patriotism, prosperity, inventions, husbandry, scienceall
of these are given to the people by the operation of the laws,
the rulers. All that the people have to do is to bow to leadership.
A Defense of Paternal Government
Bossuet carries this idea of the state as the source of all progress
even so far as to defend the Egyptians against the charge that
they rejected wrestling and music. He said:
How is that possible? These arts were invented
by Trismegistus [who was alleged to have been Chancellor to the
Egyptian god Osiris].
And again among the Persians, Bossuet claims that all comes from
One of the first responsibilities of the
prince was to encourage agriculture.... Just as there were
offices established for the regulation of armies, just so were
there offices for the direction of farm work.... The Persian people
were inspired with an overwhelming respect for royal authority.
And according to Bossuet, the Greek people, although exceedingly
intelligent, had no sense of personal responsibility; like dogs
and horses, they themselves could not have invented the most simple
The Greeks, naturally intelligent and courageous,
had been early cultivated by the kings and settlers who
had come from Egypt. From these Egyptian rulers, the Greek people
had learned bodily exercises, foot races, and horse and
chariot races.... But the best thing that the Egyptians had taught
the Greeks was to become docile, and to permit themselves to be
formed by the law for the public good.
The Idea of Passive Mankind
It cannot be disputed that these classical theories [advanced
by these latter-day teachers, writers, legislators, economists,
and philosophers] held that everything came to the people from
a source outside themselves. As another example, take Fenelon
[archbishop, author, and instructor to the Duke of Burgundy].
He was a witness to the power of Louis XIV. This, plus the fact
that he was nurtured in the classical studies and the admiration
of antiquity, naturally caused Fenelon to accept the idea that
mankind should be passive; that the misfortunes and the prosperityvices
and virtuesof people are caused by the external influence
exercised upon them by the law and the legislators. Thus, in his
Utopia of Salentum, he puts menwith all their interests,
faculties, desires, and possessions under the absolute discretion
of the legislator. Whatever the issue may be, persons do not decide
it for themselves; the prince decides for them. The prince is
depicted as the soul of this shapeless mass of people who
form the nation. In the prince resides the thought, the foresight,
all progress, and the principle of all organization. Thus all
responsibility rests with him.
The whole of the tenth book of Fenelon's Telemachus proves
this. I refer the reader to it, and content myself with quoting
at random from this celebrated work to which, in every other respect,
I am the first to pay homage.
Socialists Ignore Reason and Facts
With the amazing credulity which is typical of the classicists,
Fenelon ignores the authority of reason and facts when he attributes
the general happiness of the Egyptians, not to their own wisdom
but to the wisdom of their kings:
We could not turn our eyes to either shore
without seeing rich towns and country estates most agreeably located;
fields, never fallowed, covered with golden crops every year;
meadows full of flocks; workers bending under the weight of the
fruit which the earth lavished upon its cultivators; shepherds
who made the echoes resound with the soft notes from their pipes
and flutes. "Happy," said Mentor, "is the people governed by a
Later, Mentor desired that I observe the
contentment and abundance which covered all Egypt, where twenty-two
thousand cities could be counted. He admired the good police regulations
in the cities; the justice rendered in favor of the poor against
the rich; the sound education of the children in obedience, labor,
sobriety, and the love of the arts and letters; the exactness
with which all religious ceremonies were performed; the unselfishness,
the high regard for honor, the faithfulness to men, and the fear
of the gods which every father taught his children. He never stopped
admiring the prosperity of the country. "Happy," said he, "is
the people ruled by a wise king in such a manner."
Socialists Want to Regiment People
Fenelon's idyl on Crete is even more alluring. Mentor is made
All that you see in this wonderful island
results from the laws of Minos. The education which he ordained
for the children makes their bodies strong and robust. From the
very beginning, one accustoms the children to a life of frugality
and labor, because one assumes that all pleasures of the senses
weaken both body and mind. Thus one allows them no pleasure except
that of becoming invincible by virtue, and of acquiring glory....
Here one punishes three vices that go unpunished among other people:
ingratitude, hypocrisy, and greed. There is no need to punish
persons for pomp and dissipation, for they are unknown in Crete....
No costly furniture, no magnificent clothing, no delicious feasts,
no gilded palaces are permitted.
Thus does Mentor prepare his student to mold and to manipulatedoubtless
with the best of intentionsthe people of Ithaca. And to
convince the student of the wisdom of these ideas, Mentor recites
to him the example of Salentum.
It is from this sort of philosophy that we receive our first
political ideas! We are taught to treat persons much as an instructor
in agriculture teaches farmers to prepare and tend the soil.
A Famous Name and an Evil Idea
Now listen to the great Montesquieu on this same subject:
To maintain the spirit of commerce, it is
necessary that all the laws must favor it. These laws, by proportionately
dividing up the fortunes as they are made in commerce, should
provide every poor citizen with sufficiently easy circumstances
to enable him to work like the others. These same laws should
put every rich citizen in such lowered circumstances as to force
him to work in order to keep or to gain.
Thus the laws are to dispose of all fortunes!
Although real equality is the soul of the
state in a democracy, yet this is so difficult to establish that
an extreme precision in this matter would not always be desirable.
It is sufficient that there be established a census to reduce
or fix these differences in wealth within a certain limit. After
this is done, it remains for specific laws to equalize inequality
by imposing burdens upon the rich and granting relief to the poor.
Here again we find the idea of equalizing fortunes by law, by
In Greece, there were two kinds of republics.
One, Sparta, was military; the other, Athens, was commercial.
In the former, it was desired that the citizens be idle;
in the latter, love of labor was encouraged.
Note the marvelous genius of these legislators:
By debasing all established customsby mixing the usual concepts
of all virtuesthey knew in advance that the world would
admire their wisdom.
Lycurgus gave stability to his city of Sparta
by combining petty thievery with the soul of justice; by combining
the most complete bondage with the most extreme liberty; by combining
the most atrocious beliefs with the greatest moderation. He appeared
to deprive his city of all its resources, arts, commerce, money,
and defenses. In Sparta, ambition went without the hope of material
reward. Natural affection found no outlet because a man was neither
son, husband, nor father. Even chastity was no longer considered
becoming. By this road, Lycurgus led Sparta on to greatness
This boldness which was to be found in the
institutions of Greece has been repeated in the midst of the
degeneracy and corruption of our modern times. An occasional
honest legislator has molded a people in whom integrity appears
as natural as courage in the Spartans.
Mr. William Penn, for example, is a true
Lycurgus. Even though Mr. Penn had peace as his objectivitywhile
Lycurgus had war as his objective they resemble each other in
that their moral prestige over free men allowed them to overcome
prejudices, to subdue passions, and to lead their respective
peoples into new paths.
The country of Paraguay furnishes us with another
example [of a people who, for their own good, are molded by their
Now it is true that if one considers the sheer
pleasure of commanding to be the greatest joy in life, he contemplates
a crime against society; it will, however, always be a noble ideal
to govern men in a manner that will make them happier.
Those who desire to establish similar
institutions must do as follows: Establish common ownership
of property as in the republic of Plato; revere the gods as Plato
commanded; prevent foreigners from mingling with the people, in
order to preserve the customs; let the state, instead of the citizens,
establish commerce. The legislators should supply arts instead
of luxuries; they should satisfy needs instead of desires.
A Frightful Idea
Those who are subject to vulgar infatuation may exclaim: "Montesquieu
has said this! So it's magnificent! It's sublime!" As for me,
I have the courage of my own opinion. I say: What! You have the
nerve to call that fine? It is frightful! It is abominable! These
random selections from the writings of Montesquieu show that he
considers persons, liberties, propertymankind itselfto
be nothing but materials for legislators to exercise their wisdom
The Leader of the Democrats
Now let us examine Rousseau on this subject. This writer on public
affairs is the supreme authority of the democrats. And although
he bases the social structure upon the will of the people,
he has, to a greater extent than anyone else, completely accepted
the theory of the total inertness of mankind in the presence of
If it is true that a great prince is rare,
then is it not true that a great legislator is even more rare?
The prince has only to follow the pattern that the legislator
creates. The legislator is the mechanic who invents the machine;
the prince is merely the workman who sets it in motion.
And what part do persons play in all this? They are merely the
machine that is set in motion. In fact, are they not merely considered
to be the raw material of which the machine is made?
Thus the same relationship exists between the legislator and
the prince as exists between the agricultural expert and the farmer;
and the relationship between the prince and his subjects is the
same as that between the farmer and his land. How high above mankind,
then, has this writer on public affairs been placed? Rousseau
rules over legislators themselves, and teaches them their trade
in these imperious terms:
Would you give stability to the state? Then
bring the extremes as closely together as possible. Tolerate neither
wealthy persons nor beggars.
If the soil is poor or barren, or the country
too small for its inhabitants, then turn to industry and arts,
and trade these products for the foods that you need.... On a
fertile soilif you are short of inhabitantsdevote
all your attention to agriculture, because this multiplies people;
banish the arts, because they only serve to depopulate
If you have extensive and accessible coast
lines, then cover the sea with merchant ships; you will
have a brilliant but short existence. If your seas wash only inaccessible
cliffs, let the people be barbarous and eat fish; they
will live more quietlyperhaps betterand, most certainly,
they will live more happily.
In short, and in addition to the maxims that
are common to all, every people has its own particular circumstances.
And this fact in itself will cause legislation appropriate to
This is the reason why the Hebrews formerlyand,
more recently, the Arabshad religion as their principle
objective. The objective of the Athenians was literature; of
Carthage and Tyre, commerce; of Rhodes, naval affairs; of Sparta,
war; and of Rome, virtue. The author of The Spirit of Laws
has shown by what art the legislator should direct his institutions
toward each of these objectives .... But suppose that the
legislator mistakes his proper objective, and acts on a principle
different from that indicated by the nature of things? Suppose
that the selected principle sometimes creates slavery, and sometimes
liberty; sometimes wealth, and sometimes population; sometimes
peace, and sometimes conquest? This confusion of objective will
slowly enfeeble the law and impair the constitution. The state
will be subjected to ceaseless agitations until it is destroyed
or changed, and invincible nature regains her empire.
But if nature is sufficiently invincible to regain its
empire, why does not Rousseau admit that it did not need the legislator
to gain it in the first place? Why does he not see that
men, by obeying their own instincts, would turn to farming on
fertile soil, and to commerce on an extensive and easily accessible
coast, without the interference of a Lycurgus or a Solon or a
Rousseau who might easily be mistaken.
Socialists Want Forced Conformity
Be that as it may, Rousseau invests the creators, organizers,
directors, legislators, and controllers of society with a terrible
responsibility. He is, therefore, most exacting with them:
He who would dare to undertake the political
creation of a people ought to believe that he can, in a manner
of speaking, transform human nature; transform each individualwho,
by himself, is a solitary and perfect wholeinto a mere part
of a greater whole from which the individual will henceforth receive
his life and being. Thus the person who would undertake the political
creation of a people should believe in his ability to alter man's
constitution; to strengthen it; to substitute for the physical
and independent existence received from nature, an existence which
is partial and moral.*6
In short, the would-be creator of political man must remove man's
own forces and endow him with others that are naturally alien
Poor human nature! What would become of a person's dignity if
it were entrusted to the followers of Rousseau?
Legislators Desire to Mold Mankind
Now let us examine Raynal on this subject of mankind being molded
by the legislator:
The legislator must first consider the climate,
the air, and the soil. The resources at his disposal determine
his duties. He must first consider his locality. A population
living on maritime shores must have laws designed for navigation....
If it is an inland settlement, the legislator must make his plans
according to the nature and fertility of the soil....
It is especially in the distribution of property
that the genius of the legislator will be found. As a general
rule, when a new colony is established in any country, sufficient
land should be given to each man to support his family....
On an uncultivated island that you
are populating with children, you need do nothing but let the
seeds of truth germinate along with the development of reason....
But when you resettle a nation with a past into a new country,
the skill of the legislator rests in the policy of permitting
the people to retain no injurious opinions and customs which
can possibly be cured and corrected. If you desire to prevent
these opinions and customs from becoming permanent, you will secure
the second generation by a general system of public education
for the children. A prince or a legislator should never establish
a colony without first arranging to send wise men along to instruct
In a new colony, ample opportunity is open
to the careful legislator who desires to purify the customs
and manners of the people. If he has virtue and genius, the
land and the people at his disposal will inspire his soul
with a plan for society. A writer can only vaguely trace the plan
in advance because it is necessarily subject to the instability
of all hypotheses; the problem has many forms, complications,
and circumstances that are difficult to foresee and settle in
Legislators Told How to Manage Men
Raynal's instructions to the legislators on how to manage people
may be compared to a professor of agriculture lecturing his students:
"The climate is the first rule for the farmer. His resources
determine his procedure. He must first consider his locality.
If his soil is clay, he must do so and so. If his soil is sand,
he must act in another manner. Every facility is open to the farmer
who wishes to clear and improve his soil. If he is skillful enough,
the manure at his disposal will suggest to him a plan of
operation. A professor can only vaguely trace this plan in advance
because it is necessarily subject to the instability of all hypotheses;
the problem has many forms, complications, and circumstances that
are difficult to foresee and settle in detail."
Oh, sublime writers! Please remember sometimes that this clay,
this sand, and this manure which you so arbitrarily dispose of,
are men! They are your equals! They are intelligent and free human
beings like yourselves! As you have, they too have received from
God the faculty to observe, to plan ahead, to think, and to judge
A Temporary Dictatorship
Here is Mably on this subject of the law and the legislator.
In the passages preceding the one here quoted, Mably has supposed
the laws, due to a neglect of security, to be worn out. He continues
to address the reader thusly:
Under these circumstances, it is obvious
that the springs of government are slack. Give them a new
tension, and the evil will be cured.... Think less of punishing
faults, and more of rewarding that which you need. In this
manner you will restore to your republic the vigor of youth.
Because free people have been ignorant of this procedure, they
have lost their liberty! But if the evil has made such headway
that ordinary governmental procedures are unable to cure it, then
resort to an extraordinary tribunal with considerable powers
for a short time. The imagination of the citizens needs to be
struck a hard blow.
In this manner, Mably continues through twenty volumes.
Under the influence of teaching like thiswhich stems from
classical educationthere came a time when everyone wished
to place himself above mankind in order to arrange, organize,
and regulate it in his own way.
Socialists Want Equality of Wealth
Next let us examine Condillac on this subject of the legislators
My Lord, assume the character of Lycurgus
or of Solon. And before you finish reading this essay, amuse yourself
by giving laws to some savages in America or Africa. Confine these
nomads to fixed dwellings; teach them to tend flocks.... Attempt
to develop the social consciousness that nature has planted in
them.... Force them to begin to practice the duties of humanity....
Use punishment to cause sensual pleasures to become distasteful
to them. Then you will see that every point of your legislation
will cause these savages to lose a vice and gain a virtue.
All people have had laws. But few people have
been happy. Why is this so? Because the legislators themselves
have almost always been ignorant of the purpose of society, which
is the uniting of families by a common interest.
Impartiality in law consists of two things:
the establishing of equality in wealth and equality in dignity
among the citizens.... As the laws establish greater equality,
they become proportionately more precious to every citizen....
When all men are equal in wealth and dignityand when the
laws leave no hope of disturbing this equalityhow can men
then be agitated by greed, ambition, dissipation, idleness, sloth,
envy, hatred, or jealousy?
What you have learned about the republic
of Sparta should enlighten you on this question. No other state
has ever had laws more in accord with the order of nature; of
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