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Key Ideas
Life -- physical, intellectual, and moral -- is a gift of God to be
preserved, developed, and perfected by us Law is the collective organization
of the individual's right to legitimate self-defense
The law destroys the justice it is supposed to maintain when it turns
plunder into a protected right
The law has been perverted under the influence of unintelligent
selfishness and false philanthropy Property originates in man's labor, by a
constant application of his faculties to things
Plunder originates in a desire to live at the expense of others by
appropriating the product of their labor. The victims of plunder merely turn
the tables and seek retribution if they seize power.
Consequences of the perversion of law: rationalizing injustice, giving
sway to political passions [cf. Lieber] Universal suffrage threatens to create
a system of universal plunder.
Plunder is the transfer of property without the consent of the owner and
without compensation.
The law is force and cannot legitimately extend beyond the legitimate
domain of force.
Socialism is not free association but imposed; it is an unjust displacement
of responsibility.
Socialism, like ancient despotism, confuses government with society. [cf.
Lieber, Minogue]
Socialists divide mankind into the commonality of men and political
theorists. [cf. Rousseau's Legislator]
Study Questions
1. Life Is a Gift from God
a) What three gifts of God precede legislation?
b) How is property gained by use of our talents?
c) Where does law fit in the scheme of things?
2. What Is Law?
a. What is the source of the collective right to protection?
b. What uses of force pervert the law from its true purpose:
organized justice?
3. A Just and Enduring Government
a. What is the price of the state's intervention into the private
affairs of its citizens?
b. What does Bastiat mean by "state-created displacements?"
4. The Complete Perversion of the Law
a. How has the law been used to destroy its own objective?
b. Identify the two causes
5. A Fatal Tendency of Mankind
a. What is the origin of the desire to live and prosper at the
expense of others?
6. What is the origin of property?
7. What is the origin of plunder ?
8. What is the proper function of the law?
9. What accounts for its almost universal perversion?
10. Victims of Lawful Plunder
a. When plunder is organized by law, what is the natural reaction of
the plundered classes?
b. What is apt to happen when the tables are turned (topsy-turvy)?
11. The Results of Legal Plunder
a. What are some consequences of this perversion?
b. What happens when law and morality contradict each other?
c. What happens to the distinction between justice and injustice?
d. How is plunder legitimized?
12. The Fate of Non-Conformists
a. What happens to those who express doubts as to the morality of
such institutions?
b. How does government suppress free speech?
c. Why does Bastiat believe that the result is to give "an
exaggerated importance to political passions and conflicts?
13. Who Shall Judge?
a. How do arguments over universal suffrage illustrate the
14. The Reason Why Voting Is Restricted
a. Why is voting restricted?
b. Why is incapacity a motive for exclusion?
15. The Answer Is to Restrict the Law
a. Regardless of one’s a preference concerning the extent of
suffrage, what would cause the excitement over suffrage to die
b. Why, if law were confined to its proper functions, would
everyone's interest in the law be the same?
16. The Fatal Idea of Legal Plunder
a. When the law is used to redistribute property (plunder), why
does every class grasp for power over it?
17. Perverted Law Causes Conflict
a. Under what circumstances will political questions become
"prejudicial, dominant, and all-absorbing?"
b. Which country was generally most successful in keeping the law
in bounds around 1850?
18. Slavery and Tariffs Are Plunder
a. What were the two issues in the United States around 1850 that
always endangered the public peace?
19. Two Kinds of Plunder
a. What are the two kinds of plunder?
b. Why is socialism not an example of illegal plunder?
20. The Law Defends Plunder
a. Why does the law sometimes defend plunder and participate in
b. Why is the victim of plunder sometimes treated as a criminal?
21. How to Identify Legal Plunder
a. How is legal plunder to be identified?
b. What is the remedy?
c. How is legal plunder defended?
d. How may it be built into a whole system?
22. Legal Plunder Has Many Names
a. Identify some of ways of organizing legal plunder.
23. Socialism Is Legal Plunder
a. How may socialism be opposed?
24. The Proper Function of the Law
a. What is the proper function of law?
b. When does the use of force destroy justice?
25. Enforced Fraternity Destroys Liberty
a. Why is the word fraternity inseparable from the word
26. What is the meaning of plunder?
What is the nature of plunder as:
a. An idea?
b. A system?
c. And an injustice independent of personal intentions?
28. Identify three varieties or systems of plunder.
29. How did this popular aspiration to promote the general welfare
through general plunder originate?
30. As the Rev. T. Robert Ingram noted, law is the power to kill. In this
light, why does Bastiat say that “the proper functions of the law
cannot lawfully extend beyond the proper functions of force?”
31. Law is a negative concept, why is true law negative?
32. Why is the positive use of law to regulate society dangerous?
33. How do politicians attempt to remedy the ills of society, which may
in fact be due to earlier plundering?
34. Why does Bastiat criticize the use of the treasury for charitable,
educational, and religious purposes?
35. How does Bastiat respond to socialist objections to individualism?
36. How do the socialists confuse the distinction between government
and society?
What makes it evident socialist writers wish to play God?
38. Who in the view of socialist writers should rule?
39. What view do socialist writers take of mankind?
40. What is the nature of liberty?
What is the fatal desire of the socialist writers?
What is the evidence that they want philanthropic tyranny or
What sort of despotism do socialists seek to impose?
How does Bastiat characterize the efforts of Louis Blanc?
What is the triple hypothesis of these philanthropists?
How do they attack liberty?
How does Bastiat mock them in turn?
Where does their right to advocate their ideas stop?
Bastiat’s “The Law” Discussion Outline
Introduction and goals:
To better articulate the theory of Natural Rights and what the law
should be.
Three Major theories of Law:
Positivist Law – Auguste Comte 1847
• Whatever is decreed by the ruler(s) is law.
• Laws are morally arbitrary and indifferent. There is no necessary
connection between law and objective moral truth.
• Law loses the respect of the people as it can create tension within the
individual as they must decide between morals or the law.
• Creates moral chaos when immorality is sanctioned by law because
law and morals have been set at odds as law and morality contradict
each other. Citizens are faced with the cruel alternative of either
losing moral sense or losing respect for the law.
Interpretivist Law – Ronald Dworken 1986
• Positivist Law includes general principles that can be identified only
by means of Judges.
• If the outcome of a contract results in a result that THE JUDGE
BELIEVES IS UNJUST, the judge must invalidate the contract.
Natural Law & Natural Rights – From Cicero to Thomas Hobbs & John
Locke to our Founders
• Universal law of nature that is not written, but inborn. It is not
learned by training, but rather “snatched,” or “imbibed” from nature
herself. The universal law within which we are born.
• Since man is born into a natural world which must follow the
universal natural order, man is born with Natural Rights. Among
which are Life, Liberty and Property.
• The writings of Locke were the basis of the fundamental ideas in the
Declaration of Independence.
“The Law” by Frederic Bastiat
Bastiat’s definition of Plunder:
When a portion of wealth is transferred from the person who owns it –
without their consent and without compensation, whether by force or by
fraud – to anyone who does not own it, then Life or Property is violated;
and an act of Plunder is committed.
What are the three gifts from God or Nature?
Life, Liberty and Property
Man has both the right and responsibility to defend these gifts
These three gifts precede law.
Law is created by man to protect his natural rights.
What is Law?
• Law is the collective organization of the individual right to lawful
• Therefore, the law can NOT be used to do something that an
individual has no right to do, e.g. harm life or steal or property by
force or fraud.
• Law is justice, by protecting against injustice
What is the perversion of Law?
• When the law exceeds its proper functions, creates Plunder, it has
acted in direct opposition to its own objective.
• When the Law has placed the collective force at the disposal of the
unscrupulous who wish, without risk, to exploit the person, liberty
and property of others.
• When it has converted plunder into a right, in order to protect
Two causes of perverted Law:
1. Naked greed
2. Misconceived philanthropy
Why does Plunder start?
• By the very nature of man – that insuppressible instinct that impels
him to try and satisfy his desires with the least possible pain.
• Man can satisfy his wants in two ways, ceaseless labor, or seizing the
products of others. The latter is the origin of plunder.
• As power is given to rulers and they are also subject to the fatal
tendency, the Law becomes the instrument of plunder, thus the
invincible weapon of injustice.
When does Plunder stop?
• When it becomes more painful or dangerous than labor.
• This is the proper purpose of Law. To use the power of collective
force to stop this fatal tendency to plunder instead of to work.
• All measures of the Law should protect property and punish plunder.
What can the victims of Lawful Plunder do?
• When they gain the power to make the law they can either stop
Lawful Plunder or share in it.
• Woe to the nation when this latter purpose prevails!
• When the masses establish reprisals they do not root out Lawful
Plunder, but make injustice general.
• It is impossible to introduce into society a greater evil than this: the
conversion of the Law into an instrument of Plunder!
What are the results of Lawful Plunder?
• It erases from society’s conscience the distinction between justice and
• It forces the choice between losing moral sense or respect for the Law.
• People begin to erroneously believe that things are just, because the
law makes this so.
• People feel they are no longer responsible for morals as the Law does
the Plundering on their behalf.
• People who doubt as to the morality of these Laws are ridiculed as
being dangerous subversives, who would shatter the foundations of
• The Law can now sanction anything, e.g. NAZIism, slavery,
oppression and robbery!
What is the reason why voting is restricted?
• The voter does not exercise this right for himself alone, but for
• It is not the voter alone who suffers the consequences of his vote.
The Answer is to Restrict The Law: (United States Constitution)
• The Law should be restricted to protecting all persons, all liberties,
and all properties.
• The Law should be restricted to be the obstacle, the check, and the
punisher of all oppression and Plunder.
• If the Law were confined to its proper functions, everyone’s interest in
the Law would be the same.
Slavery and Tariffs are Plunder
• Slavery is a violation by Law of Liberty.
• The Protective Tariff is a violation, by Law of Property.
The two kinds of Plunder, Legal and Illegal; which is Socialism?
• Prevention of and Protection from Illegal plunder , such as theft or
fraud as defined, anticipated and punished in penal codes is the true
object of Law, therefore NOT socialism.
• Law that defends plunder and participates in it is Socialism. Its
beneficiaries are spared the shame and danger of acts which would
otherwise be prosecuted.
• Socialists depend on the State to make the Law their own weapon!
How to Identify Legal Plunder?
• See if the Law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing
what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.
• The person who profits from this Law will complain bitterly,
defending his acquired rights, rights given by the State, not
Natural Rights.
The Seductive Lure of Socialism:
• The Law must not only be just; it must be Philanthropic.
• The Law must not only allow individuals free and inoffensive use of
their own faculties to pursue their own desired ends; it must provide,
by force, welfare, education and morality throughout the State. Thus
the Law is a contradiction. A person cannot at the same time be free
and not free.
What are the Three Systems that Utilize Plunder?
• Protectionism, Socialism and Communism are the same disease in
three different stages of progression.
• Communism is the most visible form of Legal Plunder, because it is
the most complete form.
• Protectionism is Plunder limited to specific groups and industries.
• Socialism is the most subtitle form of Legal Plunder; it appeals by the
promise of Philanthropy, although false philanthropy and motives
either sincere or insincere are hard to detect.
The Fundamental Choice Before us Today:
1. The few plunder the many
2. Everybody plunders everybody
3. Nobody plunders anybody