The Law by Frederic Bastiat (Book Review)

  • Naman Jain
  • July 26, 2020

Content :

Name of the Author- Frederic Bastiat
Title of the book- The Law
Date of Publication- 1850
Name of Publisher House- The Ludwig von Mises Institute 518 West Mangolia Avenue, Auburn, Alabama 36832
Number of Pages- 106

Frederic Bastiat, a French economist, wrote this essay named “The Law” in 1850,the French revolution. Bastiat, with his humanitarian thinking, believes that a man possesses God-given, natural rights of “individuality, liberty, and property.” He considers these to be the three-gifts from God to all human beings. In the initial stage of life, Bastiat was a farmer and being in anindigent situation, he observed the activities of the government at that time and concluded that the government had gained a large amount of power.

This work of Bastiat is seminal though his previous works were mostly on economics. In this essay, Bastiat had argued persuasively for natural law and the free market of the French. Bastiat is a concerned citizen and a man of ethics. At the beginning of the book, he has tried to connect the purpose of law with a religious standpoint, whereas the latter half of the novel mostly talks about the purpose of law and how it has been thwarted in France in the 1850s. The arguments by Bastiat are still the most logical and crystal-clearest explanation of the government\'s proper role in French society. The overall mood of the book is emotional being to the point. The primary purpose of Bastiat writing this book is to alert his countrymen at the time of the French Revolution as the government at that time is steadily gaining high power, and the power was being misused by dominating people.

This book was written with logic, in a way to give consequential information having timeless ideas. Being written after the heinous events of 1848 revolutions, it imparts a sense of deepness and sagacity. The broad concept that runs throughout this book, which is essential to every country\'s citizen, is the God-gifted individual’s rights to life, liberty, and property. All three natural treasures are the necessities which are a fruit of an individual’s efforts. Bastiat had argued that doing injustice would constitute a violation of these natural gifts, and the sole purpose of the law is to protect them. Having a strong argument for the acceptance of law and seeing its importance in today’s society, Bastiat stated that “A science of economics must be developed before a science of politics can be logically formulated. Essentially, economics is the science of determining whether the interests of human beings are harmonious orantagonistic. This must be known before a science of politics can be formulated to determine the proper functions of government.” He meant that once the government will have all its focus on protecting individual’s naturally endowed rights, the interest of the humans will be harmonious and not antagonistic towards the further extension of the law. Further, he kept the idea of socialism, which he believes provides the basis of positive rights and prevent the law from instigating legal plunder.Socialism is a crucial ingredient in determining society\'s health and positiveness; Bastiat tries to describe in detail the traps, myths, pitfalls, and false assumptions about socialism. 

Bastiat\'s work would fascinate anyone interested in natural rights, human rights, philosophy, liberty, or the government\'s position. Every line of the essay will provide the reasons for the purpose of accepting the law, which will definitely drive the readers to read more and more. Bastiat also supported the idea of faith in a free society for which the French government should extend its support to deliver education, health care, and the other basic necessities that the government had overlooked. He has connected this idea with the religious faith in God-made human’s nature and contrasted the same with today’s modern societies, which are steadily moving away from the concept of liberty and socialism. Moreover, Bastiat has also argued that slavery or monarchy would make the American republic vulnerable even before the commencement of the civil war. The same has been given great importance with a plethora of examples and logical explanations. 

Bastiat’s insight on the role and the powers of law and government is evident by the argument in which he stated, “Law is justice. In this proposition, a simple and enduring government can be conceived. And I defy anyone to say how even the thought of a revolution, of insurrection, of the slightest uprising could arise against a government whose organized force was confined only to suppressing injustice.”

Bastiat felt that the government is gaining power, and the government with the law in its hands is doing wrong against life, liberty, and property. Comparing the same to our country India, the supreme power of the country since independence in 1947 is India\'s Constitution. Every law, statute, or legislature has to be formulated in such a way that it should conform with all the articles of the constitution and especially with the Preamble, which is the heart of the constitution and lays down the fundamental principle of the constitution that ensures Justice, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, and further assures the dignity of every individual, and the unity and integrity of the Nation. 

All the arguments made by Bastiat in the book “The Law” are written with facts and logics, as well as based on faith. As quoted in the last section of the book, "God has given to men all that is necessary for them to accomplish their destinies”,Bastiatputs forward a social form as well as a human form. And these social individuals are so constituted that they will develop themselves harmoniously in the clear air of liberty. Liberty is an acknowledgment of faith in God and his works.This argument based on faith can serve as a criticism denying the logic and facts. The book\'s critiques have stated that every individual has a different way of understanding and analysing things. Every individual has the right to express his views having the right to freedom and free expression, but that does not mean that he is exempted from hampering the mindset of the people against the government of the country. The person can be booked for offenses such as Sedition or Treason. On the other hand, Bastiat has its internal connection with the medieval notion of a universe ordered by God in which it is expected that everything would go in the right manner. Further, he believes that his way of interpreting things is correct and reasonable. But, at a point in time, the people may value and consider that interpretation valuable, and at the other moment, the response can be contra too.

In the older time, law related to land and its possession has some conflicts with the religion, but in modern times or today’s world, the same is no longer valid. This argument frames the backbone of this book. The book\'s fundamental idea is that the law based on the individual’s power has certain limitations. The Legal Plunder- referred here as economic constraints and violations had been argued diversely by Bastiat. People and human nature are the same as people imbibes human nature, but the point is that people are always looking for advantages and benefits which they did not even work for, that so at the expense of another. This is the hallmark of the plunder of socialism, stating stealing from one and giving to another. 

The law is focused and always open for various interpretations. Reading this book took me a few hours and provided me with immense pleasure and hundreds of questions. Bastiat interprets the legal plunder of “misconceived philanthropy” by saying that justice and philanthropy are mutually exclusive and mutually support each other in the law sector. But in my opinion, there is a contradiction between philanthropy and the law as philanthropy when misplaced, can infringe, and intervene with the inalienable rights. Although the intention of Bastiat in stating this argument is positive as well as in good faith. He also supported the need for education and argued in favour of making it the state\'s responsibility.  

I am desperate to think what if Bastiat would rewrite this book today. I would have different opinions and conclusions. In today’s time, education is a human right, but at the time of publication of this book, education was not given importance at all in society. At the same time, Bastiat was well-educated and well-read; his selection of the words for writing this book is too absolute for compromise. Bastiat also realized that there is no need for the kings to participate in the country with dictatorship rule, as the law can serve the same purpose irrespective of king\'s presence. It is agreeable that law is studied and practiced by a few, but at the same time, those few should not hamper or regulate our beliefs, our ideas, our will, our consciousness, our sentiments, and our enjoyments. This book had given light on differences between God-gifted natural rights, which has to be protected by the government, and the social-economic rights that the government has provided. Justice is needed in the latter category of rights. This sector does not have any transparency. It is easily corrupted and perverted by infringing the positive rights of some people and supporting the negative rights of others, giving rise to the main idea of socialism.  

It is not my intention to trivialize this book. The most important thing is that every argument and the statements made in the book are crystal-clear as well as crisp. It is worth reading, and Bastiat had written it clearly and concisely, especially for the people of today’s time. A lot can be understood and analysed from his criticism of socialism and defence to liberty. This book, written nearly two centuries back, proves to be relevant today as well. The book is a well-balanced mixture of economics and politics written in a straightforward way, which will probe the readers to question more. The point that I am trying to make is simply that this book is a must-read and should be read with an open and questioning mind.

“Since no individual acting separately can lawfully use force to destroy the rights of others, does it not logically follow that the same principle also applies to the common force that is nothing more than the organized combination of the individual forces?” (The Law, Frederick Bastiat)