Peace Requires Anarchy

Frederic Bastiat’s “The Law”

3 Comments

In his 1850 essay, The Law, classical liberal economist Frederic Bastiat wrote:

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 revolution, of insurrection, of the slightest uprising could arise against a government whose organized force was confined only to suppressing injustice.

Well, Mr. Bastiat, like you I would much prefer to live under such a limited government than to live under the government that I currently live under or the government that you lived under. The fact is, however, that such a government still amounts to tyranny as all governments necessarily do.

I will thus answer your challenge: “the thought of revolution, of insurrection, of the slightest uprising… against a government whose organized force was confined only to suppressing injustice” could arise from almost anywhere.

For example, imagine someone wants to purchase better quality or less expensive injustice-suppressing services from a different person or business wishing to sell such services. Your ideal government would violently prevent this competition from occurring by forcing its citizens to continue to pay taxes to fund its own injustice-suppressing services, would it not? If not, then is your ideal “government” really a government?

For a second example, imagine someone thinks that your government’s police force spends an unnecessary amount of money repressing injustice. Perhaps a bodyguard is hired for each family to make sure that no family gets attacked. I am sure that many people would deem this unnecessary and would not wish to purchase such expensive injustice-repressing services. Again, your government would tax these people against their will to take their money by force to fund its injustice-suppressing services, would it not? If it would not then I contend that what you advocate is not a government at all.

As a third example, imagine that your ideal government decides that the consumption of certain substances, such as marijuana or alcohol, is a crime. I could imagine it repressing these “injustices” despite how some of its citizens disagree that such acts are criminal. I could thus imagine someone wishing not to purchase your government’s injustice-repressing services for the simple reason that some of the acts that get suppressed are peaceful acts that people are free to make, not crimes. Once again, are people free to choose not to purchase the injustice-suppressing services of your ideal government? If they are, then what you propose is not a government at all. And if they are not, then this is the answer to your challenge.

Many years after your time philosopher Roderick T. Long wrote, “A consistent peace activist must be an anarchist.” He was right.

Your phrase “legal plunder” applies to taxation used to fund any goods and services, even the service of law itself.

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Author: PeaceRequiresAnarchy

“A consistent peace activist must be an anarchist.” – Roderick T. Long

3 thoughts on “Frederic Bastiat’s “The Law”

  1. Maybe I misinterpreted Bastiats “The Law” but i got the impression that Bastiat only advocates a justified use of force to combat plunder or unlawful or unprovoked violence.

    To quote “The Law” directly: “If every person has the right to defend – even by force – his person, his liberty and his property, then if follows that a group of men have the right to organize and support a common force to protect these rights constantly. Thus the principle of collective right – it’s reason for existing, it’s lawfulness – is based on individual right. And the common force that protects this collective right cannot logically have any other purpose or any other mission than that for which it acts as a substitute. Thus, since an individual cannot lawfully use force against the person, liberty, or property of another individual, then the common force – for the same reason – cannot lawfully be used to destroy the person, liberty, or property of individuals or groups.”

    As all three of your examples describe a collective force violating the rights, property and person of an individual, then all three are examples of Unjust, Unlawful, and therefore Oppressive governments. But just because there are many unjust governments, doesn’t mean one isn’t attainable. The concept of a just government is simple, perhaps too simple and subtle for most people to realize but its there. I think a just government is the only way to fight the unjust ones as a mob of individuals is far less effective when up against a unified and organized group. Therefore the only way to dismantle all government would require organization of anarchists which would more or less turn all anarchists into a form of government. Lastly, and I’m sorry if offend you, but to say that “if it isn’t oppressive then it isn’t a government” is morally and intellectually irresponsible. If a government doesn’t violently prevent competition, or tax people against their will to provide them services against their will, or use force to impose their idea of what is socially acceptable, then i say YES! IT CAN STILL BE A GOVERNMENT! It can be the most just government in existence!

  2. Hi Michael, thanks for commenting on my post!

    No, I don’t think that you misinterpreted what Bastiat was saying. The quote you provided clearly suggests that Bastiat would agree with you and I that the three examples of government acts that I gave in my post are unjust, oppressive acts.

    Perhaps then it is I who misinterpreted what Bastiat meant. He wrote of “a government whose organized force was confined only to suppressing injustice,” but did not clarify how this “government” would get its funding for its injustice-suppressing services. In order to make sure that I did not make the wrong assumption about whether this “government” was funded voluntarily or through (necessarily-coercive) taxation I made sure to state the two possibilities following each of my three examples.

    Now, as I said in the post, if Bastiat’s “government” does not impose taxes on anyone, nor violently prevent competition, then by my understanding of the definition of the term “government,” what Bastiat described would not be a government, but would simply be equivalent to a private business that people could voluntarily choose to seek the services of or choose not to seek the services of.

    So I simply assumed that a government by definition necessarily imposes taxes on people and/or coercively claims a monopoly on certain kinds of services when writing about Bastiat’s preferred kind of government in the post. To a libertarian who consistently opposes aggression, “governments” by the definition that I used are thus necessarily unjust.

    I see that in your comment you call this definition of governments “morally and intellectually irresponsible.” I do not take offense by you saying that because I think it is a perfectly reasonable definition of governments. I am aware that others have used different definitions of the word “government,” as you and possibly Bastiat may have. Voluntaryist (anarchist) Charles Lane was one person to use a different definition as is evident by the title of a series of letters he wrote: “A Voluntary Political Government” (http://voluntaryist.com/avpg/intro.html).

    But, not everyone uses this definition of government that allows for governments to be compatible with peace. In fact, many libertarians with views similar to mine hold a definition of governments similar to the definition I used, and identify as anarchists as a result. One example is libertarian anarchist, Stephan Kinsella. Judging by what you have written of your views, I would guess that you would disagree with the argument for anarchy in his article (http://www.lewrockwell.com/kinsella/kinsella15.html) on the grounds that proposition (b) is actually true (see article).

    It would then seem that the difference in our views (my anarchist views and your presumably non-anarchist views) may only be a semantic difference. In fact, in the same way it is possible that Frederic Bastiat might be regarded as an anarchist, despite how he never identified as one. But, I cannot know what Bastiat’s views are for sure, so instead I will ask you: what reason do you have for classifying certain voluntarily-funded organizations that offer protection services to people as “governments” rather than “private businesses” or “organizations” offering protective services?

    Is it that the services that the organization offers are services that have been traditionally unjustly monopolized by states, as the nation-states of today do? This seems to be a very poor reason to me. Surely the defining feature of governments is not the kind of services that they provide, but rather the coercive manner by which they provide them. Because again, how would such a voluntary government as that which you presumably support be different than a private organization or business providing the same services? There would be no difference, right? The original definition of governments that I used that means that governments “necessarily employ aggression” (to use Kinsella’s phrasing) is thus a better definition of “government” in my view.

    Lastly, I will politely criticize your use of the term government from your comment in light of what I have said about the term:

    “I think a just government is the only way to fight the unjust ones as a mob of individuals is far less effective when up against a unified and organized group. Therefore the only way to dismantle all government would require organization of anarchists which would more or less turn all anarchists into a form of government.”

    There is nothing about anarchy that implies a lack of order or organization. A unified and organized group of anarchists would be just that, a group of anarchists, not a government. The only way a group of anarchists would become a government would be if they began coercively imposing taxes on people against their will or violently outlawing competitors (in which case they would also become hypocrites). If the general public disapproved of this criminal group of anarchists they might be referred to as a mafia. If the general public tended to approve of their criminal actions, they would likely be referred to as a government. To refer to an organized group of peaceful moral anarchists as a “government” however is, in my view, a misuse of the term.

  3. Pingback: Henry Hazlitt’s “Economics in One Lesson” « Peace Requires Anarchy

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