Some of my favorite quotes from the works of Frederic Bastiat
Against such conclusions as these I protest with all my strength. Far from entertaining the absurd idea of doing away with religion, education, property, labor, and the arts, when we say that the State ought to protect the free development of all these kinds of human activity, without helping some of them at the expense of others—we think, on the contrary, that all these living powers of society would develop themselves more harmoniously under the influence of liberty; and that, under such an influence no one of them would, as is now the case, be a source of trouble, of abuses, of tyranny, and disorder. Our adversaries consider that an activity which is neither aided by supplies, nor regulated by government, is an activity destroyed. We think just the contrary. Their faith is in the legislator, not in mankind; ours is in mankind, not in the legislator.
As a permanent, general, systematic measure, it is nothing else than a ruinous mystification, an impossibility, which shows a little excited labor which is seen, and hides a great deal of prevented labor, which is not seen.
The stone has only been thrown upon one part of the lake, because the law has prevented it from being thrown upon another.
To take by violence is not to produce, but to destroy. Truly, if taking by violence was producing, this country of ours would be a little richer than she is.
Look at the United States. There is no country in the world where the law is kept more within its proper domain—which is, to secure to everyone his liberty and his property. Therefore, there is no country in the world where social order appears to rest upon a more solid basis. Nevertheless, even in the United States, there are two questions, and only two, that from the beginning have endangered political order. And what are these two questions? That of slavery and that of tariffs; that is, precisely the only two questions in which, contrary to the general spirit of this republic, law has taken the character of a plunderer. Slavery is a violation, sanctioned by law, of the rights of the person. Protection is a violation perpetrated by the law upon the rights of property; and certainly it is very remarkable that, in the midst of so many other debates, this double legal scourge, the sorrowful inheritance of the Old World, should be the only one which can, and perhaps will, cause the rupture of the Union.
Now, legal plunder may be exercised in an infinite multitude of ways. Hence come an infinite multitude of plans for organization; tariffs, protection, perquisites, gratuities, encouragements, progressive taxation, free public education, right to work, right to profit, right to wages, right to assistance, right to instruments of labor, gratuity of credit, etc., etc. And it is all these plans, taken as a whole, with what they have in common, legal plunder, that takes the name of socialism.
And, in all sincerity, can anything more be required at the hands of the law? Can the law, whose necessary sanction is force, be reasonably employed upon anything beyond securing to every one his right? I defy anyone to remove it from this circle without perverting it, and consequently turning force against right. And as this is the most fatal, the most illogical social perversion that can possibly be imagined, it must be admitted that the true solution, so much sought after, of the social problem, is contained in these simple words—LAW IS ORGANIZED JUSTICE.
I do not take it, as it often is taken, in a vague, undefined, relative, or metaphorical sense. I use it in its scientific acceptation, and as expressing the opposite idea to property. When a portion of wealth passes out of the hands of him who has acquired it, without his consent, and without compensation, to him who has not created it, whether by force or by artifice, I say that property is violated, that plunder is perpetrated. I say that this is exactly what the law ought to repress always and everywhere.
You say, “There are men who have no money,” and you apply to the law. But the law is not a self-supplied fountain, whence every stream may obtain supplies independently of society. Nothing can enter the public treasury, in favor of one citizen or one class, but what other citizens and other classes have been forced to send to it.
You say, “There are men who want knowledge,” and you apply to the law. But the law is not a torch that sheds light that originates within itself. It extends over a society where there are men who have knowledge, and others who have not; citizens who want to learn, and others who are disposed to teach. It can only do one of two things: either allow a free operation to this kind of transaction, i.e., let this kind of want satisfy itself freely; or else pre-empt the will of the people in the matter, and take from some of them sufficient to pay professors commissioned to instruct others for free. But, in this second case there cannot fail to be a violation of liberty and property—legal plunder.
And so, every time we object to a thing being done by Government, it concludes that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of education by the State—then we are against education altogether. We object to a State religion—then we would have no religion at all. We object to an equality which is brought about by the State then we are against equality, etc., etc. They might as well accuse us of wishing men not to eat, because we object to the cultivation of corn by the State.
We say to it, I am dissatisfied at the proportion between my labor and my enjoyments. I should like, for the sake of restoring the desired equilibrium, to take a part of the possessions of others. But this would be dangerous. Could not you facilitate the thing for me? Could you not find me a good place? or check the industry of my competitors? or, perhaps, lend me gratuitously some capital, which you may take from its possessor? Could you not bring up my children at the public expense? or grant me some subsidies? or secure me a pension when I have attained my fiftieth year? By this means I shall gain my end with an easy conscience, for the law will have acted for me, and I shall have all the advantages of plunder, without its risk or its disgrace!
I wish someone would offer a prize—not of a hundred francs, but of a million, with crowns, medals and ribbons—for a good, simple and intelligible definition of the word “Government.” What an immense service it would confer on society! The Government! What is it? Where is it? what does it do? what ought it to do? All we know is, that it is a mysterious personage; and assuredly, it is the most solicited, the most tormented, the most overwhelmed, the most admired, the most accused, the most invoked, and the most provoked, of any personage in the world.
Government is that great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.
Thus, the public has two hopes, and Government makes two promises—many benefits and no taxes. Hopes and promises that, being contradictory, can never be realized.
The hundred thousand mouths of the press and of the speaker’s platform cry out all at once: “Organize labor and workmen.” “Do away with greed.” “Repress insolence and the tyranny of capital.” “Experiment with manure and eggs.” “Cover the country with railways.” “Irrigate the plains.” “Plant the hills.” “Make model farms.” “Found social laboratories.” “Colonize Algeria.” “Nourish children.” “Educate the youth.” “Assist the aged.” “Send the inhabitants of towns into the country.” “Equalize the profits of all trades.” “Lend money without interest to all who wish to borrow.” “Emancipate Italy, Poland, and Hungary.” “Rear and perfect the saddle-horse.” “Encourage the arts, and provide us with musicians and dancers.” “Restrict commerce, and at the same time create a merchant navy.” “Discover truth, and put a grain of reason into our heads. The mission of Government is to enlighten, to develop, to extend, to fortify, to spiritualize, and to sanctify the soul of the people.”
And the people believe, and the people hope, and the people make a revolution! No sooner are their friends at the head of affairs, than they are called upon to redeem their pledge. “Give us work, bread, assistance, credit, education, colonies,” say the people; “and at the same time protect us, as you promised, from the taxes.”
The following is the beginning of the preamble: France has constituted itself a republic for the purpose of raising all the citizens to an ever-increasing degree of morality, enlightenment, and well-being. Thus it is France, or an abstraction, that is to raise the French, or flesh-and-blood realities, to morality, well-being, etc. Is it not by yielding to this strange delusion that we are led to expect everything from an energy not our own? Is it not announcing that there is, independently of the French, a virtuous, enlightened, and rich being, who can and will bestow upon them its benefits? Is not this supposing, and certainly very presumptuously, that there are between France and the French—between the simple, abridged, and abstract denomination of all the individualities, and these individualities themselves—relations as of father to son, tutor to his pupil, professor to his scholar? I know it is often said, metaphorically, “the country is a tender mother.” But to show the inanity of the constitutional proposition, it is only needed to show that it may be reversed, not only without inconvenience, but even with advantage. Would it be less exact to say, The French have constituted themselves a Republic, to raise France to an ever-increasing degree of morality, enlightenment, and well-being. Now, where is the value of an axiom where the subject and the attribute may change places without inconvenience? Everybody understands what is meant by this, “The mother will feed the child.” But it would be ridiculous to say, “The child will feed the mother.”