The Law – Bastiat

“Man can live and satisfy his wants only by ceaseless labor; by the ceaseless application of his faculties to natural resources. This process is the origin of property. But it is also true that a man may live and satisfy his wants by seizing and consuming the products of the labor of others. This process is the origin of plunder.

Now since man is naturally inclined to avoid pain — and since labor is pain in itself — it follows that men will resort to plunder whenever plunder is easier than work. History shows this quite clearly. And under these conditions, neither religion nor morality can stop it.

When, then, does plunder stop? It stops when it becomes more painful and more dangerous than labor.” — Frédéric Bastiat, The Law 1850

If you have not read The Law, you should. Originally written as a pamphlet in 1850, it is 76 pages of simple, easy to read and understand genius. A foundational document if you want to understand why the only purpose for law and the state is to defend the individual right to life, liberty and property.

“If the very purpose of law is the protection of individual rights, then the law may not be used — without contradiction — to accomplish what no individuals have a right to do”. Any such contradiction would be an unlawful law.

To Bastiat, law is a negative. The law’s purpose is not to create justice, but to ensure there is no injustice against an individual’s natural right to life, liberty, and property. The purpose of the law is to protect negative rights, not create positive rights which can only occur through injustice.

So for example, all agree, your neighbor has no right to steal $100 from you and give to the charity of her choice. Therefore, neither does the collective or the state. Would you not agree you have a right to defend with force your property from theft by your neighbor? Natural law says you do.

Using the state to carry out a theft against an individual for charitable purposes is a contradiction of natural law and of no purpose of the state, and an unlawful law. As James Madison said: “Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government”.

The book is less than $10 and a great gift. This should be in everyone’s classical liberal library. A free copy can be found here: or just google for it.


I love the cover of this edition showing the chaos of the French Revolution, the fall of the Bastille.

hqdefault (3)

This entry was posted in Commentary and Letters, Economic Freedom, Economics, Hartford Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s