Frederic BastiatThis past weekend at the Huckabee Presidential Candidate Forum, Ron Paul was asked what one book he would suggest every American read.  His answer was that they should read The Law, by Frédéric Bastiat.  (Video here, at about 10:40)

This was a great answer, and I heartily second Paul’s endorsement.  If you haven’t read it yet, you should.  Though Bastiat was a French economist writing in the early 19th century, his prose is still highly readable and extremely relevant.  And The Law is widely available free online: HTML, Kindle, audio, and PDF versions can all be found on this page.  (Those of you looking to go even deeper into Bastiat’s thought can find an immense wealth of resources at David Hart’s incredible website here)

The Law is about what legal systems should be, and how they have been perverted.  The true purpose of the law, according to Bastiat, is the “collective organization of the individual right to lawful defense” of the natural rights of life, liberty, and property.  But, unfortunately,

The law has been used to destroy its own objective: It has been applied to annihilating the justice that it was supposed to maintain; to limiting and destroying rights which its real purpose was to respect. 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.

Instead of protecting our rights, the law has turned to plundering them.  The main causes of this plunder, in Bastiat’s eyes, are two: “stupid greed and false philanthropy.”

Bastiat’s discussion of the role of greed in promoting plunder is especially relevant today, given ongoing concerns about corporatism and its relation to capitalism as expressed by both libertarians and certain segments of the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Bastiat presents a clear and simple diagnosis of the root cause of corporatist plunder:

When they can, they wish to live and prosper at the expense of others … 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.

How can we identify and stop plunder?

Quite simply. See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime. Then abolish this law without delay, for it is not only an evil itself, but also it is a fertile source for further evils because it invites reprisals. If such a law—which may be an isolated case—is not abolished immediately, it will spread, multiply, and develop into a system.

And in Bastiat’s time, he saw that plunder had developed into a system, where any merchant, guild, or special interest with the resources to do so would struggle to gain influence or control over the coercive power of the state in order to twist it to serve its own private ends.  The result: a system of universal plunder sustained by the “delusion” that the the law can be made to “enrich everyone at the expense of everyone else.”

Not all plunder, however, has its origins in nefarious motives.  Some has its origins in a genuine desire to help the less fortunate.  And Bastiat was one who believed that charitable aid to the poor was an important virtue.  But the purpose of the law is justice, not charity.  And to use the law to achieve charitable ends inevitably perverts justice.

You say: “There are persons who have no money,” and you turn to the law. But the law is not a breast that fills itself with milk. Nor are the lacteal veins of the law supplied with milk from a source outside the society. Nothing can enter the public treasury for the benefit of one citizen or one class unless other citizens and other classes have been forced to send it in.

Such a view might appear cold-hearted – suggesting that the needs of the poor are of so little moral weight that they cannot justify even the most trivial infringement on the liberties of the well-off.  Does Bastiat think that society has no obligation to the least well-off?  No.  This charge, says Bastiat

confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.

Bleeding Heart Libertarians like myself might take issue with some of Bastiat’s claims about the defensibility of social justice and the exact nature of a state’s obligations toward the poor.  But even if you don’t agree with him 100%, you’re sure to find much in The Law to enjoy, ponder over, and admire.

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  • Haytham Yaghi

    Matt, there’s something that always confused me about libertarian thought and I’d appreciate it if you could help me understand. The strict definition of rights as those to life, liberty, personal property and nothing else always seemed arbitrary to me:

    1) This notion was a development in 18th and 19th century Europe. Earlier societies didn’t consider life or liberty as a right. Since defining those 3 rights was an improvement on earlier societies, why not add new ones to the list, now that the collective human thought has progressed and become aware of other social issues like right to social justice or right to education?

    2) Same goes for personal property: It seems to me that an obsession with personal property as the ultimate personal goal limits people’s aspirations and neglects other aspects of human development. What about people who like to live in collectives or communes?

    3) I’ve heard the distinction between positive rights and negative rights, but never really understood it. Practically, what difference does it make? In order to guarantee  the right to life and property of someone else, the government has to tax me, take my money and establish an organization (whether police or army, both which can be abusive, bureaucratic and wasteful) to provide someone else with those rights. If that is the case, why not apply the same for the right of education for example if a more progressive and advanced society decides that education should be a right?

    • http://twitter.com/Tim_DFW Tim

      Because the right of education or say healthcare implies that someone else can be FORCED to provide these to you. If you have the right to education, can we force a teacher at gunpoint to provide this to you? Can we force a doctor to give you healthcare? What about the rights of teachers and doctors? Nothing can be a RIGHT if it imposes on the liberties of someone else. Now you could say you have the RIGHT to SEEK education or SEEK healthcare… but that is different than saying you have the right to be educated and the right to receive healthcare alone.

      As to property, I can make a defense of my own life and property to a certain extent on my own. I can also volunteer to join forces with my neighbors to defend their property and them for me if they so choose. Finally, you should know, that the supreme court has already found decades ago that the police have no legal obligation to protect your rights or liberty.

      • Haytham Yaghi

        Thanks for your reply, but the analogy to your example would be to force people to enlist in the army or the police at gun point in order to provide you with the right to liberty and property. That’s not what happens, people enlist willingly and are paid market value wages (and sometimes depending on rank, they get better treatment than any public sector job). Now in order to pay for that, the government taxes me forcefully and uses my money to pay for it. Why can’t the same be done for education?

        • Anonymous

          I read nothing in Tim’s comment that would imply that people should be forced to enlist in the military or the police in order to provide someone else with the right to liberty and property. Read Tim’s third paragraph. He suggested that people should VOLUNTARILY join forces for the purpose of protecting each other’s life and property.

        • http://twitter.com/Tim_DFW Tim

          You are confusing government services with rights. Rights have NOTHING to do with services. A right is something inherent to yourself that involves NO ONE else. You are born with these rights. According to the US Constitution, these rights are NOT granted by the government, but by the very fact you are alive. They then apply to ALL people, not just US Citizens, unless you believe the “Creator” wanted only those in the USA to have them. You see the Constitution as a document that grants us rights by the government but you misunderstand the very intent of it. The US Constitution does not ESTABLISH these rights but it RECONGNIZES them as being inherent. Thereby the US Constitution is written to RESTRICT GOVERNMENT from taking these rights away. Go read the Constitution again… it is not laws for the people… it is mostly laws for the government and a restrictions on its powers.

          I have a right to my life, because it is mine. I have a right to property I lawfully acquire, because it is mine. I have a right to my speech, because it is mine. I don’t have any right to make you do anything for me. That would make you at some level my slave even if not for a small period of time.

          We may choose to pool resources for services like police, firefighters, and even military. At the end of the day, we have no RIGHT to have these done for us but they are services we have democratically elected to be provided in a shared manner. Of course, education is the same. As a society we have determined there is a benefit to provide at least some base level of education in a pooled or social manner (although there is much evidence displaying that the lack of free markets in education has rendered the quality poor and the costs high particularly in college).

          You argue you are forced to pay your taxes for my benefit, but in the early days this was not so. The founders did not want this.  There was no income tax on wages until the 1900s. Taxes were collected on tariffs and service fees. There was no IRS to come take your money for the “common good”. Income taxes enforced by the IRS and their guns make you and I a slave working at least part of our time for the government.

          The America we have today is nothing like the level of freedom and liberty the founders envisioned. 

          • Haytham Yaghi

            I don’t disagree with anything you said in the post above. Thanks for the clarification.

          • Damien S.

            You are confusing the Constitution with the Declaration of Independence.  The Constitution says nothing about a Creator, and before amendment doesn’t even contain the word ‘rights’, though a right in IP is allowed to be created by Congress.


            We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union,
            establish Justice, insure domestic
            Tranquility, provide for the common defence,
            promote the general Welfare, and secure the
            Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the
            United States of America.

            And a primary intent of the Constitution?  Creating a more powerful central government than the Articles.  Yes, not an unlimited one.

            “Income taxes enforced by the IRS and their guns make you and I a slave working at least part of our time for the government.”

            Typical hyperbole.  A slave is forced to work.  Nothing about the income tax forces you to work.  No work, no tax.

            “The America we have today is nothing like the level of freedom and liberty the founders envisioned. ”

            Yeah, we let women and poor people vote!  And there’s no negro slavery *at all*!

          • http://www.timpeter.com/blog/ Anonymous

            Great point, Damien. The Constitution represents the choices made by the Founders (and subsequent generations via amendments) of where our shared interests lie. And we can choose to amend the Constitution to reflect changes in our common interests over time. 

             At the same time, regarding the Declaration of Independence, I don’t see where appropriate levels of taxation interfere with “life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness.” Does paying taxes deprive you of your life? Clearly not. Do taxes deprive you of your liberty? No. As Damien notes, your taxes are tied to your income. You are free to make as much as you want. And appropriate levels of taxation don’t deprive you of the pursuit of happiness. Much as Tim notes above, you can “…SEEK education or SEEK healthcare.” For many, education or healthcare may indeed represent paths to the happiness they pursue. The Declaration of Independence declares–and the Constitution establishes to protect–a right to the pursuit of happiness. But neither guarantee happiness itself. 

            In other words, just because you don’t care for a particular outcome doesn’t mean it infringes your liberty. 

          • Anonymous

            “Does paying taxes deprive you of your life? Clearly not. Do taxes deprive you of your liberty?”

            You forgot two,

            does it deprive you of your property? yes
            Does it impede your pursuit of happiness? some would say yes.

            Lord knows I would be happier if I did not have to worry if the next paycheck is coming or not.

          • http://twitter.com/Tim_DFW Tim

            “You are confusing the Constitution with the Declaration of Independence.  The Constitution says nothing about a Creator, and before amendment doesn’t even contain the word ‘rights’, though a right in IP is allowed to be created by Congress.”

            There would have been no Constitution had we not first declared independence due to our RIGHTS being violated by the British Crown.
            Do you dispute that the founders in general believed our rights and liberties were from God or some other deity or at the very least assumed to us by our very nature of being alive? This is well accepted fact.

            “Typical hyperbole.  A slave is forced to work.  Nothing about the income tax forces you to work.  No work, no tax.”

            Funny, I would call your response hyperbole. To say one does not have to work is a joke.  You don’t HAVE to breath that is of course unless you want to live. This is the same with work.  I believe the right to your property means the government cannot take the fruits of your labor by force which is exactly what they started doing about 80 years ago.

            “Yeah, we let women and poor people vote!  And there’s no negro slavery *at all*!”

            The fact that certain groups were excluded from their rights does not change the fact that other groups had more rights then than today.
            Your comment does nothing but illustrate the sad fact that while the previously limited groups have relatively more freedom now, they still do not posses the full freedoms experienced by others before them.

          • Anonymous

            “Typical hyperbole.  A slave is forced to work.  Nothing about the income tax forces you to work.  No work, no tax.”

            That about sums it up right, but no work does equal government aid, and a helping to the taxes and fruits of labor of others that do chose to work. More and more people are giving up and joining the dole for that very reason, it is a sinking ship and there is no incentive to work so long as someone else does not have to and can help themselves to the labor of others. Why be the guy, paying for people, when you can be the guy getting the payment. It’s exactly what Bastiat, Paul and this article are talking about. I may not meet the technical definition of slavery, but don’t underestimate the destructive force it has on a society. Those people become a voting block and vote their interest further perpetuation the pattern.

          • Damien S.

            “More and more people are giving up and joining the dole for that very reason”

            As wikipedia says, “Citation needed”.  Conservative fantasies of hordes of deliberately shiftless poor are not facts.  Especially when such aid is rather minimal, and humiliating to get.

          • Anonymous

            Sorry I did not know you where one of those “I need a citation to refute the obvious” types. It’s in the news everyday, just turn it on. I need a citation does not refute the observation, it just a distractions to avoid having to refute the obvious. That’s the problem with America and American’s, you can convince them to ignore the obvious to their own peril.

          • Damien S.

            It’s in the news everyday that people are choosing to not work so they can mooch off of others?  Maybe if your “news” is Fox.  (I’m assuming you’re American.  Maybe not if you talk about ‘dole’.)

            In reality, people are on the dole because *they can’t find work*.  Dozens or hundreds of applications go out, but they still can’t get hired.  Whether in the US or the UK.

    • Anonymous

      The answers to your questions #1 and #3 are related. The distinction between positive and negative rights is about rights, not about outcomes. A negative right is so called because it is a right I have that a thing NOT be done to me. A positive right is so called because it is a right I have that a thing BE DONE to (for) me. Negative rights, in and of themselves, require no activity on the part of others. All that you must do to respect my negative rights is… nothing. If you do nothing you will not be coercing me, defrauding me, or denying me the use of the fruits of my labor. The basic libertarian position is that individuals, even apart from any framework of law or consent, are justified in defending these negative rights with force. Conversely, libertarians do not believe that these same individuals would be justified in forcing their neighbors to feed or educate them; this leads us to the conclusion that positive rights (although we understand what they would look like) do not in fact exist.

      This is crucial to answering your first point, because you have actually suggested a formulation of negative rights as positive ones: you are treating, not our negative rights against force and fraud, but a theoretical positive right – a claim against our neighbors – to enforcement of our negative rights. Here is where the libertarian positions diverge. The anarchic position is that this claim, like all positive claims, is not justifiable: individuals are never justified in forcing their neighbors to protect them. The minarchist position is softer: a framework of law and consent can justify individuals in demanding that their neighbors actively defend their negative rights. The minarchist (and those libertarians further along the spectrum) are still drawing a line, however, which is the answer to your question: the only positive claims that a state is justified in pressing against its citizens are the enforcement of those negative rights that all individuals possess. So, taxation to support the police, military and judiciary are justified, while taxation to support living expenses and education are not.

      I’m not trying to argue for this position here, but rather trying to reveal the libertarian perspective on why the line is drawn where it is. I believe that the analytic distinction between negative and positive rights is defensible and meaningful, and that a political theory which permits the coercive enforcement of – and funding for the enforcement of – the former but not the latter is relying on a distinction that is both clear and usable.

      In response to your question #2, the mainstream libertarian response would be that personal property is not the goal: is not an end but rather a means. The respect for personal property (respect of negative rights) is the solid, justifiable, philosophical foundation from which personal aspirations and development can rise. And because groups, organizations, and even whole societies are only sets of individuals, this respect of negative individual rights forms through those individuals the foundation from which group, organizational, and even societal aspirations and development can rise. This is the libertarian-communitarian divide. Communitarians would invert the foregoing, claiming that societal concerns are primary and that they form the basis for meaningful pursuit of individual concerns.

      This also touches your question of “why aren’t more rights better”. The libertarian response is that they aren’t better because accepting the claim to positive rights can only be had at the cost of the claim to negative rights – and the respect of those negative rights is the firm and proper basis for all individual and societal aspirations and development. We must therefore limit ourselves to non-coercive methods in achieving these positive goals. Libertarians have many practical reasons for this position as well, of course, and it protects perhaps most importantly against what some founders termed a “tyranny of the majority”. So long as negative rights continue to be sacrosanct, the majority cannot be much of a tyrant.

      Finally, as to the people who like to live in collectives or communes. Libertarians are fine with this, and point to the respect of negative rights as the necessary foundation for the existence of such communities. After all, why else would the fruits of the commune’s labor belong to the commune’s members? If the initial members brought property to the commune then they were disposing of it as they saw fit, in keeping with their negative rights as property owners. The enforcement – even external enforcement by the state in which the commune resides – of the commune-member contracts is another case of respecting negative rights. To renegue on a formal and material promise is fraud. This formulation of communes, however, depends upon meaningful and unanimous consent. All members, at least at the time they each joined, meaningfully and unanimously consented to the terms of the contract. No state in which new births occur can ever achieve this consent. Telling people that their method of refusing consent is to leave the commune is not particularly troubling when it is the size of a city block, or even a city entire. It is absolutely troubling – troubling to the justifiable individual claims by which the commune was legitimately formed in the first place – to make this response when the commune is the size of the United States. Meaningful consent cannot be inferred merely from an individual’s continued presence in the land of their birth. If tacit consent to a social contract has any meaning at all, says the libertarian, the extent of the contract must be limited in proportion to its practical escapability. Requires choice to enter and is easy to escape? Load it up! Entry based on chance and escape means monumental personal upheaval? Then you can only place in it things that can be accomplished nowhere else, and which enjoy extremely high rates of ongoing consent. Everything else must be accomplished under terms more favorable to ongoing individual self-determination.

      • Haytham Yaghi

        Thanks a lot for your elaborate responses. It fully answers all my questions in better understanding libertarian thought. That was very helpful.

    • Les Kyle Nearhood

      A right cannot be a thing in which your exercise of it diminishes someone else. (Despite one person on this site who will argue otherwise). My rights to free expression, or even property does not diminish your rights to the same thing. But if you have a right to something like Health care, or Education, then that means someone must pay for it, and if you cannot pay then that someone is me.
      Now I would argue that ACESS to these things is a right. No one, nor government should be able to diminish your ability to pursue all things, but providing them for you is an entitlement, not a right.

  • Damien S.

    I note Wikipedia on Bastiat says
    On the other hand, Bastiat himself declared that subsidy should be
    available, but limited: “under extraordinary circumstances, for urgent
    cases, the State should set aside some resources to assist certain
    unfortunate people, to help them adjust to changing conditions.”[4]
    Also that he inherited a family estate at 25, thus enabling him to live and study at the expense of other’s labor.Taking the big picture and looking at long term consequences can be turned around: pursuing comparative advantage via free trade can increase short-term efficiency at the expense of long term security.  Policies that increase both growth and inequality or insecurity can lead to oppression or revolution.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dan-Kervick/100000673155327 Dan Kervick

    The cognitive gap between the insight about abusive power, on the one hand, and the fixation on only one form of that power, on the other hand, is appalling.

    There are all kinds of coercive power.  The accumulation and concentration of power goes on all the time, always and everywhere – quite apart from those particular forms of coercive power that pertain to the particular organizations we call “states”.  Sometimes that coercive power is employed to achieve ends that are on the whole good, and sometimes it is employed to achieve ends that are on the whole bad.   Now if Bastiat is right about this:

    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.

    …and I clearly think he is.  And if he is right that in such circumstances,

    neither religion nor morality can stop it.

    Then isn’t it an obvious conclusion that people must employ a countervailing coercive power of their own to stop it?   And isn’t the coercive power of organized legal systems they maintain one form of such power?

    Surely even an ornery radical individualist like Bastiat recognizes that not all abusive applications of  coercive power are applications of abusive legal power.

    A “merchant, guild or special interest” does not have to “gain influence or control over the coercive power of the state” in order to abuse, oppress, subordinate, and dominate others – or even if some cases to injure and and kill them.  And in some cases, if the power of a decent government were not their to restrain them, these merchants, guilds and special interests would employ brutally coercive and oppressive means indeed.  Without a government we would be forever at the mercy of such abusive plunderers, who would be free to practice their piracies, subordinations and exploitations and without restraint.

    On another matter, who is Bastiat, or anyone else, to say what the “true purpose” of the law is.   Who informed him about the supposed “natural rights” whose defense is the law’s “true purpose?”    Who delivered unto him those revelatory  tablets.   This is the kind of attitude that David Hume lampooned as “enthusiasm” – a belief that one is in communion with some sort of higher power or principle that communicates to one a supramundane truth.

    Why are libertarians so permanently fired up about the “state”, and so blind to every other form of coercion, cruelty, savagery and oppression?   It’s like you guys think that no individual or group ever forced anyone else to do anything the latter didn’t want, except when the former was accompanied by some leviathan “state”.

    • http://aaronmclin.blogspot.com/ Aaron

      It’s like you guys think that no individual or group ever forced anyone else to do anything the latter didn’t want, except when the former was accompanied by some leviathan “state”.

      From what I understand, there IS a strain of libertarian thought that claims that all unwarranted force and fraud stems from “the state,” although I don’t think that it’s universally embraced here. (For instance, according to the FAQ for the Minnesota Libertarian Party, southern racism only existed because the government effectively encoded it into law.)

      The easiest way to think of it may be the idea that “Power corrupts.” Individuals do not have enough power to be corrupt, since their fellows can always band together to oppose them. It’s only through the ability to amass power through having one’s personal authority backed by a legitimizing apparatus that allows people to become powerful enough to actually be meaningfully corrupt.

      Personally, what I have always doubted about Libertarian orthodoxy is the idea that people are empathetic enough to not simply stand by while their peers are victimized. When Rand (I think it was Rand) Paul got himself into trouble by saying he opposed civil rights laws (to overgeneralize) he based this on the idea that people would stand up for one another to the point that open racism on the part of business would be a career-limiting move. It was the fact that most people simply didn’t believe that deeply in their fellow men that caused him headaches.

      • Anonymous

        Rand might have meant it that way, but I took him to be referring simply to the act of limiting one’s pool for customers and labor. If Whitey’s Groceries won’t employ black people or sell to black people, their labor costs are higher and their customer pool smaller than Blackie’s Groceries down the street. It doesn’t take spontaneous community solidarity on behalf of Blackie’s to put Whitey’s at a moderate economic disadvantage – they’re already there. Anne Wortham tells a story of her father writing essentially this to the local NAACP directors, who he neither liked nor trusted: “Look, you people want us to boycott the supermarkets. We should be trying to figure out how to have our own market.” (Interview with Bill Moyers, 1989 )

        I don’t know enough to pass judgment on the utility of the Civil Rights Act as a whole, but I do know enough to understand some of the microcosms; in particular I know that forcing all businesses to serve black people results in fewer black entrepreneurs. That’s not a gain. Rand, Anne, and others are correct that very few people appreciate the counter-forces that work to limit harm to minorities and promote their eventual equality if strong private property rights and a rule of law exist.

        • http://aaronmclin.blogspot.com/ Aaron

          Let me get this straight. You’re saying that “the counter-forces that work to limit harm to minorities and promote their eventual equality” are independent of the choices of the majority? Because that’s where Rand Paul got into trouble – over-estimating the strength of those forces. If no White person is willing to shop at Blackie’s Groceries because of social pressures or simple racism and price isn’t their primary motivating factor, the fact that he has lower labor costs doesn’t matter. And besides, Blackie’s can really only guarantee that he has lower labor costs because his employees, having fewer options, can’t ask for higher wages.

          Limiting one’s pool for customers and labor isn’t really that big a problem when the society at large supports those limitations, and is willing to bring pressure (not necessarily coercion) to bear to keep them in place. There can be more to the price of a good or service than money. Paul took it on the chin for not acknowledging that.

          In the end, civil rights laws were less about forcing the hands of people who supported racism than they were about providing a certain level of cover to people who didn’t.

          • Anonymous

            No, I am not saying they are independent of the choices of the majority. I am saying that neither are they fully dependent on the choices of the majority, if strong property rights and a rule of law exist. If you want to talk about a failure of government to recognize civil rights, I believe we should talk first about the failure of government to provide practically the equality before the law for all individuals that is in principle acknowledged. That failure, unfortunately, could not be done away with so easily as open business discrimination and continues to this day.

            Of course you are correct about the primary source of any labor cost advantage enjoyed by Blackie’s Groceries. But I don’t see the problem: we’re talking about a community self-helping itself out of a deep social, educational, political, and economic hole. Blackie’s Groceries did not create this situation, and by capitalizing on it can help to correct it. I’m not saying the situation isn’t ugly, but that strong tools do exist for self-correction and that a stronger minority community, a stronger nation, and eventually a stronger inter-racial peace are forged along that path than along the path we chose.

            Paul took it on the chin because it doesn’t matter whether he’s right or not: no one wants to hear a white American male criticize the Civil Rights Act. And frankly I don’t blame them: there’s been far too much water go under that bridge. In their shoes I’d want me to keep my mouth shut too. Paul should have simply noted that there are individuals – at the time and now – within the very communities the Civil Rights Act was designed to help, that disagree with Title II of the act; that he believed their concerns to be valid and important; that as no one wants to hear a white guy criticize the CRA the reporter should probably go find one of those people, if they really have an interest in reporting on those concerns. You have to see that question for the sucker punch that it is and pull off some kind of Judo if you don’t want to end up on the mat.

          • Damien S.

            “strong tools do exist for self-correction and that a stronger minority
            community, a stronger nation, and eventually a stronger inter-racial
            peace are forged along that path than along the path we chose.”

            Those ‘strong tools’ had a hundred years in which to work.  That path is  obviously far inferior to the path of direct action and federal intervention which took over later and worked much faster.

          • http://aaronmclin.blogspot.com/ Aaron

            _That path is  obviously far inferior to the path of direct action and federal intervention which took over later and worked much faster._

            That depends on what you value, and your opinion of human nature. As a general rule, political philosophies that favor state (not necessarily societal) intervention tend to see a greater gulf between their values and the natural tendencies of people than those that disfavor state action.

            I think that it’s also worth noting that, as I see it, Libertarianism, Anarcho-Capitalism, et cetera tend to be more sanguine about individuals (even large numbers of individuals) suffering, as long as the whole body politic can be said to do better in some important regard.

            It’s six of one, half a dozen of the other in some ways, but I think where most Libertarians have difficulty is in convincing others that their optimism about people is genuine, and not a cover for hanging people out to dry.

          • http://aaronmclin.blogspot.com/ Aaron

            I am saying that neither are they fully dependent on the choices of the majority, if strong property rights and a rule of law exist.

            If the majority are willing to ignore strong property rights and the rule of law when it suits them, then who is going to enforce them? People did not pose for pictures in front of men that they had lynched because of weak laws against murder. They did so because they were unafraid of the law being applied to them because they were certain (correctly in a lot of cases) that a jury of their peers would fully agree with their actions. Just because one thinks that certain laws are right doesn’t mean that enforcing them in the face of strong popular resistance won’t be seen as tyranny.

            Paul took it on the chin because it doesn’t matter whether he’s right or not: no one wants to hear a white American male criticize the Civil Rights Act.

            I call BS. It’s perfectly possible to criticize the Civil Rights Act. I still maintain that where Paul screwed up was in seeming to suggest that the Civil Rights Act was unnecessary because the problem would have taken care of itself. Saying that freedom means that sometimes people will do bad things didn’t help him either – it lent the impression that he was okay with nasty things happening, as long as “freedom” was protected.

            I don’t think I’m the first person to note that Libertarians tend to have a fairly optimistic view of human nature. While I don’t think that the Rachel Maddow show gave enough time for Paul to fully explain why he was so confident that 50’s and 60’s America was significantly more enlightened than we think of it today, he should have been ready to make the beginnings of that case, rather than being blindsided. Because people came away with the idea that the level of optimism he claimed was false, given what they knew about the period.

          • Anonymous

            I understand that many people think libertarians are optimists about human nature. But to those wishing to truly understand libertarians it is vitally important to know that this is not the case. Most libertarians are not at all optimistic about human nature. They just respond to that judgment differently than non-libertarians. The average libertarian’s attitude is fairly well captured by Thomas Jefferson’s words in his first inaugural address, 1801: “Sometimes it is said that man can not be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others?”

            The libertarian mind rejects human nature as an adequate foundation for large-scale benevolent coercion. This is why they wish to pry the weapon of coercion from the grasp of human nature as completely as possible. Hence, they find balance in instituting governments to protect individuals from those ungoverned souls who would violate their negative rights, while also restricting those same governments from using coercion for any other purpose.

            The anarchist, in turn, believes the mainstream libertarian has failed to learn his history lesson: that governments cannot be tamed. He would rather trust to markets and voluntarism to protect his negative rights, than to allow a government to take root.

          • Anonymous

            I recently ran across an old (and very dense) Hayek quote that is on topic here. Who, Hayek asks us to consider, is really the most trusting of human nature?

            “Even more significant of
            the inherent weakness of the collectivist theories is the
            extraordinary paradox that from the assertion that society is in some
            sense more than merely the aggregate of all individuals their
            adherents regularly pass by a sort of intellectual somersault to the
            thesis that in order that the coherence of this larger entity be
            safeguarded it must be subjected to conscious control, that is, to
            the control of what in the last resort must be an individual mind. It
            thus comes about that in practice it is regularly the theoretical
            collectivist who extols individual reason and demands that all forces
            of society be made subject to the direction of a single mastermind,
            while it is the individualist who recognizes the limitations of the
            powers of individual reason and consequently advocates freedom as a
            means for the fullest development of the powers of the
            interindividual process.” – F. A. Hayek

          • Anonymous

            “It’s perfectly possible to criticize the Civil Rights Act.”

            As to this, I am sure it is technically possible for a well-off, southern, white, American male to  “critique” the CRA and not get flattened for it. However, the vast majority would not be capable of it, least of all in that kind of forum. I am better than most at disarming and mediatory communication, and I would fear to attempt it. It is too easy to fail and miscommunicate. There is not enough basis for charity toward my speech. I think those in Rand’s shoes who care enough about the dangers of misunderstanding on this topic will allow the discussion to be carried on by others.

          • http://aaronmclin.blogspot.com/ Aaron

            That’s fair. But Rand Paul is a professional politician. The idea that he can’t be eloquent or prepared enough to pull it off is a stretch. Someone who wants to promote libertarianism on the national stage should be capable to defend it well.

          • Anonymous

            That’s one of my primary disappointments with the Paul’s. They seem continually unprepared to present libertarianism to the masses. The choir is with them, but the congregation isn’t impressed. Ron in particular is just so frustratingly vague and generic so much of the time.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dan-Kervick/100000673155327 Dan Kervick

        Personally, what I have always doubted about Libertarian orthodoxy is the idea that people are empathetic enough to not simply stand by while their peers are victimized.

        I thought libertarian orthodoxy was that if people are being victimized, then – empathy or no empathy – it’s a prima facie bad thing to use coercive power to stop it.

        • Anonymous

          Not at all, Dan. Under libertarian orthodoxy, if people are being victimized you have a right, but not on obligation, to intervene, unless there is a prior agreement for you to intervene.

        • http://aaronmclin.blogspot.com/ Aaron

          I think what’s really at stake there is the definition of “victimize.” My understanding is that the Libertarian definition is much more restrictive than, say, the Socialist definition.

  • http://aaronmclin.blogspot.com/ Aaron

    The true purpose of the law, according to Bastiat, is the “collective organization of the individual right to lawful defense” of the natural rights of life, liberty, and property.

    This seems to presuppose the idea that all people are equal. I doubt that this was the assumption back in the day when many of what we consider the first formal codes of laws were laid down. So this raises, for me anyway, the question of how Bastiat came to a conclusion that world history at the time would never have supported. I mean his theory is nice and all, but if you work under the assumption that laws became corrupt when they deviated from that, it seems more reasonable to decide that they started corrupt, and went downhill from there.

    • http://twitter.com/Tim_DFW Tim

      I am certain Bastiat recognizes that the definition of Law is subjective and certainly has been throughout history. The law has more often been used to RESTRICT the liberty of the individual in mass for the benefit of the few.
       
      I believe Bastiat saw his definition as a more just and ideal position for the law and for justice as well. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rick-DiMare/100000504645309 Rick DiMare

    Regarding Bastiat on how to actually stop plunder, it appears that if we can’t convince our judges and lawyers to start standing up for the property right we “natural perons” have in our minds, bodies and labor (against the Federal Reserve, IRS, banks, employers, etc.), then the prospects for a peaceful solution seem to depend upon whether collectivists fear the pain that “the people” might inflict more than the pain of actually laboring:

    “When, then, does plunder stop?  It stops when it becomes more painful and more dangerous than labor.  It is evident, then, that the proper purpose of law is to use the power of its collective force to stop this fatal tendency to plunder instead of to work.  All measures of the law should protect property and punish plunder.” 

  • Anonymous

    Where is libertarianism actually at work; or is it still merely theoretical?   New Hampshire was targeted for libertarian saturation, perhaps the 1990s.  What is the current state of this experiment?

    When people say that the “… 50’s and 60’s America was significantly more enlightened than we think of it today”, I think ‘sure: if you were a white male who knew how to keep off-mainstream activities in the closet.’  Everyone else was expected to be mostly invisible and never physically unattractive.  Those too unattractive were institutionalized. People who did not know their place were killed.  Not really a hey day of personal rights for most of us.  However, as each generation has moved further from the conviction that power is bestowed by an omnipotent deity, “God”, and therefore deserved without question, mainstream thought has become more enlightened. How could I vote for a “Father Knows Best” white male?

    I feel that libertarianism remains too theoretical to be electable, rendering it naive and without a plan to deal with the true threat to society; the plunder  by entities concentrating power at the expense of others.  I think that we need to address how we will put theory into practice and begin to deal with people who have concentrated power (and thus the wealth to protect it – I have nothing against the wealthy per se). The powerful fly under the radar, and stay out of the spot light; leaving society wrestling with the smoke screen of the vulnerable, Social Justice, and Distributive Politics.

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  • Andy

    Bastiat’s simple and articulate thesis helps me understand the problems our society faces with welfarism on one end of the spectrum and corporitism on the other.  If law was applied as it should be, according to Bastiat’s ideal, political lobbyists would be obsolete.  Today we have “groups” fighting over the goodies government can give them.  Proper government has no right to pass legislation for groups of people.  The constitution states that the its purpose is to promote the “general” welfare.   I think the key is to remember the difference between law and society.  

  • Les Kyle Nearhood

    Got the Portable Bastiat reader, lots of good stuff.

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