To Be Free or Not To Be Free

Phil Brennan

"The law perverted. And the police powers of the state along with it! The law, I say, not only turned from its proper purpose but made to follow an entirely contrary purpose. The law becomes the weapon of every kind of greed! Instead of checking crime, the law itself guilty of the evils it is supposed to punish."
Frederick Bastiat, The Law 1850

Those words were written 148 years ago by a French legislator who, in the final year of his life tried to warn France against the evils of socialism into which his nation had drifted and which he insisted was nothing less than a system of legalized plunder.

Those words could have been written yesterday!

The law, Bastiat wrote, exists solely to protect life, liberty and property. Used for any other purpose, the law becomes tyranny.

He defined the law as

"an organization of the natural right of lawful defense ... the substitution of a common force [government] for individual forces. And the common force is to do only what the individual forces have a natural right to do: to protect persons, liberties, and properties; to maintain the right of each, and to cause justice to reign over us all.

"If a nation were founded on this basis, it seems to me that order would prevail among people, in thought as well as in deed. It seems to me that such a nation would have the most simple, easy to accept, economical, limited, non-oppressive, just and enduring government imaginable — whatever its political form might be."

Later, he extolled the United States as it was in the 1850s as the living proof that such a government could exist and prosper.

"There is no country in the world where the law is kept more within its proper domain: the protection of every person's liberty and property. As a consequence of this there appears to be no country in the world where the social order rests on a firmer foundation," he wrote.

Socialism perverts the law, making it an instrument of legalized plunder. Government, said George Washington is "force." And once that force is put at the disposal of socialist plunderers, liberty vanishes and government ceases to be the servant of free people and becomes, instead, their master.

The purpose of the law, Bastiat repeated, is to prevent injustice from reigning — purely a negative function.

"But when the law, by means of its necessary agent, force, imposes upon me a regulation of labor, a method or a subject of education, a religious faith or creed — then the law is no longer negative; it acts positively upon people. It substitutes the will of the legislator for their own wills, the initiative of the legislator for their own initiatives. When this happens, the people no longer need to discuss, to compare, to plan ahead; the law does all that for them. Intelligence become a useless prop for the people; they cease to become men; they lose their personality, their liberty, their property.

"Try to imagine a regulation of labor imposed by force that is not a violation of liberty; a transfer of wealth imposed by force that is not a violation of property. If you cannot reconcile these contradictions, then you must conclude that the law cannot organize labor and industry without organizing injustice."

Does all this sound familiar? Isn't the situation Bastiat described in 1850 the situation in which we find ourselves today? Listen as he describes what he called: "The most popular falacy of our times;" for it is also the most popular falacy of our times:

"It is not considered that the law should be just; it must be philanthropic. Nor is it sufficient that the law should guarantee to every citizen the free and inoffensive use of his faculties for physical, intellectual and moral self-improvement. Instead, it is demanded that the law should directly extend welfare, education and morality throughout the nation.

"This is the seductive lure of socialism. And I repeat again; These two uses of the law are in direct contradiction to each other. We must choose between them. A citizen cannot at the same time be free and not free."

Listen to his descriptions of the socialists with whom he contended and try to deny that they accurately describe today's socialists who now hide under the guise of a benificent liberalism.


"Socialists look upon people as raw material to be formed into social combinations."


"....While mankind tends toward evil, the (socialist) legislators yearn for good; while mankind advances toward darkness, the legislators aspire for enlightenment; while mankind is drawn toward vice, the legislators are attracted toward virtue. Since they have decided that this is the true state of affairs, they then demand the use of force in order to substitute their own inclinations for those, of the human race."





" is claimed that persons are nothing but raw material. It is not for them to will their own improvement; they are incapable of it... only the legislator is capable of doing this. Persons are merely to be what the legislator wills them to be ..."




"Clearly ... the conscience of the social democrats cannot permit persons to have any liberty because they believe that the nature of mankind tends always toward every kind of degradation and disaster. Thus ... the legislators must make plans for the people in order to save them from themselves."

As a result of socialist domination and perversion of the law, the people of France in Bastiat's time had become "the most governed, the most regulated, the most imposed upon, the most harnessed, and the most exploited people in Europe. "

And, he wrote, this would continue

"so long as human beings with feelings continue to remain passive; so long as they consider themselves incapable of bettering their prosperity and happiness by their own intelligence and their own energy; so long as they expect everything from the law; in short, so long as they imagine that their relationship to the state is the same as that of the sheep to the shepherd."

It is axiomatic that a nation whose people ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.

We are witnessing all of the evils Bastiat experienced in his time. The law has been perverted; it no longer seeks to prevent injustice. It has become the instrument of socialists who call themselves liberals; the means by which Americans have become the most governed, the most regulated, the most imposed upon, the most harnessed, and the most exploited people in our nation's history. We have sold our liberty for a mess of socialist pottage. And we are gagging on it! We have become the sheep; our government the shepherd. And we are forever being herded into regulatory pens by countless government agencies and continuously shorn by others.

For more than a century the lives, liberties and property of the American people were safeguarded by the most perfect instrument for self-government ever conceived by the mind of man — the Constitution of the United States. It stood like a rock barrier between the people and their government, protecting them from the excesses of that force which is the law.

This past century has seen the protection afforded by the Constitution slowly eroded by the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of the government. It was Liberty's perfect guarantee. It is now a shell of its former self, twisted and perverted by the very people sworn to uphold it.

Bastiat was correct. We cannot at the same time be free and not free . We are either one or the other. Freedom is not divisible. The freedoms we are allowing the socialists to take from us were won by the blood of our ancestors. If we fail to reclaim them now with our deeds, our children and grandchildren will have to reclaim them with their blood.

And that blood will be on our hands.

Faugh a' Ballagh!

Perspectives column from December 31, 1999 issue of Wednesday on the Web

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February 1999