In the history of political thought, great thinkers have influenced individuals to shape their own political philosophy. Certainly, many great thinkers have been ignored in academia for their advocacy of a free society. Such is the case of nineteenth-century economist and political writer, Frédéric Bastiat, who is oftentimes not discussed in Political Science courses at many American institutions of higher learning. What are some of Bastiat’s contributions to political thought? We shall see them in this short article.
Firstly, his view that the law is “the collective organization of the individual right of legitimate defense.” Bastiat believed the law cannot affect individual rights nor individual liberties. Doing so would undermine the whole purpose of the law as the “natural right of legitimate defense.” The law, therefore, needs to protect individual rights and individual liberties. Take for instance this example: Suppose I go to you and ask you to give me $500 dollars (using force/coercion) so I can help a poor person.
Now, you would think I am crazy and so you will give me the $500 dollars out of fear. Bastiat would say this is a false philanthropy because you are not reaching your own pocket to help the poor person. However, when legal plunder becomes the norm through the legislature, many people want to participate in such a legal robbery. As Bastiat put it, “Up to now, legal plunder has been exercised by the minority over the majority as can be seen in those peoples in which the right to pass laws is concentrated in just a few hands.
However, it has now become universal and equilibrium is being sought in universal plunder. Instead of the injustice existing in society being rooted out, it has become generalized.” This notion about the minority dictating what is “good” for the majority is of utter disgust by Bastiat, he wouldn’t agree in plundering his fellow man.
Moreover, the corruption of the morals in a free society and how the law influences is an important Bastiat spirit. He beautifully wrote in his magnum opus, The Law, the following, “When law and morality contradict one another, citizens find themselves in the cruel quandary of either losing their notion of morality or losing respect for the law.”
This is a universal truth! We oftentimes see how the law has corrupted men to not obey their own principles, morals, and values. Bastiat would agree that the law influences morality and vice versa. A society who has moral individuals would not tolerate nor favor the notion of plundering their fellow man because good men do not want to rob other men. As Frédéric Bastiat said, “It is so deeply ingrained in the nature of law to ensure that justice reigns, that law and justice are inseparable in the eyes of the masses.”
Finally, recognizing that freedom is a natural right pursued to all individuals. All men throughout the ages have suffered from slavery, oppression, and totalitarian control of their own lives. The Bastiat spirit is about a society where individual rights over collectivist rights exist. “All men are created equal,” as the Declaration of Independence states.
Bastiat’s view is about putting freedom because it will benefit society and individuals to live in a prosperous world where freedom reigns for all. As Bastiat concluded his work, The Law, “And since the social body has had inflicted on it so many theoretical systems to no avail, let us finish where we should have started; let us reject these and at last put freedom to the test, freedom, which is an act of faith in God and His work.”
Frédéric Bastiat has been forgotten from the classroom at many universities but his contributions to political thought have influenced many to fight for freedom and the free society. Today, we celebrate Bastiat’s birthday and let us hope other young minds learn about him and his works.