Book Review: The Law

The Law, by Frederic Bastiat

About twenty years ago or so I was introduced to this book because my mother was taking coursework for her bachelor’s degree in business and this book was a text in one of her college classes.  Finding it interesting, I read it for myself and thought the book extremely powerful and worthwhile.  In re-reading this book I find it no less so, and no less important as a critique for many trends in contemporary politics concerning “legal plunder” and the idea of the messianic state that is present in the minds of a great deal of contemporary leftists.  Although my thoughts and feelings on libertarianism as such are mixed to negative [1], this book deals with many of my concerns about contemporary libertarian thought and practice by focusing on the restraint of government and law to its proper sphere and not the celebration of a lack of restraint from moral law as is so common among libertarians today.  By limiting his focus to the role of government and its proper limits, Bastiat manages to convince where others inflame, and that is a considerable blessing to his readers today who will likely find his argument and discussion very relevant to current political disputes.

This book is a short one at about 75 pages and is written as one chapter and it presents itself in the best 18th and 19th century fashion as an extended political debate in the period of the establishment of the Second French Republic in 1848.  Bastiat shows himself to be aware of the socialism of many of his fellow delegates and prophetic in the leanings of them, while also remaining critical at the same time of protectionism and the corrupt crony capitalist state where winners and losers are ordained by government subsidies and preferential treatment.  Bastiat argues consistently, and I think accurately, that a great deal of the quarreling over suffrage was due to the realization that capturing government meant putting one’s own worldview into law, and therefore the state was a prize worth fighting over.  It is Bastiat’s intention, and one I support, that the powers of the state should be circumscribed to such an extent that the state is no longer worth fighting over and can get to the business of defending the rights and well-being of citizens and not seeking to ordain winners and losers in the contest of life.  The state is not our Messiah, Jesus Christ is, and we must be clear on that point.

There are at least a few ways in which Bastiat makes himself a particularly appealing figure in writing about matters of political economy.  For one, he draws out some of the more unsettling and totalitarian implications of a lot of French writers of the age of the philosophes and also has some harsh things to say about the way that many cultural elites view themselves as potters and the commonfolk of their societies as clay to be molded and shaped by their theories and the laws that they pass as leaders.  Additionally, Bastiat shows himself to be impartial and condemns those of both right and left who seek to pervert the state for their own selfish benefit, especially when they seek to do so in the name of a phony philanthropy, as is common even today, especially among the left.  Also, Bastiat wrote this powerful blast of freedom and restraint (which are both necessary for liberty to be widely enjoyed in a society) while he knew he was dying from tuberculosis, making this writing of a dying man all the more poignant in that he did not have enough time to write more, although we dearly would have wanted him to.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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6 Responses to Book Review: The Law

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