The Law

Published  Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I came across Dean Russell’s translation of Frederic Bastiat’s The Law, published by the Foundation for Economic Education when I began a project of my own in which I intended to write an article or small book logically identifying the purpose of the law. I knew that, in order to have any credibility, I would need to begin with a definition of justice that was readily agreed upon in legal circles. To that end I began a search for a basic, well recognized book on the law. I wanted something fundamental, not a specific case study or a text book, but something that treated on the topic as a whole; when I came across the title of The Law in my search I figured it was as good a place to start as any. It turned out to not be what I was looking for at all, however, it was instead exactly what I would have wanted to write, and I doubt I could have done the subject more justice, or written as convincingly as Bastiat did in his treatise.

Bastiat begins by identify the nature and origin of Man and our rights and responsibilities, which are one and the same. He then recognizes that in a state of nature, just as Locke wrote, all men have also the right to use force to defend their rights of life, liberty and property and, further so, the responsibility to defend them, though not excessively. After recognizing this right and responsibility of defense, Bastiat goes on to argue that law is the result of a collective organization of the individual’s right of defense.

In the remainder of the book, Bastiat shows why this is what the law is, why it is best for it to concern itself only with these things, and what areas the law does not (or should not) have any jurisdiction over. He also takes the offensive against himself, asking the questions his opponents, those in favor of using the law to organize human activity such as labor, agriculture, production, welfare, credit, etc., would ask of him. He then answers the questions and shows the results of such endeavors, and how such uses of the law are a perversion of law and justice.

He also examines the position and hypothesis of his opponents and questions with clarity and wit the arrogance and grand assumption they make in their position on the use of law. To validate his examination, and show that he is not merely putting words in the mouths of his opponents, he instead quotes from various works of their own in which they clearly follow the position and hypothesis he had previously boiled down and exposed.

As dearly as I may want to produce here for you his arguments, I will not. Instead, I highly encourage you to obtain a copy of his book and read it yourself as it will inform and entertain you much better than could my re-creations of his arguments. You can purchase copies of The Law by Frederic Bastiat online at a number of bookseller’s websites, request an interlibrary loan from your local library or go to and download a pdf version of this and other works of his which are likely just as worthy of reading. When I say “book”, some may assume that it is lengthy and difficult to read, however, it is in fact quite short (less than 80 pages in its original length) and is also a very easy read for the most part. You will likely be able to finish it in one or two evenings of reading, but may get hung up and weary while reading through some of the passages Bastiat quotes from. Take a short break, return and persevere through these sections as the evidence is important and I guarantee it will be well worth your time, all parts of the book before and after these sections being enjoyable and energetic. I literally had to force myself to put the book down to continue with my day each time I picked it up.

Happy reading to you.