The Author

Frederic Bastiat on Freedom

Frederic Bastiat was a French legislator who became terribly distressed by the rampant tendencies towards socialism in the French socialist revolution of 1848. His central theme in "The Law" is that the only legitimate reason for law is to prevent injustice. He defined injustice as "plunder", which was any removal or redistribution of life, liberty, or property. He was fiercely passionate, at one point writing:

"No legal plunder: This is the principle of justice, peace, order, stability, harmony, and logic. Until the day of my death, I shall proclaim this principle with all the force of my lungs! (Which, alas! is all too inadequate)."
He died of tuberculosis less than a year after he wrote these words.
On Socialism

Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, 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 it being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say we want no religion at all. We object to 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 people to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.

The desire to rule over others

My attitude toward all other persons is well illustrated by this story from a celebrated traveler: He arrived one day in the midst of a tribe of savages, where a child had been born. A crowd of soothsayers, magicians, and quacks - armed with rings, hooks, and cords surrounded it. One said: "This child will never smell the perfume of a peace pipe unless I stretch his nostrils." Another said: "He will never be able to hear unless I draw his earlobes down to his shoulders." A third said "He will never see sunshine unless I slant his eyes." Another said: "He will never stand upright unless I bend his legs." A fifth said: "He will never learn to think unless I flatten his head." "Stop!" cried the traveler. "What God does is well done. Do not claim to know more than He. God has given organs to this frail creature; let them develop and grow by exercise, use, experience, and liberty."

Let us Now Try Liberty

God has given to men all that is necessary for them to accomplish their destinies. He has provided a social form as well as a human form. And these social organs of persons are so constituted that they will develop themselves harmoniously in the clean air of Liberty. Away, then with quacks and organizers! Away with their rings, chains, hooks, and pincers! Away with the whims of governmental administrators, their socialized projects, their centralization, their tariffs, their governmental schools, their state religions, their free credit, their bank monopolies, their restrictions, their equalization by taxation, and their pious moralizations!

And now that the legislator and do-gooders have so futiley inflicted so many systems upon society, may they finally end where they should have begun: May they reject all systems, and try liberty; for liberty is an acknowledgment of faith in God and His works.

The Book

When a reviewer wishes to give special recognition to a book, he predicts that it will still be read "a hundred years from now." The Law, first published as a pamphlet in June, 1850, is already more than a hundred years old. And because its truths are eternal, it will still be read when another century has passed.

Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850) was a French economist, statesman, and author. He did most of his writing during the years just before -- and immediately following -- the Revolution of February 1848. This was the period when France was rapidly turning to complete socialism. As a Deputy to the Legislative Assembly, Mr. Bastiat was studying and explaining each socialist fallacy as it appeared. And he explained how socialism must inevitably degenerate into communism. But most of his countrymen chose to ignore his logic.

The Law is here presented again because the same situation exists in America today as in the France of 1848. The same socialist-communist ideas and plans that were then adopted in France are now sweeping America. The explanations and arguments then advanced against socialism by Mr. Bastiat are -- word for word -- equally valid today. His ideas deserve a serious hearing.

The Translation

This translation of The Law was done by Dean Russell of the foundation staff. His objective was an accurate rendering of Mr. Bastiat's words and ideas into twentieth century, idiomatic English.

A nineteenth century translation of The Law, made in 1853 in England by an unidentified contemporary of Mr. Bastiat, was of much value as a check against this translation. In, addition, Dean Russell had his work reviewed by Bertrand de Jouvenel, the noted French economist, historian, and author who is thoroughly familiar with the English language.

While Mr. de Jouvenel offered many valuable corrections and suggestions, it should be clearly understood that Dr. Russell bears full responsibility for the translation.

Other Credits

The raw digital copy of The Law was provided by: (Perry E Metzger).

The following is the accompanying notes from Mr. Metzger:

Enclosed in this and a succeeding message, you will find the complete text of the book The Law, by Frederic Bastiat. The Law is a fairly short book at only about 120kbytes, and it is one of the finest descriptions of purpose and proper role of law and government that one could imagine. Bastiat's views are held by many libertarians today, and I especially encourage the non-libertarians among you to read this and consider it carefully, if only so that you can argue against the libertarian position with greater understanding. It's a very quick read and it's enlightening. What more could you ask for?

I wish to sincerely thank The Foundation for Economic Education, the copyright holder of this translation, for giving me permission to post the text of The Law to UseNet.

The Foundation, which is a nonprofit research and educational institution, asked only that copies of this text must mention that:

  1. this translation of The Law is by Dean Russell, formerly of the Foundation staff,
  2. their address is: The Foundation for Economic Education, Inc., Irvington-on-Hudson, NY 10533; Telephone: (914) 591-7230, and
  3. samples of the Foundation's monthly journal, The Freeman, are available at no charge if you call or write to them. I also must give my appreciation to Francis W. Porretto, former chair of the New York State Libertarian Party, who typed the entire text in. Because of the length of the work, some transcription errors are inevitable; I apologize in advance. One notable flaw is that some of the footnotes are missing; if you like the book so much that you must have the footnotes, call the Foundation; they sell the book for only two dollars (one dollar in lots of 100!).

Other Notes

The Lawful Path wishes to express its sincerest gratitude to all those who helped to bring this document to the InterNet. The raw digital form was modified to include all the italicized words and parenthetical expressions of the Author and the subheadings and bracketed material of the Translator.