The classic “The Law” was a perfect cooldown book after reading heavier academic work. Frederic Bastiat has a pedagogical way to create a solid foundation and expand from there and “The Law” is his signature work when it comes to implementing this sort of writing style.
Bastiat is looking at the right of individuals as the determining factor for what groups (of individuals) is allowed to do; That laws need to apply first and foremost to single persons and through that form what people in groups are allowed, by law.
The first part of the book builds upon this view on law and Bastiat expands by dropping related philosophical threads: It is easier (cost less) to be a thief and steal someone else labor, so the law needs to balance this by making it more expensive to be a thief, over a producer.
“It is not because men have made laws, that personality, liberty, and property exist. On the contrary, it is because personality liberty and property exist beforehand, that men make laws” – Frederic Bastiat
“The Law” high lights the important connection between law and morality and when it is not, it leads to conflict. Not only conflict within a person (disagreeing with a law) but a civil unrest in society as a whole, sooner or later, when enough people disagree.
If the law allows for the breaking of rights you would end up with a power struggle for who gets to hold the pen to write new laws, to practically defend yourself in the best case and to go on the offensive on others in the worst case. Bastiat saw this as the path to what he considered ‘legal plunder’, that some are allowed to steal from others by law.
If the function of law, instead, is to protect everyone’s rights, it is more harmonious, in Bastiat’s eyes.
“He will plead that it is a good thing for the state to be enriched, that it may spend the more, and thus shower down salaries upon the poor workmen. Take care not to listen to this sophistry, for it is just by the systematizing of these arguments that legal plunder becomes systematized” – Frederic Bastiat
“The Law” is written as an antidote to ‘legislative equality’, arguing that you can’t force people to become equal in outcome. Bastiat makes a very compelling case against the ‘legislative equality’ in the book and also seek to explain how dangerous this is in the long run – Something that is very relevant in today’s world and important to think about. Bastiat calls this ‘Misconceived philanthropy’, a very explanatory alternative term for ‘good intentions’.
If I would have one critique to give the book, is that if you are not 100% in on the basic formula that makes the rest work, the arguments within the book can feel a little forced – People, like me, that already subscribe to the premise of private property as something good and just, get more philosophical weapons in our armory, but for someone that is not quite there yet (or is at the opposite in views) might not get anything out of “The Law” other than a discussion piece.
“Nothing can enter the public treasury in favor of one citizen or one class, but what other citizens and other classes have been forced to send to it” – Frederic Bastiat
I can recommend this book to anyone that is looking for a low-cost investment to read some philosophy, not only in monetary terms (Its a free PDF on Mises Institutes homepage or can be had for around $6 on Amazon if you prefer physical books), but also in the time needed – The book is a lightweight at around 60 pages. Invest wisely, invest in “The Law”.
You can get a copy of the book here:
Mises Institute (Free PDF download)
Amazon (From $6, Hardcover]