Saturday, February 23, 2013

THE LAW - 10

Introduction by James Craig Green

This is part 10 of 15, presenting Frederic Bastiat's 1850 masterpiece The Law. Part 1 may be seen HERE and the entire book HERE.

The Law - 10
Frederic Bastiat - 1850

Legislators Desire to Mold Mankind

Now let us examine Raynal on this subject of mankind being molded by the legislator:

The legislator must first consider the climate, the air, and the soil. The resources at his disposal determine his duties. He must first consider his locality. A population living on maritime shores must have laws designed for navigation. . . . If it is an inland settlement, the legislator must make his plans according to the nature and fertility of the soil. . . .

It is especially in the distribution of property that the genius of the legislator will be found. As a general rule, when a new colony is established in any country, sufficient land should be given to each man to support his family. . . .

On an uncultivated island that you are populating with children, you need do nothing but let the seeds of truth germinate along with the development of reason.

. . . But when you resettle a nation with a past into new country, the skill of the legislator rests in the policy of permitting the people to retain no injurious opinions and customs which can possibly be cured and corrected. If you desire to prevent these opinions and customs from becoming permanent, you will secure the second generation by a general system of public education for the children. A prince or a legislator should never establish a colony without first arranging to send wise men along to instruct the youth. . . .

In a new colony, ample opportunity is open to the careful legislator who desires to purify the customs and manners of the people. If he has virtue and genius, the land and the people at his disposal will inspire his soul with a plan for society. A writer can only vaguely trace the plan in advance because it is necessarily subject to the instability of all hypotheses; the problem has many forms, complications, and circumstances that are difficult to foresee and settle in detail.

Legislators Told How to Manage Men

Raynal’s instructions to the legislators on how to manage people may be compared to a professor of agriculture lecturing his students: “The climate is the first rule for the farmer. His resources determine his procedure. He must first consider his locality. If his soil is clay, he must do so and so. If his soil is sand, he must act in another manner. Every facility is open to the farmer who wishes to clear and improve his soil. If he is skillful enough, the manure at his disposal will suggest to him a plan of operation. A professor can only vaguely trace this plan in advance because it is necessarily subject to the instability of all hypotheses; the problem has many forms, complications, and circumstances that are difficult to foresee and settle in detail.”

Oh, sublime writers! Please remember sometimes that this clay, this sand, and this manure which you so arbitrarily dispose of, are men! They are your equals! They are intelligent and free human beings like yourselves! As you have, they too have received from God the faculty to observe, to plan ahead, to think, and to judge for themselves!

A Temporary Dictatorship

Here is Mably on this subject of the law and the legislator. In the passages preceding the one here quoted, Mably has supposed the laws, due to a neglect of security, to be worn out. He continues to address the reader thusly:

Under these circumstances, it is obvious that the springs of government are slack. Give them a new tension, and the evil will be cured. . . . Think less of punishing faults, and more of rewarding that which you need. In this manner you will restore to your republic the vigor of youth. Because free people have been ignorant of this procedure, they have lost their liberty! But if the evil has made such headway that ordinary governmental procedures are unable to cure it, then resort to an extraordinary tribunal with considerable powers for a short time. The imagination of the citizens needs to be struck a hard blow.

In this manner, Mably continues through twenty volumes. Under the influence of teaching like this—which stems from classical education—there came a time when everyone wished to place himself above mankind in order to arrange, organize, and regulate it in his own way.

Socialists Want Equality of Wealth

Next let us examine Condillac on this subject of the legislators and mankind:

My Lord, assume the character of Lycurgus or of Solon. And before you finish reading this essay, amuse yourself by giving laws to some savages in America or Africa. Confine these nomads to fixed dwellings; teach them to tend flocks. . . . Attempt to develop the social consciousness that nature has planted in them. . . . Force them to begin to practice the duties of humanity. . . . Use punishment to cause sensual pleasures to become distasteful to them. Then you will see that every point of your legislation will cause these savages to lose a vice and gain a virtue.

All people have had laws. But few people have been happy. Why is this so? Because the legislators themselves have almost always been ignorant of the purpose of society, which is the uniting of families by a common interest.

Impartiality in law consists of two things: the establishing of equality in wealth and equality in dignity among the citizens. . . . As the laws establish greater equality, they become proportionately more precarious to every citizen. . . . When all men are equal in wealth and dignity—and when the laws leave no hope of disturbing this equality—how can men then be agitated by greed, ambition, dissipation, idleness, sloth, envy, hatred, or jealously?

What you have learned about the republic of Sparta should enlighten you on this question. No other state has ever had laws more in accord with the order of nature; of equality.


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