Craig Green's blog discusses history, philosophy and economics from a free market perspective. See Craig's bio, premises, archives and links in the right column. From 2011, April's "Unchain the Builders" series begins with "Unchain The Builders 1," each linked to the other articles. March's "Subordinate Acts" is Craig's article on the U.S. Constitution. Also see March's LIFEPOWER articles from the 1990's. Anyone can comment without subscription, but leave email if you want to keep abreast.
Saturday, February 23, 2013
THE LAW - 9
Introduction by James Craig Green This is part 9 of 15, presenting Frederic Bastiat's 1850 masterpiece The Law. Part 1 may be seen HEREand the entire book HERE.
The Law - 9
Frederic Bastiat -
A Frightful Idea
who are subject to vulgar infatuation may exclaim: “Montesquieu has said this!
So it’s magnificent! It’s sublime!” As for me, I have the courage of my own
opinion. I say: What! You have
the nerve to call that fine? It is frightful! It is abominable! These random
selections from the writings of Montesquieu show that he considers persons,
liberties, property—mankind itself—to be nothing but materials for legislators
to exercise their wisdom upon.
The Leader of the
let us examine Rousseau on this subject. This writer on public affairs is the
supreme authority of the democrats. And although he bases the social structure upon
thewill of the people, he has, to a
greater extent than anyone else, completely accepted the theory of the total
inertness of mankind in the presence of the legislators:
it is true that a great prince is rare, then is it not true that a great
legislator is even more rare? The prince has only to follow the pattern that
the legislator creates. The legislator is the
mechanic who invents themachine;
the prince is merely the workman who sets it in motion.
what part do persons play in all this? They are merely the machine that is set
in motion. In fact, are they not merely considered to be the raw material of
which the machine is made?
the same relationship exists between the legislator and the prince as exists
between the agricultural expert and the farmer; and the relationship between
the prince and his subjects is the same as that between the farmer and his
land. How high above mankind, then, has this writer on public affairs been
placed? Rousseau rules over legislators themselves, and teaches them their
trade in these imperious terms:
you give stability to the state? Then bring the extremes as closely together as
possible. Tolerate neither wealthy persons nor beggars.
the soil is poor or barren, or the country too small for its inhabitants, then
turn to industry and arts, and trade these products for the foods that you
. . On a fertile soil—if you are shortof
inhabitants—devote all your attention to agriculture, because this multiplies
people; banishthe arts, because they
only serve to depopulate the nation. . . .
you have extensive and accessible coast lines, then cover
the seawith merchant ships; you will have a brilliant but short
existence. If your seas wash only inaccessible cliffs, let the people be barbarousand eat fish; they will live more
quietly—perhaps better—and, most certainly, they will live more happily.
short, and in addition to the maxims that are common to all, every people has
its own particular circumstances. And this fact in itself will cause
legislation appropriate to the circumstances.
is the reason why the Hebrews formerly— and, more recently, the Arabs—had religion as their principle objective.
The objective of the Athenians was literature; of Carthage and Tyre, commerce;
of Rhodes, naval affairs; of Sparta, war; and of Rome, virtue. The author of The Spirit of Lawshas shown by what art the legislator should direct his institutions toward each of
these objectives. . . . But suppose
that the legislator mistakes his proper objective, and acts on a principle
different from that indicated by the nature of things? Suppose that the
selected principle sometimes creates slavery, and sometimes liberty; sometimes
wealth, and sometimes population; sometimes peace, and sometimes conquest? This
confusion of objective will slowly enfeeble the law and impair the constitution.
The state will be subjected to ceaseless agitations until it is destroyed or
changed, and invincible nature regains her empire.
if nature is sufficiently invincible to regainits empire, why does not Rousseau admit that it did not need the legislator
to gainit in the first place? Why does
he not see that men, by obeying their own instincts, would turn to farming on
fertile soil, and to commerce on an extensive and easily accessible coast, without
the interference of a Lycurgus or a Solon or a Rousseau who might easily be mistaken.
that as it may, Rousseau invests the creators, organizers, directors,
legislators, and controllers of society with a terrible responsibility. He is, therefore,
most exacting with them: He who would dare to undertake the political creation
of a people ought to believe that he can, in a manner of speaking, transform
human nature; transform each individual—who, by himself, is a solitary and
perfect whole—into a mere part of a greater whole from which the individual
will henceforth receive his life and being. Thus the person who would undertake
the political creation of a people should believe in his ability to alter man’s
constitution; to strengthen it; to substitute for the physical and independent existence
received from nature, an existence which is partial and moral.* In short, the
would-be creator of political man must remove man’s own forces and endow him
with others that are naturally alien to him.
note: According to Rousseau, the existence of social man is partial in the
sense that he is henceforth merely a part of society. Knowing himself as
such—-and thinking and feeling from the point of view of the whole—he thereby
human nature! What would become of a person’s dignity if it were entrusted to
the followers of Rousseau?