Saturday, June 8, 2013

Sum of Primary Function of the Law

Several themes evolve around Bastiat's central subject - the Law. Among them are government, legal plunder, socialism, democracy, communism and liberty. Before considering these themes, allow me to present first my understanding of Bastiat's idea of the law, its proper use and perversion.  

Except from the superiority of human individuality, liberty and property to the law (p. 1) and their existence prior to human legislation (p.2), there are two other important relationships that clarify Bastiat's idea of the law. They are the law's relationships to  natural right and justice. These relationships also identify the legitimate function of the law. 

For Bastiat, the law is based on individual natural right to defend one's life, liberty and property. This individual right has been collectively organized. Bastiat describes this collective organization of individual right as "collective right" where the members of the group can properly use a "common force" to defend their rights. 

It is important at this point to understand that collective right has no existence apart from individual right. Collective right simply represents individual right. It cannot use common force to violate individual right. Doing so is a perversion of collective right. 

Such perversion takes place when a common force is used to deprive a person of his individuality, liberty and property. Instead of serving justice, which is the primary purpose for the existence of the law, it is now been used as a tool for injustice. 

In the language of Bastiat, he declares the primary duty of the law in relation to justice in two ways - "to cause justice to reign" or "to prevent injustice from reigning" (p. 25). 

Because of this idea of law's relationship to justice, Bastiat is opposed to the use of law to organize labor, education and religion. In his mind, doing such will dethrone justice that will eventually result for injustice to reign.

Bastiat criticizes socialists due to their failure to understand this relationship. When the law is used to organize labor, education and religion, it will consequently violate individual rights. In this way, the organization of labor, education and religion unavoidably results to the organization of injustice. 

Bastiat believes that causing justice to reign through the law eliminates its use in organizing other human activity, "whether it be labor, charity, agriculture, commerce, industry, education, art, or religion" (p.21). To insist in doing so would lead to the destruction of justice. 

Seeing from this perspective, no legislator and special interest groups has the right to use "collective right" to violate indvidual right. If not, we can't avoid this dark scenario: 

There is no longer need for people "to discuss, to compare, to plan ahead; the law does all this for them. Intelligence becomes a useless prop for the people; they cease to be men; they lose their personality, their liberty, their property" (p. 25). 

Bastiat challenges us to think about the destructive effect of using the law to regulate labor and wealth on liberty and property : 
"Try to imagine a regulation of labor imposed by force that is not a violation of liberty; a transfer of wealth imposed by force that is not a violation of property. If you cannot reconcile these contradictions, then you must conclude that the law cannot organize labor and industry without organizing injustice" (p. 26). 
Summarizing this section, we have seen that causing justice to reign is the same as defending one's individuality, liberty and property. Without this protection, justice does not exist. And this is the essence of the law's task.