“Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.”
~ Frédéric Bastiat, Essay on Government (1848)
“As long as it is admitted that the law may be diverted from its true purpose–that it may violate property instead of protecting it – then everyone will want to participate in making the law, either to protect himself against plunder or to use it for plunder.”
~ Frédéric Bastiat, The Law (1850)
These two quotes by Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) perhaps make him the economist and philosopher most relevant to our times. Everyone should get copies of “The Law” and his essay, “Government” from the interwebs (several free PDFs out there), read them, and keep them handy. Combine Bastiat with Edmund Burke, Adam Smith and John Locke and you have a strong antidote for the insanity of our current times. In reality, reading the works of these men is worth more than most college degrees because they set the ground rules and base philosophies for creating, maintaining and living in a free society.
One critical principle that ties all four of these thinkers together – from Locke to Bastiat is this: in a free society, the individual has the sole claim to their own productivity and the benefits of it and no person has a moral claim to the productivity of another.
The institution of government, while necessary in the maintenance of a civil society, allows that rule to be broken because it is through taxation and laws that claims are placed upon the productive by the non-productive. Charity and welfare become entitlements and reparations, public debt becomes uncontrollable and government is looked to as a means to “correct” any number of “inequalities”.
Thomas Jefferson, a student of John Locke, noted this in his 1816 letter to Samuel Kercheval:
“This example reads to us the salutary lesson, that private fortunes are destroyed by public as well as by private extravagance. And this is the tendency of all human governments. A departure from principle in one instance becomes a precedent for a second; that second for a third; and so on, till the bulk of the society is reduced to be mere automatons of misery, and to have no sensibilities left but for sinning and suffering. Then begins, indeed, the bellum omnium in omnia, which some philosophers observing to be so general in this world, have mistaken it for the natural, instead of the abusive state of man. And the fore horse of this frightful team is public debt. Taxation follows that, and in its train wretchedness and oppression.”
Our founders recognized the tendency for government to overstep its bounds. In Federalist #51, James Madison noted:
“It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices [checks and balances] should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”
This is the reason the Founders established a LIMITED government with enumerated powers as a means to prevent those with such an inclination from using government as a mechanism to loot and encumber the very people who pay for it. That is why Bastiat defined government as everybody seeking to live at the expense of everybody else.
Folks, leave it to Canadians to see our error. To quote the Bare Naked Ladies, “It’s all been done before…” While many politicians and “thinkers” invent absurdist views on contemporary situations and claim they are “unprecedented”, new age solutions never resolve age old problems. There are many parallels between 2020 and the protests/riots and 1789 and the French Revolution. History records how the French Revolution worked out – spoiler alert – not well.
We know the answers to our issues. We know ignoring the centuries of wisdom of Bastiat, Burke, Smith and Locke and replacing them with Howard Zinn, Black Lives Matter, Noam Chomsky and the pronouncements of the twin headed monster – the Schumerlosi – isn’t the way to go. Modern philosophers seem to be more interesting in creating a history that fits their philosophies than measuring their ideas against actual history and its results.
Modern “thinkers” no longer think, they emote.
But it’s all been done before.