This week's reading in Frederick Bastiat's The Law, can be divided into two parts: what do socialists believe, and what is liberty? I think Mr. Bastiat does a good job of explaining both.
What Do Socialists Believe?
Citing a number of contemporary author's, Mr. Bastiat explains the socialist view in their own words. He cites Bossuet, Fenelon, Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Raynal. Each of them discuss the role of a "legislator" in very similar terms, and with very similar goals. What amazes me is how the themes discussed by each of these socialists has an echo in today's liberal or statist. I believe that many current Democrats would agree with most of what these authors wrote long ago.
Each of the selections from the socialist point of view describe how the government can best plan peoples' lives. They describe what commerce the government should allow, and would habits to make illegal. How best to grow the government while keeping the common people in line. One section even instructs the potential legislator that, "...if 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." Above all else, the government must be right!
The scariest section to me could be taken straight out of today's Democratic play book. Is there anyone who doubts President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, or Harry Reid agree with the following passage?
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 have become proportionately more precious 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 jealousy?
I have a number of problems with this passage from Condillac. The largest (but not the only problem) is that the only way the government can provide equal wealth and equal dignity is to destroy everyone's wealth and dignity. Only when there is no money and no pride can everyone be equal.
What is Liberty?
If this is a taste of socialism, then what is Liberty. Bastiat provides the greatest definition I have ever read of Liberty, and it should be what every student learns:
...is not liberty the freedom of every person to make full use of his faculties, so long as he does not harm other persons while doing so? Is not liberty the destruction of all despotism -- including, of course, legal despotism?
The last part of this definition is why liberty and socialism are incompatible. For all the "plunder" socialists take from citizens they take a part of that citizens liberty. If you tax the wealthy to provide 99 weeks of unemployment benefits, then you are keeping people from making the full use of their faculties. If you attempt to legislate equal wealth and equal dignity, how can you possibly allow people to reach their fullest potential? You can't. If people are allowed to provide for themselves, they will reach different levels of wealth. Socialism is a form of despotism, even if it is a "friendly" form.
For Next Week
I plan on finishing this book for next week. It has been very enjoyable, and very thought provoking. I hope everyone has a safe and wonderful memorial day.