An easy read of just 55 pages and with an audiobook length of just over 2 hours, this essay is the work for which Bastiat is most famous. The essay was influenced by John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government and in turn influenced Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson.
„Anyone building a personal library of liberty must include in it a copy of Frédéric Bastiat’s classic essay, “The Law.” First published in 1850 by the great French economist and journalist, it is as clear a statement as has ever been made of the original American ideal of government, as proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence, that the main purpose of any government is the protection of the lives, liberties, and property of its citizens.”(preface of the essay)
„In The Law, Bastiat says „each of us has a natural right – from God – to defend his person, his liberty, and his property.” The State is a „substitution of a common force for individual forces” to defend this right. The law becomes perverted when it is used to violate the rights of the individual, when it punishes one’s right to defend himself against a collective effort of others to legislatively enact laws which basically have the same effect of plundering.
Justice has precise limits but philanthropy is limitless and government can grow endlessly when that becomes its function. The resulting statism is „based on this triple hypothesis: the total inertness of mankind, the omnipotence of the law, and the infallibility of the legislator.” The relationship between the public and the legislator becomes „like the clay to the potter.” Bastiat says, „I do not dispute their right to invent social combinations, to advertise them, to advocate them, and to try them upon themselves, at their own expense and risk. But I do dispute their right to impose these plans upon us by law – by force – and to compel us to pay for them with our taxes.”(wikipedia)