May 2, 2009

The Law: Intro

There's not one honest soul left alive here on this planet
We're all murderers and thieves
Setting traps here for even our brothers
And both of our hands
Are equally skilled
At doing evil
Equally skilled
At bribing the judges
Equally skilled
At perverting justice
Both of our hands
Both of our hands

The lyrics of Jon Foreman’s “Equally Skilled”depict humanity as dishonest, unjust, and skilled at doing evil. Where evil is cultivated and practiced, justice is hard to find. Applying this understanding to politics makes us aware of two things: first, that we need laws to protect justice, and second, that lawmakers are imperfect as well. Yet, imperfection is not the only characteristic of humankind— we also have a marvelous capacity to learn, to labor, and to love. It is not impossible to have a just government. However, understanding the gifts and shortcomings of the human race is necessary to realize the proper role of government. To counter the selfish desire to profit at another’s expense, the law must defend the rights of each citizen.

In The Law, Frederic Bastiat explains what these rights entail. He argues that “Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused laws to be made in the first place.”2 These three natural rights, then, are fundamental and belong to every human being. Indeed, one of the main arguments that Frederic Bastiat defends in The Law is that justice, at its heart, is “nothing more than the organized combination of the individual’s right to self-defense.”3 This simple principle has been clouded, complicated, and contested by competing interests. Many would propose that the law be used to promote the common good, in addition to protecting justice. While Bastiat assures us that a nation founded on the principle of protecting persons, liberties, and properties would have “the most non-oppressive, just, and enduring government imaginable,”4 skeptics cannot help but wonder: is justice enough?

Why can we not extend the power of the law further and ensure that the people are good and free? Because attempting to enforce “good” would steal away our essential liberties while denying us the results we seek. There is a conflict between a just, unwavering, liberty-based law and law arbitrarily determined by government leaders. There is a clash between a system that allows us to become responsible and one that assumes irresponsibility. Since we must decide between the two, let us examine the ramifications of both.

1 “Jon Foreman - Equally Skilled: Lyrics,” Sweets Lyrics. 13 February 2009. .

2 Frederic Bastiat, The Law, (Irvington-on-Hudson, NY: Foundation for Economic Education, 2007), p. 2.

3 Ibid, p. 3.

4 Ibid, p. 3.

Introduction // The Injustice of Enforcing "Good" // A Call for Realism // Justice Alone is Enough