Empty The Trash and Read Some Bastiat

In yesterday’s commentary I spoke about opinions and how they are formed. I could be wrong but I don’t think that most people form opinions, I think their opinions are formed for them. What I mean by that is that to form an opinion one has to be given a multitude of facts and then the process of thinking, of evaluating those facts lead to the formation of opinions.

In our school systems we are not taught how to think; we are taught what to think. Typically, and this is even more so when it comes to history and civics, the textbook is the only source of info that we have access to, so whatever biases and prejudices the authors of those textbooks have are what form our opinions on the subjects they cover.

The problem with that is that when we graduate we mistakenly believe we know all that we need to know about a subject, and more importantly, we believe that the few facts we have been taught are the absolute truth. Sorry for the pun, but nothing could be further from the truth.

There have been days when I’ve read for hours on certain subjects, like the ratification of the constitution, and I’ve learned more in 8 hours of reading than I did in an entire semester of history class. On top of all that, the things I’ve learned have been the truth, as I’ve gone straight to the horse’s mouth, so to speak, instead of relying upon some textbooks interpretation of events.

What I’m trying to get at is that if you think your opinions are on firm ground, that they are well founded and irrefutable…think again. Honestly, if your opinions were so well founded why is it that many of you become extremely defensive and argumentative when someone calls them into question by providing facts that contradict them? If your opinions were so well founded you should be able to recite a litany of responses to any attempt to disprove them. But if you can’t, don’t you think it might be time to rethink your opinions; or maybe I’d be better of saying, start thinking instead of just repeating what you’ve been taught to say about things.

If we want to fix this country, and I mean REALLY fix it, we are going to have to rethink what purpose governments are supposed to serve. It doesn’t matter to me whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, the party you support uses the coercive and taxing power of government to implement agendas that run contrary to the primary function our early founders felt all governments should serve – the preservation of our liberty.

The Democrats and I’m talking about the average voter, not those they elect, I can at least understand; they make no bones about who they are and what they stand for. The Republicans, on the other hand, make all these claims about their conservative values, then support candidates who implement policies that are anything but conservative. For instance Donald Trump, and I only pick on him because he is our current president, recently said, “Last year, my administration charged the largest number of firearm defendants ever recorded in the history of our country.” He also said, “We’ve increased federal firearm prosecutions by 44 percent compared to the last two years of the previous administration. [Obama] This is a record ― a new record.”

Trump is proud of this, and his supporters still stand behind him regardless of the fact that the 2nd Amendment was written to place restrictions upon the government’s ability to enact any law that violated our right to keep and bear arms. Yet the government routinely ignores that restriction, as well as many others found in the Bill of Rights, and the people still stand behind their choice for president; when if they had an ounce of concern for their rights and liberty they’d be calling for these traitors to be hung.

That’s why all the fuss about opinions. Most people’s opinions are based upon the belief that there exists in America but two choices when it comes to government; either the left or the right position. Never, or rarely if it happens at all, do people ever base their opinions on whether or not government is serving the purpose it was supposed to serve. All these voters support is based upon what their chosen candidate says, as seen through the tunnel vision of their indoctrination at the hands of the public school system, without ever taking a few steps back so they can look and see if government as an entity is enlarging or restricting their liberty.

Arguing, or debating people who look at government from that narrow perspective is like trying to hold a conversation with someone listening to music with ear buds in their ears and the volume cranked way up; they can’t hear you, and they probably wouldn’t care what you’re saying anyway.

I am too pig headed to give up trying though, even though most of my efforts fall on deaf ears, proving that Van Loon was right when he said, “Any formal attack on ignorance is bound to fail because the masses are always ready to defend their most precious possession – their ignorance.” Or I could quote Samuel L. Clemens, aka Mark Twain, “Never argue with an idiot. They will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.”

There is an old Chinese proverb that I wish people would put to use, that proverb being, “Empty your cup.” There is a scene in the movie The Forbidden Kingdom when Jason Tripitikis, played by actor Michael Angorano, is asking Jackie Chan if he’s going to teach him this move and that move; all the moves he’s seen in the martial arts movies he has watched. Jackie Chan is pouring tea into his cup as he talks and when the cup is full he keeps pouring, spilling tea all over Jason’s hand. Jason says, “My cup is full” to which Jackie Chan says, “Exactly, how can you fill your cup when it’s already full; how can you learn Kung Fu when you already know so much?”

I went through the same indoctrination process as did almost everyone else in this country, but for some strange reason I rejected the indoctrination I had been given and began seeking out the truth for myself. I won’t deny that there were times when the things I learned caused me a great deal of discomfort; the classic battle waged by Cognitive Dissonance. Luckily I have enough integrity to let the facts speak for themselves; and when I found that the facts disproved what I had been taught, I emptied my cup to make room for beliefs and opinions that could be supported by facts and evidence. That’s called intellectual integrity; something that is not very common these days.

Eventually the distress caused by Cognitive Dissonance faded into the background, and I now look forward to learning new facts that dispel opinions that are untrue; much as one goes through their home and throws out garbage they no longer need. I’d never have gotten to where I am today though if I’d rejected the truth because it was uncomfortable, or contradicted what I’d been taught in school; as so many people do today.

I almost wish people’s minds were like a hard drive on a computer, so I could wave a huge electromagnet by their skull and erase all the garbage they have been fed throughout their lives so they’d have room for the truth. There are books that people could read that would radically change how they view government, if they would only be willing to read them and give what they say any serious thought.

For instance, there is Locke’s Second Treatise, which if one would read it they would find striking similarities between what Locke says and the words found in our Declaration of Independence.

Then there is Lysander Spooner’s book, No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority. If people would read that they might find that they are subject to the authority of a system which they have never actually given their consent to.

Finally, there is Frederic Bastiat’s classic book, The Law; which explains the purpose for which laws should be written, and how the law can be perverted to become a tool for greed and corruption.
In the hope that there is a crack in the wall people have built surrounding and protecting their precious beliefs I will use the remainder of this article to include some select passages from Bastiat’s book; which I fervently pray you will give some serious thought to. If you can do that, you might begin to take the first baby steps towards shifting your opinions, or totally abandoning them, and seek out other truths. If I can accomplish that I could die right now a happy man.

So, without further ado, I present to you the thoughts of Frederic Bastiat…

Life, faculties, production–in other words, individuality, liberty, property—this is man. And in spite of the cunning of artful political leaders, these three gifts from God precede all human legislation, and are superior to it.

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 men to make laws in the first place.

What, then, is law? It is the collective organization of the individual right to lawful defense.

Each of us has a natural right—from God—to defend his person, his liberty, and his property. These are the three basic requirements of life, and the preservation of any one of them is completely dependent upon the preservation of the other two. For what are our faculties but the extension of our individuality? And what is property but an extension of our faculties?

If every person has the right to defend—even by force—his person, his liberty, and his property, then it follows that a group of men have the right to organize and support a common force to protect these rights constantly. Thus the principle of collective right—its reason for existing, its lawfulness—is based on individual right. And the common force that protects this collective right cannot logically have any other purpose or any other mission than that for which it acts as a substitute. Thus, since an individual cannot lawfully use force against the person, liberty, or property of another individual, then the common force—for the same reason—cannot lawfully be used to destroy the person, liberty, or property of individuals or groups.

Since no individual acting separately can lawfully use force to destroy the rights of others, does it not logically follow that the same principle also applies to the common force that is nothing more than the organized combination of the individual forces?

If this is true, then nothing can be more evident than this: The law is the organization of the natural right of lawful defense. It is the substitution of a common force for individual forces. And this common force is to do only what the individual forces have a natural and lawful right to do: to protect persons, liberties, and properties; to maintain the right of each, and to cause justice to reign over us all.

If a nation were founded on this basis, it seems to me that order would prevail among the people, in thought as well as in deed. It seems to me that such a nation would have the most simple, easy to accept, economical, limited, nonoppressive, just, and enduring government imaginable— whatever its political form might be.

Under such an administration, everyone would understand that he possessed all the privileges as well as all the responsibilities of his existence. No one would have any argument with government, provided that his person was respected, his labor was free, and the fruits of his labor were protected against all unjust attack. When successful, we would not have to thank the state for our success. And, conversely, when unsuccessful, we would no more think of blaming the state for our misfortune than would the farmers blame the state because of hail or frost. The state would be felt only by the invaluable blessings of safety provided by this concept of government.

But, unfortunately, law by no means confines itself to its proper functions. And when it has exceeded its proper functions, it has not done so merely in some inconsequential and debatable matters. The law has gone further than this; it has acted in direct opposition to its own purpose. The law has been used to destroy its own objective: It has been applied to annihilating the justice that it was supposed to maintain; to limiting and destroying rights which its real purpose was to respect. The law has placed the collective force at the disposal of the unscrupulous who wish, without risk, to exploit the person, liberty, and property of others. It has converted plunder into a right, in order to protect plunder. And it has converted lawful defense into a crime, in order to punish lawful defense.

Self-preservation and self-development are common aspirations among all people. And if everyone enjoyed the unrestricted use of his faculties and the free disposition of the fruits of his labor, social progress would be ceaseless, uninterrupted, and unfailing.

But there is also another tendency that is common among people. When they can, they wish to live and prosper at the expense of others. This is no rash accusation. Nor does it come from a gloomy and uncharitable spirit. The annals of history bear witness to the truth of it: the incessant wars, mass migrations, religious persecutions, universal slavery, dishonesty in commerce, and monopolies. This fatal desire has its origin in the very nature of man—in that primitive, universal, and insuppressible instinct that impels him to satisfy his desires with the least possible pain.

Man can live and satisfy his wants only by ceaseless labor; by the ceaseless application of his faculties to natural resources. This process is the origin of property.

But it is also true that a man may live and satisfy his wants by seizing and consuming the products of the labor of others. This process is the origin of plunder.

Now since man is naturally inclined to avoid pain—and since labor is pain in itself—it follows that men will resort to plunder whenever plunder is easier than work. History shows this quite clearly. And under these conditions, neither religion nor morality can stop it.

When, then, does plunder stop? It stops when it becomes more painful and more dangerous than labor.

It is evident, then, that the proper purpose of law is to use the power of its collective force to stop this fatal tendency to plunder instead of to work. All the measures of the law should protect property and punish plunder.

But, generally, the law is made by one man or one class of men. And since law cannot operate without the sanction and support of a dominating force, this force must be entrusted to those who make the laws.

This fact, combined with the fatal tendency that exists in the heart of man to satisfy his wants with the least possible effort, explains the almost universal perversion of the law. Thus it is easy to understand how law, instead of checking injustice, becomes the invincible weapon of injustice. It is easy to understand why the law is used by the legislator to destroy in varying degrees among the rest of the people, their personal independence by slavery, their liberty by oppression, and their property by plunder.

But on the other hand, imagine that this fatal principle has been introduced: Under the pretense of organization, regulation, protection, or encouragement, the law takes property from one person and gives it to another; the law takes the wealth of all and gives it to a few—whether farmers, manufacturers, shipowners, artists, or comedians. Under these circumstances, then certainly every class will aspire to grasp the law, and logically so.

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. Political questions will always be prejudicial, dominant, and all-absorbing.

Is there any need to offer proof that this odious perversion of the law is a perpetual source of hatred and discord; that it tends to destroy society itself? If such proof is needed, look at the United States [in 1850]. There is no country in the world where the law is kept more within its proper domain: the protection of every person’s liberty and property. As a consequence of this, there appears to be no country in the world where the social order rests on a firmer foundation. But even in the United States, there are two issues—and only two—that have always endangered the public peace.

But how is this legal plunder to be identified? Quite simply. See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.

Then abolish this law without delay, for it is not only an evil itself, but also it is a fertile source for further evils because it invites reprisals. If such a law—which may be an isolated case—is not abolished immediately, it will spread, multiply, and develop into a system.

The person who profits from this law will complain bitterly, defending his acquired rights. He will claim that the state is obligated to protect and encourage his particular industry; that this procedure enriches the state because the protected industry is thus able to spend more and to pay higher wages to the poor workingmen.

Do not listen to this sophistry by vested interests. The acceptance of these arguments will build legal plunder into a whole system. In fact, this has already occurred. The present-day delusion is an attempt to enrich everyone at the expense of everyone else; to make plunder universal under the pretense of organizing it.

What are these two issues? They are slavery and tariffs. These are the only two issues where, contrary to the general spirit of the republic of the United States, law has assumed the character of plunder.

Slavery is a violation, by law, of liberty. The protective tariff is a violation, by law, of property.

Its is a most remarkable fact that this double legal crime—a sorrowful inheritance of the Old World—should be the only issue which can, and perhaps will, lead to the ruin of the Union.

Now, legal plunder can be committed in an infinite number of ways. Thus we have an infinite number of plans for organizing it: tariffs, protection, benefits, subsidies, encouragements, progressive taxation, public schools, guaranteed jobs, guaranteed profits, minimum wages, a right to relief, a right to the tools of labor, free credit, and so on, and so on. All these plans as a whole—with their common aim of legal plunder—constitute socialism.
This question of legal plunder must be settled once and for all, and there are only three ways to settle it:

1. The few plunder the many.
2. Everybody plunders everybody.
3. Nobody plunders anybody.

We must make our choice among limited plunder, universal plunder, and no plunder. The law can follow only one of these three.

No legal plunder: This is the principle of justice, peace, order, stability, harmony, and logic. Until the day of my death, I shall proclaim this principle with all the force of my lungs (which alas! is all too inadequate).

And, as a closing statement, Bastiat’s final words were somewhat prophetic, for he died of tuberculosis shortly after completing his book The Law.

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