Bastiat: Life, Liberty and Property

So I’ve just finished reading one of the best books I’ve read this year. It was The Law by Frédéric Bastiat,  a Godly book if I may say so.

Frédéric Bastiat was a French economist and statesman, who did his writings during the the years just before the revolution was to come in 1848. Initially delivered in the form of pamphlets to educate the French public, its lasting effect could still be felt with growing interests.

Because of its unique style, the book is divided into many sub paragraphs of different essays. The first essay discussed the role of law, that is to protect the individual rights and the government is to be limited to this only function in order for it to be just. However, it was evident that the law has been perverted to encompass its own ultimate destruction through “stupid greed” and “false philanthropy”. Bastiat popularize the motto: Life, Liberty and Property, which outlined the only things we need to protect for a just society.

However, men are still being plundered because property is not protected by the legal institution, thus the plundering took the form of widespread false believes justified by the use of force from the government. An individualist is then denounced by the moralising crowd for possessing “incorrect” views, thus it began Bastiat’s long time rivalry against the collectivists such as Rousseau and Robespierre.

Bastiat then went on to explain why plunder has many names to distort the knowledge of the public and we are given 3 choices:

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

and the only no plunder at all is the just choice. Different aspects of the law were all explained in terms of the principle of life, liberty and property.

The third part of the book explains why socialists/communists are trying to destroy humankind, he did so through quotes of tyrants such as Fenelon, Montesquieu, Napoleon and especially Rousseau. What was so great about Bastiat’s arguments is that they predicted what was to happen to shape Europe in the 20th century. The slippery slope of enforcing conformity in men would spiral into dictatorship. His conclusion was that socialists are simply against the principle of life, liberty and property, therefore we must safeguard ourselves against the desire to rule other people and give liberty a try!

After finishing reading the book, my immediate thought was: this is The Virtue of Selfishness in the 19th century! Bastiat explained how a just system could work for minarchism/anarcho capitalism if we do honour the 3 worded principle so elegantly, this is the only rational system for everyone in the society to benefit without fear. I could see the writing style has influenced some of my favourite authors such as Thomas Sowell and Ludwig von Mises. Overall, I think we all owe some debts to Bastiat for being the pioneer of freedom when nearly everyone else in France was against him under the irrationality or delusion of the time.


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