Monday, February 6, 2012

The Law

Ok, so my experiment with updating every weekday is at an end. While I could probably stick to such a schedule if there was nothing else I wanted to do with me life, well, turns out I have other things to do than just blog. It was, however, a worthy experiment as it taught me I have no excuse not to update every Monday.

Originally I wanted to discuss the recent HHS mandate that would force religious employers to cover birth control, something which is a clear trampling of first amendment rights. However, there is little I can add to the conversation that hasn't been said by my friends here and here. I highly encourage you to read both accounts of the controversy.

In this post I'd rather discuss a much broader question that is at the root of the current controversy: what is the law? What is its purpose? Its domain? What is the proper role of law in a society? This is such a basic issue yet we hardly ever discuss it. I distinctly remember high school government classes that never once touched on what law is. Only how it is made and enforced.

Frédéric Bastiat, in his essay "The Law", argues that law is nothing more than the collective organization to the individual right to self defense. This makes sense doesn't it? What is man if not personality, faculties and property? What is faculties if not an extension of personality? What is property if not an extension of one's faculties? It is not because laws exist that we have personality, faculties and property. It is because these things pre-exist that we make laws to protect them. For if one man has the right to defend them, by force if necessary, than a group of men have the right to combine together to provide for the constant defense of their persons, faculties and property.

Law then has its basis in self defense, and as a consequence its domain is that of self defense. That is, its domain is violence. Violence is the only tool the law has to effect its ends. In so far as law is used only for defense this use of force is entirely just. It is when the law is perverted and used to harm that this use of force becomes an injustice.

Don't believe that violence is the only tool available to the law? Consider this example: A massive tax on sugar is passed, so massive that it doubles the price of sugar. Now the sugar manufacturers have to charge the tax. If they do not they will be fined. If they refuse to pay the fine police men will come to their homes and arrest them. If they refuse arrest then violence will take place. The law has no other means of forcing compliance.

So then, if law has its root, its principle, in self defense, we can clearly see its scope. Just as I cannot lawfully take from you, neither can the law itself be used to destroy the person, liberty or property of individuals or of classes. This perversion would be in contradiction to the purpose of law, which we've already concluded is the defense of persons, liberty and property.

How then does this perversion occur? Through two equal if somewhat opposite causes: greed and misconceived philanthropy. Greed is easy to understand, if one class has the ability to make laws it can use that power to make laws the redistribute wealth from the other classes to the ruling class. This was the case throughout most of human history. Today, in the United States, power is distributed such that many classes can steal from many other classes. We see this all the time. From welfare to pork barrel legislation.

The other cause, misconceived philanthropy is a blog post in and of itself and so I will not go into it here. Suffice to say that human history is ripe with examples, the French Revolution of 1789 is a great example of how men perverted the law in order to attempt to create an utopia.

And so we come to the end of my argument. If there is only one thing you take away from it let it be this: that the law is nothing more than the collective use of violence. This ties back into the beginning of this discussion and the HHS mandate. Would you hold a gun to my head and force me to buy you or someone you know birth control? That is exactly what HHS has done.

For a more in depth look at the law from someone much smarter than I, I highly recommend "The Law" by Frédéric Bastiat. It is only 55 pages long and can be had for less than seven dollars on Amazon.

If you still don't agree with me, that the law is the collective use of violence, then I want to know why! Read Bastiat, he makes a much more thorough argument than I do here, but let us also discuss this in the comments. This is a conversation that needs to be happening if we are going to preserve this republic we live in!

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