Bastiat: Law's Preexistence, Definition, and Jurisdiction

Bastiat (1801-1850) was a French economist, statesman, & author

Daily Dabble in the Classics, Frédéric Bastiat

It is not true that the legislator has absolute power over our persons and property. The existence of persons and property preceded the existence of the legislator, and his function is only to guarantee their safety.

It is not true that the function of law is to regulate our consciences, our ideas, our wills, our education, our opinions, our work, our trade, our talents, or our pleasures. The function of law is to protect the free exercise of these rights, and to prevent any person from interfering with the free exercise of these same rights by any other person.

Since law necessarily requires the support of force, its lawful domain is only in the areas where the use of force is necessary. This is justice.

Every individual has the right to use force for lawful self- defense. It is for this reason that the collective force—which is only the organized combination of the individual forces—may lawfully be used for the same purpose; and it cannot be used legitimately for any other purpose.

Law is solely the organization of the individual right of self-defense which existed before law was formalized. Law is justice.


Source: Frederic Bastiat, The Law, first published in 1850, p. 67-68.


Daily Dabble in the Classics is a project of Steve Farrell and the Moral Liberal. The copyright of all quotes and works selected are in the Public Domain (unless otherwise noted). As edited, uniquely formatted, or with commentary and/or introductory notes added, and as a collection: Copyright © 2012 Steve Farrell and The Moral Liberal.