The Law

by Frédéric Bastiat

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The Socialists Despise Mankind

According to these writers, it is indeed fortunate that Heaven has bestowed upon certain men -- governors and legislators -- the exact opposite inclinations, not only for their own sake but also for the sake of the rest of the world! While mankind tends toward evil, the legislators yearn for good; while mankind advances toward darkness, the legislators aspire for enlightenment; while mankind is drawn toward vice, the legislators are attracted toward virtue. Since they have decided that this is the true state of affairs, they then demand the use of force in order to substitute their own inclinations for those of the human race.

Open at random any book on philosophy, politics, or history, and you will probably see how deeply rooted in our country is this idea -- the child of classical studies, the mother of socialism. In all of them, you will probably find this idea that mankind is merely inert matter, receiving life, organization, morality, and prosperity from the power of the state. And even worse, it will be stated that mankind tends toward degeneration, and is stopped from this downward course only by the mysterious hand of the legislator. Conventional classical thought everywhere says that behind passive society there is a concealed power called law or legislator (or called by some other terminology that designates some unnamed person or persons of undisputed influence and authority) which moves, controls, benefits, and improves mankind.

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It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.