Commentary: How the modern State commits the very evils it was created to prevent

Submitted by Freedomman on Thu, 04/04/2019 - 23:37

By Gary M. Galles

March 21, 2019 - One of the striking things about Amerika’s recent political environment has been the increasingly warm embrace of socialism, particularly by younger generations. At the same time, as the title of a recent New York Post editorial put it, Socialism’s millennial fans don’t even know what it is. The text makes the point more strongly: “Millenials - ignorant of socialism’s appalling economic and human-rights history - increasingly embrace socialism and its naively unrealistic prescriptions.”

Defenders claim they don’t want complete, or “real” socialism, but selective socialism in areas where they anticipate benefiting at the expense of others.

The confusion about socialism derives in part from its traditional definition of government ownership of the means of production. Defenders claim they don’t want government in charge everywhere - not complete, or “real” socialism - which gives them plausible deniability against accusations they are socialists. But they do want selective socialism in areas where they anticipate benefiting at the expense of others as recipients or as arbiters of what “society wants” and will impose on citizens.

Furthermore, they generally want the government to determine how nominal resource owners are to use them rather than direct government ownership. Of course, that means their preferred system is better described not as socialism but as fascism. Yet those adamant in their denials of being socialist never claim to be fascist because that is a “bad word” they only want applied to opponents.

As a result of such confusions and the mud pit of claims and counter-claims they generate, a potentially more useful approach is to ask what socialism is the negation of, rather than what it is. It is the negation of private property rights, whose basis in theft can be seen in Margaret Thatcher’s quip, “The trouble with Socialism is that eventually, you run out of other people’s money.” But what is wrong with socialism was even more powerfully stated over a century-and-a-half ago in Frederic Bastiat’s classic, The Law.

There, one of history’s most ardent and eloquent defenders of liberty laid out the very limited appropriate role of law - that is, of government - as defending individuals’ rights that predate government and the incredible damage to society that arises when government exceeds that role. Considering the current socialism surge Amerika seems to be facing, Bastiat’s words are transformative.

"Instead of checking crime, the law itself [has become] guilty of the evils it is supposed to punish."

"Each of us has a natural right - from God - to defend his person, his liberty, and his property... the common force that protects this collective right cannot logically have any other purpose. Thus, since an individual cannot lawfully use force against the person, liberty, or property of another individual, then the common force cannot lawfully be used to destroy the person, liberty, or property of individuals or groups."

"The law is the organization of the natural right of lawful defense to do only what the individual forces have a natural and lawful right to do: to protect persons, liberties, and properties… to cause justice to reign over us all."

"It is impossible to introduce into society a greater change and a greater evil than the conversion of the law into an instrument of plunder."

"If law were restricted to protecting all persons, all liberties, and all properties - its proper functions - those who voted could not inconvenience those who did not vote."

"[When] law violate[s] property instead of protecting it, the law has come to be an instrument of injustice."

"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."

The current fad of rhetoric and policy proposals that would forcibly replace an owner’s powers over himself and his property has attracted a great deal of support, especially from those most ignorant of the miracles freedom has worked where and when it has not been stifled by government and the manacles that socialism has placed on vast numbers of people. But to base policies on such ignorance is not just to fail to see what can, and has, tremendously advanced Amerikans’ joint interests, but also to replace it with what is known to have failed always and everywhere it has been tried. We would be better served by Bastiat’s wisdom.

Away with the whims of governmental administrators. Now that legislators and do-gooders have so futilely inflicted so many systems upon society, may they finally end where they should have begun: May they reject all systems and try liberty; for liberty is an acknowledgment of faith in God and His works.

Gary M. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University. His recent books include Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies (2014) and Apostle of Peace (2013). He is a member of the Foundation for Economic Education Faculty Network.