A stunning philosophical work that influenced thinkers like Henry Hazlitt, Ron Paul, and even me.


The Law is a pamphlet written by French economist Frédéric Bastiat in 1850 while he lay on his deathbed. It is a riveting and astoundingly effective defense of liberal ideas. Much of it is devoted to establishing the natural rights which God has given us and attacking the socialist ideas which harm those rights. The work has influenced countless individuals over the years, including Henry Hazlitt, Murray Rothbard, Ron Paul, Ronald Reagan, and Milton Friedman. Any person interested in the ideas of liberty, or even governmental theory in general, ought to take the time to read The Law. Frédéric Bastiat

How I Found Bastiat

I stumbled upon a copy of the book once while thumbing through the small personal library of a dear friend of mine. When I asked them about this small, insignificant book, they told me that it had been a while since they read it, but that it was a work every political philosopher should read at some point. So I asked if I could borrow it and headed home. bookshelf
Image by Janko Ferlič
I poured over the book, absolutely devouring the text. Bastiat is famous for his witty humor and understandable language, which certainly helped to keep me hooked. But what really made me hang onto Bastiat's every word was his riveting pace and resolute conviction. This was a man literally writing from his deathbed, and you can tell that he was giving a final message to the world, writing things about freedom which he knew to be true. Consider one quote from the text that remains one of my favorites to this day.
Ah, you miserable creatures! You who think that you are so great! You who judge humanity to be so small! You who wish to reform everything! Why don't you reform yourselves? That task would be sufficient enough.

Why His Arguments Stuck With Me

I had always been a lover of freedom before reading Bastiat, but something about his work stuck with me. The Law is by no means a superficial defense of liberty, nor is it one that feels radical or extreme. He does not advocate for overthrowing the government, does not stoutly affirm that we are being oppressed or any such thing. Instead, his arguments are measured, calm, and powerfully clear. He made his points in a way that felt completely reasonable and distinctly human; in The Law, liberty is the only way for humans to live.
Consider how he makes the majority of his arguments. They could be seen as blunt or dismissive of opposition, but really, I feel they are full of clarity. Bastiat knows what he knows, and he wants you to discover those things as well.
Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.
Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.
It was like putting on glasses for the first time. Not only did politics seem more understandable, it also became incredibly distinct. glasses
Image by Nathan Dumlao

Core Arguments of The Law

Bastiat makes several key arguments throughout the pamphlet:
  1. The law exists to secure natural rights. Any other use of the force of law perverts it and offends our basic dignity of humans.
  2. Government and the law often attract those who wish to shape and mold society through what Bastiat terms "legal plunder".
  3. Proponents of "legal plunder" and socialism misunderstand both the dignity of humans and the separation of government and society.
  4. We must commit ourselves to creating law in which no one plunders anyone else. There is obviously much more inside of this brief but powerful book, but I will leave you to read and find out.


Frédéric Bastiat was an incredible writer and thinker. His works on economics, politics, free trade, taxation, philosophy, and more have had ripple effects across generations. I would highly encourage all of you to take the time to read The Law. It will change your entire outlook on the world of politics, just as it changed mine. "The Law" book
Here is a YouTube reading of The Law by Frédéric Bastiat for your listening pleasure. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9z8u7Sz8n1c
You can also download the LibriVox recording of The Law by Frédéric Bastiat for offline listening: https://archive.org/compress/thelaw_bastiat_2007_librivox/formats=128KBPS%20MP3&file=/thelaw_bastiat_2007_librivox.zip
Good summary. Great little book. Highly recommend.
Awesome write-up, added to the list. Currently half way through “The Market For Liberty” myself (by Morris and Linda Tannehill).
That seems to be very closely related, but a more modern interpretation that also evidences the pitfalls of law, socialism and government in general.
Good article about a libertarian classic.
Thanks. It's one of my favorites and I wanted to try and do it some justice :)
Broken windows and opportunity costs. He talked about rent seeking before they called it rent seeking.
Just read that book a few months ago. Absolutely worth every penny.
Thanks for sharing, this "teaser" got me hooked. This might be on the same line of "Discours de la servitude volontaire" by Étienne de la Boétie. It's also an essay about freedom, I believe it's a must read for everyone into bitcoin.
Whereas "The law" was written in the XIX the text by La Boétie was written three centuries earlier! Do not forget that while reading it, the text precedes the French revolution and the Age of enlightenment, this guy is a complete visionary.
Thanks for the recommendation, I'll have to read it :)
Everyone should read it.
Great post! In addition to this, I strongly recommend this podcast, Axioms of Liberty, lecturing books about sovereignty https://fountain.fm/show/7vJxDvtAlghC9SLOZ842