The law perverted! And the police powers of the state perverted
along with it! The law, I say, not only turned from its proper
purpose but made to follow an entirely contrary purpose! The law
become the weapon of every kind of greed! Instead of checking crime,
the law itself guilty of the evils it is supposed to punish!
If this is true, it is a serious fact, and moral duty requires me
to call the attention of my fellow-citizens to it.
Life Is a Gift from God
We hold from God the gift which includes all others. This gift is
life -- physical, intellectual, and moral life.
But life cannot maintain itself alone. The Creator of life has
entrusted us with the responsibility of preserving, developing, and
perfecting it. In order that we may accomplish this, He has provided
us with a collection of marvelous faculties. And He has put us in
the midst of a variety of natural resources. By the application of
our faculties to these natural resources we convert them into
products, and use them. This process is necessary in order that life
may run its appointed course.
Life, faculties, production--in other words, individuality,
liberty, property -- this is man. And in spite of the cunning of
artful political leaders, these three gifts from God precede all
human legislation, and are superior to it.
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
What Is Law?
What, then, is law? It is the collective organization of the
individual right to lawful defense.
Each of us has a natural right--from God--to defend his person,
his liberty, and his property. These are the three basic
requirements of life, and the preservation of any one of them is
completely dependent upon the preservation of the other two. For
what are our faculties but the extension of our individuality? And
what is property but an extension of our faculties?
If every person has the right to defend -- even by force -- his
person, his liberty, and his property, then it follows that a group
of men have the right to organize and support a common force to
protect these rights constantly. Thus the principle of collective
right -- its reason for existing, its lawfulness -- is based on
individual right. And the common force that protects this collective
right cannot logically have any other purpose or any other mission
than that for which it acts as a substitute. Thus, since an
individual cannot lawfully use force against the person, liberty, or
property of another individual, then the common force -- for the
same reason -- cannot lawfully be used to destroy the person,
liberty, or property of individuals or groups.
Such a perversion of force would be, in both cases, contrary to
our premise. Force has been given to us to defend our own individual
rights. Who will dare to say that force has been given to us to
destroy the equal rights of our brothers? Since no individual acting
separately can lawfully use force to destroy the rights of others,
does it not logically follow that the same principle also applies to
the common force that is nothing more than the organized combination
of the individual forces?
If this is true, then nothing can be more evident than this: The
law is the organization of the natural right of lawful defense. It
is the substitution of a common force for individual forces. And
this common force is to do only what the individual forces have a
natural and lawful right to do: to protect persons, liberties, and
properties; to maintain the right of each, and to cause justice to
reign over us all.
A Just and Enduring Government
If a nation were founded on this basis, it seems to me that order
would prevail among the people, in thought as well as in deed. It
seems to me that such a nation would have the most simple, easy to
accept, economical, limited, nonoppressive, just, and enduring
government imaginable -- whatever its political form might be.
Under such an administration, everyone would understand that he
possessed all the privileges as well as all the responsibilities of
his existence. No one would have any argument with government,
provided that his person was respected, his labor was free, and the
fruits of his labor were protected against all unjust attack. When
successful, we would not have to thank the state for our success.
And, conversely, when unsuccessful, we would no more think of
blaming the state for our misfortune than would the farmers blame
the state because of hail or frost. The state would be felt only by
the invaluable blessings of safety provided by this concept of
It can be further stated that, thanks to the non- intervention of
the state in private affairs, our wants and their satisfactions
would develop themselves in a logical manner. We would not see poor
families seeking literary instruction before they have bread. We
would not see cities populated at the expense of rural districts,
nor rural districts at the expense of cities. We would not see the
great displacements of capital, labor, and population that are
caused by legislative decisions.
The sources of our existence are made uncertain and precarious by
these state-created displacements. And, furthermore, these acts
burden the government with increased responsibilities.
The Complete Perversion of the Law
But, unfortunately, law by no means confines itself to its proper
functions. And when it has exceeded its proper functions, it has not
done so merely in some inconsequential and debatable matters. The
law has gone further than this; it has acted in direct opposition to
its own purpose. The law has been used to destroy its own objective:
It has been applied to annihilating the justice that it was supposed
to maintain; to limiting and destroying rights which its real
purpose was to respect. The law has placed the collective force at
the disposal of the unscrupulous who wish, without risk, to exploit
the person, liberty, and property of others. It has converted
plunder into a right, in order to protect plunder. And it has
converted lawful defense into a crime, in order to punish lawful
How has this perversion of the law been accomplished? And what
have been the results?
The law has been perverted by the influence of two entirely
different causes: stupid greed and false philanthropy. Let us speak
of the first.
A Fatal Tendency of Mankind
Self-preservation and self-development are common aspirations
among all people. And if everyone enjoyed the unrestricted use of
his faculties and the free disposition of the fruits of his labor,
social progress would be ceaseless, uninterrupted, and unfailing.
But there is also another tendency that is common among people.
When they can, they wish to live and prosper at the expense of
others. This is no rash accusation. Nor does it come from a gloomy
and uncharitable spirit. The annals of history bear witness to the
truth of it: the incessant wars, mass migrations, religious
persecutions, universal slavery, dishonesty in commerce, and
monopolies. This fatal desire has its origin in the very nature of
man -- in that primitive, universal, and insuppressible instinct
that impels him to satisfy his desires with the least possible pain.
Property and Plunder
Man can live and satisfy his wants only by ceaseless labor; by the
ceaseless application of his faculties to natural resources. This
process is the origin of property.
But it is also true that a man may live and satisfy his wants by
seizing and consuming the products of the labor of others. This
process is the origin of plunder.
Now since man is naturally inclined to avoid pain -- and since
labor is pain in itself -- it follows that men will resort to
plunder whenever plunder is easier than work. History shows this
quite clearly. And under these conditions, neither religion nor
morality can stop it.
When, then, does plunder stop? It stops when it becomes more
painful and more dangerous than labor.
It is evident, then, that the proper purpose of law is to use the
power of its collective force to stop this fatal tendency to plunder
instead of to work. All the measures of the law should protect
property and punish plunder.
But, generally, the law is made by one man or one class of men.
And since law cannot operate without the sanction and support of a
dominating force, this force must be entrusted to those who make the
This fact, combined with the fatal tendency that exists in the
heart of man to satisfy his wants with the least possible effort,
explains the almost universal perversion of the law. Thus it is easy
to understand how law, instead of checking injustice, becomes the
invincible weapon of injustice. It is easy to understand why the law
is used by the legislator to destroy in varying degrees among the
rest of the people, their personal independence by slavery, their
liberty by oppression, and their property by plunder. This is done
for the benefit of the person who makes the law, and in proportion
to the power that he holds.
Victims of Lawful Plunder
Men naturally rebel against the injustice of which they are
victims. Thus, when plunder is organized by law for the profit of
those who make the law, all the plundered classes try somehow to
enter -- by peaceful or revolutionary means -- into the making of
laws. According to their degree of enlightenment, these plundered
classes may propose one of two entirely different purposes when they
attempt to attain political power: Either they may wish to stop
lawful plunder, or they may wish to share in it.
Woe to the nation when this latter purpose prevails among the mass
victims of lawful plunder when they, in turn, seize the power to
Until that happens, the few practice lawful plunder upon the many,
a common practice where the right to participate in the making of
law is limited to a few persons. But then, participation in the
making of law becomes universal. And then, men seek to balance their
conflicting interests by universal plunder. Instead of rooting out
the injustices found in society, they make these injustices general.
As soon as the plundered classes gain political power, they
establish a system of reprisals against other classes. They do not
abolish legal plunder. (This objective would demand more
enlightenment than they possess.) Instead, they emulate their evil
predecessors by participating in this legal plunder, even though it
is against their own interests.
It is as if it were necessary, before a reign of justice appears,
for everyone to suffer a cruel retribution -- some for their
evilness, and some for their lack of understanding.
The Results of Legal Plunder
It is impossible to introduce into society a greater change and a
greater evil than this: the conversion of the law into an instrument
What are the consequences of such a perversion? It would require
volumes to describe them all. Thus we must content ourselves with
pointing out the most striking.
In the first place, it erases from everyone's conscience the
distinction between justice and injustice.
No society can exist unless the laws are respected to a certain
degree. The safest way to make laws respected is to make them
respectable. When law and morality contradict each other, the
citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense
or losing his respect for the law. These two evils are of equal
consequence, and it would be difficult for a person to choose
between them. The nature of law is to maintain justice. This is so
much the case that, in the minds of the people, law and justice are
one and the same thing. There is in all of us a strong disposition
to believe that anything lawful is also legitimate. This belief is
so widespread that many persons have erroneously held that things
are "just" because law makes them so. Thus, in order to
make plunder appear just and sacred to many consciences, it is only
necessary for the law to decree and sanction it. Slavery,
restrictions, and monopoly find defenders not only among those who
profit from them but also among those who suffer from them.
The Fate of Non-Conformists
If you suggest a doubt as to the morality of these institutions,
it is boldly said that "You are a dangerous innovator, a
utopian, a theorist, a subversive; you would shatter the foundation
upon which society rests."
If you lecture upon morality or upon political science, there will
be found official organizations petitioning the government in this
vein of thought: "That science no longer be taught exclusively
from the point of view of free trade (of liberty, of property, and
of justice) as has been the case until now, but also, in the future,
science is to be especially taught from the viewpoint of the facts
and laws that regulate French industry (facts and laws which are
contrary to liberty, to property, and to justice). That, in
government-endowed teaching positions, the professor rigorously
refrain from endangering in the slightest degree the respect due to
the laws now in force."*
*General Council of Manufacturers, Agriculture, and
Commerce, May 6, 1850.
Thus, if there exists a law which sanctions slavery or monopoly,
oppression or robbery, in any form whatever, it must not even be
mentioned. For how can it be mentioned without damaging the respect
which it inspires? Still further, morality and political economy
must be taught from the point of view of this law; from the
supposition that it must be a just law merely because it is a law.
Another effect of this tragic perversion of the law is that it
gives an exaggerated importance to political passions and conflicts,
and to politics in general.
I could prove this assertion in a thousand ways. But, by way of
illustration, I shall limit myself to a subject that has lately
occupied the minds of everyone: universal suffrage.
Who Shall Judge?
The followers of Rousseau's school of thought -- who consider
themselves far advanced, but whom I consider twenty centuries behind
the times -- will not agree with me on this. But universal suffrage
-- using the word in its strictest sense -- is not one of those
sacred dogmas which it is a crime to examine or doubt. In fact,
serious objections may be made to universal suffrage.
In the first place, the word universal conceals a gross fallacy.
For example, there are 36 million people in France. Thus, to make
the right of suffrage universal, there should be 36 million voters.
But the most extended system permits only 9 million people to vote.
Three persons out of four are excluded. And more than this, they are
excluded by the fourth. This fourth person advances the principle of
incapacity as his reason for excluding the others.
Universal suffrage means, then, universal suffrage for those who
are capable. But there remains this question of fact: Who is
capable? Are minors, females, insane persons, and persons who have
committed certain major crimes the only ones to be determined
The Reason Why Voting Is Restricted
A closer examination of the subject shows us the motive which
causes the right of suffrage to be based upon the supposition of
incapacity. The motive is that the elector or voter does not
exercise this right for himself alone, but for everybody.
The most extended elective system and the most restricted elective
system are alike in this respect. They differ only in respect to
what constitutes incapacity. It is not a difference of principle,
but merely a difference of degree.
If, as the republicans of our present-day Greek and Roman schools
of thought pretend, the right of suffrage arrives with one's birth,
it would be an injustice for adults to prevent women and children
from voting. Why are they prevented? Because they are presumed to be
incapable. And why is incapacity a motive for exclusion? Because it
is not the voter alone who suffers the consequences of his vote;
because each vote touches and affects everyone in the entire
community; because the people in the community have a right to
demand some safeguards concerning the acts upon which their welfare
and existence depend.
The Answer Is to Restrict the Law
I know what might be said in answer to this; what the objections
might be. But this is not the place to exhaust a controversy of this
nature. I wish merely to observe here that this controversy over
universal suffrage (as well as most other political questions) which
agitates, excites, and overthrows nations, would lose nearly all of
its importance if the law had always been what it ought to be.
In fact, if law were restricted to protecting all persons, all
liberties, and all properties; if law were nothing more than the
organized combination of the individual's right to self defense; if
law were the obstacle, the check, the punisher of all oppression and
plunder -- is it likely that we citizens would then argue much about
the extent of the franchise?
Under these circumstances, is it likely that the extent of the
right to vote would endanger that supreme good, the public peace? Is
it likely that the excluded classes would refuse to peaceably await
the coming of their right to vote? Is it likely that those who had
the right to vote would jealously defend their privilege?
If the law were confined to its proper functions, everyone's
interest in the law would be the same. Is it not clear that, under
these circumstances, those who voted could not inconvenience those
who did not vote?