All Commentary
Monday, July 1, 1985

A Page on Freedom: Number 21

Legalized Plunder

What are we to think of those who have a libertarian bent, of those who pay lip service to the free society, and then go on to assert, “We’re paying for it, so we might as well get our share.” What sincerity or depth can be ascribed to their lip service? Do not actions speak louder than words? By their actions, are they not, most effectively, giving support to the socialistic design? Endorsing the Welfare State?

Frederic Bastiat writing in France in 1850, referred quite accurately to the above behavior as legal plunder, and explained in simple terms how to identify it: “See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.”

No individual with libertarian pretensions can, in good conscience, advocate legal plunder. What, then, should be his position? He has only one way to turn. Bastiat, the libertarian teacher, was again helpful: “Then abolish this law without delay, for it is not only an evil itself, but also it is a fertile source for further evils because it invites reprisals. If such a law—which may be an isolated case—is not abolished immediately, it will spread, multiply, and develop into a system.”

Leonard E. Read


  • Leonard E. Read (1898-1983) was the founder of FEE, and the author of 29 works, including the classic parable “I, Pencil.”