Frédéric Bastiat argues that socialism hides its true plunderous nature under a facade of nice sounding words like “fraternity” and “equality” (1850)

Frédéric Bastiat

The French economist Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) argues that under socialism’s facade of nice-sounding terms like fraternity, solidarity, and equality lies the “monster” of legal plunder and state coercion:

For all its theories about systems and (all) its efforts it appears that socialism, however indulgent it is toward itself, cannot avoid catching a glimpse of the monster which is legal plunder. But what does it do? It cleverly shrouds it from all eyes, even its own, under the seductive names of fraternity, solidarity, organization, and association. And because we do not ask so much of the law since we require only justice from it, (socialism) presumes that we are rejecting fraternity, solidarity, organization, and association and hurls the epithet “Individualist!” at us. It ought to know, therefore, that what we are rejecting is not natural organization, but coerced organization.

Frédéric Bastiat first made a name for himself as a gifted economic journalist who attacked the economic absurdities and injustices of tariff protection (his essays were collected in two serties of Economic Sophisms (1846, 1848)). After the February Revolution of 1848 brought a group of socialists to power he turned his considerable skills to fighting the equally absurd and unjust practices of socialism in a series of 12 pamphlets which he published between May 1848 and July 1850, which included several for which Bastiat has become justly famous such as “The State” (September 1848), “The Law” (July 1850), and “What is Seen and What is Not Seen” (July 1850). The essay from which this quote is taken, “The Law”, is a tour de force which surveys the history of socialist thinking leading up to the revolution of 1848 and presents in more detail his own emerging theory of legal plunder. He distinguished between “partial plunder” where a small privileged elite (like large owners and manufacturers whom he called “the plundering class”) benefit at the expense of ordinary taxpayers and consumers (“the plundered class”), and “universal plunder” which the socialists were attempting to introduce. Here, the socialists wanted too use the coercive power of the state to plunder everybody, rich and poor, in order to “organise” (what today we would call centrally plan) the entire economy so that everybody had a job, an income, basic necessities, and so on. Bastiat and the other Parisian free market economists thought that this plan was economically inefficient, wasteful, chaotic, self-defeating, but most of all unjust. Socialism was a veritable “monster” in their view.