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Samizdata quote of the day

When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it

– Frédéric Bastiat, Economic sophisms, 2nd series (1848)

30 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Paul Marks

    Often is it the other way round. First plunder is glorified by intellectuals (as Social Justice), then it is made into a system of law (in the most powerful nation of the Western World the full Welfare State was only established in the mid 1960s – although elements of i go back long before then) and only then (LASTLY) does it become a “way of life”.

    As recently as the 1950s (in most of the United States) plunder was certainly not the normal way of life – even though it was already glorified in academia.

    It is the same in Britain and everywhere else.

    First the intellectuals push something (for example the “Minority Report” on welfare pushed by the Fabians in Britain) then (later) it becomes a system of law. Then over generations (lastly) does it become a way of life.

  • Spruance

    @Paul Marks: Yes it’s that way around. And since I heard one of our promising youths telling the reporter “Isch mach’ Hartz 4” (“I plan to live entirely from state benefits”) I know that we have made ist.

  • CaptDMO

    In the US:
    Go to: “current” President’s White house website.
    Search: Julia

    ALSO US:(para) Can’t remember author, on Democracy.
    (or, Why the US is a Republic)
    “….until they vote themselves access to the treasury”

  • Steve D

    I think Bastiat got cause and effect mixed up!

  • @CaptDMO: I found a bunch of stuff about people called Julia, and it’s not obvious to this Brit what you mean. Why don’t you link to the one you mean?

  • Regional

    Lawyers and politicians should be guillotined on a regular basis.

  • No I think Bastiat had it the right way around by and large. The rulers initially rule by naked force, then create institutions and laws to make it seem just. And their retainers gradually increase the scope of those institutions and laws to justify their snout space at their master’s trough that is filled with the appropriated goods of others.

  • Jake Haye

    First plunder is glorified by intellectuals …

    State funded intellectuals for whom plunder is a way of life …

  • Jason

    @Regional: I think it was here that I read the opinion that such government as is deemed indispensible should be conducted by civil servants compelled to carry out their duties for a limited time, much as people are randomly chosen and compelled to perform jury duty; and anyone who shows signs of wanting to become a career politician should be immediately arrested.

  • Mr Ed

    @ Jake

    State funded intellectuals for whom plunder is a way of life …

    Indeed, and even perchance those ‘intellectuals’ without State funding, resentful of the rigours and stresses of the search for private funds, who see in Sauron’s bounty a joyous twist on the Faustian pact, selling other’s working lives to enrich their own, unable or unwilling to resist an inner (or blatant) Gollum.

    Bastiat wrote, of course, of his own times, that much closer to the depredations of arriviste usurpers.

  • Regional

    Universities are sheltered workshops for pinko soap droppers and always will be and career politicians who fail to deliver tangible policies should be banished to gulags.

  • FlyingPig


    Though it has been quoted and re-phrased over the past 2.5 centuries, the earliest version of this I have found is by Alexander Fraser Tytler, Lord Woodhouselee (1770):

    “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through this sequence: From bondage to spiritual faith; From spiritual faith to great courage; From courage to liberty; From liberty to abundance; From abundance to selfishness; From selfishness to apathy; From apathy to dependence; From dependence back into bondage.”

    This is the link, if it works.

    Tytler was talking about the fall of Athens, but I think his theory is spot-on 243 years later.

    I think the collectivists in government want to take us from apathy into bondage, at this point…

    Brian the FlyingPig

  • Eric

    Search: Julia

    “Julia” was deleted after the election, though you can still find her saved off on other sites.

  • Eric

    Search: Julia

    “Julia” was deleted after the election, though you can still find her saved off on other sites.

  • Eric

    Also, regarding that quote variously attributed to “Tytler” or “Tyler”:

    It’s a false attribution.

  • FlyingPig

    Yes, I am uncomfortable with the 1770 bit, too. I think there are two quotes here, as Collins does. The second half sounds newer, but the first half (which CaptDMO’s note refers to) is also attributed (in paraphrased form) to deTocqueville in 1838. And to Ben Franklin. So I think someone wrote it many years ago, but we don’t know who. Or when. And the rest of them repeated it. Or not.

    But Collins’ debunking of it tells us nothing more than the fact that he didn’t find the source (and he even says as much), despite some effort. When we discussed it in high school (1973) it was quoted as Franklin. Whatever the author, it is a truism that anyone can observe in many governments today. Maybe we should attribute it to Anon.E.Mouse.

  • And the Muslims have a “religion” that both authorizes and glorifies it.

  • Julie near Chicago


    “The Life of Julia” is a narrative dreamed up by the 2012 Obama campaign. You can find lots of results if you put Julia Obama (the two words, no quotes) into a Search box (I use Ixquick.com mostly). Also try “The Life of Julia” with the quotes. That’s where I found an article from CNN that begins:

    (CNN) — Last week, President Obama’s campaign launched a fictional storybook ad called, “The Life of Julia.” The slide show narrative follows Julia, a cartoon character, from age 3 to age 67 and explains how Obama’s policies, from Head Start to Obamacare to mandated contraception coverage to Medicare reform, would provide Julia with a better life than Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan could.

    [SNIP of the synopsis of the entire thing]

    Read all about it at


  • CaptDMO

    Eric, Flying Pig, Julie near Chicago….

  • CaptDMO

    “And the Muslims have a “religion” that both authorizes and glorifies it.”

    I WAS going to follow Bastiat’s (ass backward in MY eyes…but it WAS from “sophisms”)quote with
    ….and then the US sends Marines to kill them……There’s a song referencing Tripoli.

  • Paul Marks

    The intellectuals are often NOT state funded – Rousseau was not and the Fabians were (mostly) not.

    As for the rulers – the King of England who Thomas Paine railed against (George III) lived in a fairly small house (one can go and look at it – it still stands) the King was not a major drain on public funds (shock-horror Thomas Paine was a liar) and his Civil List was far less than the profits of the Royal Estates. Nor were writers known as defenders of Royal spending – “The Crown” had been attacked (by the literary people) for centuries over spending

    . And Members of Parliament were not paid in this country before 1911. Some ministers profited (Sir Robert Walpole springs to mind) but philosophers and lawyers did not go about justifying this.

    Nor do the poor tend to go round robbing people and then have their robbery justified by philosophy and law.

    Most government spending is on the Welfare States – and this is NOT the way they formed.

    Take the example of Scotland – most of Scotland had no compulsory Poor Law before 1845, the poor were not going round robbing people, and demanding that their robbery be justified.

    Even in Bastiat’s native France – most government spending is on the Welfare State, but there was no Poor Law before the 1890s.

    Nor were the poor going about looting people in the 1880s

    The quotation just does not fit the facts – it even seems like something Karl Marx would have written (about the ruling class and ideology justifying their robbery….) it is just wrong.

    It is backwards – as even intelligent Marxists (such as Gramsci) understood.

    The ideology comes first, this then leads on to the law, and then the robbery is undertaken.

    The “ideological superstructure” is what is important. It is NOT determined by the “economic base” – in the end it is the ideas (human agents) that determine the economic base.

    A group of desperate refugees driven into a swamp – with nothing (everything they had been burned by savage raiders).

    If they have the wrong ideas in their heads they will produce nothing much over a thousand years – like the Marsh Arabs in Southern Iraq.

    But if they have the right ideas in their heads – they will produce Venice.

    One group of people ship wreaked on an uninhabited island will prosper.

    Another group will turn on each other – in “Social Justice” horror (ending in cannibalism).

    But the second group did not really have their doom determined by the island.

    They brought it with them – in their minds, before the first crime was committed.

    It is their BELIEFS (their principles) that killed them – before the first club was used.

  • Nor do the poor tend to go round robbing people and then have their robbery justified by philosophy and law.

    But this is not about the poor. Warlords have no ideology and it is warlords in some shape or form who are always at the genesis of any ruling predatory elite. The ideology the institutions and the justification comes from later generations for whom the brutish reality of spearpoints does not suit their self image… the looter class started as thugs in hauberks, who then built castles in which to store all the loot they appropriated and to remind the peasants/proles/slaves/whatever who is the boss… the ideology… divine right, workers rights, racial destiny or whatever other bollocks works for that era, often comes later.

    That is why Bastiat got it right.

  • Rob

    So Julia keels over at the age of 67 thanks to Socialism? No wonder they won.

    As for M. Bastiat – was there ever anyone more “out of sync” with a national myth/consciousness than him?

  • Regional

    May I suggest the warlords built their castles to protect their goons from the peasants for if the goons had to live among the peasants they’d get their throats cut at night while they were sleeping.

  • Steve D

    ‘No I think Bastiat had it the right way around by and large.’

    ‘they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it’

    He got it only partly right. They do create legal systems that authorize plunder but the moral code preceeded them by thousands of years.

  • Paul Marks

    “But this is not about the poor”.

    Yes it is – the Welfare State (for the poor and nonpooor) is where most government spending goes.

    Even the origin of the state is often not successful invasion – often it is the senior heads of families being in charge of the defence of the community (the most famous states in history, Rome, Athens and so on – started like that, the heads of families, the naturally leading people).

    Libertarians often make the mistake of thinking that war is unnatural – the result of evil space alien Warlords.

    Actually war, or at least the prospect of war, is the normal state of human affairs.

    The heads of families lead their community in preparations for its defence – that is the origin of many states (although not all of them). The heads of families are not space alien Warlords – and they (being men of mature years) do not even want war. They just understand that the preparation for war is a normal part of human existence (part of what humans are).

    But that does not mean that the state should do X,Y,Z, – that comes from intellectuals and their ideology.

    And the reason for their interventionism is their view that the state should help the poor.

    Even if the poor have NOT asked for the help of the state.

    Douglas Carswell is good on this in a British context.

    The people did not ask for the expansion of the state.

    The intellectual elite decided that the state should be expanded.

    First there was philosophy.

    Then the laws were passed.

    Then there is the plunder.

    It is that way round.

  • Paul Marks


    The fortresses of Alfred the Great were built large enough that all the people of the area could shelter in them – just as the Iran Age Hill Forts had been.

    Who were the “goons” and who were the “nongoons”?

    Was the daughter of Alfred (the “White Lady of the English”) a “goon”? Was his grandson Athelstan a “goon”?

    Even in France things are not quite as Bastiat (the man who thought the Romans were dirty – when actually they were far cleaner than people in his own early 19th century) thought they were.

    Charles the Bald allowed castles to be privately owned.

    But he had little choice – as the King’s army could not be everywhere at once.

    The threat of both Viking and Islamic raiders was everywhere.

    If you have a families of horsemen (they have to be on horses – or they will not be able to respond quickly enough) living in castles – then you have the French nobility (not all Franks by the way – for example the Breton nobility were not).

    In Southern Europe (such as Sicily and Italy) the threat of Islamic raids was a constant one – from the 600s to 1800s.

    Yes 1200 years – 12 centuries.

    Still I should not be too hard on my fellow libertarians.

    Most modern people are now trapped in the delusion that peace is natural – if only it were not for a few “feudal” goons.

    Like the French nobility people have become decadent and corrupt.

    And the French nobility did become decadent and corrupt. Even their swords were toys (compare a French gentleman’s sword to that of an English gentleman of the same period).

    Once the “sacred blue” meant a blue sash one wore.

    Do you know why that blue sash was worn Regional?

    It was worn because one had sworn a sacred oath that no enemy would reach the King or the Banner of Christ till that blue sash was covered with one’s own blood (not the blood of enemies – one’s own blood, in death).

    By the 18th century this had degenerated into a dining club – translate “Sacred Blue” into French.

    This did not turn out well in 1789. A Revolution financed by the richest man in France (the Duke of Orleans – the original “man with more money than sense”) and the vast majority of victims of that Revolution were peasants in the provinces (for such crimes as being Christians) – the lawyers and other such (who were the real winners of the Revolution) were like wolves among sheep – and there was no one fit to fight the wolves any more.

    “But the serfs” – what serfs? When will people stop relying on Hollywood for French history? There were few serfs in France – and the courts ignored serfdom anyway.

    War (or the danger of attack)is natural and normal.

    But people will have to relearn that lesson.

    The time of Islamic raids will come again.

    And the time of the intellectuals has never gone away.

    They stir up the people (as the looters in the second city of Argentina were stirred up over the last few days) but they are not themselves poor.

    On the contrary they are well off.

    But they are driven by collectivist ideology.

    And they will commit any crime (any crime at all) for the good of “The Cause”.

    And the natural leaders of the community?

    The heads of important families – the people of property?

    If they were all like Perry things might be well.

    But they are not.

    They are weak.

    They are no match for the intellectuals.

    The wolves face little real opposition.

  • Yes it is – the Welfare State (for the poor and nonpooor) is where most government spending goes.

    No, as you yourself allude, most ‘welfare’ spending does not actually go to the ‘poor’, so it was never anything so simple as the ‘poor’ taking from the ‘rich’, it is about people of all stripes using the state to live at the expense of everyone else with whatever fictitious justifications are fashionable (to use another Bastiat quote).

    Philosophy is usually an excuse rather than a motivation… the philosophy is created to justify the actions and then the actions of later generations follow the philosophy. The origin of all predator elites is “I take from you because I have more spears than you do and it is easier than farming that field myself”. It is only later when someone complains “By what right do you take my stuff?” that some minion of the predator increases his snout room at the looter’s trough by telling predators higher up the food chain “It is because God ordains it! It is for the Volk! It is for the Good of the Planet!” or whatever seems to fit the zeitgeist.

    You are right, war is far from unnatural in human affairs, but it is nearly always about “stuff” (which is how you get the spears) and “control” (which is how you make people give up their stuff) and the religions, races, flags invoked are to justify it rather than the underpinning reason for it all.

    Once a group of rent seekers have a business model, they will always find some justification for it.

  • Regional

    Paul Marks,
    Thanks for the background as I understand it serfdom was abolished so they could be taxed, I’m quite happy to be corrected if I’m wrong and as the princes found out one cannot afford to have a bunch of goons sitting around the castle doing fuck all.

  • Paul Marks

    Regional – sometimes it was and sometimes it was not.

    In France one King (Louis X in the early 1300s) offered what serfs there were freedom – for a price (that he could have just have robbed the without offering anything in return was a bit much even for him – he was not a Roman Emperor after all).

    When not enough peasants signed up (perhaps because the price was too high) he made it compulsory (if they did not have much – he settled for that) an early example of what Rousseau was to call “forcing people to be free”? Accept that Rousseau was not actually offering freedom (he was offering slavery – in a worse form than either serfdom or the slavery of the Romans).

    In other times and places serfdom (tying to the soil) ended without financial motive.

    As for warlords – they need no system of law (or philosophy) they rule by fear.

    The thing about Charles the Bald (back in the 800s) was that he was not actually very good at war – he got his position by accident of birth after all (he inherited it).

    Indeed a cynic would say that Charles recognised the old right that not even a King could take land from one family and give it to another (Edict of Q. 877AD – something no Roman Emperor or Islamic Caliph would ever have accepted) because he needed the support of everyone to keep his own throne (because he was not wildly good at keeping it himself).

    Ditto with his respect for the rights of the Church – “see I respect the rights of other people – please HELP me” (might be a cynical interpretation).

    Henry the First of England was rather better at war.

    But his older brothers were also good at war.

    Why favour the youngest son?

    Because I am born in England – errr fair enough but we need a bit more than that.

    Because I am was too young to be involved in the crimes of my father William the Bastard – errr any more?

    O.K. you bleep-bleeps – I will marry a direct descendant of Alfred the Great, encourage other Normans to intermarry with the English, and swear a public oath to uphold the laws (Charter of 1100).

    Very well Henry lad – that will do.