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Against the “There oughta be a law” Crowd

In The Law, Frederic Bastiat talked about the tendency for socialists (which, by his definition, would include a large majority of Americans) to conflate government and society. Bastiat reminded his readers that just because someone says that he doesn’t want the state to do something doesn’t mean that he doesn’t want anyone to do it. 

Bastiat was right, of course, but he stopped short of an observation that Albert Jay Nock would later make: that society can not only do the things that the state does, but that relinquishing society’s roles to the state actually disempowers society. 

Nock wrote,

“It is unfortunately none too well understood that, just as the State has no money of its own, so it has no power of its own. All the power it has is what society gives it, plus what it confiscates from time to time on one pretext or another; there is no other source from which State power can be drawn. Therefore every assumption of State power, whether by gift or seizure, leaves society with so much less power. There is never, nor can there be, any strengthening of State power without a corresponding and roughly equivalent depletion of social power.”

Every time someone says “There ought to be a law” what they’re really saying is “Society, and all its individuals and institutions, should give up its power to the state.”

Published in Ben Lewis