OPINION: What French Philosopher Frédéric Bastiat Would Have to Say About South Africa’s Seizure of White Owned Farms
Those who have read Frédéric Bastiat’s “The Law” would do well to remember his sage words in the wake of the South African government’s forcible seizure of property from white farmers as reparations for the misdeeds of apartheid. Bastiat’s work was a concise, yet profound commentary on the dangers of governmental power, and the way in which those in power may use their authority against others. It is a timeless piece relevant to people of all nations and therefore deserves constant reflection when considering current events.
The term “social contract” has been used to describe the ideal relationship between America’s government and its people. The social contract expresses the supposed reciprocal ties between a government and its people. According to social contract theory, a government exists to protect the rights of its citizens. It is for this reason alone that government is necessary. All government action should be directed toward this end, and therefore any debate should be centered around how to more perfectly achieve this end.
However, it is possible for the law to be perverted to ends other than those which have the best interest of a nation’s citizens. It is possible that a group of people, aligned with each other through a shared special interest, may seek to use the power of government against others. It is for this reason that apartheid began in South Africa, and it is for this very same reason that property has been confiscated from white farmers.
According to Bastiat, man derives happiness from the application of his personal faculties. Property, as an extension of those faculties onto objects, is just as essential to a man’s purpose and happiness as is his own life. However, if it is easier for a man to obtain property from others by force rather than labor for his own, then he will use force. The main purpose of the law therefore, is to protect each man from the theft of their property by others through the use of force. When the law becomes perverted to arrest the property of others, it is usually done for one of two reasons: blatant greed or misguided philanthropy. Finally, as the law benefits some at the expense of others, it then becomes necessary for all people to enter into the business of the creation of the law. Those who were formerly victims of the law and afterwards find themselves in charge, may then choose to either put an end to the horrible practice, or as is the case here, they may choose to simply take part in it.
Let us then examine the situation in South Africa.
Seventy-two percent of private farmland in the former British colony belongs to white people, who make up only 8.9 percent of that country’s population. This is of course, a terrible consequence of apartheid. It is terrible because such a disparate situation was brought about through the perversion of the law in favor of the white South Africans, and at the expense of the black South Africans. However, one could draw similarities between the method by which this inequality was brought about, and the method by which the government currently seeks to end it. Both methods involve the use of force to redistribute wealth along racial lines for the purpose of granting more wealth to a particular group of people. Neither method promotes the acquisition of wealth through peaceful means, and neither method may end the instigation of hatred along racial lines in the country.
The South African government has already targeted two white-owned farms for unilateral seizure without proper compensation at market value, while plans have been made to amend their constitution to allow for the expropriation of land without any compensation at all. The spokesperson of the African National Congress party has stated that the proposed seizures are “tied to addressing the injustices of the past,” begging the question: could this justification be considered misguided philanthropy, or is it simply an attempt to conceal blatant greed under a façade of social justice?
There is speculation that the government plans to continue its expropriation of white-owned land due to the leaking of a list of 139 farms to be taken, of which the authenticity is disputed. Additionally, these actions highlight an increasing anti-white sentiment in the nation, where more than 2000 white farmers have been killed since 1994, in what some say is an attempt to drive them off their land. 84 of these killings took place in 2017 alone.
What happened to the black population of South Africa in the past was unquestionably a terrible and evil thing, and should be roundly condemned by all decent members of society. However, now that the past is in the past, and a new group of people find themselves in power, will they use it for good? Will they end the ignorant and immoral actions of their predecessors? Or, as Bastiat so astutely warned, will they simply choose to take part in them?
Eric Young is a Lead Contributor at theDailyLead.