Individual Rights – The Only Rights


August 7, 2012 by Anders Ingemarson

“Man holds these rights, not from the Collective nor for the Collective, but against the Collective—as a barrier which the Collective cannot cross; . . . these rights are man’s protection against all other men.” Ayn Rand

The term “rights” is used rather carelessly these days.  It’s gone the way of the dollar – more diluted with each passing year.

To be precise, there is only one type of rights: individual rights. Any alleged “right” of one man, which necessitates the violation of the rights of another, is not and cannot be a right.

Right to work. Right to health care. Right to a secure old age. Right to housing, to welfare, to a mortgage. The list goes on and on. What do they have in common? They are not rights. They are all founded on the premise that one man’s need is another man’s obligation. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our nation fought a bloody Civil War to abolish slavery based on race. We have yet to abolish slavery of one man to his fellow men, of the individual to the group. This requires first and foremost a moral revolution. But close behind, as part of the practical implementation, comes the separation of state and the economy.

One thought on “Individual Rights – The Only Rights

  1. iskeen says:

    The confusion on the issue of individual rights continues because the relationship between two concepts: morality and government is still not clearly defined. Is there a relationship? If so, then what is it?

    I believe that Ayn Rand had this relationship implicit in all she said and did but that it was never made explicit in a way that would be useful to answer this question.To show the difference between altruism and rational-self interest (Objectivist morality) in a way that would answer this question, you have to consider the question: what does any morality do for a man per se?

    Morality teaches a man the proper values to choose as goals for his life. It defines positive actions that he should take and actions which he should refrain from taking. Altruism defines others as the goal for all his actions: he should positively help others, sacrifice for others and not hurt others. Objectivism defines his rational self as the goal for all his actions: he should positively act for his rational self, trade with others for his rational self and not hurt others. Both of these moralities make exceptions in the realm of “not hurt others.” Objectivism makes exception for self-defense (response to the initiation of force). Altruism makes exception for “good intentions” where hurting one or some will help others.

    What is the relationship between morality and government? Where morality defines positive actions and actions from which to refrain, the proper government defines ONLY the actions from which to refrain, the punishment for improper actions and the process of adjudication by which improper actors would be brought to justice.

    The proper purpose of government is to eliminate the initiation of force and fraud in human relationships. Nothing else. When a proper government takes action it cannot literally protect “rights.” It can only punish wrongs. The reason a government cannot “protect” rights is that in a free society, bad actors can and will always be able to violate rights. The way a proper government protects rights is not direct, it is indirect. A government uses known, objective law, and swift and objective punishment to deter bad actions and thus protects rights by result, but not by preventative actions. Bad actors are deterred from acting badly in a proper government, because of the disincentives against bad actions.

    When a government locks up a convicted murderer, it does not violate his individual rights. He still has all of the “individual rights” he always had. What he has lost is is freedom and he lost it because he never did have a right to initiate the use of force against anyone. The government has taken responsive action in completion of its mission which is to bring bad actors to justice and to punish them accordingly.

    No one has the right to initiate the use of force: no individual, no group, no government for any reason whatsoever, and it is the abolition of the initiation of force and fraud in human relationships which is the goal of a proper government and the hallmark of civilization.


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