from The Psychology of Liberty
RightsThe Preeminent Political Principle
If one of our main social/political goals is to live together harmoniously and interact in a benevolent fashion, then we must address the idea of rightshuman rights. Actually, the term right solely pertains to human beings because only a human consciousness can formulate the concept. To ascribe rights to anything other than humans is rather to name what is of high value to an individual, not something that possesses rights. As in the other key term, property, rights can only mean rights of an individualnot rights of any derivative group.
The idea of rights was formally established by the seventeenth century philosopher John Locke. It was taken to new heights of understanding and implementation by the Founding Fathers, especially Thomas Jefferson. Historically speaking, the idea of rights was facilitated by numerous events in Europe. The following identifies some (by no means all) of these events: the shift from a feudal-state to a merchant/trade-state; the Protestant Reformation, which led to greater emphasis on the primacy of the individual; the blending of natural science with political thought, which marked the decline of the importance of the ecclesiastical past; the development of more formal business contracts, which led Locke to apply the notion of contract to the individuals relationship with government; and, Lockes ideas of natural rights and property, which were aided by his further establishment of the ideas of free will and of knowledge acquisition from the senses (Locke held that the mind is tabula rasa at birthin contrast to the notion of innate ideas). Most of these progressions coalesced in the eighteenth century. Political historian Mulford Sibley wrote:
In precise terminology, right delimits a moral code of behavior that implies a certain freedom of action in relation to others.76 The Founders ascribed to humans (although not to all humans) the freedom of action necessary for people to exist and prosper as individuals. Freedom of action presupposes choices. So, rights are tied to volition, which is of course part of reason.
By stating for the first time in history that humans possess certain inalienable rights, the Founders identified a profound fact. This identification was to dramatically change the course of political development. People could recognize openly without shame, fear, or guilt, that their livesand therefore propertybelonged to them. They could throw off the shackles of oppressive governmental rule and the dependent psychologies that often go with it. Happiness was now an attainable goal.
The concept of rights could be seen as the first realization that all people are truly individuals. This was an enormous psychological step forward, considering especially the context of all prior history. If we owe any great debt to these scholars, it is to their identification of rights. Even though the Founders did not (or were not able to) take the concept of rights to its full logical outcome, they nonetheless ought to be commended for getting the idea "out there," into objective reality, for people to see and integrate. This is a crucial step in the realm of new ideas: to make them known. From there, it is up to peoples honesty, confidence, and courage to take further steps.
Taking the concept of rights to its logical outcome entails implementing its full meaning. One must apply it politically to every person, irrespective of race, color, gender, ethnicity, or any other superficial description or inane prejudice. In addition, one has to consider the concepts devastating implications for the process of Democracy, in which "might makes right."
As stated, rights pertain to freedom of action. Like other organisms, we sustain our life by action. All organisms need to act in accordance with their nature and distinctive methods of survival. To fail to do so would be detrimental, if not fatal, to their lives and well-being. Since we possess the faculty of reason (and concomitantly volition), our behavior is quite different from other animals.
We are able to constantly shape and reorganize our surroundings to fit our needs creatively, not merely instinctually. Rather than passively adapt and react to our environment, we can change our conditions in innumerable ways. The human mind utilizes opportunities for further satisfaction and achievement, and it can create many values in the material realm from substances in the environment. This is the way we use our distinctive capacities and, therefore, survive on this planet.
In order to fully accomplish our tasks, we need to be free to act and make choices. A conceptual mind requires freedom to think, judge, discriminate, feel, and enjoy things. To see to it that we do not interfere with others and that others do not interfere with us, we have rights. Rights enable expression of values without censorship by others.
Since we possess rights on account of what we are, they are an inseparable, integrated sum. In politics today, though, governments try to divide rights up piecemeal. Governments ignore the fact that rights are the integration of body and spirit; actions of the body are inseparable from actions of the mind. Yet, since most of us were taught that rights are things given to us by the Constitution, the idea of rights is more easily treated as open for amendment rather than an unalterable fact of reality.
One does not have the right to grant rights to others, only to recognize and respect them. Rights can never be given to us by favor or by permission from a government (or any other entity posturing as an authority). The failure to acknowledge this has been the fatal contradiction in political and legal thinking for countless centuries. It has allowed the most depraved and unjust acts to be perpetrated against innocent personspersons who probably did not recognize their own importance and internal greatness.
Amending rights means negating them. It can lead to benefiting some at the expense of others. Yet the State regularly enables people to obtain various goods and services from others without their consent. Clearly, to claim that the recipients have "rights" to these goods and services is contradictory. Referring to a Democratic Party platform of alleged rights, Rand wrote:
All the desirable possessions and experiences for humans must be acquired through their own efforts and at their own expenses (or through voluntary reception). For instance, we have a right to exchange goods with others. We do not (nor does any government) have a right to destroy or seize anothers property (i.e., in violation of laws of justice). We have a right to the fruits of our labors in the way they have been negotiated, for example, with our employers. We do not have a right to take others earnings for our own uses or uses of "the country." We have a right to pursue a course of action that betters our life on Earth. We do not have a right to sacrifice others in the process. We have a right to defend ourselves and our property from anothers aggression (and to seek reparation for damages). We do not have the right to be the aggressor.
Rights imply that we are free so long as we do not inhibit the freedom of others. By doing this, everyones life is enriched instead of depleted. In the words of nineteenth century advocate of freedom Lysander Spooner:
Infringing and interfering with others freedom to live is equivalent to denying the distinctively human method of survival. Without the ability to make choices to guide our life and ensure survival, we are impotent. We may want to pursue a course of action, but are compelled to do otherwise. Coercion is a primary method of interaction for many kinds of other animals because they lack the ability to reason and make choices and, hence, control their actions. We, however, are guided by our capacity of decision-makingnot merely a sensory-perceptual mechanism. Personal choice and conceptual knowledge guide us.
Of course, to deny these truths is to be guilty of a huge contradiction, precisely because one must choose to deny them. To say that reasonand thus voluntary, consensual, agreementsshould not be the sole means for humans to deal with each other is, plainly, to exempt oneself from the realm of reason.
Initiatory forcethat is, force not used in self-defense and not used to exact justice from an aggressoris inherently anti-rights. It directly seeks to nullify the capacity for identification, evaluation, and subsequent action (i.e., ones capacity for living). One can never claim the right to incapacitate the source and creator of rightsthe human mind.82
Again, we possess rights innately by virtue of being reasoning creatures. Rights can never be limited, altered, or taken away from us metaphysicallythat is, no one can change the nature of human beings. Our rights can, however, be lessened (and are lessened) existentially through political means. Yet, to limit, alter, and take away rights from people politically denies what is real. Since it denies the key facet of the human method of survival, it denies an aspect of reality. And the denial of an aspect of reality is capable to humans through rationalization: In order to distort what is metaphysically, one must distort ones interpretations and identifications of reality through a variety of contradictions.
1 Anderson, Terry L. and Leal, Donald R. Free Market Environmentalism. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1991.
2 Aristotle (English translation by Tredennick, Hugh; In Twenty-Three Volumes) XVII. The Metaphysics (Book I-IX). Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1975.
3 Bakunin, Michael. God and the State. New York: Dover, 1970.
4 Barnett, Randy E. The Structure of Liberty. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
5 Benson, Bruce L. The Enterprise of Law. San Francisco: Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, 1990.
6 Binswanger, Harry. The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts. Marina del Ray, CA: The Ayn Rand Institute Press, 1990.
7 . Volition as Cognitive Self-Regulation. Oceanside, CA: Second Renaissance Books, 1991.
8 Bowker, John. The Meanings of Death. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
9 Branden, Nathaniel. The Disowned Self. New York: Bantam Books, 1973.
10 . The Psychology Of Self-Esteem. New York: Bantam Books, 1979.
11 . The Psychology Of Romantic Love. New York: Bantam Books, 1981.
12 . Honoring The Self. New York: Bantam Books, 1985.
13 . How To Raise Your Self-Esteem. New York: Bantam Books, 1988.
14 . The Art Of Self-Discovery. New York: Bantam Books, 1993.
15 . The Six Pillars Of Self-Esteem. New York: Bantam Books, 1994.
16 Burns, David D. Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. New York: Avon Books, 1992.
17 Campbell, Bernard. Human Evolution. New York: Aldine, 1985.
18 Clark, Grahame and Piggott, Stuart (IntroductionThe History of Human SocietyEdited by Plumb, J. H.). Prehistoric Societies. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1965.
19 Cohen, Ronald and Service, Elman R. (Editors). Origins of the State. Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1978.
20 Darwin, Charles. The Origin Of Species. New York: Mentor, 1958.
21 Davies, Paul. The Cosmic Blueprint. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988.
22 Dawkins, Richard. The Extended Phenotype. Oxford: W. H. Freeman and Company, 1982.
23 . The Blind Watchmaker. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1987.
24 . River Out of Eden. New York: Basic Books, 1995.
25 . Climbing Mount Improbable. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1996.
26 Diamond, Stanley. In Search of the Primitive. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1974.
27 Diringer, David. The Alphabet. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1968.
28 Dressel, Paul. Facts and Fancy in Assigning Grades. Basic College Quarterly, 2 (1957), 6-12.
29 Eliade, Mircea. Myth And Reality. New York: Harper & Row, 1975.
30 Eltzbacher, Paul. Anarchism. Plainview, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1960.
31 Friedman, Milton. Capitalism and Freedom. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962.
32 Ginott, Haim G. Teacher and Child. New York: Macmillan, 1972.
33 . Between Parent and Child. New York: Macmillan, 1973.
34 Glasser, William. Schools Without Failure. New York: Harper & Row, 1969.
35 . The Quality School. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.
36 Gleick, James. Chaos. New York: Penguin, 1987.
37 Guerin, Daniel. Anarchism. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970.
38 Heidel, William A. The Heroic Age of Science. Baltimore: The Williams & Wilkins Company, 1933.
39 Holt, John. Freedom and Beyond. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1972.
40 . Instead of Education. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1976.
41 Hurd, Michael J. Effective Therapy. New York: Dunhill Publishing Co., 1997.
42 Huxley, G. L. The Early Ionians. New York: Humanities Press, 1966.
43 Itzkoff, Seymour W. The Form of Man. Ashfield, Mass: Paideia, 1983.
44 . Triumph of the Intelligent. Ashfield, Mass: Paideia, 1985.
45 Kauffman, Stuart. At Home in the Universe. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
46 Kaufmann, Walter (Editor and translator). The Portable Nietzsche. New York: Penguin Books, 1982.
47 Keller, Helen. The Story of My Life. New York: Doubleday, Page, & Company, 1927.
48 Kohn, Alfie. Punished by Rewards. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993.
49 Krader, Lawrence. Formation of the State. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968.
50 Kramer, Joel and Alstad, Diana. The Guru Papers Masks of Authoritarian Power. Berkeley, CA: Frog, Ltd, 1993.
51 Kramer, Samual N. and The Editors of Time-Life Books. Cradle of Civilization. New York: Time, 1967.
52 Lane, Harlan. The Wild Boy of Aveyron. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1976.
53 Leakey, Richard E. and Lewin, Roger. Origins. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1977.
54 Lerner, Eric. The Big Bang Never Happened. New York: Times Books, 1991.
55 Levy-Bruhl, Lucien (Translated by Clare, Lilian A.). Primitive Mentality. London: George Allen & Unwin LTD (New York: Macmillan), 1923.
56 Lhoyld, G.E.R. Ancient Culture & Society Early Greek Science: Thales to Aristotle. London: Chatto & Windus, 1970.
57 Libecap, Gary D. Contracting For Property Rights. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
58 Lieberman, Philip. The Biology and Evolution of Language. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1984.
59 . Uniquely Human. Cambridge Mass: Harvard University Press, 1991.
60 Machan, Tibor R. Human Rights and Human Liberties. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1975.
61 (Editor). The Libertarian Alternative. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1974.
62 (Editor). The Libertarian Reader. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Little-field, 1982.
63 Maximoff, G. P. The Political Philosophy of Bakunin: Scientific Anarchism. Glencoe, IL: The Free Press, 1953.
64 Mises, Ludwig von. The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality. Princeton, NJ: D. Van Nostrand, 1956.
65 Montessori, Maria. The Montessori Method. New York: Schocken Books, 1964.
66 (Translated by Costelloe, M. J.). The Secret of Childhood. New York: Ballantine Books, 1979.
67 (Translated by Joosten, A. M.). The Formation of Man. Adyar, Madras 20, India: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1965.
68 Nock, Albert J. Our Enemy, The State. New York: Arno Press & The New York Times, 1972.
69 Nozick, Robert. Anarchy, State, and Utopia. New York: Basic Books, 1974.
70 Peikoff, Leonard. Objectivism: The Philosophy Of Ayn Rand. New York: Meridian, 1993.
71 Penrose, Roger. Shadows of the Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.
72 Pfeiffer, John E. The Emergence of Man. New York: Harper & Row, 1969.
73 Prabhavananda, S. and Isherwood, C. (Translators). The Song of God, Bhagavad-Gita. New York: Mentor, 1972.
74 Radin, Paul. The World of Primitive Man. New York: Henry Schuman, 1953.
75 Rand, Ayn. For The New Intellectual. New York: Signet, 1963.
76 . The Virtue of Selfishness. New York: Signet, 1964.
77 . Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. New York, Signet, 1967.
78 . The Fountainhead. New York: Signet, 1971.
79 . The Romantic Manifesto. New York: Signet, 1975.
80 . Philosophy: Who Needs It. New York: Signet, 1984.
81 . Introduction To Objectivist Epistemology. New York: Meridian, 1990.
82 . Atlas Shrugged. New York: Dutton, 1992.
83 . The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution. New York: Meridian, 1993.
84 Reisman, George. The Government Against The Economy. Ottawa: Caroline House, 1979.
85 Rensch, Bernhard (Translated by C.A.M. Sym). Homo Sapiens. New York: Columbia University Press, 1972.
86 Reps, Paul (Editor). Zen Flesh Zen Bones. New York: Anchor Books, 1989.
87 Rogers, Carl. Freedom To Learn for the 80s. Columbus, OH: Charles E. Merrill, 1983.
88 Rothbard, Murray. What Has Government Done to Our Money?. Auburn, AL: Praxeology Press of the Ludvig von Mises Institute, 1990.
89 . For A New Liberty. New York: Macmillan, 1973.
90 Sacks, Oliver. Seeing Voices. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1989.
91 Sagan, Carl. Cosmos. New York: Ballantine, 1985.
92 . The Demon-Haunted World. New York: Ballantine Books, 1996.
93 Samenow, Stanton E. Inside The Criminal Mind. New York: Times Books, 1984.
94 Schlatter, Richard. Private Property. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1951.
95 Service, Elman R. Primitive Social Organization. New York: Random House, 1971.
96 Sibley, Mulford Q. Political Ideas and Ideologies. New York: Harper & Row, 1970.
97 Spencer, Herbert. Social Statics. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1897.
98 Spooner, Lysander. Lets Abolish Government. New York: Arno Press & The New York Times, 1972.
99 Tannehill, Morris and Tannehill, Linda. The Market For Liberty [located in Society Without Government. New York: Arno Press & The New York Times, 1972.]
100 Tanner, Nancy M. On Becoming Human. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981.
101 Trefil, James. Are We Unique?. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1997.
102 Tzu, Lao (Translated by Lau, D. C.). Tao Te Ching. London: Penguin Books, 1963.
103 Wollstein, Jarret B. Society Without Coercion [located in Society Without Government. New York: Arno Press & The New York Times, 1972.]