Sunday, August 27, 2006

What Are Rights and Where Do They Come From?

"A free people claim their rights as derived from the laws of nature, not as a gift of their chief magistrate" -- Thomas Jefferson

Rights are natural, pre-existing and they are "negative" in nature. Rights are defined by the lack of their intrusion. Rights belong equally to individuals, not to groups. Rights are not created by governments and they are not priviledges - a good government merely has laws that protect those rights that already exist in nature. All "crime", by default, is a violation of rights. All rights spiral from one's ability to be "free" to think, choose and act as they please without initiating force onto the person or property of others.

In short, all rights are based on the non-agression axoim - every individual is free to do as they please so long as they do not use force on others (thereby violating rights) - the only acceptions being (1) in self-defense and (2) in protection of others. This concept applies both to individuals and groups in society and governments. There is a certain point where the initiation of force in self-defense or protection of the rights of others becomes not only necessary, but "good".

In a discussion about rights and freedom, the notion of governmentally-created order sometimes functions to blind people from the possibility of naturally occuring or voluntarily produced order. Some order comes rather spontaneously from people following their nature and not harming others all on their own will.

There is no reason for this overt pessimism about human action that occurs outside of government control. All free and peaceful action occurs outside of any coercion or force of any sort. That's a given. It is totally ignorant of human nature to suppose that people cannot freely act on their own accord, without government being the reason for their free action, and even freely acting in such a way as to be "moral" and "good".

On the other hand, I am not argueing that human beings are naturally "good" - that is not the arguement at all. I am argueing that human beings are naturally free. This should be self-evident. It is the fundamental observation of classical liberalism. This natural freedom of human action is not a result of governments, it is a result of voluntary and peaceful cooperation between individuals and groups.

The very notion that the compulsion and force of government is "required" to have voluntarily and peaceful cooperation is a complete oxymoron, a complete ideological absurdity, as the compulsion and force functions to make it not voluntary and not peaceful. And therefore it isn't freedom at all, it is founded in nothing but force at such a point.

The huge mistake people make is to automatically associate all freedom and all "order" with government and government action, as if none of it could exist at all, on its own accord. Legitimately, a government can protect that pre-existing freedom by correcting its violations and restraining itself from violating freedom itself. Restraining government from violating freedom should not be a "controversial" concept at all, nor should the notion that you already possess your freedom and already are a capable human being, not a little pawn in a fictious collective construct.

The view that pushes government to an such an idol status functions to dehumanize people and people then believe and act dependant and complacent, which fosters irresponsibility in the populace because they have been handed down a mentality of dependance on the government for everything. By convincing yourself that you are incapable of being a responsible human being, you function to "rationalize" allowing others to be your master. The resulting atmosphere is one in which perfectly capable people willfully sign away their rights to a group of individuals that they do not know, and many of which have no real care for their welfare.

People need to understand the difference between rights and revokable priviledges, between freedom and compulsion, and recognize the naturally occuring order that has potential within human nature, as reflected in the voluntary and peaceful actions of individuals, freely chosen outside of any influence or force. The concept of natural rights and limited government is not something that should end up lost in the sands of time, totally forgotten by the people.

The problem is that people don't seem to understand or aknowledge the possibility that voluntary and peaceful human action can occur outside of government influence, even spontaneously. It seems to reflect an overly abundant pessimism about humans, as if it's impossible for people to freely express themselves and not hurt others at the same time, all by themselves, by their own moral and ethical choices and their own circumstantial and individual factors. The main arguement is that human beings are naturally free - they are not naturally good or naturally bad. They are inherently free in their choices and actions, as the choices and actions inherently derive from their voluntary value judgements and choice to act.

But they are perfectly capable by their very nature as rational beings to cooperate and co-exist with others voluntarily and peacefully, all by their own accord. It is man's reason that gives him this freedom and is the instrument through which he expresses it. Not every single person is going to act in such a way, of course, but there will naturally be people who do act in such a "cultured" way. The notion that it is not you yourself through exercising your pre-existing freedom that makes you responsible, moral and peaceful - but that your ability to do so is entirely created by and dependant on government, that it is government and only government that makes you able to act in a responsible and peaceful manner - is completely wrong. This would imply that it is utterly impossible for any individual to be responsible or peaceful by their own choice, which must be discarded as blatantly untrue and completely disregarding of human nature and simple observation.

In short, while government can limit your choices (supply), it cannot limit the demand of your own free concience, choice and action. Because by your very nature you ultimately control your own person and property. You inherently express your own actions, you inherently are the ultimate depository of your liberty because it is only you that can express it through will and action. It is you that chooses, acts and thinks. That is what your liberty initially comes from. Not from government. Not the random whim of a group of men in an ivory tower.

If this is not the case, if people do not inherently own their person and property, then we are left with two logical alternatives (1) one person or group owns the person and property of another person or group and (2) every single person, the whole, owns an equal quotal share of everyone's the person and property. The latter is essentially communism or communalism, and the first is oligarchy and special interest. Those surely are not the route we want to go for freedom.

And the communal option is an ideological and physical absurdity to begin with - it is impossible for all ownership to be purely equal. As a result, the communal option inherently tends to degenerate into the first option, oligarchy - where special interests and/or individuals with power owns the person and property of others in the name of communal ownership or "equality". Thus, it seems like we end up with "the iron law of oligarchy" vs. individual rights in either case. We always end up back at the natural rights option being efficient - every individual inherently owns their own person and property.

There is nothing really that radical about the notion that government should get out of all things that people actually are capable of freely doing by themselves without causing harm to the person and property of others, and that the government itself must be held to the same standard of being able to act without causing harm to the person and property of others. The government cannot infringe on one's inherent freedom as a human being with reason to freely think, choose and act without harming the person and property of others.

The legitimate role of a government is to protect pre-existing rights, nothing more and nothing less. When a government goes beyond its role of protecting rights, it functions to erode and violate them. In a way, you can think of it as a balancing act. The government has to protect everyone's individual rights without becoming an agressor against them at the same time. Therefore, government has to be limited to the extent of keeping itself from encroaching on people's liberty, as its entire purpose should be to protect their liberty.

On the other hand, it is not legitimate for the government to give a priviledge to one group at the expense of others. It is not legitimate for a government to "protect people from themselves". It is not legitimate for a government to do anything that would be wrong for an individual or group in society to do. When government transcends its legitimate role, it becomes akin to a group of bandits. When government does not adhere its legitimate limits, it grabs hold of omnipotent power. On the other hand, a good government is one does its best to minimize any threats it poses to people's liberty.

It would be wise for the American people to be mindful of the insights of the great classical liberals and individualists of times past such as Jefferson, Locke, Paine, Mencken, Mises and Calhoun. If the people in our society fail to understand liberty, if they fail to respect the principles of liberty, if they fail to desire liberty, if hey fail to assert their liberty - then they will not have liberty. They will have tyranny. Many of the founding fathers of America, especially Thomas Jefferson, strongly believed that the individual, the people, are the ultimate and inherent owners of their rights in their person and property, the ultimate arbiters of their own liberty.

While people may not have a natural incentive to be "good" or "evil", all people do have a natural incentive and ability to protect their own liberty, to be secure in their own person and property - in short, to be free. The most basic instinct is to protect one's own existance and well-being. That is as fundamental as it gets. If people refuse to accept the fundamental principles of liberty, then they have created the conditions for tyranny. And when those same people turn around and complain about that tyranny, they partially have noone to blame but themselves for buying into an ideology that allows freedom to be violated in the first place by not recognizing it as inherent for what it is.

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