Discovering Libertarianism: Natural Rights

This is to be part one of an introduction to Libertarianism.  Libertarianism and its logical progression to Anarchism are either unfamiliar, or worse, shrouded by false preconceived notions or bad remnants of public perception by the vast majority of people. I look to shatter these notions, and enable free independent thought so that you will recognize what many of us already have,  “The state is the enemy, and liberty is the cause worth defending.”  

Let’s dive right in.  The content of this column, and the arguments within, are dependent on a certain basic proposition. The vast majority of people will agree to this assumption, and as such I will not go into depth providing support for this tenet, but rather only briefly commenting on it to form the foundation on which our discussion will stand. This assumption is that individuals are valuable by their nature of being human, and as such contain inherent worth. All of modern society is based on this idea, as are the Abrahamic Religions, i.e. it is near universal that life is valuable.

From this basic assumption, we can derive other, more complex moral truths. For example, murder is wrong because ends a human life, which has inherent worth. Going a step further, we can see that based on people having inherent worth, individuals also have the right to self-ownership, which is defined as being able to control themselves free from coercive restraintRothbard explains this right in For a New Liberty:

Consider, too, the consequences of denying each man the right to own his own person. There are then only two alternatives: either (1) a certain class of people, A, have the right to own another class, B; or (2) everyone has the right to own his own equal quotal share of everyone else. The first alternative implies that while Class A deserves the rights of being human, Class B is in reality subhuman and therefore deserves no such rights. But since they are indeed human beings, the first alternative contradicts itself in denying natural human rights to one set of humans…

The second alternative, what we might call “participatory communalism” or “communism,” holds that every man should have the right to own his equal quotal share of everyone else. If there are two billion people in the world, then everyone has the right to own one two-billionth of every other person. In the first place, we can state that this ideal rests on an absurdity: proclaiming that every man is entitled to own a part of everyone else, yet is not entitled to own himself. Secondly, we can picture the viability of such a world: a world in which no man is free to take any action whatever without prior approval or indeed command by everyone else in society. It should be clear that in that sort of “communist” world, no one would be able to do anything, and the human race would quickly perish…

Finally, however, the participatory communist world can- not be put into practice. For it is physically impossible for everyone to keep continual tabs on everyone else, and thereby to exercise his equal quotal share of partial ownership over every other man. In practice, then, the concept of universal and equal other-ownership is utopian and impossible, and supervision and therefore control and ownership of others necessarily devolves upon a specialized group of people, who thereby become a ruling class. Hence, in practice, any attempt at communist rule will automatically become class rule, and we would be back at our first alternative.

Accordingly, we can see that if humans have intrinsic worth, they also have an exclusive right to self-ownership; to think otherwise would result in inherent contradictions in one’s line of reasoning. Looking further once again, we can see that the Right to Self-Ownership also enables one to have a right to the fruit of one’s labor.  The farmer has a right to his crops; the sculptor, a right to his statues; and the blacksmith, a right to his horseshoes. The very idea that another person has a right to the creations of individuals fails to stand logically; Rothbard continues:

As in the case of the ownership of people’s bodies, we again have three logical alternatives: (1) either the transformer, or “creator” has the property right in his creation; or (2) another man or set of men have the right in that creation, i.e., have the right to appropriate it by force without the sculptor’s consent; or (3) every individual in the world has an equal, quotal share in the ownership of the sculpture—the “communal” solution.

Of these three, we can see only the first holds to be true through elimination: There is no justification for others to acquire one’s property without consent, given that they did not play into the actual creation of the good and thus cannot have a right to such, but furthermore in as such as this is true, the rest of humanity certainly does not have a right to an individual’s products, as they are in fact his products, made by his hand at his expense and effort, not even considering the impossible logistical feats of determining who should be entitled to who’s goods. 

As previously discussed, we have now reached a basic set of moral truths, all from the idea that individuals are valuable.  Again, this encompasses most ethical frameworks, with consequentialists and deontologists both generally holding that human life has worth.It is also crucial to identify a key moral axiom from this framework: Only individuals have rights. Because having some people having rights that others do not have fails to pass basic tests of moral consistency, only individuals can have natural rights, and groups of individuals referred to in a collective sense (such as corporations or governments) are only considered to have extraordinary rights out of current trend and customs, not out of objective moral basis.

Keeping what we have established thus far (That individuals are valuable, and as a result they alone have a right to self-ownership and a right to the ownership of their created goods,), we arrive at the most fundamental moral compass for Libertarians:  the Non-Aggression Principle. 

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