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Rights and Responsibilities

There is an old argument about rights that has enjoyed resurgent popularity in these days of "spreading the wealth around." It is the assertion that while human beings undoubtedly have rights, they also have responsibilities. In fact, it is said that for every right there is a corresponding responsibility that is its complement. One should not be surprised that this line of reasoning appeals to statists of all varieties, because they see in it a way undercut rights and dress up their schemes of plunder and domination as "responsibilities." However, it does not take the clear-thinking mind long to see through these sophisms, for they fail to hold up to a moment's scrutiny.

What are the characteristics of a right? A right is an absolute and exclusive claim to something. "Absolute" because you cannot partially have a right to something. You either have a right to it wholly or not at all. "Exclusive" because that which you have a right to no one else can claim a right to. A right defines something that you are entitled to (there really is a proper use of that word). You do not need anyone's permission to exercise a right. No one can charge you a fee for exercising it. No government can regulate it. You are entitled to exercise rights without interference by or permission from anyone.

Consider the right to life. Is your right to life absolute or do you only have a right to live under certain conditions? Do you have an exclusive right to live your own life or do others have some partial right to your life? Are you entitled to live, or do other people have a right to charge you a fee in return for allowing you to live? Can any government pass a law or regulation qualifying your right to life?

There are different kinds of rights, based upon their origins. Legal rights derive from a contract. While these rights originate with the consent of others, such as your right to a house that you have purchased, that right nevertheless takes on all of the characteristics described above once you have acquired it. The corresponding responsibility to the right of ownership of the house is the obligation to pay for the house. Your responsibility to pay derives from the contract you entered into. You are obliged to pay because you have consented to pay in exchange for the right to the property previously owned by the seller.

Natural rights are inherent in each person. These do not originate with the consent of others, but are part of and inseparable from our humanity. They cannot be taken away. Even if they are violated, they nevertheless remain. When we recognize something to be "wrong," it is usually the violation of some kind of right. However, when we recognize something as "evil," it is invariably the violation of a natural, inalienable right.

Next, let us consider "responsibilities." A responsibility is something that you are obliged to do. It is an obligation that you must fulfill in order to comply with a moral or legal code. Responsibilities do not always conform to our wishes. We may prefer to do one thing, but have the responsibility to do another. Responsibilities are actions that we are compelled to do, either by religious doctrine, our own consciences, or other people.

This raises the question: When is the use of violence justified in compelling someone to fulfill their responsibilities? Can violence or the threat of violence be used in enforcing all responsibilities? Obviously not. There are some responsibilities that cannot be enforced by other people at all.

For example, those who believe in God feel a responsibility to worship or to pray. While this may be their responsibility, it is certainly not enforceable by other people. If there is an absolute, inalienable right of conscience, then no human may use violence against another for failing to fulfill the responsibility of praying. Certainly God may claim a right to punish someone who has shirked this responsibility, but other people cannot. That is because the obligation related to the responsibility for praying is to oneself and to God, not to anyone else.

To put this into the framework of the argument that we are examining, you have a right of conscience and a corresponding responsibility to act according to the dictates of your conscience. To act against the dictates of your conscience may have negative consequences, but violence inflicted upon you by other people cannot be one of them. Otherwise, you must conclude that it is possible for a right to be destroyed by its corresponding responsibility.

So what responsibilities can be enforced with violence by other people ? It would seem self-evident that since violence is only justified in defense, that the only responsibility that can be enforced with violence is the responsibility not to initate force against someone else. It is only when one person has failed to fulfill this responsibility that others are justified in using violence. If other people were to use violence or the threat of violence under any other circumstances, they would be failing to fulfill their own responsibility not to initiate force.

This is demonstrated by the natural and inalienable right to liberty. Is this a right? Yes. Does it have a corresponding responsibility? Yes, the responsibility not to commit aggression against the equal rights of others. Can others use violence or the threat of violence to enforce this responsibility? Yes. This is the only responsibility that can be enforced with violence. Attempting to enforce any other responsibility with violence is to commit aggression, by definition.

However, it is not the rights to life, liberty, or conscience that the statist has in mind when he begins his sermon about responsibilities. While he may be willing to violate all of these rights as his means, it is rarely his end. No, the statist's primary object is not your life or liberty, but your property. By property, I do not mean exclusively or even primarily land ownership, but rather that right that each human being has to keep the fruits of his labor and dispose of them as he sees fit. It is here that the statist will stand up to say, "Yes, you have a right to acquire and own property, but you have a corresponding responsibility to pay your 'fair share' to society." Of course, the statist also claims the right to use the threat of violence - the government - to compel you to fulfill this responsibility. But where does this responsibility come from? And is property a natural and inalienable right?

There are only three ways to justly acquire property. One must either take it directly out of nature, create it with materials taken directly out of nature, or take possession of someone else's property by agreement. This last means of acquisition may be the result of a gift or a trade. It is not important whether the previous owner was compensated for the property transferred from him, but only that he voluntarily consented to the transfer.

Most people acquire their property by exchanging their labor for the property of others. In other words, they are employed by other people to perform a certain type of work. In exchange for this work, they are given property in the form of money, with which they can then acquire other types of property. Depending upon the scarcity of the skills and experience that they offer to purchasers of their services (employers), they may be able to sell their services for larger or smaller wages.

Now, whether the individual in question makes $20 thousand, $200 thousand, or $2 million dollars per year in wages, no one would deny that his labor itself is his property. He has a right to this property, meaning that his claim upon it is absolute and exclusive. He is entitled to own his labor and dispose of it as he sees fit. That is the basis upon which he sells his labor to an employer for the wages he demands in return.

If this is true, then it must follow that he also has an absolute and exclusive right to those wages. After all, he has just exchanged part of his life for them. Who else could claim any right to part of his life? The wage earner will invariably exchange most of his wages for other goods, but his right to whatever he acquires with his wages is identical to his right to his labor itself, which is merely a portion of his life. Denying this right necessarily supposes that other people have a right to part or all of his labor, and therefore part of his life.

There was once an institution wherein one group of people claimed a right to the labor of others. It was quite rightly abolished.

The statist will answer that the wages were a "blessing of society" for which the wage earner owes some portion back. If that were true, one would have to question the rationality and efficiency of this mysterious entity called "society," which chooses to bestow blessings upon people, only to immediately demand part of those blessings back. Why not simply bless the individual less, leaving both parties square?

In reality, the wage earner has already paid his "fair share" to society. For the $20 thousand or $20 million he has earned, he has provided exactly $20 thousand or $20 million worth of labor. How do we know that his labor was worth that amount? The same way that we know the market value of anything. It is the price that others are willing to pay for it. Perhaps our wage earner is a painter. In that case, he has exchanged exactly $20 thousand in painting services for $20 thousand in cash. Nothing was given to him by any nebulous entity called "society." He created that wealth himself with his own labor. To keep it and dispose of it as he sees fit is undeniably his right.

If there is any justification for a corresponding responsibility to society, it can only be the responsibility to pay for some service that "society" has rendered to him. As we have discussed, the obligation associated with a responsibility to pay for something derives from a contract. If one agrees to purchase something, one has the responsibility to pay the previous owner the agreed upon price. This responsibility corresponds to the right of ownership of the purchased property.

So what has our wage earner purchased from society? What has he consented to buy? Accepting the extremely elastic definition of "consent" employed by proponents of constitutional government, he has "consented" to purchase protection of his life, liberty, and property. As Thomas Paine put it, his responsibility is to "surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the protection of the rest."[1] If there is any responsibility incumbent upon him, it is to pay for these services rendered and no more. Even taxation for this purpose has a dubious moral foundation, for it is apparent to everyone to that our wage earner has never really consented to purchase even this. That is why Paine also referred to government as "a necessary evil."[2]

However, let us assume that somehow this consent is real. Like the purchaser of the house, the citizen has entered into a contract. His responsibility to pay for protection of his property corresponds to his right to demand that the protection he has purchased be provided.

For the statist, however, this logical connection between rights and responsibilities does not exist. He asserts that there is a responsibility that corresponds to the right to own property, but the responsibility he identifies destroys the right. For him, the citizen has a responsibility to suffer the very crime for which he established government to protect him from in the first place - the invasion of his property. He is not entitled to the protection that he has purchased, but instead has a responsibility to endure its very opposite. As John Locke put it, "the preservation of property being the end of government, and that for which men enter into society, it necessarily supposes and requires, that the people should have property, without which they must be supposed to lose that, by entering into society, which was the end for which they entered into it; too gross an absurdity for any man to own."[3]

Absurdity is at the root of all statist thinking, producing bizarre and disastrous results. The statist seeks to grant rights to the labor of others, such as healthcare, education, or housing, and corresponding responsibilities to provide these services under the threat of violence. Neither these rights nor these responsibilities exist. This is evident on its face because the supposed rights are claimed by one person and the corresponding responsibility placed upon another. If one is looking for an explanation as to how a government can get so out of control that it spends all that it can possibly tax from its citizens and all that it can possibly borrow, yet still seems to need more, then false rights and responsibilities enforced by the threat of violence are a good place to start.

[1] Paine, Thomas Common Sense from Paine: Collected Writings Literary Classics of the United States, Inc. New York, NY 1955 pg. 7

[2] Paine, pg. 6

[3] Locke, John Essay Concerning the True Original Extent and End of Civil Government from Two Treatises of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration Digireads.com Publishing Stillwell, KS 2005 pg. 113

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© Thomas Mullen 2011

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This is the libertarian call to transcend the Cartesian duality

created by a patriarchal state. Since Egyptians first ruled the mythos to bankers ruling the ecos.

Astronomy and Astrology/Mythos were separated by the pyramid schemes of the Pharoes (Time = Myth = Power)

Economics and Ecology have been separated by the pyramid schemes of the bankers (Time = Money = Power)

Rights and Responsibilities were separated by governance

The collective ego that is patriarchal by nature extends out to grasp and outline nature if you will… “find the ends of the earth”

And the true self.. the original being you are and the responsibilities you have to this planet are about to fill in the outline we have created by conquest with creativity and innovation soas to paint the picture of the next step in human evolution.

Consider the patriarch the navigator.. stricken by fear and searching for acknowledgment.. this is the state of our society today. The New Age that is coming will not be new world order dominated by another pyramid scheme, but rather will be the first step our society takes towards transcending the pyramid schemes of the past into individual creativity and entrepreneurialship in the free marketplace.

The language that has derived so much deductionism will soon invert to ascension and carry with it the wisdom of the matriarch which needs fewer words to convey bigger concepts.

We have, as humans, finally acknowledged our surroundings and when the ecos is reborn out of man we will see a new generation of abundance. I am no prophet.. this is something all of us libertarians are becoming aware of as a natural process.. deductionism is about to transcend a new dimension from within

for Example: Permaculture- a transcendental field that merges all the deductionist thinking until now with the ecos/the source/the matriarch.

And Austrian Econ.- a transcendental field that merges all the deductionist thinking until now with the ecos/the source/the matriarch.

The saying “Science can only go as far as God” is becoming a revelation. Are valueless society is about to reach the apex of its conquest and look inward for solutions… a wonderful time in human existence

A true flower can not blossom without sunlight and a true man can not live without love.

Well that is pure BS.

Man has been operating on it's own inter center since the beginning of sin. To look inward, there is nothing there that can help. But go for it, I know where we are headed.

You are absolutely correct…considering your logic.

“Man has been operating on it's own inter center since the begining of sin.”

Referring to “man” as “it” means you’re referring to the collective as a “he”… a term from patriarchal conditioning by God through man. Man just has the desire to perform Gods work, whether they know it or not.

The beginning of sin stemming from Eve was to separate man from woman and disturb the balance of the family institution so the ruling class could divide and centralize the family value system through government.. which was the “church’ at the time…now it’s the bank. All this is the process of humans becoming aware… it is led by men and nourished by woman… it is why we are the microcosm of what God is.

“To look inward, there is nothing there that can help. But go for it, I know where we are headed.”

I have a story for you…

God, before he made this universe, decided that in order for one of God’s creations to transcend into a God then the secret of Godliness must be hidden from God’s creations.

God first decided to hide the secret at the ends of the oceans, but humans would build ships and sail to go get it if that were to happen.

So then God pondered and thought, “maybe I will put the secret at the end of the universe”, but God knew humans would find a way to get that too.. or atleast read it from far away.

So then God had a Eureka moment!!
God said “The only way I can hide it from my creation is to put the answer to all of their questions as deep down inside the mind as possible… so deep that to find it one must earn it.”

A true flower can not blossom without sunlight and a true man can not live without love.

Rights - how to argue with relativists and statists

I was arguing on a forum with a Brit who said rights are only what is legally deemed a right by the state which is of course nonsense. He said other rights are imaginary rights of political philosophies. How do you argue with people like that? I have a lot of points -

If you do not have a right to your life, then it can arbitrarily taken if the state deems it so

If there is no right to life or pursuit to happiness or property, then it leads to an essential prison and you are nothing but a slave

Then, is the "right" a state gives really a right, or is it just the muzzle of a gun to the head of an individual?

How do you define a right to those who you can't use the term "moral" to? Then again, they always like to use "moral", stating that you have to serve others - incompetents on earth of ghosts in heaven and not to simply live.

How do you argue with relativists and statists to explain what they think is imaginary?

Very good

you cannot argue with people who think they are above what is called God. They are God to themselves. 666

If there are no consequences then there are no laws and therefore no reason to obey anything. You become God unto yourself. It is a sure path to DESTRUCTION for all concerned. This is the path of most religions and apparently the path the ELITE have chosen.

The TRUTH shall set a man free. God protects His own laws for the good of all concerned. Otherwise the universe would be lost and Destroyed. Thanks be to Christ this has been avoided. But man and satan persue. Untill the END of DAYS. Then, the JUDGEMENT that must come.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shall be saved and thy household. For a person cannot believe unless God exists and sends His Spirit to that person. PROOF.

Tom Mullen's picture

Argue Morality

Is there no such thing as morality apart from the state? If so, then the state creates morality and therefore the U.S. Constitution's support of slavery with the force of law was perfectly moral. The Jim Crow laws were moral. If they were immoral, then there must be some standard of morality the precedes the state.

Enlghtenment philosophers called it "the law of nature."

The least restrictive natural moral law is that no one harm another in his life,liberty, or property. It is a conclusion based upon the observeable (empirical) fact that we are all created equal, insofar as the right to wield power over others is concerned. If you accept that, then non-aggression is the only conclusion that you can arrive at through reason. If not, then there is no morality that precedes government and therefore every law that was every passed, including those in Nazi Germany, Stalin's USSR, and the slaveholding US were perfectly moral.

To most, that is absurd. But it is the inevitable conclusion if the state defines morality.

"Morality" IS the respect of the rights of others. If not, what is morality?

another terrific article

Thanks Tom.

LL on Twitter: http://twitter.com/LibertyPoet
sometimes LL can suck & sometimes LL rocks!
Love won! Deliverance from Tyranny is on the way! Col. 2:13-15

for him to whom much is given

much is expected.

see Luke 12.48

From God

Not government.

beautifully said sir!

thank you!!

that's pretty complicated. my small mind says this,

there are only 2 places your "rights" can come from.

the gubbermint, [civil] or nature,[God]

is there another? and if so, please tell for my woefully simple mind.

[yes, that was facetious, but we do need to understand who we are talking to.]

speaking in this manner, has allowed me to make progress with the zombies.

And what if we have no state

And what if we have no state and no God, where do rights come from then? I for one don't base my belief in rights upon them coming from some God. You don't have to take my word for it Ayn Rand knew that it is only when man looks to Reason as a guide and not god that he share live freely.

Agreed - but please explain

I want to understand this - Objectivism. I want to understand how to argue the basic right to your own life - what does it mean? How do you explain the "reason" of it? BTW - I'm in 2/3rds through "Atlas Shrugged" and it's the best book I've ever read. I feel like I'm reading my own mind.

the founders took a good shot at it.

read the first paragraph of the declaration. the answer is contained there.
I suggest viewing the declaration as a template for revolution. [take their reasons out, insert your own] the constitution, as their best effort. and the bill of rights as the "cliff notes" version. [for the dummies who did not get the first 2 documents!]

the answer is natural law. no god or state required!

I became a Deist, once I understood what these great men were talking about. it is a faith [or search..] based on reason.


tl;dr? just watch this: