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Why I Will Not Accept Rights-Based Justifications For Liberty

It is not necessary to claim that everyone has the "rights" for liberty to be achieved. It is actually counter productive since the arguments cannot be maintained under scrutiny. When put to the proof, rights turn out to have little or no actual meaning and have no binding force on others except insofar as they are rhetorically powerful. To the extent it is used as symbol and rhetoric, I support the rights language, but never in an intellectual discussion.

To say someone has the right to self defense, for example, is almost a meaningless truism with no moral content. To say its a right, what does that even mean? If they are unable to do so, their right means nothing. If they are able to do so, their right means nothing. To say its a right is just a meaningless, private opinion on the morality of the act.

I would say, everyone has the ability to try to act in self defense, and it usually is in their interests; they have the free will to make a decision to resist slavery at risk to their own persons if they so choose. It may be in their best interests, and so, morally right from their perspective.

But it is not necessary to assume or try to prove that it is also morally obligatory on all others to accept its rightness, or to accept as binding someone else's interests or moral claims. I have no natural obligation to act in the interests of others. Nothing can compel me to do so but force if I choose not to. No one can claim I am morally bound to limit my freedom in order to protect the interests of other living things, men or animals. This obligation can only spring from an implicit or explicit social arrangement where I exchange my "good behavior" for protection from the "bad behavior" of others. In a state of nature or anarchy, its every man for himself.

To claim a moral assertion, or an "ought," is binding on others is a dangerous slope to enter down. It could be argued that everyone has the moral right to not starve to death. If this is true, then it is a direct path to justifying socialism. If you establish the precedent that someone must self-limit their range of activities on moral grounds, to not harm others, it isn't a far stretch from there to require everyone feed the poor. Neither moral claim, the socialist or the non-aggressionist, is provable or unprovable.

It would be very hard for me to argue against a starving man's moral claim of a right to to feed himself, even by stealing. How could I seriously say he's wrong to steal rather than die? That does not mean I am bound to feed him or to see myself as in the wrong to protect my property, it just means we can both be in the right to act in our interests.

I could never call someone immoral for stealing to feed their hungry children, but I am not morally wrong to defend my property either. Morality is subjective and rooted in the different interests of different living beings, in nature as well as among people. People are also animals, a part of nature, and in nature, interests rule morality and power determines rights for all creatures. Animal rights end where animal power ends, and with humans the only added factor is social agreements and mutual or collective action to secure the legal enforcement of political arrangements, which animals cannot do. There is no magical x factor that intrudes to make humans have rights where other living animals do not.

It is not required that there be a universal binding morality for everyone, in order for political rights to be achieved. It is not necessary for every conflict to have a right and wrong party for political rights to be enforced by a body of individuals.

I reject the moral universalism inherent in natural rights claims, and the impossible requirement of proving such a moral system. I feel that by rooting out these faulty arguments, I actually strengthen the libertarian position by making its foundation real and sound, and defensible. If I have any one thing that defines me it is an intellectual conscience that does not allow me to use false and logically fallacious arguments to fool myself, or others, in order justify something I want to believe in.

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Mind First

Each person has a body and mind separate from the bodies and minds of other people. Having our own body and mind is the foundation of our individuation. For it to progress, it must be nurtured by the surrounding culture.

It is possible for a person to be born in a highly collectivist culture where individual liberty is unknown. In this scenario, a member of the tribe may not realize, understand, or value the concept of individual liberty. This person will not fully individuate and therefore will not desire to protect the under-developed individual. It may be nature has preferred this as the ideal way to help the tribe survive in the short term.

Cultures that are more collectivist than individualist develop into nations. Nations are based on genetically related tribes of people. Tribes are based on genetically related families of people. Families are genetically related persons.

A culture that values individualism will endeavor to create a society which offers each person an opportunity to individuate and then protects the resulting individual from involuntary collectivizing forces. It may be that nature has preferred this as the ideal way to help the tribe survive in the long run.

Cultures that are more individualist than collectivist develop into republics and/or civilizations. A republic is founded on a common law system and a civilization is held together by common ideas, concepts, customs, and traditions. Genetic relationships and/or family or national identities do not matter.

The long run is the default value, but group crisis weights the short term over the long term. The switch between short and long term priority is the fertile ground of mutation, adaption, and innovation.

The constant switching between long and short term (individualist and collectivist) in a short time frame can lead to empire, which is the merger of republic / civilization and nation. There is a melting pot or pluralistic phase followed by a nativist, nationalist backlash phase. It is very unstable and the core concepts of the civilization get badly watered down or lost.

D a m n fine writing sir.

D a m n fine writing sir. Thanks for your input, ought to be a post to get its full due.

Thank you, Bill.

I've posted it a couple times as a comment on different threads, but when I posted it on its own, it sank without a trace. Here it is -- feel free to start a discussion on it. Better late than never.

Recommended reading: The Most Dangerous Superstition by Larken Rose

In the words of Mr. Spock...

Fascinating. Logical.
And then he'd lift up his eyebrow and make that face...

Exercise Liberty!

America Rising.
The Constitution Stands.

"That the pen is mightier than the sword would be proven false; if I should take my sword and cut off the hand that holds the pen" - American Nomad


"I would say, everyone has the ability to try to act in self defense, and it usually is in their interests; they have the free will to make a decision to resist slavery at risk to their own persons if they so choose. It may be in their best interests, and so, morally right from their perspective."

You seem to be saying that on the one hand self-defense may be in a particular individual's interest, while also casting a net which would group this individual with many other people who also have the same common interest. There is something common sense and natural about a living being wanting to remain alive.

It seems apparent that life in general seeks to survive as best it can for the time it is supposed to. There is a universal will to live for all things that are alive and not compromised.

Since this appears to be a universal truth, why not say it is a right? Everything has the right to defend it's life. Life naturally tries to live. Natural law.

Since everybody is just trying to live, what do wisdom and common sense dictate we do to accommodate that inclination? Each individual has their own past and collectively the human race has a long recorded history.

The non-aggression principle is based on a 'live and let live' attitude which when applied enables the greatest number of living people the ability to survive.

It does not favor one group of people over another. It does not sanction one group while giving privilege to another. In this sense, the right is equal and its recognition must be equally applied. Justice is blind!

Justice is the measure by which individuals and groups of individuals adhere to a set of actions which show a recognition for the universal right of the living to live. To the degree that an individual is behaving anti-life, they are behaving unjustly.

Compassion is the desire to support life. It is caring whether other living things can continue to survive, not just oneself. Compassion when mixed with Wisdom yields just behavior which is life affirming.

Those who lack compassion do not care about whether other people continue to live or not. Extreme lack of compassion is called sociopathy. Without compassion, there can be no justice.

Those who are compassionate but who lack wisdom are always being deceived by those who are wise but lack compassion. They allow their goodwill to be directed in ways that create injustice.

In a black and white world you play word games

If you do not understand a birthright of freedom, well go on with your bla bla nonsense that is word mumbo jumbo. Genocide is immoral. Slavery is immoral.




Could you elaborate...

Could you please elaborate on the ways in which this perspective strengthens the "Libertarian" position. I think I feel where you're going, but I would be interested in seeing how we can accept the subjectivity of morality and continue to derive sound arguments for political arrangements based on non-aggression - unless that's not what you're saying...

Something that resonates with me is the notion that no matter what we do in terms of political arrangements, we exist, forever and always, in a state of nature. But, what are the implications?

adam t

it strengthens our positions

it strengthens our positions because understanding reality is a prerequisite for being effective. i am not saying we can't make moral appeals or use the language or symbolism of rights to advance our cause on a political level. but don't you think we ought to have a correct understanding of human nature and how political consensus gets formed if we want to reach specific political outcomes?

i am interested in the truth when i talk to people in the movement, i am not interested in propaganda. lets leave the propaganda for the political stage. there's nothing wrong with asserting our rights and using moral language to do so, when we make our appeal to voters or citizens. but there has to be some way to separate that activity from serious discussions about the nature of society and reality. we have to draw the line on BS somewhere.

besides, we are never going to influence the real centers of influence in society, for example the elite academic world, if we don't have sound arguments. i am not saying that sound arguments alone win over academia, or that other forces are not at work in controlling elite academic institutions, but we should stand on solid ground if we want to attract the best minds to support a practical libertarian political order.

we have to find out for ourselves what are the real reasons why there should be an absolute maximum of individual liberty (consistent with order). of course, there are some who are such thoughtless dogmatists that they would sacrifice all order and structure in society, out of a utopian, ahistorical devotion to their idea of unlimited freedom. or some impulse to just break things, or alienation that leads them to their ideology.

for us to make the argument for maximum individual liberty - consistent with the basic security and order that allow us to earn a livelihood in the modern, complex market order - we need arguments that can persuade and win over influential, well-read and studied people.

screaming about how their should be no traffic laws because they're coercive, is probably not a path to progress or practical outcomes.

my libertarianism consists in a devotion to the liberties in the bill of rights, and i think reasonable people from all over the world and across cultures and political divides could genuinely support the bill of rights as a framework, or as a bare minimum set of conditions that are conducive to the general well being of the majority of people.

we can say this is in our interests, and it is the best framework for preventing widespread abuse, corruption, injustice, or harm to all of us, from above - political tyranny, and from below - crime, anarchy, lawless behavior, etc.

all the other details of how to govern society... the whole set of laws and institutions.. they have to be determined and hammered out one way or another. but having a limited, modest, and practical set of demands or claims to liberty, such as those in the bill of rights, are a good starting point. and let's leave the claims of god or nature's favor to the lowest kind of political appeals, where thinking seldom happens.

An excellent post!!

Thank You. You have put in words the thoughts that were vaguely forming in my mind. I have been struggling with this myself lately. It is very hard to convince myself or anyone else that rights are natural. Where do they come from? Nature? When and how did nature tell us this? Essentially we assumed we have 'natural rights' because a) it is easy to build an argument on this foundation and b) we think that humans are nature's special creation and that is why other animals do not have these same rights.
I think we came up with the 'natural rights' tenet because a majority of us humans value our life, limb and property. Putting it in a Darwinian light, we value survival, prosperity & propagation like any other species on earth.

But debunking the 'natural rights' foundation leaves us with the argument that- liberty is desirable because it is the most mutually beneficial or symbiotic system present. I am not sure how many uninitiated people will be converted or attracted by this argument towards libertarianism. Maybe we need to flesh out a more convincing foundation.

I am atheist. Therefore the "god-given rights" theory does not even picture in my list of building blocks for libertarianism.

thank you, and i agree with

thank you, and i agree with your points. we need real arguments for why there should be liberty. not arguments that can be refuted by a 15 year old of above average intelligence after a few hours of thought.

we also have to recognize how people really form their positions, which is usually a combination of considering their interests, considering what they feel is moral, and considering how their views will be perceived by their peers and how they will impact their social status and well being.

i'm more interested in being effective than believing, falsely, that god or nature has rubber stamped my fantasies. god and nature have NO INTEREST in any of our views, be they socialist, anarchist, whatever.

rights are agreements

For example, we all agree that everyone has a right to their life. To deny this is to say that someone else has a right to your life. There is no platonic "right to life" floating out there in the ether. Rather, we all agree that everyone has a right to their life, because the alternative is lunacy. Just like we all agree that certain words mean certain things. It does not mean that words have platonic ideal forms in some non-physical sense. Does that clear it up?

If you are not a natural rights libertarian, what kind of libertarian are you?

“The welfare of the people in particular has always been the alibi of tyrants.” — Albert Camus

lots of people don't agree

lots of people don't agree that there exists a right to one's life. for example murderers. how many tens of millions were killed this last century? do you still think everyone agrees that everyone has a right to their life? what percentage of humans were themselves killers for most of human history? between 15 and 50%? since when do people agree such rights exist?

no. any right to life or property is a legal construct in which the law will attempt to defend life and property for those who abide by the law, and punish those who do not. your right comes from your agreement to respect the rights of others. in a state of anarchy, it is every man for himself, and the devil take the hindmost. morality emerges with society - it is the obligation you owe to the group that protects you. if you free ride on that protection by violating its strictures (crime), it removes its protection and you essentially are fair game -- or, put another way, "punished."

When I say everyone,

I mean almost everyone in society. I would say the percentage of killers is much less than 15-20%, much less than 1%. Just look at the murder rate. But even murderers think they have a right to their life, as they will defend themselves if you try to kill them. So they are logically not consistent.

It comes down to this. If you don't have a right to your life, who does? In other words, who gets to control your life? Everyone else? No one? Some other particular person? You do. All other axioms lead to lunacy.

You have not answered my question. What kind of libertarian are you?

“The welfare of the people in particular has always been the alibi of tyrants.” — Albert Camus

i said and meant throughout

i said and meant throughout human history, what percentage of humans were killers. i don't know the answer, just a guess.

the answer to your riddle is that rights don't exist. not outside a legal context. legal, meaning the formal codification of some social arrangement that was reached through a compromise between opposing units of power. in the absence of some body to arbitrate conflicts, conflicts are just settled by the greater power. society and justice emerge when people realize it serves their interests better for conflicts to be resolved by law than by force, and the conflict or competition for resources then moves to the economic sphere, where it is bound by law.

I don't understand why you go on about rights not existing

What do you mean they do not exist? Do ideas exist? Does love exist? Does the square root of negative one exist?

Your arguments seems to be that since I can violate your rights, that means that rights do not exist. That's like saying that if I break your heart, love does not exist.

“The welfare of the people in particular has always been the alibi of tyrants.” — Albert Camus

yes, rights have a political

yes, rights have a political existence. you can achieve a political situation where your interests or claims are enforced, and called political rights. you can argue for them from your morality or interests or a lot of sources. but there is nothing inherent in nature that makes these claims BINDING on others. your rights aren't provable or true in a logical sense. they requirre you to exercize your power and combine with others with similar interests to protect your common interests. for the rights to become real, it requires the sanction of the political system. so rights are legal constructs. that's all i am saying.

do a thought experiment. lets suppose that superman was real, and imagine he is a total dick and an evil bastard. he has unlimited power and cant die. no human's power or combined human power can stop him. no possible political activity could establish rights if superman denied them. no moral persuasion could make superman change his ways and respect the interests of humans. in such a world, there could be no rights. they could not be achieved.

they would not be natural, since nature is mute and doesn't care. and they could not be politically achieved, because superman says NOpe.

so you can see via this absurd story, rights can only have meaning if they can be achieved by political means, by the exercise of political power. otherwise they have no meaning and existence in the world.

Yes, right to life seems

Yes, right to life seems pretty straight forward. But if you extend this argument, as BILL3 points out, you can also claim right to food, shelter, medicines etc. Everything that helps you preserve your life then automatically becomes a right.

Can you provide an example

of consensual action constrained to consenting actors which you would deem immoral?

none of my arguments depend

although none of my arguments depend on moral judgments, yes i can easily provide such examples, going by my own personal morality.

all the following actions can and do take place without coercion.

a sadistic man can purchase the right to do awful things to a woman in dire straits, for his sheer pleasure, with her consent.

a man in financial desperation might sell one of his organs on the market to feed his children, and die shortly thereafter.

a person might pimp out an emotionally ill, drug addicted girl and continue to supply her heroin and make her more dependent, and both parties acting voluntarily.

a person might allow a dangerous criminal or organized gang access to information or passage to property that leads to the harm of others, in exchange for money or some other benefit, without ever coercing anyone.

abusing a spouse emotionally, or a child, because he or she is emotionally attached or dependent and accepts the abuse.

not loving or caring for one's children.

selfishly betraying the trust and faith of your marriage, breaking up your family, and then vindictively alienating the children from the spouse.

not helping a starving, miserable invalid or cripple who crawls to your door for a drink after being beaten and robbed.

walking past a child drowning in a shallow lake, when you could save him with no risk to yourself.

i could probably go on all day long coming up with actions that are blatantly immoral in my personal opinion which do not involve any non consensual activity.

Can you provide an example

of something you would deem immoral other than a human act or action derived from sentient life?





lol : )

lol : )

Ok so ...

Action = Choice + Perception + Environment

Immoral = Action + Injury/Harm/Damage

Moral = Action + No Injury/Harm/Damage

A right is merely a claim (which can certainly be rebutted) a specific action does not injure, harm, or damage. People might say owning tobacco is a right but smoking it is a privilege. No one conceives a possibility of injury from the former whereas the exhaled smoke of the latter may be perceived to injure, harm, or damage.

The above is straightforward but the kicker question is what makes law justly apply to anyone? Clearly the application of law against anyone who has consented (ie. individual operating as a citizen using a voluntarily applied for government identification) to be subject to it, is just. What makes the application of law against people who do not or have not consented (ie. alien) to be subject to it, just?

Do you have any answer other than a victim of injury, harm, or damage?