Natural Rights are the Foundation of LibertySubmitted by dwalters on Mon, 06/24/2013 - 12:21
To me, it seems absurd that - as libertarians - we even need to have this discussion. However, recent threads (here and here) have set out to claim either natural rights do not exist or only exist in instances where they are able to be defended by those claiming said rights. I will demonstrate that both arguments are fallacious. Natural rights are the foundation on which liberty rests.
To be clear, we must first define natural rights:
Natural Right - a right that would exist in the absence of government
Right - a just claim or title
First, let us suppose that rights do not exist. If rights do not exist, then it could be said that no person has a just claim or title to anything. If this were the case, we would expect everything to be perfectly communal. However, if no individual could own anything, then by extension, no group of people could own anything either - as this would require the definition of group rights - but we have assumed that no rights exist. Therefore, we have arrived at a logical contradiction, and we must conclude that rights must exist.
We'll consider an example. Caveman A makes a spear. We could, then, say that Caveman A has a just claim to use and possess the spear. To say that Caveman A did not have a just claim to use and possess the spear would be analogous to saying that the use of the spear by him would be unjust. Making such a claim would be logically dishonest. We conclude that Caveman A has a right to his property. Does Caveman B have a just claim to the spear? Logically and correctly, no. If Caveman B took the spear for himself, the action would be unjust. Caveman B would have violated the right of Caveman A.
To say that neither man had a just claim to the spear would be absurd and meaningless - that is, to say that rights do not exist.
Now, let's move on to the existence of natural rights. As stated, these are just claims or titles that would exist in the absence of government. So, the claim that natural rights do not exist is to make the claim that, in the absence of a government, rights would not exist either. It turns out that we run into the same logical conundrum as before - since in the previous treatment we never assumed a government existed; so, the above argument still holds. Therefore, rights would exist in the absence of government, and by definition, these are natural rights.
In the course of this analysis, it has also been shown false that no rights exist when they are unable to be successfully defended. Theft is an unjust claim to another's property. Murder is an unjust claim to another's life. In order for a claim to be unjust, a just claim must exist. Therefore, any unjust claim is a violation of a just claim, or more properly, a violation of a right.
It has also been claimed by the user that posted the mentioned threads that using the argument for natural rights would almost certainly lead to socialism. He claimed that a person may steal food to protect their own life. However, as I have shown, stealing is a violation of natural rights and, therefore, cannot be considered part of any philosophy that has the protection of natural rights at its foundation - such as libertarianism.
Natural rights are the foundation of liberty. After all, can a person be held in slavery without being wronged?
Some users have tried to make the claim that since instances may arise where there is no clear right and wrong party that rights do not exist except where written laws (or a social contract) can be used by an official arbiter to make final judgements. In other words, the argument infers that rights do not exist unless they are spelled out (bestowed) by a government because in the absence of such a compact there would be gray area. One can see that this argument holds no water when it is considered that gray area can exist even when a government is in place. Thus, if the argument were correct, it could be said that no rights exist even under government because gray area may exist.
In reality, the existence of gray area implies that there are areas that gray area does not exist. For instance, ask any human on the face of the planet the following questions:
1. A perfect stranger approaches you and shoots you in the face. In that case, have you been wronged?
2. A perfect stranger approaches you and steals your wallet/purse. In that case, have you been wronged?
3. A perfect stranger approaches you, holds a gun to your head, and forces you to perform an act that you would not otherwise perform. In that case, have you been wronged?
where I define a perfect stranger as a person that has no knowledge of you, and you have no knowledge of him/her. Thus, no motive exists for any of the above actions.
You can try to make up a hypothetical person but one does not exist. As well, in the questions, it was never assumed that a government existed.
I would like to continue, but I have business to tend. I will address further arguments in the comment section or via another update at a later time.