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Equal Rights vs. Special Privileges

by Nelson Hultberg | Americans for a Free Republic

One of the major evils of the welfare state in libertarian eyes is that it destroys the concept of objective law (i.e., equal rights under the law) throughout society. This is because the welfare state is based upon the violation of individual rights in order to convey privileges to special interest groups. All primary policies of state welfarism entail such a violation and conveyance. This is why justice can never be achieved under a welfare state philosophy, liberal or conservative.

Government's job is to protect rights, not violate them. It’s laws must be applied equally, which means no privileges. Yet we are taught today that government conveyance of privileges to special interest groups will bring us a just society. It is even taught that our concern with “special interest groups” is the American Way – this in face of the fact that the Founders’ repeatedly warned against the creation of “political factions.”

Special Privilege Defined

What follows will hopefully throw some light on this important issue and clarify how government’s conveyance of special privileges is destroying freedom and justice. Because of the heavy ideological obfuscation that prevails in our media and our schools, we need to first define the term special privilege. It means the intervention of government into the free-market to legislate policy that favors specific individuals and groups over other individuals or groups. It is the enactment of laws that either aid or suppress some people in relation to other people. Special privilege can take any number of forms. For example:

1) When government grants subsidies to corporations, banks, farmers, and low income earners, it is conveying a special privilege to these reci­pients at the expense of the individuals whose earnings are confiscated in order to pay for such subsidies. Their right to the disposal of their income (i.e., their property) is violated.

2) When government dictates that certain quotas of racial / sexual groups must be enrolled in colleges and hired in businesses because of race or gender rather than the free determination of merit, it is conveying a special privilege to those who are enrolled and hired at the expense of those who are better qualified, but are not enrolled and hired because of the quotas. Their right to free determination of merit is violated.

3) When government allows striking labor unions to physically prohibit non-union workers from replacing them by means of violence or through NLRB mandates, it is granting a special privilege of monopoly power to union workers at the expense of all non-union workers in the marketplace. Their right to freely seek employment is violated.

4) When government passes a law mandating that oil prices cannot be raised beyond a certain level, it is conveying a special privilege to the consumers of oil at the expense of the producers of oil. Their right to freedom of trade is violated.

Therefore, whenever government intervenes into the marketplace to aid or suppress specific individuals and groups at the expense of others, it is conveying privileges and violating rights, which cannot make for a just society.

This doesn't mean government intervention itself is wrong. Government must intervene into the marketplace to protect men's rights by curbing vio­lence and fraud. Most thinkers would also add a second legitimate intervention, which is to provide those few services we cannot handle in the marketplace such as communicable disease control, emergency 911 service, city streets, etc. But this kind of government intervention is a provision of services for all men in general instead of an enactment of specific policies for some at the expense of others.

Government intervention is, thus, necessary to maintain freedom and order in society – but only if it is objective in nature and used to protect rights, or to provide the minimal

services that cannot be provided in a free-market. Once government intervention is used to convey “special privileges,” it becomes arbitrary in nature, and the author­ities that legislate such intervention always become dictatorial.

This then is the major reason why libertarian and conservative advocates of freedom vehemently oppose the welfare state. It makes government a conveyer of privileges instead of a protector of rights, which turns government into a criminal agency (criminality being defined as the violation of individual rights). It destroys the concept of equal rights, which is the foundation stone upon which freedom, order and justice are based.

Equal rights under the law is the most important principle in America’s political system. But there can be no equal rights if government enacts unequal tax rates, i.e., progressive rates. Or if it mandates that some corporations have the right to set their prices freely, but not other corporations. Or if it allows free association to racial minorities, but not to racial majorities.

Redundancy and Reciprocity

To further clarify this crucial issue, consider the following truism: There are no such things in reality as simply "rights." Rights by their very nature must also be equal, or they are not rights. The phrase, “equal rights,” is really a redundancy. For instance, we all have to have an equal right to freedom of speech, or we are no longer talking about a right. If all men do not have the same right to speak freely, then the right to free speech does not exist. In other words, rights necessitate the concept of reciprocity. Whatever I have the right to, everyone else must also have a right to. All rights are, thus, reciprocal, or they are not rights but privileges. So whenever we talk about rights, we are automatically talking about equal rights. There can be no such thing as an unequal right, or a right just for some citizens. Rights are either equal for all, or they become pri­vileges for some.

Thus, all citizens must have an equal right to freedom of speech. They must all have an equal right to due process. They must all have an equal right to freedom of association. They must all have an equal right to the dis­posal of their property (i.e., their income).

Another point must also be grasped here if one is to understand what is happening in the modern world, and that is that rights and privileges cannot co-exist in the same society. They are not only opposites, but opposites in the sense that privileges will destroy the concept of rights whenever they are mixed in a political system.

For example, the nature of the material reality surrounding us is that it is made up of numerous entities composed of opposite existential structures that cannot commingle and still retain their specific existences. That is to say if they are mixed, one of the opposites will dominate the other and destroy it. For example: locusts destroy wheat when mixed. The same goes for acid and silver, mold and bread, tornadoes and towns, fires and forests.

This feature of reality exists not only materially, but also spiritually. In other words, the intellectual realm is subject to this same operating principle, for there are fundamental opposites that cannot be mixed without one destroying the other. Rights and privileges are an example; they are philosophical opposites. Whenever a privilege is granted by the government to someone or some group, a right has to be destroyed in the process. If thousands of privileges are granted, then thousands of rights must be destroyed.

This is the nature of our modern day political scene. Large numbers of people are demanding special privileges from the government, and in the process are destroying the legitimate rights of their fellow men. Every ­time someone votes for government to provide a subsidy, or a tax break, or a price support, or a monopoly, or an injection of fiat money, he is asking for a special privilege and in the process is destroying equal rights. Once the "equality" of our rights is destroyed, then our rights themselves no longer exist. Once our rights no longer exist, then the prevailing society has evolved into a dictatorship.

Mutual Exclusivity

In conclusion, rights and privileges cannot be mixed. This is the Law of Mutual Exclusivity. A just, stable, and free society cannot provide special privileges for some of its citizens and remain just, stable, and free. The curse of modern day societies is that their governing authorities believe they can circumvent this truth.

What this means is that a society must be based upon equal rights, or it must be based upon special privileges, but it cannot be based upon both. The latter consumes the former. Just as wheat and locusts cannot co-exist in the same field, neither can rights and privileges co-exist in the same society. Just as locusts will eventually spread throughout the entire field to destroy the wheat and its life giving nutrients, so also will government conveyed priv­ileges spread throughout an entire society to destroy the concept of rights, and with it the life giving values of justice, freedom and stability.

This is why we have the insufferable locust horde of factions, coalitions, foundations, corporations, banks, and divergent individuals today who feel their “need” justifies their lining up at the government trough to lobby for the corrupt favors, handouts, and pork that have flowed so overwhelmingly from Washington for the past 100 years. Once we step beyond minimal Lockean government so as to allow government to violate individual rights to convey special privileges to others and accept this as morally legitimate, there is no end to the process. Tyranny must follow.

Government should not be in the business of conveying privileges and favors to anyone. Period. It should protect rights and do for us those few things we cannot do for ourselves in a free-market, and these few services should be done on the state and local level. This was the Lockean ideal that the Founders envisioned. This is the only morally just form of government. It was not meant just for the nineteenth century; it was meant for all of time.


Nelson Hultberg is a freelance writer in Dallas, Texas and the Director of Americans for a Free Republic www.afr.org. His articles have appeared over the past 20 years in such publications as The Dallas Morning News, American Conservative, Insight, The Freeman, Liberty, and The Social Critic, as well as on numerous Internet sites such as Capitol Hill Outsider, Conservative Action Alerts, Daily Paul, Canada Free Press, The Daily Bell, etc. He is the author of The Golden Mean: Libertarian Politics, Conservative Values.

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Michael Nystrom's picture

Hot air from Ted Cruz


Thanks Nelson, for the excellent article.

The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance. - Alan Watts


Deleted, meant to reply

The problem people have w/negative rights only

Is that equal negative rights lead to unequal outcomes. It's good overall because much more prosperity is created collectively in society that way and everyone is better off. But envy is a hard thing for people to overcome. So you can intellectually explain how it's better to have no entitlements but for many it's a hard sell.

All rights are negative

'Positive' rights aren't rights because

1) Everyone can't have them
2) They can be denied

'Negative' rights like so much other nonsense invented by progressives is just semantic spin trying to demonize rights.

'Positive' rights are in fact privileges. Which is the point of the article.

I know but the thing is

when you have lots of people with relatively low IQs that are a result of the unequal nature of human evolution, and place them in a society with a lot of high IQ people who are able to earn a lot of money you're not gonna have an easy time convincing them that they *don't* deserve much of the wealth that the higher IQ people are making. Because what you're really saying, or at least how they interpret it, is that they're inferior. And they are in terms of ability to benefit a whole lot of people substantially through contributions in the market.

Personally I don't think 'rights' exist at all beyond a person's ability and willingness to enforce them. To me a right is just a synonym for ability. Because the whole notion that I have a sacred right to be free from aggression flies out the window if I say encounter a lion or a tiger in the jungle. The only reason why we have any 'rights' is because we mastered the art of using force. Today we are becoming a much softer people overall and as a result are losing much of our rights.

It's not about IQ per se

People don't make a lot of money because they have high IQ's or vice versa.

People make a lot of money because they have manipulated the system. High IQ people often don't perceive any need to do so. Look at Pelosi, Feinstein, McCain, Graham, etc. Which is not to say some smart people don't get rich.

The reason why they can get rich is because the powerful have deceived the not rich, smart or otherwise, into believing the power to steal will be used to help the not rich.

Democracy is quite literally a con game. Most cons depend on the wickedness of the mark. The rich convince people that if they condone theft, that theft will be used to benefit the poor.

It's not really the low IQ of the poor, it's the greed of the poor, that makes them perpetual victims.

If the not-rich simply refused to condone theft, the 'elites' would be out of luck. They would have to get productive jobs or starve.

Now there are certainly some rich people who aren't wicked. Those people have not carved out a niche of corruption, and those people do get soaked by the schemes of the elites and the complicity of the poor. But this isn't the real rich.

In a free society which, means a free market, unpleasant jobs will command a premium. Pleasant jobs (physicians) will not have market protection, or exist at all (lawyers). Income and wealth will always tend towards equilibrium. The pay of skilled labor will cover the cost of the education and little more, and the cost of the education will not be inflated because of thrid party payers and artificial barrers to education admissions. (ie how they limit the supply of physicians to drive up pay)

Especially unpleasant jobs will also demand a premium over unskilled but less unpleasant. Without government labor market intervantion given two jobs equally unskilled you will have to pay garbage men or maids, etc more to entice them into the work.

A free market doesn't tend to help the high I.Q. so much as a free market tends to help the hard worker. This is why evil and somewhat smart people have established fascism, and fights any smidgeon of free market that pops up, all over the world, to punish the hard worker and enrich the evil.

What about the right to a

What about the right to a jury trial?

Shall we forget the 14th amendment?

The 14th amendment is the source of these privileges mentioned in this article. If you consent to being a "citizen of the United States" then you are subject to the jurisdiction of the United States who will define your "privileges and immunities".

When one examines the congressional records of Congressional "ratification" of the 14th amendment one finds that the 14th amendment was never lawfully ratified yet it is accepted as "law". This failure of Americans to comprehend what this abomination of 'law' actually invokes is a total usurpation of consent of the governed for lawful powers of government and 'grants' the 'government' jurisdiction over the 'citizen' regardless of lawful agency to the governed.

Under common law one had the right to face their accuser and the accused stood liable for their defense and the accuser stood liable for their accusation(s). With the Organic laws of the DOI strictly constructing lawful agency of government being derived from consent of the governed means that lawful government is restrained to actions derived from consent of the governed. This equal liability before a jury was the deterrence necessary to keep everyone liable for their own court actions against another and tied lawful agency of the government only to actions requested by a liable accuser. Along came the 14th amendment and the tyrannical control freaks who want to control others with no liability for their own actions and the abomination of special privileges granted by government was born.

The 14th made jurisdiction over "citizens of the United States" a blanket jurisdiction where under common law and our organic laws, jurisdiction of court action was limited to accuser accepting liability for their own action and demonstrating all required elements that make up a valid cause of action thus providing an identifiable principal to the agents of government and providing subject matter jurisdiction for the court to hear the case. Under Common law we were equal and individuals were in charge of whether or not court jurisdiction was granted or not. Now with citizenship, in people's quest to not be liable for their own actions, they accepted a never ratified, unlawful 'law' that made privilege and immunities something that could be set or removed by other men who claim no liability for their actions regardless of whether or not those actions were lawful.

This is just a tiny part of the evolution of how this came to be but one thing is clear when one really examines all of this; people do not want to be liable for their own actions and thus traded liberty for limited liability as subject under a regulated citizen capacity. That is what has actually happened but very few seem to realize this because again the ignorant individuals do not want to accept liability for their own knowledge of law and thus have given up the protections of real law and traded equal rights for undefined privileges and immunities to be set by the legislature of the day.

The most powerful Law of Nature is Time. It is finite and we all will run out of it. Use this Law to your advantage, for it offers you infinite possibilities...

To use your locust analogy,

To use your locust analogy, can there exist a few privileges together with rights to attain a not perfectly just, but practical society that recognizes the reality that a certain degree of those who abuse freedom pollute the physical and spiritual realms and where government must identify those victims and dictate that they be helped?

I think that free people voluntarily sacrificing their income and talents to help provide and guide those victims is good, because this falls under mercy whereas governors are not acting mercifully or justly, stealing income from others in order to achieve a political goal. This has even a negative effect on the recipients who become hardened and corrupted in receiving wrongful aid. Whereas, charity provides a healing effect to those who receive, because they recognize that those who gave did so from their own hearts, from their own free will. This grace results in thankfulness and goodwill rather than the feeling that they somehow earned or deserve help from others.

Great article!

I think no matter what your political philosophy is, everyone needs to recognize this(equality under the law)problem and find a solution that does not violate this law.
The basic income guarantee ie.,a citizens dividend and a flat national sales tax is a good compromise that does not violate that law because everybody gets it(a basic income) and everybody pays it(a national sales tax).
Just those two programs alone gets rid of all social and welfare administrations and would eliminate the IRS.
I know it is not our perfect libertarian/minarchist government but it is a HUGE step in the right direction, to more social and economic freedom. And I think this is the only thing that could be implemented today that would prevent a totally destructive collapse.
What do you think?

Very interesting idea! I do

Very interesting idea! I do see some merit to this system because I am not opposed to government but to unjust government. Your proposition of sales tax/income check I think would be fair. People would still manage to live in poverty, but charity would not disappear with this system and charity would be used to help people learn how to thrive rather than just merely survive to live another day.

So, yes, unless someone can show how this would be unjust or impossible, which I do not see why not, because the income check level can be moved depending on the strength of the national economy.

Great idea, at the very least!

Paul 3V0L's picture

What about voting?

Is that a right or a privilege and who decides that? Had a liberal friend ask me and I wasn't real sure how to answer.

Could ask the same thing

Could ask the same thing about a jury trial. Certainly treated as a right here in the United States, though it certainly breaks the NAP.

If voting access was equal

If voting access was equal for every citizen of a nation than it would be a right. A secure system of equal access I would be in favor of, but I'm not sure how such a system would work because some people do not have internet, mail, access to a local office, etc. And the security aspect is so important because if cheating occurs than the election is illegitimate.

I don't know if I really buy

I don't know if I really buy this. Is it a violation of equal protection under the law if the cops come when a rapist breaks into your home, because they're not helping everybody in the country at that moment? You can say that everyone is entitled to such assistance even if they aren't getting it at that moment, but then you can also say everyone is entitled to welfare even if they aren't getting it at that moment. And the government needs to collect money to pay the cops, just like it needs money to pay for welfare, so there is the same violation of the NAP.

Equal opportunity, not

Equal opportunity, not protection. If the law provides special protection than that is no longer a right and a violation, but if the law simply provides funding for police than what that police office does with that funding is now their responsibility and if the police refuse to help in some cases but choose to help in others the law is not then unjust, rather the police chief. People are unjust and this is a problem, but it is an even greater problem if the law is unjust, because no longer does the law provide equal protection and the taxes taken from those on the short end of the stick are being used to protect those with the special treatment. This is now "redistribution."

Anything any cop does is

Anything any cop does is redistribution, because he is going to be helping some specific group of people at the expense of everyone.

Well the law taxes. The cop

Well the law taxes. The cop cannot come to the aid of everyone at the same time equally, but the law does not tell him to help someone or another. Presumably there are laws within the policing system that determine which calls to answer and when. These laws might be unjust, but not redistributive because how a police office runs their affairs is irrespective of funding. If the law funding the police station also preconditioned that funding for helping certain people more than others then this would be redistributive.

So then is there anything

So then is there anything wrong with a welfare system where tax money is pooled to a bunch of do-gooders, who then determine for themselves who should get the cash?

Read my other comment but I

Read my other comment but I do think I see your idea that any government system can be turned into an unjust implementation. The welfare system could be a good thing if everyone, including the rich received welfare (a commenter above suggested this and I liked the idea). They also wanted to combine with a national flat sales tax instead of our current progressive system. I think the problem with these laws is that fundamentally they are unjust and lead to resentment and policy-makers dictating who gets benefits and who gets the shaft whereas justice by law means equal access and opportunity. Not all laws are just! It is my decision to support just laws and not support politicians or political parties as if one side or one person was juster than the other. No some democrats pass just laws related to civil liberties for example (one of many). I support justice so I support those laws, and am thankful that any law-maker proposed it.

I agree about the "everyone

I agree about the "everyone receiving welfare" idea. It's been sold in various forms, including a guaranteed minimum income, which I'm in favor of as a replacement for our mess of individual programs that exist today.

My point isn't just that any government system can become implemented unjustly, it's that the distinction between "general welfare" (or whatever term you want to give institutions like the police and court system) and "redistribution" is not obvious, because ultimately anything that involves taxing and spending is going to be redistributive in its effect. So saying something is bad simply because its redistributive is either an argument for anarchism or just not very helpful.

Yes because the welfare

Yes because the welfare system defines a certain group as recipient to privilege. The welfare system is analogous to a police system where the law stated that the police were only to help low-income or those out of work and to let the rich pay for their own security. Don't suggest it or low-income earners might actually think this is a good idea. The welfare system in its own nature is unjust, redistributive.

I don't know, this really

I don't know, this really smacks of a distinction without a difference. TANF is redistribution, but "Welfare Police" that do the exact same thing as TANF, also with public money, isn't.

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fireant's picture

I agree with the conclusion, but "Equal rights under the law"?

First, law does not grant rights. Rights are inherent. When we allow law to define or protect rights, we are thus allowing men to decide our rights.
More importantly though, "equal rights under the law" is a re-interpretation of the constitutional phrase, "equal protection of the law". This concept dates back to Sir William Blackstone, 1723-1780. In his "Commentaries On The Laws Of England", he discusses how valid law must be self-protected. No individual, group, or right is being protected by "equal protection"; it is the law itself being protected. Note "...of the law".

Undo what Wilson did

There is a true law and a

There is a true law and a man's law. If men decide to write a law that is not a true law than the true law still applies. The goal for a just society is to identify true law and apply that true law justly. People recognize mistakes in the Constitution. So obviously there is a higher law that those people are referring to. Problem is, who decides what the mistake is and what the true law is? The true law itself has not evolved over time, rather human understanding of that law. Humans merely observe a natural law and identify it and write it down in words and teach those words to others and the others might or might not see what was identified. Eventually, the lies disappear, and the truth emerges. That is, if you simply observe truth will emerge, but if you interfere and stop observing, but judging or concluding, and codify an untruth and a creation of your own mind, instead of the true, natural law, then you have still not arrived. There is some of this in the Constitution where you have to scratch your head and say this does not agree with my observations, I think this law is not the true law.

Hultberg is one of the modern eras great thinkers

I just finished 'the Golden Mean: Libertarian Politics, Conservative Values' - and it was one of the most cogent arguments for a true Constitutional Republic I've ever read*.

It should be required reading for all DP members (in my opinion).

His breakdown and analysis of the true political spectrum: from Totalitarianism on one end to Anarchy on the other with a Constitutional Republic emerging as the true Golden Mean is worth the price of admission alone.

Highly recommended.

*why this title is not on Amazon and in Kindle format I cannot fathom. You need to buy it in softcover through Americans for a Free Republic website for now.

you know what else is a special privilege?

When the government grants tax breaks to heterosexuals for entering into a marriage contract, yet does not provide the same benefits to homosexuals.

“Although it was the middle of winter, I finally realized that, within me, summer was inextinguishable.” — Albert Camus

I agree. There should be no

I agree. There should be no state special benefits for married people. Not only is this unjust against homosexuals but also singles! After I got married all of a sudden my taxes plummet! I mean there are many natural benefits of marriage, but it does not need to be unjustly rewarded at the expense of everyone else by government.

Cyril's picture

Easy, obvious solution:

Easy, obvious solution:

abolish the tax.

No more privilege.

No more jealousy.

No more prejudice.

No more injustice.

Less government.

Fewer bureaucrats.

More freedom and wealth for everybody.

Granted, though, our dear Collectivist Supermen Do-Gooders are probably not going to like it.

Because they know better, of course.

Go figure !

"Cyril" pronounced "see real". I code stuff.


"To study and not think is a waste. To think and not study is dangerous." -- Confucius

Cyril's picture

WHO will build the roads?!

WHO will build the roads?!

Or educate our kids?!

Or find our doctors?!

Or save for our retirements?!

Etc, etc.

"Cyril" pronounced "see real". I code stuff.


"To study and not think is a waste. To think and not study is dangerous." -- Confucius

the free market (almost)

Free markets will easily resolve education, medicine and financial planning. However, roads are a special case if we are talking about private ownership. If there is only ONE path between point A and point B then whoever owns that path also owns a monopoly. By definition a free market can only exist when there is no monopoly.

Government (the will of the collective) should be used to prevent monopolies, not to create them. Thus, taxes for roads probably makes sense, as no single entity can claim ownership on a right of way.


Like discriminating against unmarried people and giving tax incentives and special legal protections to those who pay the governor for permission to live together!



that too

“Although it was the middle of winter, I finally realized that, within me, summer was inextinguishable.” — Albert Camus