The “might makes right” mindset.

It is often argued against the concept of rights that they can be taken away by force. But this is a misunderstanding of what rights are and what force is.

Rights are a moral conclusion; they tell us what is and is not morally justified. The proposition “I have a right of self-ownership” means that I am morally justified in using force against any aggressor upon my person, and that such a use of force should be encouraged by society at large. As Lysander Spooner states:

But anybody and everybody have a natural right, as individuals, to punish other men for their crimes; for everybody has a natural right, not only to defend his own person and property against aggressors, but also to go to the assistance and defense of everybody else, whose person or property is invaded. The natural right of each individual to defend his own person and property against an aggressor, and to go to the assistance and defense of everyone else whose person or property is invaded, is a right without which men could not exist on the earth.

Lysander Spooner, “Vices are not Crimes”

Both are moral claims, meaning: claims about how we can best fulfill our values, as individuals and as part of society. All other things being equal, it is better for all involved if rights are respected, than if they aren’t. Although a pacifist would disagree with all uses of force, he still could not deny other people’s rights. He certainly could not nullify the existence of rights themselves, although of course he could try to persuade others not to protect those rights.

Aggression cannot contradict rights. If anything, the fact that one needs to aggress upon others instead of using persuasion demonstrates (although of course not proves) that widely-recognized notions of rights are being broken. The fact of self-ownership cannot be contradicted by slavery any more than stealing my wallet proves that I did not really own said wallet.

States do not break rights any more than voodoo priests break the laws of causality. But through common belief, they can comfort others into believing that rituals and ceremonies can bring about better states of affairs. States just use extortion, kidnapping and murder to bring about that comfort, and religions use indoctrination, absolutist rules and incitations to violence.

The “might makes right” (MMR) premise, therefore, is not a moral premise per se. To say that MMR concerns morality is to say that it tells us what actions help fulfill our values. Bur MMR does not do such a thing: it is, rather, a rationalization of coercive institutions. People do not use MMR as a moral guide, but rather to explain away the inherently coercive nature of the State and religious doctrines. MMR tells us absolutely nothing about how to live.

Admittedly, we can generously interpret MMR as meaning something like: “you are free to hurt anyone who is weaker than you.” That would be a moral principle, albeit a bad one, and depending on the situation, a fatal one.

As I discussed in the Problem of Collectivist Obligation, all of the rationalizations of collectivism can ultimately be reduced to a single issue: can collectivist obligation (such as orders and diktats) translate into moral obligation? All collectivists can do is invoke MMR, and claim that collectivist obligation must be followed because not doing so entails kidnapping, extortion or death.

The State is an obvious example. When one questions the legitimacy of the State “laws,” the final answer must be: “you have to obey the law because otherwise you’ll get arrested.” One does not agree with the “laws” or chooses the kind of “laws” one finds most desirable. One accepts the “laws” written by the ruling class because the ruling class can kidnap you or kill you if it wants to, and suffer no consequences. It’s as simple as that.

Religion also enforces two forms of MMR, although of a different kind. The first is divine obligation, “whatever God says is just and must be obeyed.” In the end, this can only be justified by the fact that God is omnipotent and can send you to eternal torture if it wants to. The second is theological obligation, “whatever my sect hierarchy says is just and must be obeyed.” This is justified both by the threat of violence and by popularity arguments, the latter being related (“a lot of people believe like I do, therefore I’m justified”).

Horizontal collectivists, on the other hand, generally wouldn’t admit to promoting might against morality, as they believe that their belief systems promote equality. Although democracy and socialism are pretty obviously a position of “might makes right” as applied to numerical superiority and popular beliefs as mediated by the State, democratists fail to realize this because they believe that MMR is an argument against individuals, not collectives. But being victim of a socialist system led by a single person is not any more devastating than being victim of a socialist system obtained by democracy.

2 thoughts on “The “might makes right” mindset.

  1. […] in the first place. Otherwise all we have, and all we had when organized religion was dominant, is a might-makes-right non-ethics, where the one who wins the wars or converts the most people makes the rules, with God assumed to […]

  2. […] is also the “might makes right” type of rhetoric. I’ve once had someone say something like “a pregnant women can do […]

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: