Why people’s beliefs about rights are wrong. {part 1/2}

I think a great part of people’s rejection of Anarchy and misunderstandings about politics stems from two wrong beliefs about rights. Rights are a basic issue of politics, because people believe that we need the State in order to protect our rights. When we look at people’s rationale for the most criminal of the State’s actions, such as war, taxes, market monopolization, victim disarmament and the War on Drugs, we find that the underlying rationale is almost always “protecting our rights.”

This being the case, it becomes vital to examine what people believe about rights, and why they are wrong.

1. Statists believe that rights are more than validation of force.

When they say that something is a right, statists virtually always imply some sort of positive spin on the subject. They think they are stating something about the values that society should hold. To them, we should acknowledge a “right to health care,” for instance, because health care is important and should be acknowledged and protected by the State. The role of a right is to reinforce and further positive aims. In doing so, they do their best to ignore what a right really is: a validation of the use of force.

The concrete role of a right is to designate when force is justified in a social context. When we state a “right to self-ownership,” what we are concretely saying is that the individual is justified in using force to resist anyone who wishes to claim partial or complete ownership over him or her. That is the entirety of what a right entails.

We can now see that the rights and freedoms of a collectivist nature claimed by statists, such as the “right to health care” or the “freedom from fear,” can only mean fighting against the individual’s rights and freedom. If we say that we should be free from fear, what does that mean? Obviously it does not mean that any single individual should be free from fear, as there are a multitude of things that people fear, many of which contradict each other (for instance, some people might fear a moralist society, others might fear a licentious society). The only monopoloid entity that can dictate what kinds of fear one must be free from, is the State. Therefore, any statement of rights or freedoms that are collectivist in nature, are statist in nature.

This would mean that rights cannot exist without the State. But this is tantamount to saying that a stateless society cannot exist, as society itself cannot exist without the existence of rights as implicit or explicit rules. Since stateless societies have existed and persisted successfully throughout history, we must conclude that the principle that rights are statist in nature must be wrong. Even the democratic States of today, which exist in blatant violation of individual rights, still recognize murder and theft as grave crimes: they simply omit to condemn them when committed by the State.

Real rights, on the other hand, are individualist in nature. When we claim the right of self-ownership, we are talking about the fact that all individuals own their bodies and minds (whether there is a distinction between the self and the body is irrelevant here, as even if there isn’t, we can still speak of the invalidity of claims of ownership made by other people). We are not speaking about any nebulous concept of “ownership of society” or “ownership of the means of production.” We are talking about the individual’s right to control his own life, and to cooperate with others in order to fulfill his values.

This leads us to a further problem. As I mentioned, all rights are predicated in some way on the use of force, without exception. This basic fact is often obscured by statists because of the bureaucratic distance between democratic action and the implementation of force by the State. Market Anarchists accept this because they know rights exist in order to protect the freedom of the individual. We accept that one may be justified in shooting an intruder because we naturally see people whose values can only be fulfilled by initiating force, invaders, as being counter to general freedom, peace and order, and therefore our own freedom and peace.

When I describe a man as an invader, I cast no reflection upon him; I simply state a fact, Nor do I assert for a moment the moral inferiority of the invader’s desire. I only declare the impossibility of simultaneously gratifying the invader’s desire to invade and my desire to be let alone. That these desires are morally equal I cheerfully admit, but they cannot be equally realized. Since one must be subordinated to the other, I naturally prefer the subordination of the invader’s, and am ready to co-operate with non-invasive persons to achieve that result.

This quote by Benjamin Tucker is not completely correct. While we acknowledge that, from a purely moral standpoint, all value systems are “equal” in the sense that they are all subject to causal laws in the same way, we readily admit (as does Tucker) that they are not all equal from the standpoint of social ethics. The invader’s values are socially undesirable because they break people’s rights. This is why we are justified in banding together and use force in order to repel invaders. Anarchists are not against organized protection, but rather against monopoloid, coercive “protection” based on arbitrary collectivist rules.

3 thoughts on “Why people’s beliefs about rights are wrong. {part 1/2}

  1. […] that a right is a positive obligation on yourself towards others, but that is a statist concept. As I have discussed before, from an Anarchist perspective, all that a right means is that we (as individuals, and by extension […]

  2. Ned Netterville June 28, 2012 at 11:54

    What do you mean by “justified.” And by whom is it (anything) “justified?” Just curious.

    • Francois Tremblay June 28, 2012 at 12:29

      An act of force is accepted or rejected (by society, by the courts, etc) on the basis of whether it is believed to be justified or not. All it means is that there exists sufficient reason to allow it to happen without negative consequences to the perpetrator. Such sufficient reasons must always exist, by virtue of logic: my position is that we should follow Tucker’s theorem in determining them.

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