Reason as the Leading Motive

Rights and Responsibilities

Posted by Jerry on November 14, 2006

In an essay written in the 1960s, Ayn Rand said, “The concept of individual rights is so new in human history that most men have not grasped it fully to this day.”

We are now in 2006 and I say that her assessment still holds true. One has to only look at the United States as a prime example: The notion of individual rights is so badly understood, so inconsistently upheld, so grossly interpreted in the land that was the first to recognize individual rights and establish the government for the protection of these rights. (Of course, I choose not to mention other countries–such as India–as examples because even a rational discussion of the concept of individual rights is not possible in their contexts.)

The US now has a plethora of “rights”: the right to minimum wage, the right to healthcare, animal rights, environmental rights, and whatever else you fancy.

“The growth of newly promulgated rights,” Rand had said, entails that “people do not notice the fact that the meaning of the concept [of rights] is being reversed.” People do not notice that the arbitrary creation of rights in fact negate authentic rights.

Rights pertain only to action not things. One has the freedom to act–which implies freedom from physical force or interference that prevent, obstruct, or deny that action. One has the right to earn or act in accordance to obtaining and owning a car; but one has no right to a car. One has the right to life, which means the right to act toward self-sustenance. All other rights flow from the right to life. Every man, given his specific nature and identity, has to exist in a specific manner. Rights provide man with the moral conditions, the freedom, and the protection to live in the manner appropriate to his nature, i.e., the nature of a rational, volitional being.

An often cited phrase is “rights come with responsibilities.” Citing this phrase reveals a lack of understanding the concept and application of rights. As Rand said, rights give us the freedom to act and the freedom from force. Two important implications arise from this principle: one is that rights are negated when force is introduced. And the other more important one is that no one’s legitimate rights contradict or conflict with each other.

One man’s legitimate rights cannot and do not conflict with another man’s legitimate rights. If there is a conflict, that implies the presence of force; however, the presence of force negates the existence of rights. Thus, having reached a contradiction, it should be evident that some premise being held is false.

When one claims that rights come with responsibilities, one is implying that one’s practice of a right could potentially conflict with the practice of another man’s rights. This is patently false. The moment someone has stepped outside the boundaries of one’s rights and has violated another man’s rights, his actions have initiated force and have become illegitimate. Insofar as this has not occurred, every man is free–without limits–to exercise his rights.

Take for example my right to free expression, which I choose to exercise by criticizing the alleged prophet Muhammed. I am well within my rights to freely criticize Muhammed as a hack, a vicious killer, a local rogue, a misogynist, and a liar. I am also well within my rights to draw funny and insulting caricatures of this man and publish them in newspapers. However, I step outside the boundaries of my rights the moment I first attack a muslim, initiate force against a muslim, or make threatening calls to incite violence against muslim for no reason or provocation. At this point, I have become a criminal.

Demanding that I remain “responsible” in the practice of my rights is merely another way of saying I should not exercise my rights freely and to its fullest extent. It also betrays a lack of understanding that there is a clear and distinct boundary between exercising rights and initiating force, between a law abiding man and a criminal.

Demanding that I remain “responsibile” in the practice of my rights implies that the exercise of my rights is in fact an initiation of force against another man (and so I should be “careful” in how I exercise it) and that I am not a law-abiding man but a criminal that should be reigned in. The underlying premise that is wholly accepted is that one man’s right can conflict with another man’s rights, and hence, everyone should be “careful” or “responsible” in exercising their respective rights.

Rights and responsibilities are unrelated concepts that are forcefully being combined in a package deal so as to subvert or negate the very concept of rights. It is a lie that is told so often that people now believe it to be the truth: that rights in fact do come with responsibilities.

The moral distinction is clear: you are either a criminal or you are not. You are either within your rights, in which case you act freely, or you have initiated force, in which case you should be reigned in. You either practice your rights legitimately–in which case, no one has a business telling you that you should be responsibile in the practice of your legitimate rights–or you have stepped outside the boundaries protected by your rights and you are now a criminal.

Now, in the context of animal rights, man is automatically the criminal. If animals are granted rights (against the nature of animals and the concept of rights), then their rights will necessarily conflict with those of human rights, which means the presence of force. In such a case, it is only humans that will be regarded as criminals, not animals, because only humans can choose their actions and be held responsible for them. Thus, proferring rights to animals not only negates the rights of humans (because it brings these rights into conflict) but also creates criminals out of humans, and moreover, demands that humans learn to practice their rights “responsibly,” which means, surrender your rights entirely.


3 Responses to “Rights and Responsibilities”

  1. Ayn Rand said, “The concept of individual rights is so new in human history that most men have not grasped it fully to this day.”

    Yes. And, even fewer have grasped the responsibility of forgoing their too often purported rights in order to ensure a future for humankind.

    Let me tell you a story of one philosopher who did know how:

    It’s a story about philosophy. It’s a story thousands of years old. It’s a story that is true. It’s a story that will be retold as long as there are humans.

    Alexander the Great, the most powerful man in the world, more powerful than all the presidents who ever lived and who will ever live, all of them combined; Alexander the Great, the son of Philip of Macedonia who conquered the Greeks and became their king; Alexander the Great who was tutored by Aristotle, Alexander who conquered the whole of the known world, Alexander the Great who killed several of his brothers to become Philip’s successor, Alexander the Great had heard of a great philosopher whose name was Diogenes.

    Alexander the Great sought out Diogenes, as an advisor, hoping to gain him for his own needs, and he and his men chased his kingdom to discover where he might be.

    Alexander finally found Diogenes lying on a rock in the morning sun warming his body. Alexander and his men came upon Diogenes, and Alexander not sure if this was indeed the philosopher about whom he had heard, said, “I seek a philosopher named Diogenes, would you be such a man?”

    Diogenes looked up, and responded, “Yes, I am such a man, and one who lies on the ground before you like a dog.”

    Alexander, shaken by this response re-asserted his stallion-like manliness, stating, “Oh Diogenes, I have searched my kingdom for you. I am Alexander, King of the Greeks, the Son of Philip of Macedonia who conquered the Greeks. Diogenes, there is little that is beyond my command as King. Is there any way I can pay tribute to you? Is there anything I can do for you, Diogenes? Tell me, Diogenes, what can Alexander do for you?”

    To which Diogenes responded, “Yes, Alexander, son of Philip, there is something you can do for me… Step out of the sunlight that warms my body.”

    Diogenes knew how to say, no, regardless of the temptation to command legions of men and own half the world.

    Don Robertson, The American Philosopher
    Limestone, Maine

    An Illustrated Philosophy Primer for Young Readers
    Precious Life – Empirical Knowledge
    The Grand Unifying Theory & The Theory of Time

  2. […] Rights and Responsibilities […]

  3. […] a similar subject, Leitmotif says: “When one claims that rights come with responsibilities, one is implying that one’s […]

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