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Through John Galt in Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand said: "The source of man's rights is not divine law or congressional law, but the law of identity. A is A - and Man is Man. Rights are conditions of existence required by man's nature for his proper survival." She also wrote that a right "is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action in a social context. There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man's right to his own life." Are these ideas accurate and logical - that we need rights to exist and that there is only one fundamental right?

Let's say that I see someone starving but I don't have any money to give them to buy food. I see you walking down the street so I take your wallet and give the starving person your money. Clearly, most would consider that an immoral thing to do. After all, I didn't own your money - you did. In the simplest terms, that's what it means to have a "right" to something. If I own it, I can give it away and, similarly, if I don't own it, I can't give it away. Now expand that logic to government. Government claims it has the rights to take money from someone and give it to someone else. Where did they get this right? Well, they got it from the people - people elected them to give them the power to do this. But here's a mind-twister: did the people have that right to give it away in the first place? After all, if the people, on their own, didn't have the right to take money from someone and give it to someone else, how could they have given that right to the government to do it? Additionally, if the government/politicians didn't get that right from the people voting for them, where did they get it?

Take another example. Let's say your neighbor walks up to you and, because he thinks you're a bad person, puts handcuffs on you and locks you in the basement of his home for months. Did he have the "right" to do that? Of course not. What if he invited everyone in the neighborhood to come and hear your side of the story, and then his, and they all agreed that you should remain locked in his basement? Does he have the right now? One would hope not. So if he didn't have the right to lock you up initially nor did he have the right when everyone in the neighborhood agreed with him, how is it that he can vote for politicians and give them the right to do it?

In other words, under what rational or moral basis can someone claim to give away something he doesn't have? Putting aside the bromide "because it's always been done that way," under what logic can you delegate a right that you do not possess in the first place? Libertarians will argue that every individual has the moral right to self-defense (i.e., to defend their own life), so they can properly delegate that responsibility to someone else like the government. (This is the basis of their argument for a limited government - only operating in self-defense of individual rights.) OK, fair enough. But does that logic apply anywhere else? The libertarian/anarchocapitalist Murray Rothbard even suggested that "the criminal, or invader, loses his own right to the extent that he has deprived another man of his. If a man deprives another man of some of his self-ownership or its extension in physical property, to that extent does he lose his own rights." How can the agent (e.g., government) have more power than the principal (e.g., the people/individual)? What is the source of rights, or don't they exist at all? What would society look like without the concept of rights? Is it an intellectual cop-out (or perhaps even intellectual dishonesty) that the final answer of this politician is "Why don't we leave it this way? We disagree."?

Government is magic (5-minute video)


Original posting by Braincrave Second Life staff on Feb 7, 2011 at http://www.braincrave.com/viewblog.php?id=460

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