"The champions of socialism call themselves progressives, but they recommend a system which is characterized by rigid observance of routine and by a resistance to every kind of improvement. They call themselves liberals, but they are intent upon abolishing liberty. They call themselves democrats, but they yearn for dictatorship. They call themselves revolutionaries, but they want to make the government omnipotent. They promise the blessings of the Garden of Eden, but they plan to transform the world into a gigantic post office. Every man but one a subordinate clerk in a bureau. What an alluring utopia! What a noble cause to fight!" ~ Ludwig von Mises
All Men Are Created Equal
Column by tzo.
Exclusive to STR
Near the end of "The Failed Theory of Relativity," I wrote:
"There must be universal objective human values and ethics that are inextricably tied to human existence and grounded in empirical fact that apply to us all. Exploring what some of them may be is beyond the scope of this little essay…."
It is now time to explore and define universal, objective ethics in order to provide a firmer foundation for that previous effort.
The foundation of voluntaryism is the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP), wherein "aggression" is defined as the initiation of physical force against non-aggressing persons or property, the threat of such, or fraud upon such persons or their property. Critics of the idea that society can be organized in a voluntary manner sans a coercive central government don’t believe the NAP is anything that can be applied to real life.
It is idealistic, utopian, etc. It assumes that no one will act badly, and it doesn’t allow a person to defend himself, etc.
But these typical criticisms fail to show a proper understanding of the principle, and so this exploration is an attempt to remedy that. I intend to show that the NAP is the objective end result of a chain of logic derived from axiomatic propositions and is the embodiment of objective ethics.
I will begin by proposing the existence of Human Alpha, the sole inhabitant of the planet. Then Axiom A is, as they say, axiomatic: Alpha has the ability to do absolutely anything he is able to do.
Starting with this axiom, I propose to define the concept of a “right” as being a derivative of this axiomatic human “ability.”
So the derivative Theorem A reads: Alpha has the right to do whatever he is able to do.
Human rights are usually considered within the context of interactions between human beings, but there are many actions taken by you, the reader, which are performed in isolation—that is to say, without affecting other human beings. There, you just took a breath. Do you have the ability, hence the right, to breathe? I hope you answered in the affirmative, or else you must admit that someone else has the right to stop you from breathing.
But if someone else indeed has the ability to prevent you from drawing a breath, does that mean he has the right to do so? At this point in our currently unfinished chain of logic, the answer would be yes. But let’s temporarily put that question aside, because we haven’t yet transitioned from the considerations of lone individuals to those of interacting individuals.
Alpha, alone on the planet, represents a special case of human action wherein there is no one else around to prevent him from doing whatever he wants. Even if someone else, in theory, might have the ability or right to stop him from acting, that someone else does not exist. Therefore, there is no other conclusion than Theorem A.
Now let’s add Human Beta to the mix. If Beta also exists in isolation then he also exists in accordance with Axiom A and Theorem A, and because of this we are led immediately to Axiom B: All Men Are Created Equal. I have capped all the words, because this is The Most Important and Fundamental Axiom Known to Humankind.
But in what sense are All Men Are Created Equal?
They are equal to the extent of what can be deduced from Axiom A and Theorem A. Alpha may be able to jump higher or may be stronger or smarter than Beta, but both have the equal, innate, inalienable right to do whatever they wish to do within the limits of their physical capabilities.
This is absolutely irrefutable.
But of course when Alpha and Beta meet, there is the potential for conflict. An action performed by one may affect the other in a negative manner, causing him to not be able to exercise his full complement of human rights based on his own unique abilities. On the surface, this seems to produce an intractable problem for even the simplest two-person world, but there is a logical solution.
A conflict occurs if Alpha acts in a manner that restricts the actions of Beta. Does this mean that Alpha has more human rights than does Beta? But if both had equal human rights before they meet, how can one suddenly have more rights than the other after they meet?
Well, he can’t. Innate, inalienable human rights cannot be lost due to circumstance. They do not morph or disappear due to human interaction. Axiom B is inviolate.
The only logical solution is to reformulate Theorem A in such a manner so as to take into account the existence of other human beings who are all characterized by Axiom B.
Theorem B: Every human being has the right to do whatever he is able to do as long as he does not restrict the same universal right of any other human being.
This refinement allows Axiom B to hold. It can also be seen that Theorem A was merely a special case of Theorem B, wherein the number of human beings was set equal to one. Theorem B holds up just fine for the solitary human, but can be stated in a simpler form as Theorem A.
We have, so far, built a logical chain for determining human rights, and those who act in a manner consistent with this reasoning are logically correct, and I am going to define being “logically correct” as “right.” Violating Theorem B is illogical, and so being illogical is “wrong.” When the words “right” and “wrong” are used according to this logical derivation when assigning value to human action, then we have an objective definition and usage of value statements.
Oughtses and ises are seen here as not being separated by an unbridgeable abyss, as is often claimed by those philosophers under the Humean influence who would reduce all ethics to subjective speculation. ¡Viva! objective ethics.
Of course there will always be those individuals who will choose to act illogically and purposefully violate the human rights of others. This empirical fact cannot be ignored if this model of ethics is to be a reasonable description of a reality populated with human beings.
If Beta aggresses against Alpha, what does Theorem B allow Alpha to do with regard to his own self-preservation? Must the ethical Alpha not allow himself to retaliate with violence in self-defense because he would be restricting the innate human rights of Beta?
Not at all. Axiom B provides the solution here, as Axiom B must hold at all times. Just as the speed of light in a vacuum provides the bedrock foundation for the physical universe, Axiom B is the unshakeable base of the ethical universe. Everything must adjust itself in order to account for the fact that All Men Are Created Equal.
When Beta aggresses against Alpha, he seems to want to endow himself with more human rights than has Alpha. But we have already pointed out that innate, inalienable human rights cannot be lost due to circumstance.
So just as Theorem A had to be adjusted to Theorem B in order to account for a multiplicity of human beings all endowed by Axiom B, now Theorem B must be adjusted to account for human beings whose actions violate the logic of these axioms, again with the stipulation that Axiom B remains untouched.
Theorem C: Every human being has the right to do whatever he is able to do as long as he does not restrict the same universal right of any other human being, unless another human being acts in a manner that restricts his rights, in which case the violator also loses his rights in an identical manner so as to preserve Axiom B.
By initiating violence, the aggressor is subject to violent retribution. All Men Are Created Equal and must remain so at all times.
I have used the word “aggression” to describe how one human being may restrict the rights of another. Going back to the question we set aside earlier, it seems that if someone were to claim the right to prevent you from breathing, he would no doubt have to resort to initiating force—to aggress against you—in order to enforce his “right.” But now we have Theorem C to illustrate that this aggressor does not possess this as a right, since aggression against another individual is wrong.
But there is still one more detail to work out before we arrive at our final destination. We have defined the wrongness of human actions that restrict the human rights of other individuals, but we must make a further important distinction about these actions in order to be precise.
It is possible—inevitable, even—to restrict the rights of another by means other than aggression. The very existence of other human beings in the vicinity of an individual reduces the scope of his available activities. The spaces occupied by those individuals represent volumes of space that he may not occupy. By occupying these spaces, the others are not aggressing against the individual, and so this is an inevitable restriction of every individual’s human rights and is a natural consequence of there being a multiplicity of human beings.
We can then go on and extend this argument beyond individual persons to any personal property, stating that persons and their justly acquired property both exert an inevitable, natural restriction to other individuals’ human rights.
(Now, personal property is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish, and I am not going to consider the particulars of that right now, although it is perhaps the most important issue when considering human rights. We’ll work our way down there eventually, but for now we’ll leave it a bit fuzzy.)
Every other restriction to human rights that is imposed beyond the restrictions that naturally flow out of the consequences of individuals and their property are illogical and unjust. We can label these actions as “aggression,” and then we can put the final refinement on Theorem C, and call it Theorem D.
Theorem D: Every human being has the right to do whatever he is able to do as long as he does not restrict the same universal right of any other human being through aggression, unless another human being acts in a manner that restricts his rights through aggression, in which case the violator also loses his rights in an identical manner so as to preserve Axiom B.
And so we have logically derived the Non-Aggression Principle. Here is an existing formulation that can be used for comparison:
"No one may threaten or commit violence ('aggress') against another man's person or property. Violence may be employed only against the man who commits such violence; that is, only defensively against the aggressive violence of another. In short, no violence may be employed against a nonaggressor. Here is the fundamental rule from which can be deduced the entire corpus of libertarian theory." ~Murray Rothbard
And from the NAP emerges the Natural Law—an objective, logically derived universal guideline for ethical human interactions. Ethical actions are those that are aligned with the Natural Law.
The Natural Law is an extremely simple concept to understand, as it consists of a single, logically-derived prohibition: Don’t aggress against others. After that, every human being is free to do whatever he deems fit.
The Natural Law is the logical basis for human ethics and justice. It is only mysterious when men do not understand the objective definitions of the key terms “law,” “ethics,” “rights,” “property,” “right,” “wrong,” “aggression,” and “equality.”
And government, that organization whose very existence depends upon the constant violation of Natural Law, depends upon men not understanding these concepts. Now you know why the subject of Natural Law is not touched upon in public schools, except perhaps when it is being ridiculed.
The term “law” refers to government-mandated Positive Law in the government-mandated public school system. This body of fiat law is infinitely more voluminous than is Natural Law’s single prohibition against aggression, and much of it is dedicated to creating loopholes in the Natural Law through which government personnel can drive their trucks and tanks.
The Natural Law is a powerful Truth that governments cannot tolerate. They have been trying to discredit this particular Truth for at least the majority of the last three millennia, and they continue on today with the vigorous effort of trying to stamp it out once and for all.
Some truths are discovered, only to be subsequently lost. But a lost truth does not disappear, it merely waits to be discovered once again. And to those who attempt to destroy the truth, they are on a mission impossible and cannot succeed no matter how many of them get together to sign the death certificate.
"The natural law always buries its undertakers." ~Étienne Gilson