Rights Are Santa Claus

Column by new Root Striker Dabooda.

I question the usefulness of the idea that people have natural, god-given, inalienable human rights.  It's been given a fair trial over the last several centuries, and it doesn't work.

As philosophers have noted, "rights" are a moral concept, without existence outside the human mind.  In the context of a particular moral code, one may properly speak of doing what is morally right as "a moral right," with the understanding that such a "right" imposes no obligation on anyone besides those who subscribe to that identical moral code.    But that is not the sense in which men commonly speak of "their rights."  They mean something grander, something that is universally possessed by all men, by virtue of -- what?  God's grace, man's nature as a rational being, Human Nature, the legacy of the Founding Fathers, or pure wishful thinking?  Take your pick -- they are all equally worthless.

Possession of a "right" has never protected men from the aggression of others, particularly the aggression of those who style themselves "governments". What has actually done the job but never received the credit is the moral choice of civilized people not to initiate the use of force against one another, and to defend themselves (and each other) from the human predators among us. When the idea of individual responsibility for the defense of life, liberty and property falls into disfavor, your society will not be free much longer. The men who step forward to "protect your rights" for you will soon become your masters. And so it has come to pass, time and again.

Libertarians hold to the idea of natural rights because they crave the behavioral consequences: they wish everyone would behave as though such things as "rights" actually exist, and must be respected. True enough: if everyone shares a fantasy, things will run smoothly until the first child stands up to declare that the emperor has no clothes. (Or until the first guy like Dick Cheney stands up to declare that he does indeed have the "right" to put people in cages and torture them to death.)

The problem with such fantasies is that they prevent us from becoming aware of exactly what forces actually work to make people free or unfree. As long as you believe in Santa Claus, you will not understand that it is your parents who love you and want to give you presents. As long as you believe in the literal truth of the Christian Bible, you will never be able to accept the fact of evolution, or even the fact that the earth is not flat. And as long as you believe in "rights," you will never realize that individual choices (i.e., to resist coercion) are the force that wins and preserves the freedoms which men claim to be their “Natural Rights.”

"Rights" do not exist. The power of choice does. Men are free to act with respect for the individual liberties of others, or to act without respect. There is no such force as a natural right that will reward virtuous action, or punish evil. There is only one force in human affairs. That is the force of individual will. Freedom is a choice, not a right.

The worst feature of the fable of "rights" is the belief that we are entitled to receive them -- by God or Nature or Society, or by great-grampa's victory on the battlefield -- some force outside oneself. This leads people to believe that it is the duty of that outside force to protect and enforce one's rights. Wait for God to protect you from a mugger, and you'll have quite a wait. Likewise, Mother Nature, or Society, or the Constitution. Your "right" not to be mugged is of no use to you, in the face of any random thug who doesn't believe in such nonsense. (Which makes him smarter than you.) So if you prefer not to be mugged, it is not useful to count on your "rights;" better to examine your choices. Your choice to carry a gun or to avoid dark alleys will be of infinitely more use to you than your "right" not to be mugged.

In a way, it is enormously liberating to give up the idea of "rights." You don't need to give up your own moral vision of good and evil, right and wrong. You just have to realize that it is individuals standing up for their own moral choices who are the only defense of liberty. You don't have to wait for someone else to deliver whatever "right" you believe you are entitled to enjoy.  Make the choice to defend those freedoms you value.  And if someone tries to stomp on your freedom, you will have to choose what to do about it.  You can accept the stomping, and lose your freedom, by default.  Or you can fight back.  If you do so impulsively, stupidly, ineffectively, you can still lose and get stomped.  But with planning, ingenuity and perseverance, you can win. Especially if you have help from like-minded friends and allies. Maybe you won't, but it's a chance, and you decide if it's a chance worth fighting for. Your own choices are the only control you have over your life; they are also the source of any security or liberty you will achieve.

Fighting the gangsters (the worst of whom call themselves "governments") who want to rob or enslave you is dangerous. They will be perfectly happy to imprison, torture and murder you to make sure no one else dares to question their authority. Unfortunately, safety isn't always an option. Life isn't safe. Bad, dangerous people exist, and some of them mean to take what you have, by threat or by force. You WILL have to deal with them. Resisting them is dangerous, but giving them everything they want, your property and your liberty, is also dangerous. Do you think they will take LESS from you next year, once you submit to them? Won't the tribute they collect from you now strengthen them in the future, and weaken you?  It sure would be nice if someone "out there" would just take care of the problem for you -- except every time people set up an organization (i.e., a government) to protect themselves from bad guys, all the SMART bad guys join the organization, worm their way to the top, and take up looting where the last bad guys left off.

The whole idea of natural rights, like religion, has the advantage of being a ready-made code of conduct for people who haven't figured things out for themselves. Like religion, it works to restrain some amount of human savagery. Just as some amount of juvenile savagery is restrained by the belief that Santa Claus will leave lumps of coal in the Christmas stockings of bad boys and girls. But what will restrain us when we grow up and see through the myths with which our parents, priests and politicians have tried to con us?

What are we to put in place of belief in rights? The ethics of non-aggression, peaceful voluntarism, and free trade. And a belief in choice. You may not have "rights," but you do have all the abilities and qualities of an individual human being -- which is all anyone else has. That means you have the ability to make choices and to direct your own action. You can choose what moral code you prefer to live by, and you can do so to the best of your ability. You can choose to respect other people's equal liberty to work to achieve their own values. You can choose to associate yourself with other people who share your important values, and you may enter into agreements with them to mutually defend and support one another against aggressors. And if you do this well, you will have all the same security that the notion of "rights" is supposed to give you, only with clear understanding of what your security actually depends upon. A child who understands that his gifts come from his parents is better equipped to deal with the real world than one who continues to believe in Santa Claus.

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Dabooda's picture
Columns on STR: 1


Plant Immigration Rights Supporter's picture

This is an interesting article. It is valuable to question long held ideas. But I do have a question. In the absence of the concept of natural rights of one kind or another, how would one define “aggression”? For example, if whilst you were away from home I knocked down your home and built a bypass through it with my yellow bulldozer, how is this aggression if we do not have a concept such as “property rights”? What, exactly, am I aggressing against?

B.R. Merrick's picture

Maybe it doesn't need to be called "agression," if that word no longer has any meaning absent "property rights." I would think all you would have to do is ask yourself, "What kind of thug does this to another person?" Humans possess empathy, which is a natural phenomenon. The mere mention of someone's house being bulldozed, absent any conception of "natural rights," is enough to make me angry. I call it agression, and perhaps agression, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, perhaps not.

"Your choice to carry a gun or to avoid dark alleys will be of infinitely more use to you than your 'right' not to be mugged." This is the crux of the matter.

I see this article as another affirmation of our common humanity, as a reminder of how little we need systems of coercion to prevent future bulldozings. Most people would never bulldoze, and once they wake up, perhaps, as is now happening with sudden ferocity across the Middle East, they will realize their full potential as members of the human race and put a stop to the bulldozing, agression, or violation of "natural rights," however one wishes to phrase it.

It all comes down to the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you wish to be treated. Never bulldozing another individual's house goes without saying, if the Golden Rule is practiced. This rule is not based on "natural rights," but empathy.

I'm sure Suverans2 will be stopping by, and I'm sure things will get a lot more interesting then.


Suverans2's picture

G'day B.R. Merrick,


Sympathy, would be the discovery channel, i.e. I know how you would feel, if such-and-such were done to you, because I know how I would feel if it was done to me.

It is understanding what you do not want done to you, against your will/without your consent, that brings to light to you what you should not do to other men against their will/without their individual consent. This is how natural rights are discovered.

Paul's picture

How did people deal with this issue before they thought they had rights? It's pretty easy, actually. You don't have to have a PhD to figure it out.

Dabooda has the correct fix on reality:
"There is only one force in human affairs. That is the force of individual will. Freedom is a choice, not a right."

Excellent first article, by the way!

See also my article, "Life Without Rights":

Suverans2's picture

Yeah, Dabooda, and while your there be sure to read all the comments as well.

Suverans2's picture

G'day Dabooda,

If you take the time to carefully analyze and intelligently answer Plant Immigration Rights Supporter's very logical questions, i.e. "...how is this aggression if we do not have a concept such as “property rights”? What, exactly, am I aggressing against?", it will take you a giant step in the "right" direction. [Pun intended]

It's really all about "property rights", that is to say, "a just claim" to one's property, (and no one else's without his consent), and a man's life and liberty are just as much his "property" as all his tangible (touchable) possessions are. What we have all seemingly forgotten is that, because they are our "property", we have the prerogative to "convey or donate [our life and/or liberty], as [we] may please." In other words, you have the right to "subject yourself to the dominion of a government".

tzo's picture

"What are we to put in place of belief in rights? The ethics of non-aggression, peaceful voluntarism, and free trade."

The ethics of non-aggression, peaceful voluntarism, and free trade are Santa Claus.

So it's turtles, all the way down.

How about just considering rights as what the ethics of non-aggression, peaceful voluntarism, and free trade logically define? This set of empirical norms is how the human race continues to exist. They have been discovered, and are not analogous to Santa Claus.

Yes, they are abstract. You can't touch or see them. But then, so is the number 7. But these types of abstract concepts map onto existence in a useful manner, and are eminently practical. They can be used to make useful models to explain the world around us.

The numbers do not exist in reality, but only through the ability of the human mind to create abstractions. Same with rights. Same with Santa. The difference comes in their usefulness in describing reality.

Plant Immigration Rights Supporter's picture

Tzo, very well said. Peace, liberty, freedom, these too are all abstract.

Michael Kleen's picture

I totally agree, Tzo, I couldn't have said it better myself! Although I will say that I thought this column was well written and a good inaugural contribution.

Darkcrusade's picture

Always loved the ' turtles all the way down ' story/joke/laugh.

Dabooda's picture

Bad news, Rootster tzo: I think today I will have breakfast with you. (Do I hear a wailing in the distance, "No! No! Tzay it isn't Tzo!"? Yeps.)

Had you read my essay a little more closely, you might have noted that essay's "thesis statement," to wit:

"I question the usefulness of the idea that people have natural, god-given, inalienable human rights."

I said "usefulness." I did not say "existence" of the idea. Of course the idea exists, or we wouldn't be talking about it, duh?

The question is, does the idea of "natural rights" describe some fact of reality -- any more than is described by the idea of Santa Claus? I say it does not. "Rights" are meaningful only when derived from a particular context of "right" and "wrong." Since different moral standards do exist, it behooves us to define which one we are using when we speak of things as being rights or wrongs. The purported universality of "natural rights" is problematic when people who do have different moral codes argue over whose definition is to prevail -- and presumably be imposed on all people, regardless of their agreement or disagreement with the underlying principles.

The principles that you and I probably agree on, as being our moral rights, derive from our shared acceptance of a moral standard like the non-aggression principle/Golden Rule. Now consider that virtually no one in any government believes in that principle. If they did, they would realize that "government" does not protect the "rights" derived from the Golden Rule; it protects only the "right" of the gang named "the government" to take anything that isn't nailed down (and anything they can pry loose isn't nailed down.) And people look to "government" to respect and defend their "natural rights." Set the fox to guarding the henhouse, hm? (Rootsters! Where's the chicks?)

Our rights proceed from the moral code we accept, not the other way around. When a moral standard is established in a person's mind, his idea of what "rights" he and others possess will be defined thereby. If people continue to accept one of the various authoritarian moral systems as superior to non-aggression, their idea of "rights" will not be to your liking, I guarantee. My conclusion: We should be arguing first and foremost for the non-aggression principle, not for "natural rights."

tzo's picture

OK. One of your points here is that the term "rights" is not sufficient for explaining how people should behave. You prefer to use the definition (as I understand it, anyway) of the term instead of the term itself. That's fine and even necessary if you are trying to explain your point of view to someone. Perhaps "natural law" is a term that has become as polluted as "anarchy." Perhaps the only way to get your point across is to avoid certain terms and just use their definitions. Makes sense.

Of course when people misunderstand terms like "anarchy" and "natural law" it is not the fault of the terms themselves, which existed first, and with clear definitions. But the whole point of human communication is to transfer ideas accurately from one person to another, and in many cases the shorthand way, through simple terms, is insufficient due to vastly differing personal interpretations of those terms. If you're off by one degree from the start, you end up at a completely different destination.

Now, on to morals. Again, definitions matter here. I consider morals to be a set of personal preferences for behavior that will vary from person to person. Ethics is a set of behaviors that conforms to natural law and adheres to natural rights. Many moral beliefs correspond with ethical standards, but not all. It may be morally reprehensible to do many things, but those actions may not be unethical—violations of natural law. (Again, when I use the terms "Natural law" and "Natural rights," just plug in "The ethics of non-aggression, peaceful voluntarism, and free trade."

So some morals are ethical, some are not. For this conversation, I think ethics is the better term to use since it eliminates subjective preferences and behaviors. So does that leave us with ethics, a supposedly objective set of behaviors? I think so, yes.


If they are objective, then they are grounded in fact. This separates them from fantasy. Believing in fact is different from believing in fantasy. Currently, a great percentage of the people on the planet believe in the fantasy of government. It is not real. It is an idea that certain people have the ethical right to violate the natural rights of others. Sheer fantasy. And yet the belief stands. Why? Because the mass of humanity has not yet been brought up with the set of facts that explain why non-aggression, peaceful voluntarism, and free trade are rational behaviors that explain how human society came to be and why these actions are necessary for the continued success of human society. Ignorance, plain and simple.

So from my point of view, which I am attempting to ground in fact as much as I possibly can,

"Our rights proceed from the moral code we accept, not the other way around."

False, false, false.

"When a moral standard is established in a person's mind, his idea of what "rights" he and others possess will be defined thereby. If people continue to accept one of the various authoritarian moral systems as superior to non-aggression, their idea of "rights" will not be to your liking, I guarantee."

Exactly, exactly, exactly.

"My conclusion: We should be arguing first and foremost for the non-aggression principle, not for "natural rights."

So we should argue for "2 + 2," not for "4." OK, whatever works. Don't assume anyone will understand "loaded" terms the same way as do you. That's good advice.

People need to be educated, and until they are, nothing else will work to substantially change the status quo. People either learn how to swim, or they don't. There is no substitute. You can't force a non-swimmer to stay afloat no matter how hard you yell at him. Edjumacation, by whatever (ethical) means necessary.

If I missed the "thesis" of your argument, then it was probably due to the title. Whether or not people understand a concept has nothing to do with its grounding in empirical fact. If no one understands a fact, then yes, it is not very useful. But that does not automatically put the concept on the same level as Santa Claus.

Thanks for the nice lunch, fellow rootster. :>

Dabooda's picture

Thank you for a thought-provoking reply. We are not on the same page, but I think perhaps we are reading the same book, hoping for the same happy ending.

My take on morality, ethics and rights is different from your own. Let me explain these terms as I understand and use them myself.

1. "Morality" is the code of values one uses to make ALL ones decisions. Usually one begins with a "moral standard," which is ones most important value and the organizing principle which establishes ones hierarchy of values. Rand's idea of "man's life as a rational being" is one such standard. "Doing God's will" is another such. "The greatest good of the greatest number," is still another. Or "whatever feels good." Lots more where those came from. Note that some moral standards are actually incompatible with to the non-aggression principle: some religions and all statist moral systems do sanction coercion and therefore require human sacrifices on their altars.

2. "Ethics" is the particular branch of morality which deals with interpersonal relations. How a person may morally deal with other people is the domain of "ethics." Where moral systems are endlessly various, the ethical possibilities are quite limited. Consider: suppose you wish to get an apple from someone. In how many different ways can you accomplish this? I submit, only three, in principle: you can beg for it, trade for it, or steal it. The details of what kind of plea a beggar uses, what goods the trader offers, or what method of coercion the thief employs are inconsequential details. Ethics is where the non-aggression principle comes into play; it sanctions voluntary interpersonal dealings via trade and charity, and forbids the initiation of coercion. There are many interesting consequences and implications of this, but that's going to take another essay to explore. Maybe a book.

3. "Rights" are a simple consequence of ones ethical beliefs, defining and sanctioning what actions are morally proper with regard to other people. For example, if I believe that it is good to trade and good to deal charitably with others, but wrong to steal, then I may speak of my conviction that one has "a moral right" to forcibly resist being robbed. Since this is a popular moral view, I am likely to be upheld in my actions by other members of my community, while the robber will not. This is not a result of any belief in universal human rights -- just a moral belief commonly held by many particular individuals. Unhappily, when people believe that the men who call themselves "government" have a right to rule us, they believe that "government's" "laws" take priority over the Golden Rule. If the thief robbing me happens to be an employee of the IRS or some other branch of "government," my resistance to the robbery will be called "a crime," something that no one has "a right" to do.

While I can agree with you that it would be nice to have a universally recognized, "objective" source of values, ethics and rights, unfortunately it is not possible. All morality is the domain of ideas and choices. Where there is no choice, there is no morality. And ideas only occur in one place: inside an individual human mind. As long as men have free will and may choose their own beliefs, there can be no universal beliefs, or universal morality; only individuals can have beliefs or morality, and with free will they can choose whatever beliefs and morals seem best to them, by their own understanding.

For example, if a man decides that "serving mankind" via the use of "government" is the moral standard he prefers, then his view of both ethics and rights will be skewed to justify whatever actions he believes necessary to achieve his purposes. He will regard the Golden Rule & non-aggression principle as quaint religious superstitions which may be sacrificed whenever it is convenient for his god, the State. He will regard "rights" as gifts from "government," which may be changed or withdrawn by the passage of any "law."

You may object that such a man would be irrational and (according to your moral standard), evil. Sadly, he will have the opposite opinion, believing that anyone who does not share his moral convictions is irrational and evil. And you're both "right," each by his own standard of value. Morality is subjective, not objective. Your vision of objective "natural law" and "natural rights" imposes no obligation on anyone else's beliefs. You can scream, "But they're being irrational!" all day long. Who says everyone is rational? Rationality is another choice each individual makes for himself -- and some choose not to be. Given that men have free will, how could it be otherwise?

Fortunately for all of us, the consequences of our moral choices and our ethical behaviors ARE objective. One is free to choose any moral standard one pleases, but one is not free to avoid the consequences of ones actions. When one practices coercion, the consequences are likely to be resentment, resistance and revenge. Such real consequences, and not any "natural right" are the real force that limits human savagery in the world.

This has been a pleasure. Let us hack at this root some more.

A Liberal in Lakeview's picture

"Our rights proceed from the moral code we accept", claimed Dabooda in a comment added on February 27.

Not true. " 'Rights' do not exist" at all, or so claimed Dabooda in his own essay. They are Santa Claus. Maybe unicorns, too. But if Dabooda clings to the claim that "our rights proceed...", then it must be true that Dabooda is playing a wordgame called equivocation. What he really means is this:

"My entitlements proceed from the moral code that I accept, and these entitlements may be changed by me at will, for the power of choice exists. Furthermore, I am free to act with respect for the individual preferences of others,....or to act without respect. Of course, this would be true even if individuals had rights in the traditional sense. But there is no such force as a natural right that will reward virtuous action, or punish evil. There is only one force in human affairs. That is the force of my individual will. If you dare to challenge it, so be it. May the mightiest will prevail."

So every human is to be his or her own Elohim who harbors the sense of entitlement that is harbored by any spoiled child. Now, Dabooda pretends to oppose "various authoritarian moral systems", but he prescribes a system certain to warm the hearts of tyrants and their sycophants. And why shouldn't it? They already enjoy power and might and so are positioned very well to prevail in the contest of wills that must result from Dabooda's subjectivistic system. So what can be the conclusion of Dabooda's moral code but the intoxification of power among those who adhere to Dabooda's moral code and who acquire the might to "act without respect" for the preferences and choices of others?

Mark Davis's picture

This seems like a long, repetitive strawman argument to me because I don't know anybody that considers the concept of rights to be equivalent to some kind of force-field. As Tzo so succinctly pointed out, right is a term used to describe an abstract concept. What I consider a very useful abstract concept, like the number 7. I appreciate the intention of "keeping it real", as they say, but how do we discuss or even ponder the potential ramifications of, say, non-aggression, without abstract terms to form a philosophy with?

Abstract concepts need not be fantasies like Santa Claus. Santa Claus was created and is generally understood to be a fantasy. The term right evolved as a universally accepted term to describe a concept where people organize social behavior based on commonly accepted parameters. Just because someone violates or doesn't recognize my right to not be aggressed against, doesn't mean that the concept doesn't exist. It does mean, as you accurately pointed out, that I must be ready and willing to defend my rights. So what am I defending? A fantasy?

So the term does seem to have some usefulness.

Still, I did like the article. Keep at it.

Paul's picture

"I don't know anybody that considers the concept of rights to be equivalent to some kind of force-field."

In my opinion, most people think this way. Proof: They act surprised or outraged when government or some individual tramples a "right". In fact they act surprised or outraged when someone even questions a "positive right", which wouldn't be the case if people thought of rights the way you do. Also, the whole notion of a government protecting rights, while commonly held, is utterly ridiculous and just proves people have no logical concept of rights.

"So what am I defending? A fantasy?"

People who don't believe rights exist, or that they are not a useful concept, don't even talk about defending them, since they don't have any to defend. They just act according to their will (within natural constraints, if they have any sense), and get around obstructions to that action however they may.

Suverans2's picture

G'day Mark Davis,

You wrote: "I don't know anybody that considers the concept of rights to be equivalent to some kind of force-field."

Perhaps you missed this, in the article above, "Possession of a "right" has never protected men from the aggression of others..."

Or, perhaps, you read this little gem, elsewhere, "For example, no longer believing this phantasm "right to life" is out there somehow protecting you..."

If these do not demonstrate that Scoobiedoo, and Paul, ("most people think this way"), believe that someone, (though I can't imagine who), must be considering, "the concept of rights to being equivalent to some kind of force-field", I don't know what does.

Mark Davis's picture

The people I know don't think that way, but I see that apparently many others do. If the point was that people who mistakenly believe this way are as mistaken as those who believe in Santa Claus, then I'm in full agreement. I don't agree with lumping in people who correctly identify rights with those that don't.

Suverans2's picture

G'day Mark Davis,

You asked: "So what am I defending? A fantasy?"

A "right" is "an interest or title in an object of property; a just and legal claim to hold, use or enjoy it [that property], or to convey or donate it [that property], as he may please."[1]

You are defending your "property"; your life, liberty and justly acquired possessions are all, your "property", Mark Davis, which is what gives you the "right" to defend it, i.e. a "just and legal claim" to the use of force.

"Each of us has a natural right [a “just claim”]...to defend his person, his liberty, and his property. These are the three basic requirements of life, and the preservation of any one of them is completely dependent upon the preservation of the other two. ~ The Law by Frederic Bastiat

You do not have the "right" use force to defend property that you have taken from another, without his consent, as your government does. However, keep in mind that because your life, liberty and justly acquired property are your "property", you may rightfully "convey[2] it" as you may please, as the above definition points out, and may have ignorantly done so.

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." ~ Benjamin Franklin

Does this make sense to any one here?

[1] Black's Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition (c.1991), page 1324
[2] convey transitive verb ...4. to transfer, as property or title to property, from one person to another ~ Webster's New World College Dictionary, 4th Edition

Mark Davis's picture

Yep, exactly why I asked the question.

Suverans2's picture

G'day "Lackey",

Well, break out the white lightening (pronounced lite'nin) and let's have a party, my friend, there's now, apparently, two of us that this makes sense to.

Mark Davis's picture

So if a group of people organize a society and agree that everyone is entitled to live without being aggressed against, what do you call that concept? Right is a commonly accepted term, but you can call them "natural constraints" or whatever you want. The point is that we must have a term for this concept to even discuss it. Defining what rights are can be problematic, but mostly a matter of semantics. Freedom, liberty, love and hate are abstract concepts that are even more difficult to define. Do you consider the abstract concepts that these terms represent to be fantasies too? Of course the way some people may interpret these terms (falsely) can be considered fantasy. Does that make them useless terms? Or perhaps misunderstood and misused?

Where are you Suverans2?

tzo's picture

"... Or perhaps misunderstood and misused?"


Suverans2's picture

I second the "Yeps", tzo.

Suverans2's picture

G'day Mark Davis,

I'm here, brother, and I have weighed in. And, by the way, I don't think defining what rights are is problematic at all. A "right" is a "just claim".

Mark Davis's picture

I knew that it wouldn't be a problem for brother. Thanks for weighing in.

GeoffreyTransom's picture

In response to the author's point

>>"What are we to put in place of belief in rights? The ethics of non-aggression, peaceful voluntarism, and free trade."

Tzo wrote
>"The ethics of non-aggression, peaceful voluntarism, and free trade are Santa Claus."

I think the point that the author was trying to make is that notions of 'rights' (which I happen to believe in) are taken as an underlying rationale for voluntaryism, but should not be; that is, that it's mistaken to view the proscription against doing unmerited harm to another's property as something that stems from the existence of his/her/its rights.

In contrast, the author offers "non-aggression, peaceful voluntarism, and free trade" as a set of behaviours which, when observed widely, will result in a society in which unmerited harm to others will be minimised.

It's a 'stocks vs flows' idea; we may or may not have a stock of 'rights' - and whether we have them or not, they may be meaningless if we are not able to prevent them from being infringed. However we can - with probability 1 - participate in ongoing activities that embody values which will result in a reduction in unmerited harm to third parties.

I'm one of the 'rights exist ex nihilo' types, but life shows clearly that vermin like Cheney, Obama, Blair and all those who live in palaces at our expense, have no qualms about using the machinery of oppression to take whatever they can whenever they feel like. Likewise, they have no trouble finding corrupt vermin like Yoo, Bybee, Scalia and so forth to give a pseudo-intellectual fig-leaf to their rapine... and of course they have their sturmabteilung at the bottom - scum like Lon Horiuchi who will kill women and children for their masters.

So as the author opined - the existence or otherwise of my 'right' to not be interfered with is not even an interesting philosophical discussion in a world where Obama can decide I'm on his 'extrajudicial assassination' list, and send some tard like Horiuchi to mess up my life with a .50cal and a warrant signed by the likes of Gonzales, Roberts or Alito... or disappear me into the American Gulag wherein I can be tortured to death and some subhuman scumbag like Yoo will write an essay about how that's just jim-dandy and Constitutional and all legal-like.

As to the idea that defence of one's rights is tantamount to 'defending a fantasy' (as Mark Davis opined); History shows us that people defend delusions and fantasies all the time - from the most idiotic blather about some jealous, stupid, genocidal Sky Wizard, all the way through to primitive stupidity about 'nation' and 'volk'. In fact one of the precursors (arguably a necessary condition) for atrocity is a group who can be made to believe something absurd.

We have gotten past the stage where we behave ourselves because of a fear of Hell, and where we think that the beauty of a sunset is down to God (at least that's the case in the developed world - not in the US where 68% of people think that angels exist in real life).

The next big idea that people need to internalise is the old idea of 'gains from trade' - that voluntary trade results in two winners; that obtaining one's desires through contract is efficient (as is truth: that's the only reason to value it above alternatives).

To me, the author seemed to be making a perfectly sensible point about the pointlessness of being surprised that there is a subset of humanity who choose - quite deliberately - to attempt to live by parasitic means, and that they routinely do unmerited harm to us in the process.

To re-frame Diderot for the 21st century: "Man will be free when the last politician is bludgeoned to death with the severed arm of the last police sniper."

Suverans2's picture

That's okay GeofferyTransom, a higher percentage than that don't even know what an "angel" actually is, "a messenger".

AN'GEL, n. [L. angelus; Gr. a messenger, to tell or announce.] 1. Literally, a messenger; one employed to communicate news or information from one person to another at a distance. ~ Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language

Suverans2's picture

G'day Dabooda,

Meaning no disrespect, but it is obvious, after reading your contribution, that you have no idea on Earth what a "right" is, and therefore cannot possibly know what its purpose is. So, let's start at the beginning, with what a "right" is, and, what it is not.

A "right" is a "an interest or title in an object of property; a just and legal claim to hold, use or enjoy it, or to convey or donate it, as he may please[1]", plain and simple. All living beings have a "right" to their own life, liberty and property, which means they have a "just and legal claim" to these things.

Rights are not weapons of force with which to defend one's life, liberty and property, they are what justify, i.e. make just, one's use of force in defending his/her life, liberty and property.

As an example, if you steal Paul's automobile, you will not be "justified" in trying to defend your possession of it, because you do not have a "right" to it, i.e. you do not have a "just and legal claim" to it. And, you will not find any honest men who will assist you in defending your possession of it, because you do not have the "right" to possess it without Paul's consent.

Paul, on the other hand, will be "justified" in using whatever force is necessary to regain his property, because he does have a "right" to it, i.e. a "just and legal claim" to that automobile. And, he, hopefully, will readily find honest men, should he need them, who will assist him in taking it back, because they know he has a "right" to it, that is to say, he has a "just and legal claim" to it.

Are we on the same page, so far, Dabooda? Or, do you, (and apparently B.R. Merrick and Paul), still deny that you have a "just and legal claim" to your life, liberty and justly acquired property?

[1] Black's Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition (c.1991), page 1324

Mark Davis's picture

Your mastery of the English language clears up the subject once again.

Dabooda's picture

Greeting, Rootsters! Welcome to my company! Is a great honor, I assure you. I am stranger here, eager to learn your fascinating primitive customs and rituals! I become stranger and stranger as you get to know me, ha! We shall be great friends, have breakfast together! Suvie, you shall be the first breakfast.

“Rights” are a concept describing and sanctioning a person’s freedom of action in a particular context. (Quoth St. Ayn, more or less.) I am perfectly happy to speak of “moral rights” in the context of a particular moral code. “Legal rights,” “contractual rights,” and “property rights” are also meaningful, in their appropriate contexts. What I do object to is the use of “natural rights” (or human rights, god-given or inalienable rights) outside of any defined moral context.

Those of us who accept the non-aggression principle as a moral good mean one thing when we speak of “our rights,” but people whose guiding moral principle is “obedience to authority” – and there are a LOT of them – mean something else entirely. In their eyes, it is “right” to “obey the law” and absurd to think one could have “a right” to “break the law.” And if “the law” sanctions a violation of something you believe to be your “natural right,” so much the worse for you. Likewise people with religiously-defined moral codes may believe that “right” means doing whatever God prescribed, in the Holy Book of their choice, and they believe that they have “a right” to do so. And no doubt devout Environmentalists believe they have “a right” to do whatever they think will scratch some troublesome itch on Mother Nature’s backside. Context!

You wrote:
“Rights are not weapons of force with which to defend one's life, liberty and property, they are what justify, i.e. make just, one's use of force in defending his/her life, liberty and property.”

I absolutely agree. My point is that ideas about what constitutes “right” or “justice” are not universally agreed-upon. It happens that you and I most likely agree about what constitutes “justice,” and “morally right.” I would have no trouble recognizing and respecting the principles you name your “natural rights.” I call them moral rights, derived from our shared ethical principles, i.e. the Non-aggression principle. But out there in Real Peopleland, the game is played by other rules. You may not like that fact, nor do I, but, our preferences are not the law of the land, or even the “natural law” of the land. Out there, people believe all sorts of absurd things to be “their rights.” You prefer your own definition, of course, and would clearly like to proclaim yourself the universal arbiter of unquestionable truth and official definer of “proper” definitions. You apparently have lackeys among the Rootsers who are willing to cede you that title.

Nups, I don’t think tzo.

Rootsters! Where’s the chicks?

Suverans2's picture

Here's a “chick” for you, Scoobiedoo.

Dabooda's picture

Ah, g'day noble Suvie. I am waiting to see your lackeys once more praise your mastery of language. I am sure they will understand how elegantly and completely you have rebutted my argument. Does this mean we will not be best buddies? (Sniffle.)

Paul's picture

'A "right" is a "an interest or title in an object of property; a just and legal claim to hold, use or enjoy it, or to convey or donate it, as he may please[1]", plain and simple. All living beings have a "right" to their own life, liberty and property, which means they have a "just and legal claim" to these things.'

No, I don't have a "just and legal claim" to anything. I merely will certain things. I live, and take steps to prevent my death (e.g. buy a gun and practice with it), so I continue living. Yeah, it helps that most people have no desire to deprive me of my life, and I act in a way that reinforces that tendency, but that's all there is to it.

Now I have no objection per se to the notion that we may describe all this in a sort of shorthand, calling it a "right". But the reality is, this 18th century concept is no longer helpful for us. It helps the state instead. When people think such preposterous things such as that government's job is to protect "rights", the notion of rights is a prop for government. Suverans, don't you at least agree that it is bad when people think government protects rights?

Suverans2's picture

When, in fact, it doesn't, "it is bad when people think[sic] government protects rights".

"The [government] perverted! And the police powers of the state perverted along with it! The [government], I say, not only turned from its proper purpose, but made to follow an entirely contrary purpose! The [government] has become the weapon of every kind of greed! Instead of checking crime, the [government] itself is guilty of the evils it is supposed to punish!" ~ Adapted from The Law by Frederic Bastiat

You wrote, "...I don't have a "just and legal claim" to anything."

Addendum: Only slaves [voluntary as well as involuntary] have no "just and legal claim" to anything.

Quicpuid acquiritur servo, acquiritur domino. Whatever is acquired by the servant, is acquired for the master. 15 Bin. Ab. 327.

If you are still a 14th Amendment citizen, i.e. a citizen of the United States, you very well may be right, Paul.

"The ultimate ownership of all property is in the State; individual so-called "ownership" is only by virtue of Government, i.e., law, amounting to mere "user" and use must be in acceptance with law and subordinate to the necessities of the State." ~ U.S. Senate Document No. 43, 73rd Congress, 1st Session (c.1933)

Suverans2's picture

"That men should take up arms and spend their lives and fortunes, not to maintain their rights, but to maintain they have not rights, is an entirely new species of discovery..." ~ Thomas Paine

Darkcrusade's picture

Quote ''"Rights" do not exist. The power of choice does. Men are free to act with respect for the individual liberties of others, or to act without respect. There is no such force as a natural right that will reward virtuous action, or punish evil. There is only one force in human affairs. That is the force of individual will. Freedom is a choice, not a right.''

Perhaps you should watch this idiotic show call 1,000 ways to die. There is right and wrong. There is good and evil.There is poetic justice.
Some might call it karma,others maybe the golden rule. I am sure you have some personal recollections of your own where you screwed someone over
and than got screwed over at some latter time.Or you did a good work,and you obtained an unforseen reward.I think those who are aware of this truth are more keenly attuned to it, and observe and reinforced by the reaping of the just desserts.(you reap what you sow.)

In 1000ways to die,this show graphically portrays many people of low morals,criminal,and grifters &c who come to an untimely demise.

Sovereignty is a gift from the number one Sovereign,We are made in his image,
A human being has enormous untapped powers; powers to make new things and to change old things into new forms. A human being may not only own property, but can actually create property. In the last analysis, a thing is not property unless it is owned; and without ownership, there is little incentive to improve anything.

Let's take an extreme case. A robber breaks into your house and threatens you at knife point. You may elect to pass over your valuables without a struggle but you make the decision and you do the passing. If instead of a robber it were a kidnaper after you child there would be a different story but in either case your thoughts and actions are under your own control.

Thousands of men and women have suffered torture and even death without speaking a word that their persecutors tried to make them speak. Your freedom of action may be forbidden, restricted, or prevented by force.

The robber, kidnaper or jailer may bind your hands and feet and put a gag in your mouth. But the fact remains that no amount of force can make you act unless you agree----perhaps with hesitation and regret---to do so.

This brings us to two important points. First individual freedom is the natural heritage of each living person, and second, freedom cannot be separated from responsibility. Your natural freedom---your control over your own life----was born in you along with life itself. It is a part of life itself. No one can give it to you, nor can you give it to someone else. Nor can you hold any other person responsible for your acts. Control simply can't be separated from responsibility; control is responsibility.

Every human act is preceded by a decision to act, and that decision is based on faith. One cannot even think without a deep-seated faith that he exists and faith that there is a supreme standard of good in the universe. This is true of every living person---whether his god is the God of Abraham and Jesus, Allah or Budha, reason or fate, history or astrology, science or goes by any other name. The fact remains that every action of every human being springs from the desire to attain something which he considers to be good---or from the desire to avoid something which he thinks is evil or undesirable.

Since the actions of individuals are determined by their beliefs, it follows that the underlying control of the energies of any group of persons is the philosophy and ethical code by which they live.

No human being can be made to accept the political overseers; a subject or citizen must choose to do so, and generally does, because it feels secure to depend on these superhuman persons who have both the right and the power to control the lives of people assumed to be their natural inferiors.The state is called the government, but it cannot actually govern the individual acts of any person because of the nature of humans. Men in public office are only men and no man can control another's thoughts, speech, or creative actions. But remember, no possible use of physical force can compel anyone to think, speak, or act---it can only limit, hinder and prevent.

A great book about this is here- http://www.bornagainclassics.com/letterstojessica/jessica.html

dhowlandjr's picture

It seems to me that the context of what is being said is somewhat skewed by the way you guys insert your comments out of chronological order.

Dabooda's picture

The comments are in chronological order, but when a comment is a "reply" to a previous comment, the reply will appear directly below the comment, not at the bottom of the page. If there is more than one reply to a single comment, they will be listed chronologically below the comment. And of course, replies to comments can also be replied to. Replies to comments are indented just a little bit more than the one being commented upon, and replies to replies are even further indented. Unfortunately, it's not always easy to see.

dhowlandjr's picture

Thanx 4 clearing that up : )

Suverans2's picture

Probably the main contributing factor to the lack of understanding of "rights" is the fact that there are a number of different kinds of "rights". Although you and I may not necessarily agree with Noah's [Webster] particular enumeration under the heading, "RIGHT, n. ...10. Just claim ...Rights are natural, civil, political, religious, personal, and public," they nonetheless make the point. A Dictionary of Law, (Black's first edition c. 1891), page 1045, classed them as "natural, civil and political".

The second contributory factor to this lack of understanding, in my experience, is the fact that all "rights" are "entitlements".

To entitle is, “to give [or have] a claim by the possession of suitable qualifications” (Webster's 1828). If one meets “suitable qualifications” then one is "given", or "has", a "just claim" to a specific set of rights. The first qualification, in virtually all instances, one must be a "member" in order to have rights. With the possible exception of natural rights, these "suitable qualifications" are whatever "the creator" of those benefits, says they are, because, “what one creates, one controls”. Here are some examples of “suitable qualifications”.

In order to have a "just claim" to the natural rights/entitlements of man, “among which are, the enjoying and defending life and liberty; acquiring, possessing, and protecting, property”, the only qualifications are that one be a member of the human race and obey the natural law (of man). Anyone who intentionally or through gross negligence trespasses upon the natural rights of another man, violates the natural law (of man), and as a consequence "forfeits" some, or all, of his own natural rights.
In order to have a "just claim" to corporate rights/entitlements one must become a member of a corporation and submit himself to the corporations laws.
In order to have a "just claim" to the religious or ecclesiastical rights/entitlements of a religious corporation one must become a member of that religious corporation and submit himself to the laws of that religious corporation.
In order to have a "just claim" to the political and civil rights/entitlements of a "political" corporation, one must become a member of that "political" corporation, and one must submit one's self to the laws of that "political" corporation.
One of the "laws" of the "political" corporation known as United States or United States of America, is that in order to become a "member", i.e. a "citizen", one must voluntarily[1] submit one's self to the "dominion" of its government[2].

Generally accepted definition of "dominion" [according to this "political" corporation] is perfect control in right of ownership.[3] That means that this corporation requires that one must voluntarily become the property of the state in order to have a "just claim" to the political and civil rights/entitlements of that "political" corporation.

Some men will say that this particular "political" corporation does not "allow" individuals to secede, i.e. withdraw from membership in the group, (though they have more than likely never really tried), when in fact what they probably mean is that this "political" corporation will not allow individuals to secede and still retain the peculiar political and civil rights/entitlements of the "political" corporation. It's like hating your job and yet being unwilling to give up all the employee (membership) benefits (rights/entitlements)--it's a tough call.

[1] Amendment XIII Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
[2] Black's Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition (c.1991), page 244
[3] Ibid. (Same source) page 486

Dabooda's picture

Most rights ARE entitlements. Legal rights, property rights and contractual rights all specifically set out who is entitled to receive what, from whom, and generally specify what remedy is available when such rights are violated.

"Natural rights" are a different kind of animal -- one, I would say, that relates to other rights the same way Santa Claus relates to real people. What else can we make of a "right" that supposedly exists whether or not anyone recognizes it as being "a right," and whether or not anyone enforces or even respects it? A "right" that creates an entitlement/justification ONLY within the mind of the one who supposedly possesses that "right" is functionally indistinguishable from "a choice." Where other kinds of "rights" describe mutual social obligations, "natural" rights are a sort of solitary masturbation.

If a "natural" right justifies the defensive use of force, the question immediately arises "Justifies -- to whom?" If I shoot a burglar in my home, who will judge whether or not I was justified? I certainly think so, but whether or not other men share my opinion will NOT be decided by any "natural law." It will be decided according to the customs and laws of the local society, which may or may not bear any resemblance to whatever I believe "natural law" to be. In England, if you shoot a burglar in your home, better make sure you kill him -- otherwise he's likely to sue you. And you'll likely go to prison anyway. Where is the utility of the idea of "natural rights," in such a case? And how is it any more meaningful than a simple statement: "I chose to shoot him because he threatened my life and property."? If my fellow men believe one is morally justified in protecting life and property from burglars, they will acquit me of wrongdoing; if not, I'm in trouble. Is anything gained by me labeling my self-defense "a natural right?" Only if those judging me happen to think that idea is somehow MORE meaningful than the moral propriety of self-defense.

I have yet to hear an argument for the existence of "natural" rights that amounts to anything more than grandiose wishful thinking. At best, natural rights can be seen as a rather pretentious and unnecessary iteration of the fact that men have free will, and must use that free will to make the choices on which their lives (and all their other values) depend. For example, I might say that I have "a natural right" to life because (wishful thinking) I don't WANT anyone to kill me, and therefore I may justify self-defense by naming it "my right." In truth, I have not discovered "a natural right" -- I have simply made the moral choice to regard my life as my highest value, which is all the justification I actually need to prompt me to defend it. Naming that justification "a natural right" doesn't make it something more complicated than my personal choice, nor does it create an obligation (i.e. an entitlement) on anyone else to defend my supposed "right" for me.

A right is what justifies or "makes right" some action, liberty or possession. Such "right" is a moral concept, a moral justification, and as such it is only meaningful to people who share the moral premises from which it is derived. If I live in a society which shares my moral preference for the non-aggression principle, they will grant me all the liberty I could wish for, WHETHER OR NOT THEY NAME THAT LIBERTY A "NATURAL RIGHT". On the other hand, if my countrymen prefer statist authoritarianism, I may have very little liberty. Now consider: a believer in "natural rights" will insist that I have the same "natural rights" in BOTH societies. Actually, I do. In the one society they are unnecessary; in the other, they are unrecognized or scorned. In both, they're useless.

On the subject of how one consents (or does not) to membership in a society or its government, I recommend a new book by anarchist Larken Rose, The Most Dangerous Superstition. You can read a particularly relevant excerpt from it here. And here's another excerpt, less relevant to the subject under discussion but even more interesting.

Suverans2's picture

G'day Dabooda,

Good to see that you are apparently through with the name-calling, e.g. calling those who happen to agree with me on a particular point, "lackeys", and me "Suvie". That, and what appeared to me to be a silly threat, "Suvie, you shall be the first breakfast", are what prompted that "chick" to salute you.

You wrote: "...nor does it create an obligation (i.e. an entitlement) on anyone else to defend my supposed [sic] "right" for me."

A definition of ENTITLEMENT 1 a : the state or condition of being entitled : right ~ Webster's New World College Dictionary, 4th Edition

Strange, but I don't recall ever saying that because you have a "just claim" to your life, liberty and justly acquired property that it "creates an obligation on anyone else to defend your 'right'", only that you are rightfully "entitled" to defend it. If you are a murderer you are not rightfully "entitled" to defend your life, notwithstanding you may try, which is why rational men will not assist you in your defense.

Please, show me where I might have even inferred such a thing. Perhaps you think it was here?

Paul, on the other hand, will be "justified" in using whatever force is necessary to regain his property, because he does have a "right" to it, i.e. a "just and legal claim" to that automobile. And, he, hopefully, will readily find honest men, should he need them, who will assist him in taking it back, because they know he has a "right" to it, that is to say, he has a "just and legal claim" to it.

But that certainly doesn't sound obligatory to me, does it to you?

Dabooda's picture

Suverans2, a good day to you also.

Since this was my first-ever posting on STR, I thought it necessary to establish my bona fides as a worthy Rootster: I picked you out as the most aggressive of the bunch, and gave you a fistful of sound argument mixed with deliberate mockery. Consider it a verbal rap on the knuckles for taking a supercilious and patronizing tone with me, "no offense intended." You annoyed me. I bite.

Your response was gratifying, and actually fulfilled my "silly threat" to have you for breakfast. You lost face; I gained it. In the future, we shall both keep the non-aggression principle firmly in mind, hm?

I don't disagree with anything you've written here about "entitlements." I was simply commenting on the subject you raised, in a general way, not on any belief you personally expressed. Do you see a disagreement between our positions in something I've written on the subject?

Suverans2's picture

G'day Dabooda,

This, "Government" is a religion by Larken Rose, is GREAT! Thanks! It reminded me of something Roderick T. Long once wrote.

"…in modern society, with its religious, ethnic, and cultural diversity, it would be much harder for any single group to demand allegiance — except for the state, which remains the one universally accepted god."

Suverans2's picture

The word "allow" was put in quotation marks, in that last paragraph, because the first rule of a "master-servant-relationship", or "sovereign-subject-relationship", is that the master or sovereign is not required to obtain a servant's or subject's permission to do anything, nor is the master's or sovereign's act any the less "real" if his servants or subjects refuse to "legally recognize" it.

Suverans2's picture

G'day again Dabooda,

Just beginning to read the two excerpts you posted on the Daily Paul and wish to ask a question. Larken, evidently wrote, "Since these two -- consent and governing -- are opposites, the concept of "consent of the governed" is a contradiction."

Does this mean that an I do not have the right to "consent", for only me, to be "governed" by another? If so, who says I don't have that right?

Gotta go to work, now. Have a great day.


Dabooda's picture

Sure, you have the moral right to consent to your own governance. You just don't have the right to consent to mine. But as long as your governance depends on your own continuing voluntary consent, it's actually not "governing" at all. The crux of the matter will come when you decide to withdraw your consent, but your master declines to release you from service. That's when the real "governing" will start.

People give such consent in a limited way all the time when they accept employment. You agree to follow "the boss's" orders and obey his rules. But what happens when the boss unilaterally decides to change the terms of your employment, or gives you an order you are not willing to follow? You quit the job. But suppose the boss says, "I do not allow you to quit. If you stop working for me, I will hunt you down and lock you in a cage, and shoot you dead if you resist." Now you learn what "governing" is really about. And of course, this is EXACTLY what real governments do. They arrogate to themselves the right to unilaterally change the "laws" they expect their subjects to obey, and they enforce those "laws" at gunpoint.

I suspect you might enjoy Larken's book even more than I did; he does support the idea of natural rights in it. Funny thing, though: he and I have discussed that subject, including my "Rights Are Santa Claus" essay, and he pretty much agrees with me that they're bogus. Same thing happened when I sent it to G. Edward Griffin (Must Read: "The Chasm: Two Ethics That Divide the Western World," which begins on Page 9 of the pdf -- Google it) -- Ed said he just couldn't "sell" a philosophy of liberty that didn't utilize "natural rights." I wonder how many other stalwart defenders of "natural rights" actually believe what they're saying, and how many are simply pandering to a popular superstition that supports their agenda.

And a good day to you too.

tzo's picture

So if one person kills another on a whim, it is neither right nor wrong. Your subjective opinion may be that it is wrong, but mine may be that it is right. Since both are subjective, they are objectively worthless.

However, if more people have subjective opinions that the killing is wrong, then we call it wrong. If it turns out that the victim was some poor bastard in Nazi Germany or in Stalinist Russia, then the killing was right. But not anymore.

Justice has absolutely zero grounding in objective reality, and is subject to the whim of public opinion. And public opinion is purely subjective, with absolutely no relationship to objective fact.

Human reason is a superfluous human feature that can shed no light on the matter. Everyone since Hume knows you cannot derive an "ought" from an "is."

To me, this seems a poor and inadequate description of reality. I wrote some about it here:


and I have been collecting up various books, articles, arguments, threads and such, but until I can point to a cohesive argument of my own that resides in one place and covers all this material, I can only say at this point that I disagree with ethical relativism. I believe there is a set of objective ethics, and that oughts naturally flow from ises (How does one pluralize "is?").

I just cannot put any stock into the idea that justice is a completely subjective concept. Posit a human society that is completely neutral toward or actively encourages random murder. Then posit a group of wolves that live in trees and eat berries. There is an objective reason why these things do not, and have not ever occurred.

The argument for objective ethics must involve a careful, step by step examination of reality and clearly-defined, objective definitions of words, especially value words like "good" and "bad" in order for the case to be made. I'm gonna take a whack at it someday.

Dabooda's picture

Morality is always and in every case subjective. That's the only way it can work, because the only place morality exists or has any significance is inside an individual mind. It is subjective by nature, as each individual must choose his own moral code, by and for himself, from among the many options open to his knowledge and imagination. "Subjective" morality is not the same thing as "arbitrary," or "fantasy"; or "anything goes!" Subjectivity means only that each individual must choose the manner in which he will relate himself (i.e. his subjective self) to a very objective real world. (Yes, I know I'm trying to make the same point in several different ways; you don't seem to "get" this, so I'm trying to clear out the fog.)

Morality is not a decorative, optional accessory on a human being like a hood ornament on a car; it is every bit as essential to human life as a heart or a brain. The function of morality is to give each individual a personal guide to making the urgent and real choices on which his life, liberty, relationships and happiness all depend. It is true that people are free to adopt any moral standard they choose. They are not, however, free to escape the consequences of their choice, or the consequences of the actions they take in service of their chosen moral standard. They are not free to escape objective reality. Per your example, if you kill someone on a whim, his friends and neighbors are going to judge whether or not to allow you to continue breathing according to their subjective moral standards. Would YOU like to have a crazed murderer roaming YOUR neighborhood? Or would you hunt him down like any other dangerous vermin? Expect his neighbors to react the same way. Actions have consequences, and morality is not an intellectual parlor game.

And therein lies the reason that one might prefer one moral standard to another: some moral standards lead to war, suffering, poverty, tyranny and death, while others lead to peaceful coexistence, liberty and prosperity. Hardcore masochists are a self-limiting subset of humanity, as their enjoyment of suffering usually leads to their early death. Most people would rather live peaceful and pleasant lives than violent, poverty-stricken existences. And THAT is the great hope for humanity -- not in any universal burst of enlightenment, but in the simple preference for comfort and pleasure over pain and poverty.

Recall the three ethical principles I listed in my previous reply to you. Trade, emotion and force are our only options for dealing with other people. "Government" is the social system based on the ethics of force. Virtually everything a government does is done coercively, at the expense and to the detriment of the peaceful and productive members of society. And the logic of such a society is for coercive elements to grow at the expense of the voluntary elements, until the supply of willing victims is milked dry. And Atlas shrugs.

Coercion is the method of cannibals, looters, thugs and megalomaniacs, and the fruit of its operations is widespread misery, poverty, and war. Trade and voluntary charitable works, on the other hand, lead to peace, goodwill to man, and prosperity. If enough people can be cured of the superstition that we need a "government" to protect us from evil men, we may have a chance to get rid of the most evil men of all: those who name themselves "government." Without millions of willing slaves ready to carry out their evil works in the name of "patriotism" or "obeying the law," they would find themselves limited to the evil they can personally carry out. And at that point it will be easy to shoot the bastards.