Ayn Rand and Objectivism, Lecture 5 with David Gordon - Mises Academy


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Ayn Rand and Objectivism, Lecture 5 with David Gordon - Mises Academy

  1. 1. Ayn Rand Lecture 5 Political Philosophy: Rights and the State
  2. 2. Objectivism and Rights ●In this lecture, we’ll first discuss the Objectivist view of rights and the state and then look at criticisms of the Objectivist arguments. ●Each person is supposed to act to preserve his life, as a rational being. To do so, he needs to engage in productive work. Relations among people must be based on the trader principle. ●You cannot use force against others, except
  3. 3. What Is a Right? ●Each person thus needs a sphere in which he can act to secure his life, unhindered by force from others. ●This gives each person a right against such interference. People will do better in a society that recognizes each person’s right not to have force initiated against him or her.
  4. 4. The Nature of Rights ●Objectivists apply their view that ethics is relational to rights. Remember, for Objectivists, values exist only in relation to individuals. Values are not intrinsic, but “objective.”. ●In the same way, rights exist only among individuals.They are not natural properties of individuals by themselves.
  5. 5. Positive Versus Negative Rights ●The rights that you have are negative. This means that other people aren’t allowed to initiate force against you, but they have no positive obligations to come to your aid. ●You have the right not to be subject to force. Your right includes the right not to have your property subject to attack, not just your person. Objectivist writers avoid the term “self-ownership”, although what they support is similar to what advocates of self-ownership favor.
  6. 6. Property Rights ●If we are at liberty to promote our own life, so long as we don’t initiate force, we are free to acquire land and other resources. This is part of one’s freedom of action. ●People need property, or at least the freedom to acquire it, in order to lead a productive life.
  7. 7. Principles of Appropriation ●Objectivists tend not to say much about the principles that justify appropriation. They emphasize that acquiring resources is part of your freedom of action. ●Sometimes they stress that someone who finds a new use for a resource can be said to have created the resource,
  8. 8. A Single Law Code ●Each of us wants to live in a society where our rights are protected. ●For this to be the case, there must be a single law code in a given territory. Otherwise, there would be a constant danger of conflict. ●Further, without a legal code, property titles would be undefined. On the Objectivist view, rights express relations among people. These need to be codified.
  9. 9. A Single Government ●In order to make sure that people’s rights are defended under the law code, there must be a government that enforces the code. ●This government is strictly limited in power. It cannot go beyond defense, protection, and justice. ●However, competing protection agencies are not allowed. These would produce fights. They wouldn’t agree on a single law code; and even if they did, there would be conflicting interpretations of the code. These
  10. 10. A Problem for the Theory of Government ●There appears to be a problem in Rand’ s theory of government. Everyone has rights, including property rights. But government needs revenue in order to carry on its activities. Doesn’t this necessitate interference with property rights through taxation?
  11. 11. Solving the Problem ●Objectivists answer that they reject taxation. Government expenses would be covered by voluntary payments. E.g., contracts that people wanted enforced would require payment of a fee to the government. ●People could make contracts without paying these fees. However, if they didn’t pay, they couldn’t use force to secure their contractual rights.
  12. 12. Does Objectivism Justify Rights? ●According to Objectivism, every one needs to have a protected sphere of activity in which he can try to pursue a good life. ●But from the fact that you need something, it doesn’t follow that you have a right to it. A right is a claim that others have a duty to do something. If
  13. 13. An Objectivist Answer? ●It isn’t a good response that only negative rights are involved. Why do you have a duty to forbear from using force, just because someone else needs this? Why, in particular, am I barred from using property just because you need it for your freedom of action? ●A better answer would be that we are all better off in a society where rights were respected. Recall the key Objectivist claim of a harmony of interests among people.
  14. 14. Problems with the Answer ●Suppose that the answer is correct. This doesn’t give each person a moral obligation to respect the rights of others. ●Objectivists could respond that we don’t need moral obligation in this sense. It’s enough that we find in our interest to respect others’ rights. Remember, the Objectivist view that it isn’t in your interest to be a parasite.
  15. 15. More Problems ●Objectivists can’t show that it is always in your interest to respect the rights of others. You might sometimes find it in your interest to violate the rights of others. ●Suppose one responded that even if people could occasionally profit from violating the rights of others, people’s doing this would cause a breakdown in the system of rights. What if everybody did that?
  16. 16. Still More Problems ●But even if everyone’s violating rights would have bad consequences, this doesn’t give each person a reason not to do so when it is his interest. This is a Prisoner’s Dilemma. ●This isn’t a matter of preferring short term to long term interest. The question is, is it always in your long term interest to respect rights?
  17. 17. From Law Code to State? ●Objectivists are on solid ground that it is desirable to have a single law code in society. But why assume that a single law code requires a single protection agency? Couldn’t everyone accept the same law code but hire different protection agencies? ●If it is answered that these agencies would have different interpretations of the law code and fight over them, couldn’t the agencies reach an agreement on what to do in case of disputes? Rothbard makes this point.
  18. 18. A Possible Rejoinder ●Objectivists might respond, following Nozick, that if the agencies agreed on a single law code, they would in effect be part of a common government. But why believe this? ●It’s also the case that within a single state, there can be differences of interpretation on the law code. Compare constitutional quarrels in the U.S. government.
  19. 19. The State and Rights ●Suppose, though, that the Objectivist argument is correct: Competing protection agencies might lead to violent conflict. This might well show an undesirable feature of a regime of competing protection agencies; but would this suffice to show that people had no right to set up such agencies? People can exercise their rights in a way that doesn’t lead to the best overall consequences
  20. 20. Further Consequences of the Objectivist Position ●The Objectivist position not only forbids people for founding competing protection agencies. It also strictly limits the rights of individuals to defend themselves. The same arguments that are used against competing protection agencies also apply to individuals. ●Leonard Peikoff has been very critical of the right of individuals to own guns.
  21. 21. Voluntary Payments? ●The Objectivists point out that they don’t accept taxation. However, as Nozick has pointed out, the single protection agency can charge a monopoly price, since it can forcibly prevent any other group from competing with it.