Ayn Rand and Objectivism, Lecture 5 with David Gordon - Mises Academy
Ayn Rand Lecture 5
Political Philosophy: Rights and
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
●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
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.
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,
●In the same way, rights exist only
among individuals.They are not natural
properties of individuals by themselves.
Positive Versus Negative
●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
●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
●People need property, or at least the
freedom to acquire it, in order to lead a
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
●Sometimes they stress that someone
who finds a new use for a resource can
be said to have created the resource,
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.
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
●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
A Problem for the Theory of
●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?
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
Does Objectivism Justify
●According to Objectivism, every one
needs to have a protected sphere of
activity in which he can try to pursue a
●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
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.
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.
●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?
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
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.
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.
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
Further Consequences of the
●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.
●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.