Rights are to Act Freely
Tibor R. Machan
I do not have a right to my car but I do have a right to buy, keep, trade and otherwise act in relation to my car. Rights are what define our range of free actions. In some cases the right to act garners us huge wealth, in others, fame, and in yet others it will gain us knowledge, health and happiness.
If I had a right to my car as such, I would get to have my car even if I paid nothing for it. Rights need not be paid for. For example, my right to my liberty–to sing to smile to think to worship and so forth–isn’t something I need to pay for. Nor can I lose such a right. Even if I end in jail for assaulting someone, it is because I acted, freely, so as to land me there. Sounds a bit odd but still true! It can be appreciated by considering that prisoners retain their rights to due process, representation, and so forth while they are in prison. They do not lose their rights but when they exercise them in certain ways, there are unwelcome consequences. As when one exercises one’s right to liberty by getting married and henceforth is no longer free to fool around.
So those who would insist that our rights be limited are advocating that other people, usually those in government, have the authority to violate our rights, that some people be in control over other people in disregard of their rights. There is no escaping this conclusion. Those who are naively thinking that "limiting" rights will just happen, by way of some cosmic power instead of human beings who would want to control others, need to realize that they are supporting involuntary servitude, plain and simple.
Such general points need sometimes be noted because of all the sophistic and dangerous loose talk about how rights are limited, not absolute. This is merely an excuse for not respecting and protecting people’s rights, for violating them at the discretion of certain citizens who find the rights of other citizens inconvenient because they stand in the way of making use of these other people for their own purposes.
For example, to claim that one’s right to the use and disposal of one’s property is limited to only a percentage of what one owns, in fact, is merely to offer a spurious reason to take what belongs to others and use it for purposes to which they have not agreed. Saying that no one has absolute rights to what he or she owns is bunk–"absolute" has nothing to do with this. Either one has the right to keep and hold and trade and otherwise use and dispose of one’s belongings or one does not and others then are given free reign over these (and allow one some usage). If I do have a right to my resources, then when others take these from me without my permission, they are violating my rights. And that’s exactly what happens when taxes are confiscated from us all. No fancy talk about no one having absolute rights excuses it–taxation is a kind of extortion: you must hand over part of what you own and ought to be able to keep, hold, trade, etc., otherwise you are going to be imprisoned or otherwise harmed. Sure, you may get some benefits from those who confiscate your belongings but that is irrelevant. What is relevant is that you didn’t give your consent.
At this point democracy tends to come up because the sophistic, spurious arguments for these ill gotten gains never ends. So if a whole bunch of other people–the majority of those who vote–agree that your belongings may be taken from you, it is supposed to be OK? Of course not. But because democracy concerning the selection of political representatives is highly prized, this same method is used for expropriating people’s lives, liberties, and property. It should not be. Multiplying the number of the criminals doesn’t eliminate the crime.
These matters are not very simple to integrate with our lives in complex societies where our actions are a mixture of free and coerced, often quite imperceptibly. Who can keep track of what we must do because otherwise we will be assaulted by the powers that be and what we do of our own free will because we have decided it is a good idea? As one goes through one’s life, with all the task one faces, it is nearly impossible to tell which of the task were freely assumed and which were imposed on one by governments (of which one is surrounded everywhere). And since some of what governments do can be of considerable value, those running government have an edge–they know that hardly anyone wants to give up the security offered by the police and the military, so they tend not to protest when these agencies abuse their powers. But those who notice have the responsibility to do so!