Chapter 5 
                              RIGHTS AND FREEDOM 
   * Natural Rights  
   * There is no such Thing as Freedom  

   * Natural Rights
   Consider the conditions which are required by man's nature for his proper 
survival. Everything in the universe has a nature, and therefore there are 
proper and improper ways of interacting with each thing - proper and 
improper ways of living in the world. Man's proper survival includes the 
terms, methods, conditions, and goals required for the survival of a 
rational being through the whole of his lifespan - in all those aspects of 
existence which are open to his choice and which are requisite for his 
flourishing. (See Rand's essay "The Objectivist Ethics" for a full 
discussion of the idea of "proper survival.") 
   There are several categories of these conditions - Physical, Chemical and 
Social, to name some. In the physical realm we can easily observe that there 
are several conditions which must prevail if a man is to remain alive. An 
example is the fact that he must maintain a certain environmental 
temperature range, outside of which he would either freeze or roast. If for 
any reason this environmental condition ceases to prevail, man's proper 
survival comes to a quick and drastic end. We can see other physical 
conditions necessary as well, such as a continual accomodation to the force 
of gravity. In the chemical realm also we observe necessary conditions: the 
existence of an oxygen gas environment, the avoidance from diet of certain 
chemicals (cyanide, arsenic, strychnine) and the inclusion of certain other 
chemicals (ascorbic acid). This last case is a good example of the fact that 
these conditions are necessary for man's PROPER survival, for without the 
inclusion of an adequate amount of vitamin C, life will not come to the same 
sort of immediate and drastic end as it would from the elimination of the 
oxygen gas environment. Nonetheless without the vitamin C man is not in a 
state of PROPER survival, even though his life does continue on a limited 
and retarded level. (He merely subsists, he does not flourish.) 
   Also demonstrated is the fact that nature-imposed requirements are of two 
kinds. It does not suffice for you merely to avoid doing the wrong things - 
it is also necessary that you do the right things. You don't get scurvy 
because you did something wrong, you get it because you didn't do something 

   The point I am trying to make is that there are certain conditions 
arising from man's nature - unavoidable, uncompromising and absolutely 
necessary conditions - which must be accomodated in order for him to 
continue in a proper state of existence. Although this assertion is easily 
seen to be indisputable in man's physical and chemical life, I contend that 
it is equally, though perhaps not so obviously, indisputable in man's social 
   There are certain conditions of SOCIAL existence which are necessary for 
man's proper survival. Conditions which, unlike the physical and chemical 
conditions, prevail only when man lives in a social environment. 
   Obviously, when a man lives alone in the wilderness, or on a desert 
island, the physical and chemical conditions prevail just as much as they do 
when he lives in New York City or Tokyo. However, when he lives in society 
there are other conditions which prevail as well, conditions resulting from 
his interaction with other men. Just as he must accomodate interaction with 
a physical universe and with a chemical universe, so when he lives in a 
society he must accomodate the conditions of a social universe - a universe 
consisting of the relationships with other men in his environment. There is 
a name for this set of conditions. It is RIGHTS. 
   Rights spring from the need of the individual to be free in a social 
context. They are the conditions of social existence required by man's 
nature for his proper survival. Proper survival means, among other things, 
life in a society from which coercion is absent. 
   Man is a being of a specific nature; his life is contingent on specific 
courses of behavior. To live, man must choose to engage in rational and 
productive action. But he is also a social being, and since some men 
unfortunately choose to interfere violently with rational and productive 
action, it is therefore necessary for peaceful men to derive precepts for 
social behavior which allow each individual to maintain his own life free 
from force and fraud. These social precepts are identifications of human 
   Consider the most obvious example: the right to life. If the society were 
composed exclusively of murderers, the "proper survival" of each individual 
man, and therefore of the society, would come to an immediate and drastic 
end. It is clear that "life" is an unavoidable precondition of social 
interaction. If you kill everyone you meet, presently there will be no one 
left for you to meet anymore. There would no longer be a social existence at 
all, for the simple reason that one of the conditions prerequisite to that 
existence had been violated. That condition is the right to life. 
   Another example: the right to property. (Depriving people of property is 
depriving them of the means by which they live. This is why the right to 
property is as important as the right to life.) One of the major reasons for 
social cooperation among men is the material benefit to be gained by each 
man from trade with other men. Both trade and the division of labor are 
devices for the production and exchange of property, and as you can observe 
from your own experience there is much less incentive to produce or exchange 
if you do not have the assurance of being secure in your ownership of the 
property involved. This security in ownership is the right to property. To 
the extent that this right is violated, by that much will be diminished the 
incentive of each man to maintain the economic basis of society. 
   To recognize and enforce the rights of individuals is to recognize and 
enforce the conditions of proper social survival: the conditions that permit 
human energy to work effectively to satisfy human needs. 
   Life, Liberty, and Property. These three are so bound together as to be 
essentially one right. To allow a man his life, but to deny him his liberty, 
is to take from him all that makes life worth living. To allow him his 
liberty, but to take from him his property, is to deny him all that makes 
life able to be lived, for a man cannot live without property. 
   See Chapter 4 for a further discussion of property.
   See reference
See Chapter 8 for a further discussion of rights. See reference
A right must be something inherent in the nature of man and reality, something that is applicable to his situation at any time and in any age. The right of self ownership, of defending one's life and property, is clearly that sort of right: it can apply to Neanderthal cavemen, in modern Calcutta, or in the contemporary USA. Such a right is independent of time or place. But a "right" to a job or to three meals a day or to twelve years of schooling is not the same phenomenon. Suppose that such things CANNOT exist, as was true in Neanderthal days or in modern Calcutta. To speak of rights as something which can only be accomodated in modern industrial conditions is not to speak of natural rights at all, but of figments of the imagination. Such "rights" are not embodied in the nature of man, but require for their fulfillment the existence of a group of exploited people who are coerced into providing them. "I have a right to speak freely" can hold true no matter how many people there are, but "I have a right to a comfortable income" can be asserted only when there are enough other people in society to provide it. If there are not enough givers and too many takers, the principle becomes impossible to apply. One way to consider these issues is through the realization that rights impose no obligations on other men except of a prohibitive nature. Each man is obliged only to AVOID the violation of the rights of other men (including making any contribution to their oppression). He has no obligation to provide other men with the means of accomodating rights. Thus there is no such thing as the "right" to an education (self-education is a moral imperative but it imposes no ethical obligations) or the "right" to a job (every man must be free to engage in productive activity according to his own choices, but this does not give him a claim to the use of another's property). Rights are not a claim to affirmative action imposed by some men on others, therefore any condition which contains such a claim cannot be a right. Most of these so-called "rights" resemble the "right" of someone who wants to be a concert pianist - but who does not want to practice, or even learn to play. The right to life means the right to engage in self-sustaining and self- generated action. A man has the right to support his life by his own work but this does not mean that others must provide him with food, clothing, shelter or any other necessity of life. The right to property means the right to take the economic actions necessary to earn property and to use it and to dispose of it; it does not mean that others must provide the property. The right to free speech means the right to express ideas without danger of suppression, interference or punitive action by government. It does not mean that others must provide the means through which to express one's ideas. Thus, for any man to claim the "right" to violate the rights of another man is a contradiction in terms (a denial of the Law of Identity). Such a claim proposes to violate human nature in order to save human nature. One cannot claim that a condition of proper human survival necessitates the negation of a condition of proper human survival. Therefore there can be no rights to rob, enslave, or murder. Such "rights" are merely stolen concepts. You cannot say "man has inalienable rights except in cold weather and on every second Tuesday," just as you cannot say "man has inalienable rights except in an emergency" or "man's rights cannot be violated except for good purpose." There are no rights to the work or property of others because this would be a claim on the lives of others - a demand for slavery. Many argue that rights cease to exist in emergencies, and that one may kill with impunity because one simply has no choice. This error arises in part from the fact that they shortsightedly address the relationship in a limited context - only during the emergency - rather than during its full temporal context. Human relationships commence at the time that the parties commence dealing with each other, not at the time that the emergency arises. Emergencies neither abrogate the existence of rights nor alter the nature or the content of rights. It is during disasters that rights are most significant for they enable the afflicted individuals to cooperate in combating the disaster and working toward a return to normalcy. Furthermore, knowing that the violation of rights is an unacceptable option will induce people to focus on productive solutions. The "malevolent universe" attitude discourages one from ever entering a theater or traveling on a ship, or attempting to colonize the moon. Your recognition of an inalienable right of another man is not a compromise between two rights, his and yours, but a line of division that preserves both rights intact. We can see now that rights are not something that an individual "possesses" and that can be granted to him or taken away from him. They are conditions of existence which can be protected, ignored, or violated - with accompanying beneficial or detrimental results to men living in a social context. Rights are social conditions required for the existence of human society. Just as violation of the physical and chemical conditions required for individual well-being inevitably results in a deranged individual, violation of social conditions - rights - will inevitably result in a deranged society. A difficult question is that of the ethical status of retaliation and self-defense. (See Chapter 6) If one person violates rights, is the situation rectified by another doing likewise? Do two wrongs make a right? See reference The foundation of all human behavior - both moral and ethical - lies in the Law of Identity. Proper behavior is that which is consistent with this Law; improper behavior is that which attempts to contradict this Law. I asserted above that the violation of rights involves a contradiction of the Law of Identity. It is consistent, however, to take an action which eliminates such a contradiction, even if that action, when considered out of context, could itself be a negation of the Law of Identity. In ethics, as in the propositional calculus, one negative cancels out another. (I find it personally distasteful, but I can see no way to avoid the conclusion that two wrongs do indeed make a right.) Thus to lie to a man who is trying to rob you, or to kill a man, when defending your own life against his aggression, are ethically legitimate (i.e., logically consistent) actions. Even if this argument is accepted, there still remains the question of degree. Would it be proper to kill a man who has merely stolen an apple? The principle I have described above would make it seem so, but surely such a degree of retaliation would be repugnant to a civilized person. The issue of degree must be dealt with in the context of value-balancing. As Rand has shown, there are rational means of establishing value hierarchies, and it is with reference to such hierarchies that the proper degree of retaliation for particular aggressive actions should be determined. This determination is one of the proper functions of a code of law, and here you can see the major reason why an explicitly formulated framework of justice must lie at the foundation of any social organization. If the determination of "degree of retaliation" is left to the personal judgment of the individuals involved, or to the multitude of their hired (or elected) agencies, then it is very unlikely that widespread adherence to rationally-derived principles of justice would exist in society. This would hardly be a suitable context for the ensurance of rights. A closely related problem is the punishment of criminals. If criminals have intrinsic rights to life, liberty and property, then are not capital punishment, incarceration, and fines violations of the criminals' rights? If this is the case, then the implication is that there is no ethical difference between committing a crime and punishing a criminal. This seems to be a plausible argument, but observe that it is based on the assumption that the concepts of life, liberty, and property include the notions of life, liberty, and property maintained AT THE EXPENSE OF THE INNOCENT - which is precisely how the criminal views those rights. Restitution (instead of punishment) for much criminal behavior has two important beneficial consequences for social order: 1) it ameliorates the condition of the victim and tends to reduce his desire for violent revenge, and 2) it offers the offender the opportunity to restore his place in society. Indeed, the creation of punishment law appears to have increased social disorder precisely because punishment law precludes both of these alternatives. There is a conflict between natural law (the theory that man's rights are inherent in his nature and exist independently of government law) and legal positivism (the theory that government law itself is the sole basis for man's rights). The legal positivist thesis is that "man's ability to contract, and thereby offer consent, is made possible only by the establishment of a government which can define the rules and enforce the rights that make consent possible in a social context in the first place." However, if this were true it would be impossible for a government to be established by any means that involve contract and consent, which, supposedly, cannot exist prior to the establishment of the government. In general, if rights do not exist until after a government has been established, then there can be no right to establish a government. So by what principled means could government be started? And since there are many and contradictory government theses about the nature of rights, which government is to be considered the determinator of correct ethics? If today you can get the government to allow you something, then tomorrow somebody else can use it to deny you that thing. Therefore, if rights are determined by government then they must be arbitrary. They cannot be fixed. Furthermore, if there were no natural rights - no independently-existing ethical principles - then there could be no standard for judging the legitimacy or efficacy of government-made laws - no means by which the behavior of government could itself be evaluated. A government is comprised of a group of people. None of these individual people acquires, by virtue of membership in that group, any intellectual abilities that he did not previously possess. Therefore any rules that are determined by government could as well have been determined by the cooperative association of those same individuals acting non-governmentally. In the legal positivist thesis, "government" is a stolen concept. The idea of "man's proper survival" means not merely those conditions which apply to individual people, but also those conditions which apply to cultures. A society whose members are not willing to act to preserve their rights will not survive. To ensure the proper survival of a culture there are several things that must be done: 1) Prevent the establishment of authoritarian institutions. 2) Transmit to your children rational moral and ethical principles. 3) Teach your children the importance of moral/ethical autonomy. Teach them to reject all attempts to induce them to accept any judgment other than their own regarding the propriety of their behavior - that if they judge an action to be wrong, then they must not do it, no matter who tells them to do it. * There is no such Thing as Freedom There are three aspects to the idea of freedom: Physical, Psychological and Social. In physical terms, freedom - or the lack of it - refers to the constraints imposed by the laws of nature. For example: you are not free to flap your arms and fly through the sky. You are not free to breathe water, like a fish. This is not the sort of freedom I am going to talk about. In psychological terms freedom refers to the constraints you may impose upon yourself because of your state of mind. For example: you may not be free to get a broken tooth fixed, simply because you dread going to a dentist. You may not be free to learn how to ski, simply because of your lack of self-confidence. This too, is not the sort of freedom I will deal with in this essay. It is freedom in the context of interacting with other people that is my concern. I will try to make a precise statement of just what that kind of freedom is. Consider these pairs of terms: Light - Darkness Sound - Silence Heat - Cold Slavery - Freedom Let us examine the first of these pairs, light - darkness. Light is defined as electromagnetic radiation in a certain range of wavelengths. As such, we can easily understand and deal with the characteristics of light. We can measure stronger or weaker lights in terms of candlepower or lumens. We can identify different wavelengths of light and call them colors. We can produce light by means of light bulbs and torches. Light is a real existing thing. What then is darkness? Darkness is not a real existing thing. It is merely a term of convenience which we apply to a situation from which light is absent. You will observe that there are no units of measurement for darkness. There are not greater or lesser darknesses (what is greater or lesser in this context is the amount of light present) nor are there different characteristics of darkness - there is only one kind of darkness and that is the complete absence of light. So long as there is any light at all present we cannot truthfully say that we have darkness but rather that we have a greater or lesser degree of illumination. Now consider the second pair, sound - silence. Sound is defined as a certain sort of motion of the air. Sound comes in various degrees, namely louder and softer. It comes also in various types, namely of a higher or lower pitch. As with light, you can see (or rather, hear) that sound is a real existing thing. Silence, however, is not. It is merely a term of convenience which we apply to a situation from which sound is absent. And as with darkness, there is only one degree of silence, the complete absence of sound. So long as there is any sound present at all we cannot speak of silence but rather of more or less noise. Now on to the third pair, heat - cold. Heat is a manifestation of the molecular energy in an object. We can make a measurement of heat by means of a thermometer and we can see (or feel) that heat comes in various degrees of temperature, and thereby we know that this energy content is a real existing thing. So what is cold? Cold is the absence of heat. Cold is not a real thing. You might now be tempted to say: "Humbug! I know cold is real. My refrigerator makes my milk cold. I know this because I drink the cold milk." Well, your refrigerator does not put cold into the milk. What it does is to take heat out of the milk. The refrigerator is a "heat pump" which pumps the heat from the inside of the box to the outside. (You can feel the heat coming off of the radiator on the back of the refrigerator.) You will note that we have thermometers for measuring heat, but there is no device for measuring cold. You will note that heat is measured in degrees (fahrenheit or centigrade), but there is no unit of measurement which indicates coldness. Strictly speaking, there is only one degree of cold, and that is absolute zero, the point at which all the heat has been removed from an object. So you can see that it is not cold that is a real existing thing, but rather heat. Now consider the fourth pair of terms, slavery - freedom. Keeping in mind the previous three distinctions I made, let us see what, in this context, is the real existing thing and what is merely a term used to indicate an absence. Consider that we can take a man and by the application of physical force we can compel him to submit to our will. We can also compel him to submit by threatening him with force. We can bind a man in chains; we can lock him in a cage. Or we can threaten to deprive him of his property, his liberty, or even his life. And thus we can force him to submit to our will. Surely you recognize this as the imposition of slavery. And you can see that slavery is a real existing state of affairs. There are degrees of slavery: some men are completely enslaved, such as negroes in the pre-civil-war South. Other men are more or less enslaved according to the amount of force or threat of force to which they are subjected. So, if slavery is a real existing thing, what then is freedom? Is it not a real thing? After all, men have been willing to fight for it and to die for it all through history. Do they fight and even die for a nothing? For a notion that does not exist in reality? Is it not true that a man will go out and fight against tyranny, and when he has destroyed the tyrant does he not smile and say, "Now I have freedom!"? Doesn't he have something that he did not have before? Namely freedom? Well, let us see what he does have and what he does not have. Before, when he was living under the tyranny, there was imposed upon him a force or a threat of force, to which he was compelled to submit. Then, when he fought, his objective was to destroy the tyrant. When he fought he did not take some thing away from the tyrant; rather, he destroyed the thing that the tyrant had used against him. The thing destroyed was the tyrant's ability to compel. And then, after his success, when he said, "Now I have freedom!" did he possess any real thing as a result of his fight? Obviously not. No real existing thing has come into his possession which he did not previously possess. What has changed is that he is now living in a different situation. Whereas before there was force now there is not. And this situation is what he calls freedom. Freedom is the absence of slavery. Freedom is not a real existing thing, it is rather the term we apply to a situation from which compulsion is absent. I want now to make the most critically important point of my essay. I have maintained that darkness, silence, cold and freedom are not real existing things. What I have said is true. But what I have said, if not properly understood, can be fatally misleading. Consider one more example of the same nature as those I have illustrated: You can pluck a rock out of the ground, leaving a hole, and you can say that it is the rock that is the real thing and that the hole is merely the absence of the rock and therefore not real. That is the frame of reference I have used throughout this essay, and it is correct, as far as it goes. But it is certainly not complete. Just as you might stumble over the rock and break your leg, so you might fall into the hole and break your leg. Your relationship to the hole, you see, is a rather important situation. Even though we may consider the hole as being merely the absence of the rock, it certainly does have relevance to your life. And although I have said that darkness, silence, cold and freedom are merely absences, I do not mean to deny their relevance to life. The absence of light which is a blind man's darkness is crucially important. The absence of sound which is a deaf man's silence is very relevant. The absence of heat which is a dead man's cold is undeniably significant. And the absence of slavery which means the freedom of Man is the basis of all human progress. On to Chapter 6
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