These days, via Kickstarter, Indiegogo and hundreds of other web sites, “crowd-funding” is quickly becoming the way that artists and creators get their projects funded. The day is not far off when the standard way to get a book published or an album or movie released will be to go straight to the people who want to read, hear or watch it instead of to middlemen who bundle non-existent “rights” into packages that reward said middlemen far more than artists or audiences. When that model reaches full bloom,the “piracy” that dying class of middlemen complain about so much will be recognized as a feature, not a bug: Every “pirated” download potentially creating a new fan for the next round of crowd-funding and the creation of the next work.
“Intellectual property” has always been a morally bankrupt anti-concept. Now it’s becoming a financially bankrupt revenue model. Good riddance.
It is common to hear people call for the removal of the government from the market or launch defences of the ‘free’ market. It is asserted that governments always get things wrong and that regulations only make things worse. Conservatives proclaim that if the economy was only left in the hands of the free market everything would be better. However there is no such thing as the free market.
I think this post properly criticizes what Roderick Long calls right-conflationism, the logical mistake of thinking that the ideals of an unhampered market system justify the status quo. For example, a right-conflationist might argue in favor of child labor on the basis that it's the best (or least worst) option for a desperate family. Meanwhile, the right-conflationist ignores the ways in which government interventions for privileged businesses have put people in such a vulnerable position that they have to accept wage labor as their only reliable source of income in the first place.
To speaking meaningfully of regulation, we need to distinguish between regulatory interventions1 into the market system for favored businesses and the regulatory restraints on those political privileges2. Conservatives use free-market rhetoric when talking about removing restraints on political privileges. I would think that removing restraints on political privileges represents a greater degree of intervention into the market system. The proper thing to do would be to abolish the political privileges that prop up existing economic privileges that give rise to child labor, poor working conditions, and poor product quality standards.
With that said, the most important reforms to be made aren't about removing restraints on big businesses, most of whom got that way because of political pull, but by removing the controls on you and me.1 Minor point as I understand it: Not all regulations are interventions into the market system, since some regulations (like the prohibition of fraud) would be necessary for the market system to function. 2 By political privilege, I mean control of the use of another's property in such a way that is only made possible by the force of law.
Ad hominem attacks aside, YouTuber hawanja’s video on free-market anarchists seems to make the point that people “naturally organize themselves into hierarchies” that require violence to be maintained, so anarchism runs counter to the human condition. It is left unstated why violence is needed or ethically justified to maintain these hierarchies if they were so natural. He further claims that a state is the historically necessary “institution that enforces order through violence.”
The first of hawanja’s misunderstandings has to do with his definition of “state.” A key distinction I and Barack Obama would make is that a state claims a territorial monopoly on its enforcement of order through violence. The insinuation of hawanja’s definition, which ignores the territorial monopoly claim, is that any enforced order necessarily signifies the presence of a state. Throughout the entire video, viewers are presented with this false dichotomy: statism or chaos. Anarchists do not oppose order. The etymological origin of “anarchy” means no ruler (not no rules), similarly how “monarchy” means one ruler. Regardless, statists generally insist on conflating “anarchy” to mean a conflict for rulership that takes place in a failed state. Anarchism recognizes that rulers are not justified in their actions and are counter-productive to a peaceful, productive existence.
Another unfounded assertion is that “this natural hierarchical structure to human beings” is justified in using force to maintain its power. After all, just as a good majority of people naturally like ice cream, I hardly think that would justify “natural hierarchical structures” enforcing the consumption of ice cream.
The Enemy of My Enemy
Another tried and true fallback in defense of the state is the canard that a state is necessary to protect us from corporations, which hawanja rightly pointed out are creatures of plutocratic state protections and subsidies. They are granted limited liability by governments and are under a legal obligation to pursue the interests of shareholders, not employees or the environment or the public. However, should the blame rest with corporations or also with their architects (governments) that created them and shield them from accountability?
He cites laws prohibiting discrimination and child labor and food safety and consumer protections as examples of good government. Of course, governments have historically been used to promote all sorts of racial discrimination, child labor, and made food and consumer protections harder to come by and more expensive. hawanja unintentionally, I presume, confirmed this point when he showed a picture of Rosa Parks, the civil rights heroine arrested for disobeying a segregationist city ordinance that ordered she give up her seat to a white passenger, when he mentioned government laws prohibiting discrimination.
I think it is all well and good that government-enforced slavery and Jim Crow apartheid, the more overt government measures used to uphold discrimination, have been removed. However, that does not do so much to help those past victims of discrimination. All the ways that governments prohibit wealth creation has meant that past victims of government-enforced discrimination continue to suffer at the hands of government-enforced poverty. As Charles Johnson summed up in his “How Government Creates Poverty as We Know It” essay, “The poorer you are, the more you need access to informal and flexible alternatives, and the more you need opportunities to apply some creative hustling. When the state shuts that out, it shuts poor people into ghettoized poverty.”
Governments are not responsible for ending child labor. As a thought experiment, just consider what would happen if child labor was prohibited by law in Nepal. It would have the same effect as enacting California-style building codes in Haiti: absolutely none, because there is no wealth to implement those laws. The credit for the advancement of human civilization rests with the grandest form of human cooperation, the wealth-creating division of labor.
Coincidentally, I would think the issue of discrimination would create another dilemma for supporters of the state. Historically, racism, sexism and slavery would have been considered “natural hierarchical structure[s] to human beings,” just as the state is said to be. Yet, left-liberals, as I suppose hawanja is, do not propose that the enforcement of racism, sexism or slavery was just. Based on what principle though? And how would that principle not equally apply to racism, sexism and slavery?
hawanja also appears to be under the impression that governments were responsible for the abolition (or near abolition) of child labor, neglecting the fact that child labor is still legal in the United States under some circumstances. More to the point, mass child labor was an example of a problem exacerbated by the heavy hand of government. Had it not been for mercantilist and protectionist Robber Baron economic policies of the 19th century, wealth creation for the average family would have been realized much more broadly and quickly so that parents could afford to send their children to school sooner. Many social problems, including institutional discrimination, that governments are credited with fixing were largely already successfully being addressed through direct action before legislative interventions took place.
Consider consumer protections against price fixing. Historic examples of consumer protection during the Progressive Era were done at the behest of business interests. As noted liberal historical Gabriel Kolko wrote of the implementation of the Federal Trade Commission, in “The Triumph of Conservatism”:
The provisions of the new laws attacking unfair competitors and price discrimination meant that the government would now make it possible for many trade associations to stabilize, for the first time, prices within their industries, and to make effective oligopoly a new phase of the economy.
He called it a triumph of conservatism because federal intervention into the economy was able to secure the existing economic structure, what Kolko called “political capitalism” and what we know today as “crony capitalism” and “corporatism.” In Kolko’s conclusion, he said:
The varieties of rhetoric associated with progressivism were as diverse as its followers, and one form of this rhetoric involved attacks on businessmen—attacks that were often framed in a fashion that has been misunderstood by historians as being radical. But at no point did any major political tendency dealing with the problem of big business in modern society ever try to go beyond the level of high generalization and translate theory into concrete economic programs that would conflict in a fundamental way with business supremacy over the control of wealth. It was not a coincidence that the results of progressivism were precisely what many major business interests desired.
Kolko’s book is something, documenting how nearly every aspect of the Progressive Era legislation — from food inspections, environmental conservation and banking reforms, for example — were used as covers to cement the existing cartelized trusts already in power.
The book does a great job of documenting the problem with hierarchical institutions, that the people who already have the most access to the government are going to have the most influence in shaping what solutions are offered, how they are interpreted and how they would be implemented. Regulators — like all self-interested creatures — are sure to implement solutions that preserve their power and prospects for future employment, since their interests closely align with those of the regulated. If regulators or politicians are corruptible with bribes, the powerful can leverage their influence to a greater degree than they could in a freer market. For just a fraction of the cost, favorable regulations worth millions of dollars can be bought with campaign contributions. On a free market, it would be more costly to bribe someone who did not have the luxury of using taxes, as government regulators can, to pay for the enforcement of regulatory or legislative cronyism.
Making More Trouble
Next, the video documents social problems that libertarians typically attribute to government. In the past, I might have been guilty of short-changing why those problems are a consequence of government intervention, so I will take the time below to make the points clear.
- Food prices — Yes, governments subsidize cattle and meat production at the expense of healthier, more natural forms of food, and place restrictions on the importation of those products. It is not a market phenomenon that it costs more to purchase a salad than a hamburger. All the resources devoted to feeding cows and other animals and creating bio-fuels like corn-based ethanol could have been used to produce food for organic diets. In addition, the federal government has sealed off arable land that could be used to farm, and city ordinances often place restrictions on mixed-use property, some of which could be used for home or community gardens on abandoned property.
- Low wages — The ways in which labor organizing is discriminated against is too long to list. Just to list some examples, I would point to the ’35 Wagner Act, which was championed by business interests and conservative unions to clip the more wildcat unions like the anarchist International Workers of the World. Typical demands, like collective bargaining and calling for limited strikes, that unions are legally permitted to make today are pretty meek by comparison. Before the era of having to get government recognition, when most of the historic gains of the labor movement were actually realized, unions could call for general strikes and indirect boycotts, opened union hiring halls, signed closed-door contracts or demanded worker management of the firm. Other government interventions are through occupational licensing laws, use-restricted zoning regulations, legal tender laws, capitalization requirements and capital-favored taxation policies that mean more people have to work for wage labor in the first place.
- College expenses — It is not a coincidence that college tuition expenses increase at the same time that governments actively encourage people to go into debt by providing low-interest loans and restricting the establishment of new higher education options. The government and the corporate credentialism fetish is also partly to blame. One major expense of college is the cost of textbooks, which are artificially marked up do to the enforcement of artificial intellectual property claims.
- Environmental conservation — It is also no secret that common law environmental tort protections were removed from courts in the 1900s, which is how pollution problems were handled until environmental legislation that legalized greater environmental damage took power out of the hands of property owners. That is not to mention that the largest polluter in the entire world is the United States federal government.
- Drug safety — Yes, illicit drugs are more dangerous because of government. They cannot be made under true laboratory conditions; there is no possibility of any legal redress for fraud; and every year millions of people acting consensually are terrorized by government agents and hundreds if not thousands are killed by those government agents. The crime and escalated costs associated with drugs are a consequence of prohibition.
- Terrorism — See “Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire” by Chalmers Johnson.
At the beginning of the video, hawanja criticized the favoritism that governments grant corporations, only later to praise the cronyism of farm subsidies for multimillion dollar farm conglomerates. He said that government protection has led to stable food prices in the United States, which is not so true of late. However, the relative stability has only come because Americans already pay much higher prices for foods like sugar than do residents of developing nations. In terms of dollars, the average American family transfers an additional $146 to large agribusinesses every year because of these policies, which do not include the approximate $300 per family given directly to mostly multimillionaires through the federal budget. The costs of milk, butter and meat products would be deflated if trade restrictions on international markets were abolished, helping to reduce poverty overseas.
Looking at the unintended consequences of those subsidies, the abundance of corn, some of which is used to sweeten sodas, has been linked to increased obesity in Americans. There is also the problem that developing nations wanting to compete in farm production are constantly being underpriced by subsidized farmers, leading developing nations to become dependent on subsidized farmers for food. That is something developed nations hold over developing nations as part of “Open Door Imperialism,” but it is not a fact I would cheer. Without government protectionism, land use could become more environmentally friendly, as well. A Reason magazine article said:
The distortions and perverse incentives of U.S. agricultural policies have encouraged practices that damage the environment. Trade barriers and subsidies stimulate production on marginal land, leading to overuse of pesticides, fertilizers, and other effluents. A central if unstated purpose of American farm policy is to promote production of commodities that would not be economical under competitive, free market conditions. This often means emphasizing crops better grown elsewhere, requiring more chemical assistance.
The conclusion of the video makes a laundry list of mandates that hawanja thinks the free market could not provide, like affordable housing and health care, public transportation, environmental and consumer protections, expanded broadband internet coverage, protection for the homeless, protection of endangered species, food and medical safety and national security. He said that the free market cannot do these things; “we do these things because we need them to survive.” His unstated argument is that these are public goods that markets cannot provide for.
I have argued in the past that with a little creativity, public goods can be provided, assuming there is public support for those goods, which would also have to be the case in a democratic government. To quote Kevin Carson, “As always, it’s not a question of what we’ll do when the state stops solving the problem. It’s a question of how to stop the state from creating the problem.”
The problem becomes that regardless of the possibility of providing those public goods on an open market, those goods become harder to achieve with a government in place, which creates an entirely new set of obstacles for achieving those original public goods governments were purportedly created to solve in the first place. Public goods, like security and safety, are not impossible for governments to provide, just costlier and more difficult than they would be on a free market. The first new public good created by the presence of a democratic government would be an informed electorate. It is not in the average person’s economic interest to know much about the issues at hand or the candidates running for office. That is because a single individual’s vote has almost no significance in the outcome of an election, and even if a single vote could turn an election, a voter has no method of holding a politician to his or her campaign pledges. It gets worse. A single politician in Washington, D.C., is one of 535 votes in the legislature. The idea that a citizen’s vote would make any noticeable difference to the his or her life is almost inconceivable.
The second public good that must be provided for in order to solve the original public goods problems is the creation of just laws. When thinking about it, there are thousands and thousands of pages of legislation and regulation under discussion. It would be next to impossible and meaningless to read every line of every bill introduced or regulation proposed in order to find out if some special benefit is being given to this or that special interest lobbyists. Even if we could decipher what the legislation or proposed regulation meant and its impact in the future, which would be difficult enough, contacting a congressman or regulator is going to have a negligible impact on influencing policy. Even if we could change the policy, it most likely only means a savings of a few dollars or cents per voter. Special interests who stand to gain millions or billions are always going to have the time and money to devote to gaining special favors.
Since human beings are not perfect or all-knowing, market failure is possible, but as David Friedman notes, “In the political system, market failure is the norm. If you think of the political system as a marketplace, we cannot expect individual rationality to produce group-rational results.” So the idea that government would work if we could only get the right people in charge is a failed strategy in practice and beyond naïve in theory.
When a government does try to address public goods that allegedly cannot be provided by the market, policies are going to serve the powerful and wealthy. Seeing how I would actually like to see those public goods provided to people, I cannot support a government, because a government makes those products less attainable for the people who most desperately need them.
The prevailing left-liberal position, as articulated by figures like Naomi Klein, is that big government is needed to hold big business in check, if not break it entirely. The argument primarily against reducing government power, as I understand it, is that autocratic big business would replace whatever reduction in government power were achieved. A conjoined argument is that governments are somewhat more responsive in a democratic process to people’s interests since corporations by law are mandated to maximize shareholder wealth; therefore, it is more desirable, given the alternative, that government would have a stronger say than a weaker one.
Even on its face, the notion that a reduction in the regulatory power of government would inversely increase the power of businesses is mistaken. If businesses thought they could maintain, let alone increase, their market monopolies and cartels in the absence of government intervention, businesses would not put so much effort into supporting greater controls on the market and maintaining existing regulatory privileges, which inevitably come with strings of their own. Those privileges are only attainable through government’s unique authority on the legal use of force. Just as railroad corporations were able to use the United States military to steal Native American land and slave owners employed the Fugitive Slave Act, government intervention multiplies the influence of corrupt businesses and makes their exploitation more efficient, because those businesses do not have to pay for the full costs of their dirty deeds; the costs of enforcement are socialized among taxpayers.
What left-liberals, for the most part, do not realize is that big business and big government are not opposed, but symbiotically aligned to support one another. A portion of a businesses’ ill-gotten gains are diverted back to the politicians who support those government interventions, which in turn funds more interventions. Without any callous intent, well-intentioned laws are implemented in ways so that any reforms reinforce the regulator’s and regulated’s co-dependence, as alternative decentralized business models challenging the exigency of that relationship are choked off.
In actuality, government props up existing oligopolies by erecting barriers to entry (with the use of occupational licenses, monopoly protection, capital start-up requirements, zoning regulations, enforcement of so-called intellectual property and abandoned property rights, business permits and legal tender laws) and by aiding existing businesses (with the use of transportation and other subsidies, fiat currency, bailouts, restrictions on organized labor, price controls, purchase and loan guarantees, bankruptcy and limited liability protections, capital-favored accounting and tax practices, regulatory favoritism, “Open Door Imperialism,” protectionist trade policies, eminent domain seizures and general cronyism) in ways that suppress inexpensive market alternatives like self-organizing mutuals and co-ops for community services and decentralized production models for private goods and services. Concentrated corporate power exists because government protects it, and does so deliberately. Governments benefit from this concentration of wealth because it leaves most helpless to resist the tyrannous seizure of property, the expansion of government authority and restrictions on free speech, privacy and self-defense.
The reason for all those interventions is because big businesses cannot compete on the open market. A big business suffers, albeit on a smaller scale, from the same inherent structural flaw that doomed state socialism, as identified by the Misesian calculation argument: the informational diseconomy of scale. Together with the invention of electrical machinery, the total cost of production for most goods on an open market would be more expensive in centralized factory production than it would in home-based or community-run workshops.
The second half of the left-liberal argument is at best a fantasy. A government is not necessarily more responsive to the will of anyone. Residents who live in the country without the government’s permission and other foreign permanent residents cannot vote; neither can most felons. When people interact with government-supported businesses, at least they get something in return. Of those who vote every two years, only half the people get their way. Even when an election turns in their favor, voters have no guarantees. Politicians do the bidding of people who fund their elections and who take care of their family and friends. Seeing how each is dependent upon the other, regulatory bodies understandably become captured by the regulated. Seeing how big businesses have been so successful in capturing the regulatory state for their own benefit, this should be apparent by now. According to noted liberal historian Gabriel Kolko, virtually every aspect of the Progressive Era regulatory state was enacted at the behest of corporations to cement the private trusts that could not be sustained in the presence of a modicum of competition. The core problem with a government is that the costs of enforcing special privileges are dispersed among all taxpayers, but the benefits of enforcement are directed to a very few. Eternal vigilance or not, the game is stacked in favor of people who want to exploit that asymmetrical relationship for their own good, effectively making unjust laws a well-funded private good and just laws an underfunded public good that comes about precisely because of the existence of government power. There is no way of getting around that fact except to reduce the role of government or eliminate it altogether.
When politicians do propose a solution to a problem they enabled, it is not in their interests actually to solve the problem. They can always blame the opposition for not fully implementing their solution, which provides for them a fundraising issue in the next election. That is why troops remained in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay was kept open despite clear Democrat majorities to put an end to those crimes. When Republicans ran the show, nothing changed. As Noam Chomsky said in his recent book, “[Republicans] don’t want a small government any more than Reagan did. They want a huge, massively intrusive government, but one that works for them. They hate free markets.” The solution offered by left-liberals to these problems is to implement campaign finance reforms that provide public funding of candidates. As history has shown, campaign finance laws further entrench politicians and make them less accountable. For those libertarians who do not seem much difference between politically motivated corporate power and political power, in and of itself, they are opposed to monopolistic power in general, regardless of who wields it. We want to be free.
The last point that businesses are primarily focused on short-term profits and maximizing shareholder wealth is entirely a consequence of government meddling. Publically traded companies are required to report earnings quarterly, and their shareholder mandates and corporate governance structure are prescribed by law.
It is not some accident that big businesses act through the government, because they are virtually indistinguishable. To quote Kevin Carson, “Far from the system of ‘countervailing power’ hypothesized by [John Kenneth] Galbraith, the large for-profit corporation, large government agency, and large non-profit in fact cluster together into coalitions.” Government magnifies those in power. It entrenches them, shields them, and they in return become a tool of the government. Quoting Chomsky elsewhere, “Any form of concentrated power, whatever it is, is not going to want to be subjected to popular democratic control or, for that matter, to market discipline. Powerful sectors, including corporate wealth, are naturally opposed to functioning democracy, just as they’re opposed to functioning markets, for themselves, at least.” There is nothing egalitarian or progressive about bestowing one class of people with authority over another. The ironic thing in my eyes is that well-meaning left-liberals, not libertarians, are the stooges for big business.
There was recently a discussion on the Reddit’s Anarchism forum about the nature and origin of property rights. Many people, ironically both Objectivists and the vast majority of anarchists, believe that property rights would not exist in practice in the absence of a state to enforce those rights.
My take is that certain property norms, such as intellectual property, final decision-making authority and exclusive control of a property, would vanish in the absence of a state — and so they should. The first part of my empirical (or fact-based) account for property rights will attempt to substantiate how we can derive prescriptive “ought” statements from descriptive “is” statements, bridging the so-called fact-value dichotomy, and why each individual’s life, morally speaking, is his or her ultimate standard of value. Beforehand, let me define my understanding of a few words.
A value (or goal) is that which one acts to gain or keep. The adjective “objective” means derived from an evaluation of the facts of reality. An objective standard of value would mean that the standard by which the value of an action is determined is based on an evaluation of the facts of reality. Morality prescribe what code (or hierarchy) of values (or goals) one ought to achieve and how those values ought to be achieved. A right is a normative principle defining and sanctioning the proper course of actions for an individual to take in a social context. Property is the ownable means of achieving values.
As I said above, morality is concerned with answering rationally and logically which values ought a person pursue and how a person ought to pursue them. The way I would begin answering how to establish the validity of morality is by recognizing that values only have meaning to living beings; dead people cannot act to gain or keep anything. So it stands to reason that for there to be a value, there must be a valuer. The problem is that values are not readily perceptible. What we see when looking around the world are facts. The sky is blue and water is wet. There are no facts labeled “ought” or “should,” so the idea that there are moral principles about how people ought to act seems counter-intuitive. That is, values are not a primary concept. What I hope to demonstrate is that values are different kinds of facts, facts as it relates to the fulfillment or destruction of life. It is not as simple as picking any values (or goal) and identifying the most likely means of achieving that value. The purpose of morality is to identify the proper values to pursue. For morality to be based in reason, moral principles about what one ought to do must be derived from what is — the facts of reality.
A value is a value because it serves some intended end, which might then be used as means to another intended end. This process would go on ad infinitum in the pursuit of higher and higher values unless there were some ultimate value or values to which all other values served as a means. In the absence of an empirically demonstrable ultimate value or values, there can be no empirical basis to judge which values are objectively good and which are objectively bad, as moral judgements would be left to personal discretion. Without an empirical ultimate end, there could be no empirical standard to determine which values are the proper values to pursue, meaning that moral knowledge could not be arrived at objectively. The challenge then is to discover if an empirical ultimate value exists at all.
The most fundamental choice human beings confront (before we can choose which values to achieve and how to achieve them) is the alternative between existing and not existing, between living and dying. To remain alive, one not only has to avoid achieving life-destroying values, one must act to achieve actual life-promoting values. Inaction results in death. There is no neutral alternative because remaining alive is a constant struggle between life and death, with death as the default. Time is a scarce and irretrievable resource. By taking actions that are not life-promoting, one’s life is degraded and is that much closer to death since that misspent energy could have been used in producing life-promoting values instead. For people who do choose to live, it is very possible that they could choose to pursue life-destroying values. After all, people have free will. Moral altruists do that very thing, but they are not able to practice altruism consistently or else they would succumb to death very shortly. For a person who chooses to die, morality and the pursuit of values would be useless because death naturally takes hold relatively quickly if values (such as remaining hydrated) are not achieved. To reiterate, I am not making the case that just because someone is alive, his or her ultimate value is his or her life. After all, a person who chooses to die but is currently alive has no need for a standard of value. I said that if a person chooses to live, his or her ultimate value is his or her own life. It is logically inexplicable to choose to remain alive and have any ultimate value (or goal) other than one’s life. To act contrary to the idea that one’s life is his or her ultimate value is to contradict the choice to remain alive.
For each organism, the principle of life means living as that type of organism. For human beings, just to be clear, the principle of life means living as a volitional, productive and conceptual being — not as a rodent.
To grasp that an entity is a value, one would have to recognize it is a value to something for something. The thing to note is that the concept “value” presupposes, depends on and is derived from the concept “life.” Since the only fundamental choice, which does not presuppose any other choice, is to remain alive or to die, a person’s choice to remain alive logically establishes one’s life as the fundamental value (or goal), directing what one ought to do. To put it another way, all other values I achieve determine what state of life I am in as a human being. But that I am alive determines whether I am in any state of life at all. Life or death is a fundamental alternative; it establishes that all other values are means to it, but life is not means to any higher value. Therefore, the principle of life is an ultimate value, an end in itself.
The principle of life is not only an ultimate value but necessarily an ultimate standard of value too. The corollary conception of value is maginitude-based. In general, a value is judged to be positive or negative by whether it can be used as means to pursue some intended end. It is also the case that evaluations are made, particularly in the social sciences, based on how well a value can be used in the pursuance of an intended end. To evaluate a value’s magnitude, the end intended to be achieved is the standard of value used for evaluation. Since the principle of life is an ultimate value, one’s life is his or her ultimate standard of value as well. That which contributes to one’s life is a life-promoting value and that which hinders one’s life is a life-destroying value. The degree to which these values are impactful are measured by the ultimate standard of value, one’s life.
One common objection to the principle of life as an ultimate value is that there could be multiple ultimate values that are possible, for instance, if the primary ultimate value were not pursuable at a particular time. This objection would fail on two accounts. It is not possible to pause life or take a break from it. Sustaining it requires constant action. The more basic reason that there are not multiple ends in themselves is because life or death is the only fundamental alternative. All other alternatives a person confronts are contingent on the choice to remain alive.
Another objection could be that since human beings have volition, it could be possible to choose another ultimate value (e.g., the welfare of the environment). I do not believe it is possible. In order to answer why the welfare of the environment is a value to that person, he or she would have to appeal to some higher value, which would require an appeal to some higher value, and so on and so forth until he or she concluded with the alternative of life or death. Identifying someone’s ultimate value would require explaining why achieving or not achieving that value makes a difference to that person. To be of value, the use of something must be worthwhile to the valuer. The common denominator in all differences is one’s life. Death means nothing is of value because nothing can make a difference to that person in death. For a person who chooses to remain alive, death is of no value because death cannot be used in the maintenance of one’s life.
(On a side note, this is not so much a rebuttal to any objection but a clarification on a common misunderstanding. Leading a successful life — a life in tune with one’s nature as a human being — does not mean maximizing the number of heartbeats or some such. The genes received from our parents gear our nature to find certain behaviors, such as sex and child rearing, fulfilling. Pursuing important values at the expense of a shorter lifespan would be adding to the value of one’s life. To me, it is reasonable that defending the freedom of one’s family or sparing an innocent person from injustice could be an instance worthy of putting one’s life on the line.)
Not only do we have to be alive to achieve values; we also have to achieve values to remain alive. Put another way, it is not just enough that living entities have values. Values must be pursued and achieved to be of any consequence. Life not only gives rise to the possibility of values; life requires the pursuit of values in a manner consistent with our productive, conceptual and volitional nature as human beings so that those values will be most likely achieved.
For living beings without volition, their values and the means to achieve them are provided innately (or automatically) by their nature. For them, there is no “ought” involved because living entities without volition have no choice in the matter. Humans beings, on the other hand, have to choose which values they ought to pursue and how they ought to pursue them, so for them alone is morality necessary or even possible. An individual has to make the choice to pursue values supportive of one’s nature as a human being if an individual chooses to remain alive. To do otherwise and pursue life-destroying values or no values at all would be reneging on the choice to remain alive.
It is incoherent that a person could consistently as a matter of principle pursue life-destroying values or no values at all and remain alive. It is reasonable to conclude that if a person chooses to live, he or she ought to pursue life-promoting values. People can choose to live and make life-destroying choices or no choices at all (not consistently as a matter of principle though); but if they choose to remain living, what is — Mankind’s requirements for survival as a human being — prescribes what they ought to do to fulfill that choice: pursue life-promoting constituent values and do so in such a way that preserves their lives in accordance with their nature as rational animals.
If it is possible to determine what an individual’s ultimate value (or goal) is (and can only be), he or she can conclude from the ultimate standard of value what ought to be done to achieve that value (or goal). It is not more complicated than that. If a person chooses to remain alive, the reality of Mankind’s nature — what is — prescribes what ought to be done to remain alive. The is-ought false dichotomy is solved this way: if something is of value, one ought to gain or keep it. The science of the study of the values and virtues — the logically consistent and meaningful pursuit of values — required by Mankind’s nature to lead a successful life is called morality.
Having resolved the fact-value false dichotomy to establish that moral principles guide which actions promote our values on a personal level, likewise we need principles to guide which interactions promote our values on a social level. Those principles are what I call rights. Just as each individual’s life is the fundamental source of values, so an individual’s life is the fundamental source of rights. The fundamental right is the right to life, which originates from the fact that each individual’s life is morally an end in itself, as I explained above. As life exists in individuals and the principle of life is an ultimate value, each individual is his or her own ultimate value, an end in him- or herself. Since this is true of all people, it is neither moral to sacrifice one’s life for another nor sacrifice another’s life for one’s own. Since it is absolute that the principle of life is an ulitimate value, the right to life and all corollary rights are absolute (or inalienable). The right to life means the right to sustain one’s life according to its nature. Since each individual’s life is an end in itself, one person’s rights cannot intrude upon or violate the rights of others to think and act on their own.
According to my understanding, only a being whose life, morally speaking, is his or her own standard of value has a claim to rights (or normative principles sanctioning the actions for an individual to take within society). Since morality only has a bearing on rational forms of life — non-human forms of life are simply amoral beings and subsequently cannot possess rights. (As an aside, that does not mean animals should be cared for recklessly or mistreated. Other animals can provide companionship and be of profound value in other ways.) Although not a cause of its validity, the great majority of people, who believe entities such as a society, a state or a god is the ultimate standard for good and bad, seem to agree with the principle that only ends in themselves have a claim to rights. The well-being of those entities are placed before the interests of the individual, so individual rights are seen more as permissions slips to be revoked and replaced with duties whenever doing so serves the greater entity’s compelling interests.
Returning to how rights originate, a right is a normative principle, which like any principle, is based on certain premises. First being that each individual’s life is morally an end in itself. The other premises are that human beings have the faculty for productive work and have volition for the conceptual faculty to make reasoned judgements, meaning that it is possible for us to live and prosper together without sacrificing one another. (“Productive” in this context means not only being able conform to nature, but also overcoming the need to conform to what is provided by nature.) Taken with what I said before that the principle of rights is contingent on the premise that human beings are capable of productive work, so it would follow that a right to own a value is contingent on having produced the means to achieve that value. As a consequence of each individual’s life being an end in itself, an individual has a valid claim to independence in the exercise of his or her own judgements and is the proper beneficiary of the values he or she achieves. Rights are meant to protect the independent exercise of one’s judgement in the pursuit of values — or what is otherwise known as liberty — the values achieved by those judgments — or what we might call property. Those rights, which are manifested into physical reality through the use of property, are violated through the use of direct or indirect physical force that causally (or deterministically) prevents the achievement (or realization) of those values.
To demonstrate, if I happen upon an unowned apple tree and picked an apple for the purpose of producing a value (satisfying my hunger), I believe I would have a right to the apple for that use (satisfying my hunger) since I, a rational being, have made a physical change to the object and am not interfering with any existing property claim of another volitional being. To reiterate, what makes a value a value is the difference its achievement would have on that person. Those differences are manifested into the physical world, so the interruption of those differences requires the use of physical force.
My right is not to the apple itself, but to the freedom to gain, keep, use or dispose of the apple for the purpose of producing the value (satisfying my hunger) I sought. If someone can use the apple, then or in the future, in a manner that does not interfere with my preexisting right to the use of the apple, that person could make his or her own property right claim for achievement of his or her value. Abandonment of the right would take place when an owner can no longer achieve his or her value with the use of a property and has made no apparent effort to regain that ability.
Accordingly, the logical validity of so-called intellectual property has no merit because the use of non-physical entities, like a concept or a procedure, does not deterministically prevent anyone else’s use of the same non-physical entity in the production of another value. Along those same lines, I think it would be proper to reject the Lockean notions of having final decision-making authority and exclusive usage of a property since others are free to earn rights to use the property in the production of their values so long as no preexisting rights are violated. As a central tenet of a state is its final decision-making authority within its territory, which I have attempted to demonstrate is illegitimate, a state has no moral claim to exist either.
In summation, I have attempted to build a coherent normative secular justification for why morality is necessary and valid, how individual rights (politics) are a logical extension of morality and what those rights entail in the functions of society. A society where those naturally rendered rights were most honored would enjoy the most vibrant forms of social harmony and be of inspiration to others. While a right has never physically stopped someone from being murdered or abused, the ideas behind rights, like all ideas, are what shape our society, to paraphrase the Tannehills in “The Market for Liberty.” That is why they are important and worthy of defending.