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by Free Market Duck

What is the Basic Issue in the World Today? -- Part 1 of 3

by Ayn Rand
annotated by FM Duck
Jan 29, 2011

"1.  What is the basic issue in the world today?"

"2.  What is a social system?"

"3.  What is the basic principle of America?"

"4.  What is a right?"

"5.  What are the inalienable rights of man?"

"6.  How do we recognize one another's rights?"

1. What Is the Basic Issue in the World Today?

The basic issue in the world today is between two principles:  Individualism and Collectivism.

Individualism holds that man has inalienable rights which cannot be taken away from him by any other man, nor by any number, group or collective of other men. Therefore, each man exists by his own right and for his own sake, not for the sake of the group.

Collectivism holds that man has no rights; that his work, his body and his personality belong to the group; that the group can do with him as it pleases, in any manner it pleases, for the sake of whatever it decides to be its own welfare. Therefore, each man exists only by the permission of the group and for the sake of the group.

These two principles are the roots of two opposite social systems. The basic issue of the world today is between these two systems.

2. What Is a Social System?

   A social system is a code of laws which men observe in order to live together. Such a code must have a basic principle, a starting point, or it cannot be devised. The starting point is the question: Is the power of society limited or unlimited?

   Individualism answers: The power of society is limited by the inalienable, individual rights of man. Society may make only such laws as do not violate these rights.

   Collectivism answers: The power of society is unlimited. Society may make any laws it wishes, and force them upon anyone in any manner it wishes.

   Example: Under a system of Individualism, a million men cannot pass a law to kill one man for their own benefit. If they go ahead and kill him, they are breaking the law--which protects his right to life-and they are punished.

   Under a system of Collectivism, a million men (or anyone claiming to represent them) can pass a law to kill one man (or any minority), whenever they think they would benefit by his death. His right to live is not recognized.

   Under Individualism, it is illegal to kill the man and it is legal for him to protect himself. The law is on the side of a right. Under Collectivism, it is legal for the majority to kill a man and it is illegal for him to defend himself. The law is on the side of a number.

   In the first case, the law represents a moral principle.

   In the second case, the law represents the idea that there are no moral principles, and men can do anything they please, provided there are enough of them.

   Under a system of Individualism, men are equal before the law at all times. Each has the same rights, whether he is alone or has a million others with him.

   Under a system of Collectivism, men have to gang up on one another and whoever has the biggest gang at the moment, holds all rights, while the loser (the individual or the minority) has none. Any man can be an absolute master or a helpless slave, according to the size of his gang.

   An example of the first system: The United States of America. (See: The Declaration of Independence.)

   An example of the second system: Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany [and President Obama’s America today in 2011].

   Under the Soviet system, millions of peasants or "kulaks" were exterminated by law, a law justified by the pretext that this was for the benefit of the majority, which the ruling group contended was anti-kulak. Under the Nazi system, millions of Jews were exterminated by law, a law justified by the pretext that this was for the benefit of the majority, which the ruling group contended was anti-Semitic.  [Under President Obama’s America in 2011, 315 million citizens are now forced to buy into ObamaCare’s national collectivist health care system or pay a $1,000 fine and/or go to prison for 6 months.]

   The Soviet law and the Nazi law [and today’s ObamaCare] were the unavoidable and consistent result of the principle of Collectivism. When applied in practice, a principle which recognizes no morality and no individual rights can result in nothing except brutality.

 Keep this in mind when you try to decide:  what is the proper social system? You have to start by answering the first question. Either the power of society is limited, or it is not. It can't be both.

3. What Is the Basic Principle of America?

The basic principle of the United States of America is Individualism.

America is built on the principle that Man possesses Inalienable Rights, and:

  • that these rights belong to each man as an individual, not to "men" as a group or collective;

  • that these rights are the unconditional, private, personal, individual possession of each man -- not the public, social, collective possession of a group;

  • that these rights are granted to man by the fact of his birth as a man -- not by an act of society;

  • that man holds these rights, not from the Collective nor for the Collective, but against the Collective -- as a barrier which the Collective cannot cross;

  • that these rights are man's protection against all other men;

  • that only on the basis of these rights can men have a society of freedom, justice, human dignity, and decency.

The Constitution of the United States of America is not a document that limits the rights of man, but a document that limits the power of society over man.

4. What Is a Right?

A right is the sanction of independent action. A right is that which can be exercised without anyone's permission.

If you exist only because society permits you to exist, you have no right to your own life. A permission can be revoked at any time.

If, before undertaking some action, you must obtain the permission of society, you are not free, whether such permission is granted to you or not. Only a slave acts on permission. A permission is not a right.

Do not make the mistake, at this point, of thinking that a worker is a slave and that he holds his job by his employer's permission. He does not hold it by permission, but by contract, that is, by a voluntary mutual agreement. A worker can quit his job. A slave cannot.

5. What Are the Inalienable Rights of Man?

The inalienable Rights of Men are: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

The Right of Life means that Man cannot be deprived of his life for the benefit of another man nor of any number of other men.

The Right of Liberty means Man's right to individual action, individual choice, individual initiative and individual property. Without the right to private property, no independent action is possible.

The Right to the Pursuit of Happiness means man's right to live for himself, to choose what constitutes his own private, personal, individual happiness and to work for its achievement, so long as he respects the same right in others. It means that Man cannot be forced to devote his life to the happiness of another man nor of any number of other men. It means that the collective cannot decide what is to be the purpose of a man's existence, nor prescribe his choice of happiness.

6. How Do We Recognize One Another's Rights?

Since Man has inalienable individual rights, this means that the same rights are held, individually, by every man, by all men, at all times. Therefore, the rights of one man cannot and must not violate the rights of another.  [Hence, the so-called “right to receive from others” is not a right since it violates the rights of others to voluntarily give.  The “right to receive” is a demand, not a right.]

For instance: a man has the right to live, but he has no right to take the life of another. He has the right to be free, but no right to enslave another. He has the right to choose his own happiness, but no right to decide that his happiness lies in the misery (or murder or robbery or enslavement) of another. The very right upon which he acts defines the same right of another man and serves as a guide to tell him what he may or may not do.

Do not make the mistake of the ignorant who think that an individualist is a man who says, 'I'll do as I please at everybody else's expense." An individualist is a man who recognizes the inalienable individual rights of man, his own and those of others.

An individualist is a man who says, "I'll not run anyone's life, nor let anyone run mine. I will not rule nor be ruled. I will not be a master, nor a slave. I will not sacrifice myself to anyone, nor sacrifice anyone to myself."

A collectivist is a man who says, "Let's get together, boys, and then anything goes!"  [Or, as the current Obama Administration says, we must sacrifice our individual selves for the good of collective society, for collective social justice, for collective salvation, and a myriad of other collectivist, redistributionist terms.] -- FM Duck

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