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by Free Market Duck

What is the Basic Issue in the World Today? -- Part 2 of 3

by Ayn Rand
annotated by FM Duck
Feb 02, 2011

"7.  How do we determine that a right has been violated?"

"8.  What is the proper function of government?"

"9.  Can there be a "mixed" social system?"

"10.  Can a society exist without a moral principle?"

7. How Do We Determine That a Right Has Been Violated?

A right cannot be violated except by physical force. One man cannot deprive another of his life nor enslave him, nor forbid him to pursue happiness, except by using force against him. Whenever a man is made to act without his own free, personal, individual, voluntary consent, his right has been violated.

Therefore, we can draw a clear-cut division between the rights of one man and those of another.  It is an objective division, not subject to differences of opinion, nor to majority decision, nor to the arbitrary decree of society. NO MAN HAS THE RIGHT TO INITIATE THE USE OF PHYSICAL FORCE AGAINST ANOTHER MAN.

The practical rule of conduct in a free society, a society of Individualism, is simple and clear-cut: you cannot expect or demand any action from another man, except through his free, voluntary consent.

Do not be misled on this point by an old collectivist trick which goes like this: (1) There is no absolute freedom anyway, since you are not free to murder, (2) society limits your freedom when it does not permit you to kill, (3) therefore, society holds the right to limit your freedom in any manner it sees fit, (4) therefore, drop the delusion of freedom, and (5) freedom is whatever society decides it is.

It is not society, nor any social right, that forbids you to kill, but the inalienable individual right of another man to live. This is not a "compromise" between two rights, but a line of division that preserves both rights untouched. The division is not derived from an edict of society, but from your own inalienable individual right. The definition of this limit is not set arbitrarily by society, but is implicit in the definition of your own right.

Within the sphere of your own rights, your freedom is absolute.

8. What Is the Proper Function of Government?

The proper function of government is to protect the individual rights of man; this means to protect man against brute force.

In a proper social system, men do not use force against one another.  Force may be used only in self-defense, that is, in defense of a right violated by force. Men delegate to the government the power to use force in retaliation, and only in retaliation.

The proper kind of government does not initiate the use of force. It uses force only to answer those who have initiated its use. For example when the government arrests a criminal, it is not the government that violates a right; it is the criminal who has violated a right and by doing so has placed himself outside the principle of rights, where men can have no recourse against him except through force.

Now it is important to remember that all actions defined as criminal in a free society are actions involving force and only such actions are answered by force.

Do not be misled by sloppy expressions such as, "A murderer commits a crime against society." It is not society that a murderer murders, but an individual man. It is not a social right that he breaks, but an individual right. He is not punished for hurting a collective.  He has not hurt a whole collective, he has hurt one man. If a criminal robs ten men, it is still not "society" that he has robbed, but ten individuals. There are no crimes against society."  All crimes are committed against specific men, against individuals. And it is precisely the duty of a proper social system and of a proper government to protect an individual against criminal attack, against force.

When, however, a government becomes an initiator of force, the injustice and moral corruption involved are truly unspeakable.

For example: When a Collectivist government orders a man to work and attaches him to a job, under penalty of death or imprisonment, it is the government that initiates the use of force. The man has done no violence to anyone, but the government uses violence against him. There is no possible justification for such a procedure in theory. And there is no possible result in practice, except the blood and the terror which you can observe in any Collectivist country.  [And that is why President Obama’s collectivist health care program, ObamaCare, as well as many of his other socialist programs, must be abolished:  because they are improper uses of the power of government as they initiate the use of force against individuals on the pretense of enforcing a nonexistent (and contradictory) “right to receive” and redistribute private property involuntarily from one individual to another.  This is a prime example of the creature, a government created by free people, performing the very crimes that it was created to prohibit.] 

The moral perversion involved is this: If men had no government and no social system of any kind, they might have to exist through sheer force and fight one another in any disagreement.  In such a state, one man would have a fair chance against one other man but he would have no chance against ten others. It is not against an individual that a man needs protection, but against a group. Still, in such a state of anarchy, while any majority gang would have its way, a minority could fight them by any means available. And the gang could not make its rule last.

Collectivism goes a step below savage anarchy: it takes away from man even the chance to fight back. It makes violence legal and resistance to it illegal. It gives the sanction of law to the organized brute force of a majority (or of anyone who claims to represent it) and turns the minority into a helpless, disarmed object of extermination. If you can think of a more vicious perversion of justice, name it.

In actual practice, when a Collectivist society violates the rights of a minority (or of one single man), the result is that the majority loses its rights as well, and finds itself delivered into the total power of a small group that rules through sheer brute force.

If you want to understand and keep clearly in mind the difference between the use of force as retaliation (as it is used by the government of an Individualist society) and the use of force as primary policy (as it is used by the government of a Collectivist society), here is the simplest example of it: it is the same difference as that between a man who kills in self-defense and a murderer. The proper kind of government acts on the principle of man's self-defense. A Collectivist government acts like a murderer.

9. Can There Be A "Mixed" Social System?

There can be no social system which is a mixture of Individualism and Collectivism. Either individual rights are recognized in a society, or they are not recognized. They cannot be half-recognized.

What frequently happens, however, is that a society based on Individualism does not have the courage, integrity and intelligence to observe its own principle consistently in every practical application. Through ignorance, cowardice or mental sloppiness, such a society passes laws and accepts regulations which contradict its basic principle and violate the rights of man. To the extent of such violations, society perpetrates injustices, evils and abuses. If the breaches are not corrected, society collapses into the chaos of Collectivism.  [As it is currently happening in today’s government-created recession.]

When you see a society that recognizes man's rights in some of its laws, but not in others, do not hail it as a "mixed" system and do not conclude that a compromise between basic principles, opposed in theory, can be made to work in practice. Such a society is not working, it is merely disintegrating. Disintegration takes time. Nothing falls to pieces immediately, neither a human body nor a human society.

10. Can A Society Exist Without a Moral Principle?

A great many people today hold the childish notion that society can do anything it pleases, that principles are unnecessary, rights are only an illusion, and expediency is the practical guide to action.

It is true that society can abandon moral principles and turn itself into a herd running amuck to destruction. Just as it is true that a man can cut his own throat anytime he chooses. But a man cannot do this if he wishes to survive. And society cannot abandon moral principles if it expects to exist.

Society is a large number of men who live together in the same country, and who deal with one another. Unless there is a defined, objective moral code, which men understand and observe, they have no way of dealing with one another since none can know what to expect from his neighbor. The man who recognizes no morality is the criminal; you can do nothing when dealing with a criminal, except try to crack his skull before he cracks yours. You have no other language, no terms of behavior mutually accepted. To speak of a society without moral principles is to advocate that men live together like criminals.

We are still observing, by tradition, so many moral precepts, that we take them for granted and do not realize how many actions of our daily lives are made possible only by moral principles. Why is it safe for you to go into a crowded department store, make a purchase and come out again? The crowd around you needs goods, too; the crowd could easily overpower the few salesgirls, ransack the store and grab your packages and pocketbook as well. Why don't they do it? There is nothing to stop them and nothing to protect you, except the moral principle of your individual right of life and property.  [Note how this moral principle has broken down today, if it ever existed, all across the various collectivist nations in Europe, riots in the streets of Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, France, and others as the people throw rocks and bombs at the police, burn cars, and ransack stores to steal goods as they scream that it is their redistributive “right to receive” the private property of others.  This is the mob rule of Collectivism in its penultimate stage toward total collapse.  This is what will soon happen in America, too, if the collectivist policies of the current Progressive Socialism of President Barack Obama are not stopped.  The ultimate, of course -- and highly predictable – is the gross spectacle of Collectivism degenerating into a World War, as the biggest international gang tries to grab power from all the other gangs created by today’s predominant collectivist ideology.  Meanwhile, the so-called Intellectuals who created this Monstrosity of Collectivist Philosophy pretend they did not see it coming; while the Pragmatists of Collectivism, mostly the central bankers, are licking their chops at having dragged the Intellectuals down the path of a World War to hoist the Intellectuals on their own collectivist swords.]

Do not make the mistake of thinking that crowds are restrained merely by fear of policemen. There could not be enough policemen in the world if men believed that it is proper and practical to loot. And if men believed this, why shouldn't the policemen believe it, too? Who, then, would be the policemen?

Besides, in a Collectivist society, the policemen's duty is not to protect your rights, but to violate them.

It would certainly be expedient for the crowd to loot the department store, if we accept the expediency of the moment as a sound and proper rule of action. But how many department stores, how many factories, farms or homes would we have, and for how long, under this rule of expediency?

If we discard morality and substitute for it the collectivist doctrine of unlimited majority rule, if we accept the idea that a majority may do anything it pleases, and that anything done by a majority is right because it's done by a majority (this being the only standard of right and wrong), how are men to apply this in practice to their actual lives? Who is the majority? In relation to each particular man, all other men are potential members of that majority which may destroy him at its pleasure at any moment. Then each man and all men become enemies; each has to fear and suspect all; each must try to rob and murder first, before he is robbed and murdered.

If you think that this is just abstract theory, take a look at Europe for a practical demonstration. In Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, private citizens did the foulest work of the G.P.U. and the Gestapo, spying on one another, delivering their own relatives and friends to the secret police and the torture chambers. This was the result in practice of Collectivism in theory. This was the concrete application of that empty, vicious Collectivist slogan which seems so high-sounding to the unthinking, "The public good comes above any individual rights."  [Listen carefully to today’s politicians, especially the left Liberal Progressives in President Obama’s administration.  ObamaCare is the pragmatic demonstration of Collectivism in theory.  You – and the concept of Individualism -- are the targeted victims of Obama’s collectivist power grab.  It was not for your health care that President Obama and his collectivist thugs rammed national socialist health care through the back doors of Congress; it was for power over you and the power to destroy what’s left in America of the moral principle of Individualism.  Wake up, Americans.  ObamaCare is not about content; it’s about format.  Create the collectivist format, the structure, so Obama can destroy the Individualist content of a private free market health care system.  That’s why Obama’s 2,700-page bill had no rational, decipherable individual content; it was the collectivist format they wanted.  They will strip you of your individual rights later, using their collectivist structure.]

Without individual rights, no public good is possible.

Collectivism, which places the group above the individual and tells men to sacrifice their rights for the sake of their brothers, results in a state where men have no choice but to dread, hate and destroy their brothers.

Peace, security, prosperity, co-operation and good will among men -- all those things considered socially desirable -- are possible only under a system of Individualism, where each man is safe in the exercise of his individual rights and in the knowledge that society is there to protect his rights, not to destroy them. Then each man knows what he may or may not do to his neighbors, and what his neighbors (one or a million of them) may or may not do to him. Then he is free to deal with them as a friend and an equal.

Without a moral code no proper human society is possible.

Without the recognition of individual rights no moral code is possible.

 -- FM Duck

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