Individual Rights

 

Rights.  As Ayn Rand said, "the rights of one man cannot and must not violate the rights of another."  There is no such thing as a right to violate rights.

 
What are rights?  Why do we say individual rights and not human rights?  Why do we say individual rights and not civil rights?  Why do we say individual rights and not constitutional rights?  Well, let's see if we can clarify a few things especially in the context of thinking about what it looks and feels like to live in a culture where there is no initiation of physical force.
 
Individual rights are key.  Human rights, civil rights and constitutional rights are all a bit of a redundancy.  Humans are the only animal on earth that can have rights.  Why?  Because rights are moral principles and humans are the only animals where morality applies.  We don't make moral judgments of the actions of dogs or mice or whales.  They have no choices in the sense that they could have considered something otherwise.  This is an important point in the whole idea of rights:  morality only applies where there is free will to make a choice.  If one has no choice, then there can be no moral judgment.  If there is no moral judgment then anyone can do whatever they please, no matter the consequence to anyone else.
 
Civil rights are really another kind of redundancy.  In fact, rights are all about being civil or civilized.  If we all acted as savages, not recognizing each others' right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, this would not be civilization.  It would be a primitive chaos.  Now, you might sit there in your nice comfy chair, reading the words on your computer screen, moving your mouse around to surf areas of interest, sipping a hot or cold beverage, etc. and flippantly think "oh, civilization is overrated" or "we should all go back to a more natural, primitive existence"...but then you'd realize how hypocritical and just plain silly that thought is and be glad that you hadn't uttered it in civilized company or in the company of anyone who might take you seriously and be able to accommodate you. 
 
Now, we all remember that the term "civil rights" often refers to the idea that ensures one's ability to participate in the civil and political life of our communities and government without any discrimination.  This term has significance in the sense of reaffirming the original idea behind individual rights in the first place:  that it doesn't matter what color your skin is or what gender you are, etc.  What matters is that you are an individual who has the right to act toward your own goals and further your own life.  Do we really need another name to designate such rights?  Well, it may have served a some purpose but it can confuse people because civil rights don't, or at least shouldn't, give you anything that individual rights don't already give you, namely the right to pursue your own life (which does include the very minor right to vote for who might represent you in government).  Voting is today viewed as a big deal but your life is so much more important than voting in elections every couple years - you get to "vote with your thoughts and actions" every single moment of the waking day.
 
When we start thinking that civil rights means that you're entitled to, for example, an education, a job, housing, healthcare, etc. then this is where we've gone madly off the track in at least two important ways.  First, a right to these things would have to entail the violation of someone else's rights.  That is, if it's someone's civil right to be provided an education or medical care, then someone has to be forced to provide it (otherwise there's a voluntary trade going on) - a teacher or a doctor or, more likely, a taxpayer is forced to provide it.  Second, viewing civil rights as anything other than individual rights takes the dignity of the individual away by associating that person's importance and value as a part of a collective or tribe.  It demeans he or she into a psychological dependency where they believe that they cannot achieve these things for themselves.
 
What about constitutional rights?  We hear people talk as though the government gives us rights or even that our rights come from the constitution.  But thinking this way is an error as well.  The American constitution was enacted by our founders to establish the government and define the powers it had - namely to restrict it's actions and to define it's scope in our lives.  The constitution doesn't give us any rights.  It, along with theDeclaration of Independence, acknowledges that we, as individuals, already have such rights to pursue our own happiness and defines the government as the protector of those rights. 
 
So really it's about individual rights, about an individual's right to their own life.  You have a right to your life and I have a right to mine and so does any other individual.  All other rights, whether it is the right to free speech or the right of assembly or the right to keep the fruits of their own labor/productivity, are just an implication of one's right to their own life. 
 
This is truly the underlying principle of capitalism - individual rights.