Physical force is anti-life. And to whatever extent or degree it is used, it restricts or prevents one from acting on his or her own judgment. The greater the force the less human a life one can live. This is not an opinion, a social convention or a divine decree – it is a metaphysical fact.
The way that humans live (survive) is by acting on their rational judgment, as opposed to animals or plants that survive by evolutionary instinct and/or biochemical reactions which mutate over time via natural selection. Of course, humans also evolve and mutate but their fundamental tool of survival is their rational mind. And when we humans are precluded or stopped by force from exercising our rational judgments our lives are ratably lessened, and in the worst case resulting in death. Choosing to ignore this objective, metaphysical, fact of the need to act rationally and use reason to survive and live will just as directly limit an individual’s independence; his freedom to act on his own judgment, which is the definition of liberty. Remember, man has no innate instincts to guide his actions. If a man chooses to ignore reason and rational action there are no innate instincts that will save him; pain, suffering, and even death will eventually find him, and it will find him whether he likes it or not because that is the nature of reality.
The axiom here is that as and to the degree force is applied, or irrational actions are taken, an individual’s freedom to act, his liberty, and his life (or the quality thereof), is reduced. Conversely, the more an individual uses reason and rationality, and the less the extent to which his reason and the use of his own judgement are hampered or restricted (by force or his own irrational choices), the greater his quality and quantity of life will be.
As individuals we have free will, and as such we can (and do) choose to use reason, or not. We can choose to act on our best judgments, or not. Moreover, we are not infallible – we all too often operate on less than perfect information. And this feature of humanity, free will, is what fundamentally gives rise to the concept and study of morality; chosen values. And values are those things we act to gain and to keep that make life possible. Again, these are facts of reality and not revelations, edicts from government, or decrees from a dictator or monarch.
Humans therefore need a principle that recognizes these metaphysical facts regarding the initiation of physical force and an individual’s judgments. A principle that integrates these concepts, recognizing that humans need to act on their own judgments, and that force serves to prevent such action. Such is the principle of individual rights. And the fundamental purpose of properly recognizing individual rights is so that people can live together peacefully in a social context to maximize their individual life while recognizing the rights of others to do the same.
Ayn Rand stated:
“Rights are a moral concept that provides for a logical transition guiding an individual’s actions to the principles guiding his relations with others. It is the concept that preserves and protects individual morality in a social context; the link between a moral code of a man, and the legal code of a society – between ethics and politics. Individual rights are the means of subordinating society to moral law.”
So it is that individual rights are both moral and political, and are a reflection of the fundamental fact that man needs to be free; liberty is his natural state if life is his goal. And if life is his purpose, then he must be free to pursue those values that allow and sustain it. If you cannot get your moral rights from the facts of reality, then they are no more “natural” than printing money can be said to create wealth. And this is no small concept! Point being what is good or bad only has meaning in the context of a living being – nothing is good or evil if you no longer exist. “Good” and “Values” have no meaning except in the context of a living human person, animal, or plant.
Natural rights, properly understood, are in fact individual rights, and individual rights are, in fact, natural rights. The subordination of the government to the individual, implicitly found in the Declaration of Independence, is premised on those metaphysical facts of reality which place the interests of the individual ABOVE the interests of any government, i.e. the subordination of government (“society”) to the individual. And such is the antithesis of all collectivist ideologies that have ever existed, as well as the inane notion of collectivized rights. Natural rights clearly do not come from a supernatural source, they are a direct reflection of the metaphysical facts regarding what it actually means to live, and what is required to live, as a human being (as opposed to a slave, a serf, a delusional dupe, a prisoner, or a corpse). Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness then, properly understood, are premised upon natural (individual) rights, and not some decree, supernatural revelation, or social convention.
This was what the founders lacked; the integrated philosophical premise to the political system they unleased so marvelously upon the world.. Clearly they observed and recognized some of those metaphysical facts required for life, e.g. freedom. But an integrated philosophical premise was missing, and allowed for subjective interpretations of the grand political system they invented. After all, natural rights as espoused back then implied an intrinsic feature that simply wasn’t there. No matter how many corpses were analyzed, no rights could be found amongst the heart, liver, stomach and lungs! It wasn’t until the 20th century and a brilliant philosopher named Ayn Rand that this defendable base and definition of individual rights was discovered – and she discovered it through the recognition of the real world, life sustaining, needs of man. It is her singular and profound contribution to humanity. It is our responsibility to grasp it, understand it, and apply it.
So it is, to a degree, something of a setup here that I asked where natural rights come from. Whether you believe in the supernatural or not, you cannot defend our founders vision, you cannot have a coherent theory of natural rights, you cannot defend capitalism (and its premise of individual rights and private property) from the notion of supernatural sources for natural rights. Nor can you defend them by asserting them to be intrinsic features of man unconnected to any rational base. Both of these, as I mentioned at the outset of Part I, “opens the door wide for any would-be looter of either the mind, or your pocketbook.” If there is any hope for mankind, it is from a rational basis grounded in reality for the natural, individual, rights of man that will finally set us free from the subjectivists of every stripe. So, the answer to the question is simply that natural rights come from the recognition of those fundamental requirements of a man to live, and specifically it is his own life which is the standard of value.
h/t to Craig Biddle for his great book Loving Life, and his essays, and lectures.