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Correcting the nonaggression "principle"

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1 hour ago, DavidOdden said:

I don’t know what you mean by “inadvertent” breach of contract: this is probably a terminological issue.

A breach of contract not intended by a party, such as one caused by an outside force, or a misunderstanding of the terms of the contract.
 

1 hour ago, DavidOdden said:

In an objective legal system, force would not come into play until the person knows of the act (“you failed to paint the wall”) and authoritatively knows that he agreed to (the court rules that that is part of the contract).

Agreed, with the proviso that the legal system might have to employ force (such as compulsory testimony) in order to determine those things.

1 hour ago, DavidOdden said:

In the case of Apple v. FBI, there clearly was initiation of force, by Farook Malik.

And, according to the NAP, that permits the use of force against Malik -- but not Apple.  
 

1 hour ago, DavidOdden said:

I think the fact that you’ve lost track of is that moral responsibility for the use of force against innocents lies with the initiator of force.

Your premise, then, is that, if I have used force, the government may use force against non-force-using third parties when necessary to address my use of force? (The "moral responsibility" argument is not part of Objectivism.  But the proposition that collateral damage is an acceptable part of self-defense is, and would have much the same, ah, force.)

1 hour ago, DavidOdden said:

I take it that you’re alluding to some alternative to the Objectivist acount of retributive force, essentially only accepting defensive force. A person who commits, say, assault, does thereby lose all right to be free from assault, in a manner prescribed by objective law.

No. I'm talking Objectivism as it is written.  Force in society is legitimate only in the protection of rights.  This protection may be done defensively, preventing rights violations, or retributively, compensating for violated rights.  But neither supports the proposition that there is no limit to the force that may be employed against a person who has once violated rights.  There is such a limit, and it is imposed by the fact that force is only legitimate when protecting rights.  So, if I have committed an assault, the government may use such force as is necessary, defensively, to prevent my continued use of force, or retributively, to compensate my victim, but no further.  Because once past that point, the government's use of force no longer protects anyone's rights, and is therefore illegitimate.

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2 hours ago, 2046 said:

I'm not sure compulsory testimony can be squared with the NAP

Compulsory testimony needs to be squared with the more fundamental principle of individual rights, not the NAP, which only applies to the subjects of a government. The government must be allowed to initiate the force necessary to protect society from those who violate individual rights. Compelling truthful testimony from witnesses seems necessary for that purpose, as justice demands that factual evidence be presented against the accused.

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12 minutes ago, DonAthos said:

"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."

Let me put it this way:

My right to do things with my widget is either conditional ("I have a right to do what I will with my widget, unless I have sold it") or alienable ("I have a right to do what I will with my widget, which I lose when I have sold it").  I hope that you see that this is essentially a syntactic -- not even a semantic -- distinction.  The essential point is that, once I've sold that widget, I have lost the sanction to do as I will with the widget, I can no longer be said to have rights with respect to it.

I also note that Rand here was talking about Man, not individual men.  It is "Man's rights" that she is explaining as inalienable, not those rights pertaining to a particular person's life. Perhaps one can square this particular circle with the proposition that a man's right to life is inalienable -- it's a metaphysical aspect of being a human being -- but particular rights, such as a right with respect to a widget, are not. (But is that really true? Can't I sell my life, even if the government would not enforce such a sale?)

43 minutes ago, DonAthos said:

I don't know what this does for or against your case, but if if we'd like to know how the specific term "inalienable" applies to Rand's conception of rights, we might have to look beyond the quote you've provided.

I don't think it makes any difference either way.  
 

44 minutes ago, DonAthos said:

Man's property rights are not "alienated" by the sale of a widget; rather, his voluntary sale of the widget is an expression of his property rights.

Actually, it's both.  The sale is my acting as of right and alienates future rights (or, as I noted above, my right to the widget is conditional).
 

1 hour ago, DonAthos said:

My initial "instinct," however, is that I would rather lose subpoena than the prohibition against the initiation of the use of force.

I can understand that.  But I'm not talking about a wholesale abandonment of the NAP, but rather a rederivation that corrects a relatively minor error.

DavidOdden suggests another approach, the proposition that compulsory jury duty is, essentially, collateral damage from self-defense.  I'm not sure that that would make you any more comfortable. :)

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1 hour ago, MisterSwig said:

Rand accepted a form of Locke's social contract theory.

No she did not.  She argued that it is in each person's self-interest to do certain things, not that there was any sort of contract, social or otherwise, to do those things.
 

2 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

But both of them argued that the proper basis for government is the agreement among people to recognize and protect individual rights. Rand wrote in The Nature of Government:

Quote

If men are to live together in a peaceful, productive, rational society and deal with one another to mutual benefit, they must accept the basic social principle without which no moral or civilized society is possible: the principle of individual rights.

Rand is not arguing here that there is an "agreement among people", but rather that each rational person must accept the principle of individual rights because he is a rational person, that this principle is an unavoidable conclusion of rational thought.  It would not be negated if, for example, 100% of society decided that they could dispense with individual rights.  All that would happen then is that the logic of the principle would be demonstrated -- the society would quickly disintegrate.

2 hours ago, MisterSwig said:
4 hours ago, Invictus2017 said:

The propriety of the government's use of force does not stem from such a thing [a social contract], it stems from its function as an agent of an individual who has an enforceable right.

From what does the government's function as an agent stem? Isn't there usually some sort of agreement or contract between agent and client?

Not necessarily.  The obvious examples being attorneys in various functions, such as protecting the rights of children and the insane and as appointed counsel, or parents acting as agents for their children.  Be that as it may, this function stems from the necessity of government.  That is, the choice nature gives us is either chaos or government and its agency.  A rational person will reject chaos, so will therefore accept government, along with its agency.  The "agreement" is really just a recognition of the necessity that nature presents.
 

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1 hour ago, MisterSwig said:

Compulsory testimony needs to be squared with the more fundamental principle of individual rights, not the NAP, which only applies to the subjects of a government. The government must be allowed to initiate the force necessary to protect society from those who violate individual rights. Compelling truthful testimony from witnesses seems necessary for that purpose, as justice demands that factual evidence be presented against the accused.

That's more or less what I said in my original post.  My point there was this fact means that the NAP is not 100% correct, and should be given a hard look by, as you point out, considering the more fundamental principle of individual rights.

(My actual argument is that, since government must be objective, and arbitrary refusal to provide evidence would negate that objectivity, no person may arbitrarily refuse to provide evidence, with the corollary that the government may, in appropriate circumstances, compel the provision of evidence.)

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32 minutes ago, Invictus2017 said:

It would not be negated if, for example, 100% of society decided that they could dispense with individual rights.  All that would happen then is that the logic of the principle would be demonstrated -- the society would quickly disintegrate.

Many societies have and still do exist without accepting (or even knowing about) the principle of individual rights. That's not what keeps a society integrated. Common values, purposes, beliefs, customs, etc., do that. Individual rights are what keep a society moral and civilized. Without them societies remain vicious and violent. 

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Wow so many confusions.

1. Rand did not accept social contract theory. This would be a novel interpretation.

2. Alienating an object and alienating your freedom to act are two separate things. Using casual speech like "I gave up my rights to the dog" or "you lied to me, what a fraud!" just leads to muddled confusions.

3. Government needs to initiate force to protect rights? Yet rights can only be violated by initiation of force? Yet only subjects of government are prohibited from initiating, but not the government? What a mess of contradictions.

4. We just need compulsory testimony? Government needs this to function. There's just no way around it, it needs it, needs needs needs. But this is an unsupported assertion. Why does it need forced testimony? Would the society collapse? Would courts be unable to function? Of course not In fact, this is nowhere near a necessary part of legal proceedings. Nor was this always an intrinsic part of the law.

The common law, the most liberty oriented portions of it, always contained prohibitions from being compelled to incriminate yourself, but they should also prevent you from being forced to testify at all. If you don't want to, that's you're right as a free man. Historically, it was a perversion of the law, added in medieval times by a Bishop during the reign of Richard II, in order to coerce confessions during religious trials.

 

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13 hours ago, 2046 said:

3. Government needs to initiate force to protect rights? Yet rights can only be violated by initiation of force? Yet only subjects of government are prohibited from initiating, but not the government? What a mess of contradictions.

Indeed.  Resolving contradictions like those is why I started this topic.

13 hours ago, 2046 said:

4. We just need compulsory testimony? Government needs this to function. There's just no way around it, it needs it, needs needs needs. But this is an unsupported assertion. Why does it need forced testimony? Would the society collapse? Would courts be unable to function? Of course not In fact, this is nowhere near a necessary part of legal proceedings. Nor was this always an intrinsic part of the law.

Apparently Rand accepted the legitimacy of compulsory testimony.  I say "apparently" because the only reference I have to this is an interview with Raymond Newman.  It's on line but I can't get to it.  Perhaps someone who has it will comment?  Be that as it may, taking Rand's word would be accepting an argument from authority, so.....

In my original post, I explained the necessity of compulsory testimony.  I'll expand on it a little here.

 

A legal system must be objective.  It cannot be objective if it is arbitrarily deprived of the information it needs to properly judge.  The need for anything entails its prerequisites, so the need for government entails that government not be arbitrarily denied the information it needs to be objective.  So, a person may refuse to provide information, but not arbitrarily.  Therefore, if the government determines, via an objective process, that a person has arbitrarily refused to give information that is required to produce an objective judgment, it may ignore the refusal and compel the information.

Note that this does not imply an unlimited power to compel.  And it allows for concepts such that embodied in the Fifth Amendment and the lawyer/client privilege.  But it requires, in appropriate cases, that government compels testimony.

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2 hours ago, Invictus2017 said:

Apparently Rand accepted the legitimacy of compulsory testimony.  I say "apparently" because the only reference I have to this is an interview with Raymond Newman.  It's on line but I can't get to it.

Rand may or may not have "accepted the legitimacy of compulsory testimony" in such an interview, but I would be most interested in her reasoning on the subject, because I suspect I would find it hard to square with the rest of her political philosophy -- and not just in terms of how she framed her prohibition against the initiation of the use of force.

For instance, you have given approval to the draft (if in times of extremity), when you'd written (bold emphasis added):

On 11/23/2017 at 6:08 PM, Invictus2017 said:

...a government needs manpower, but it has the option to hire that manpower rather than conscript it...which makes the argument insufficient to justify conscription.

[...]

It is only in the case where there is a pattern of deprivation so severe that the government cannot function that the government would be permitted to -- and required to -- compel people to provide the necessary resources.  In such a case, the argument does apply, because no rational person would want a government that was nonfunctional due to insufficient resources.

I've had to elide quite a bit to point out your essential approval of the draft -- and please offer correction if I've taken you against your meaning in the process -- but I agree that this is consistent with the argument you've made. The government may not need particular soldiers, but an overall shortage of manpower (if hiring proves ineffective, in a given context) would justify a draft.

Compare this against Rand, writing about the draft:

Quote

Of all the statist violations of individual rights in a mixed economy, the military draft is the worst. It is an abrogation of rights. It negates man’s fundamental right—the right to life—and establishes the fundamental principle of statism: that a man’s life belongs to the state, and the state may claim it by compelling him to sacrifice it in battle. Once that principle is accepted, the rest is only a matter of time.

This does not suggest to me that she would allow for a draft, given some shortage of manpower. And later, Rand says specifically, "It is often asked: 'But what if a country cannot find a sufficient number of volunteers?' Even so, this would not give the rest of the population a right to the lives of the country’s young men."

Given this, and her equally principled opposition to compulsory taxation, it seems to me that, per her philosophy, even what some particular government is judged to "need" is no moral claim against individual men or their rights.

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18 hours ago, 2046 said:

3. Government needs to initiate force to protect rights? Yet rights can only be violated by initiation of force? Yet only subjects of government are prohibited from initiating, but not the government? What a mess of contradictions.

When applying the NAP to government, we must account for the social contract. Otherwise, yes, we'll hit a wall of seeming contradictions.

Part of the social contract is that we give up certain rights in exchange for the protection of others. For example, I give up my right to resist reasonable searches and seizures of property in accordance with the 4th amendment; I give up my right to resist being held to answer for a capital crime in accordance with the 5th amendment; and I give up my right to resist being compelled as a trial witness in accordance with the 6th amendment. (Note that the 5th amendment explicitly upholds my right to resist being compelled as a witness against myself.) I give up certain rights in exchange for the government's protection in other areas of my life, namely so that I can live in a relatively peaceful, civilized society with objective laws and a fair judicial system.

The government initiating legal force therefore does not contradict the NAP, because I have relinquished the specific rights they are allegedly violating. It would be like agreeing to sell my car for a thousand dollars, accepting payment, then resisting when the buyer came to take my car away. I gave up the right to that particular action. The car is not mine anymore. The critical difference with the social contract is that usually you don't explicitly agree to it. It's an implied agreement. But you should be well-aware of it by the time you reach adulthood, and if you don't like it, you're free to try your skills at being an outlaw or an exile somewhere else on the planet.

Sometimes the government will in fact violate our retained individual rights, or we will disagree with the rights our forefathers surrendered. This is a big problem, and something must be done about it. If our rights have been violated by government, we can bring a case to the courts. And if our rights have been improperly surrendered, we can try to change the law--or rebel.

Edited by MisterSwig

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1 hour ago, DonAthos said:

I've had to elide quite a bit to point out your essential approval of the draft -- and please offer correction if I've taken you against your meaning in the process -- but I agree that this is consistent with the argument you've made. The government may not need particular soldiers, but an overall shortage of manpower (if hiring proves ineffective, in a given context) would justify a draft.

You have taken my meaning correctly. But you need to understand that it doesn't apply to ordinary shortages of manpower.  It can only apply where the shortage means that the government literally can't function as a government.  So, if the government can continue to protect rights, albeit slowly and painfully, my argument fails.

But a situation where a government can't govern -- that is, can't protect rights -- without conscription is way outside the norm.  I'd go so far as to say that such a situation is outside the context of the Objectivist ethics and therefore outside the context of Rand's theory of government.

In such a case, the government is in precisely the same situation a person is who is confronted by an emergency.  His fundamental goal is to end the emergency so that he can return to normal life.  If this is possible, he will take whatever actions necessary, even if those actions would be improper in other circumstances.  In such a situation, the individual might choose to kill a stranger rather than allow himself to die, even if the stranger is blameless.  And a government might engage in conscription, even though doing so would ordinarily be forbidden.

I note that there is an alternative.  My hypothetical individual might decide that he is unwilling to survive at the cost of an innocent life, and those running what would have been a government in ordinary times might refuse to conscript and let the population suffer the consequences of being ungoverned. Off the top of my head, I can't see a general argument that would require either choice.

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8 hours ago, Invictus2017 said:

Indeed.  Resolving contradictions like those is why I started this topic.

Apparently Rand accepted the legitimacy of compulsory testimony.  I say "apparently" because the only reference I have to this is an interview with Raymond Newman.  It's on line but I can't get to it.  Perhaps someone who has it will comment?  Be that as it may, taking Rand's word would be accepting an argument from authority, so.....

In my original post, I explained the necessity of compulsory testimony.  I'll expand on it a little here.

 

A legal system must be objective.  It cannot be objective if it is arbitrarily deprived of the information it needs to properly judge.  The need for anything entails its prerequisites, so the need for government entails that government not be arbitrarily denied the information it needs to be objective.  So, a person may refuse to provide information, but not arbitrarily.  Therefore, if the government determines, via an objective process, that a person has arbitrarily refused to give information that is required to produce an objective judgment, it may ignore the refusal and compel the information.

Note that this does not imply an unlimited power to compel.  And it allows for concepts such that embodied in the Fifth Amendment and the lawyer/client privilege.  But it requires, in appropriate cases, that government compels testimony.

So, you have identified a political proposition which conflicts with rights, and are prepared to jettison rights. Whereas I am inclined to jettison the political proposition. 

I would agree with Rand's epic statement:    

When we say that we hold individual rights to be inalienable, we must mean just that. Inalienable means that which we may not take away, suspend, infringe, restrict or violate -- not ever, not at any time, not for any purpose whatsoever. 
    You cannot say that "man has inalienable rights except in cold weather and on every second Tuesday," just as you cannot say that "man has inalienable rights except in an emergency," or "man's rights cannot be violated except for a good purpose."

What are the reasons for thinking this? Well if you believe, which I do, that philosophy is hierarchical, then you believe that rights both are formulated and exist prior governments, then that is prima facie reason to resolve any conflict between a government policy or construction in favor of rights and not the government. 

If how to properly construct a legal system depends on facts about my rights, and my rights are more fundamental, then any conflict between the two should generally lead me to favor my rights. Nor could I appeal to the existence of a contradiction as a reason for favoring the govermental construction over my rights, since what kind of governmental construction I want to have depends on what my rights are. 

Now you certainly could come down on the view that we need to reformulate our understanding of our rights, but you can't appeal to needs of the government in order to do so.

Nor would your specific argument work. The government isn't a person, it's an institution or organization, it therefore has no needs other than the needs and interests of individuals. And my needs and interests include not being forced to think or act, as a potential victim of your compelled testimony government, for to quote Mises, at the end of every government policy is the gendarme, the hangman, and the firing squad.

If your government is subjecting innocent people for the sake of its "needs," then sorry, it loses out. The "objectivity" in objective law has no needs outside of and against the needs of the individual, that is what makes it objective, if objective law is subjecting nonaggressors to violence, it has lost its objectivity. Yes it's true that sometimes jurors, judges, and arbitrators do not possess enough information as they need to make a judgment, but that's just how it is in a free society sometimes. As the great liberal Sir Thomas Moore stated, I give the Devil the benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.

 

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3 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

When applying the NAP to government, we must account for the social contract. Otherwise, yes, we'll hit a wall of seeming contradictions.

Part of the social contract is that we give up certain rights in exchange for the protection of others. For example, I give up my right to resist reasonable searches and seizures of property in accordance with the 4th amendment; I give up my right to resist being held to answer for a capital crime in accordance with the 5th amendment; and I give up my right to resist being compelled as a trial witness in accordance with the 6th amendment. (Note that the 5th amendment explicitly upholds my right to resist being compelled as a witness against myself.) I give up certain rights in exchange for the government's protection in other areas of my life, namely so that I can live in a relatively peaceful, civilized society with objective laws and a fair judicial system.

The government initiating legal force therefore does not contradict the NAP, because I have relinquished the specific rights they are allegedly violating. It would be like agreeing to sell my car for a thousand dollars, accepting payment, then resisting when the buyer came to take my car away. I gave up the right to that particular action. The car is not mine anymore. The critical difference with the social contract is that usually you don't explicitly agree to it. It's an implied agreement. But you should be well-aware of it by the time you reach adulthood, and if you don't like it, you're free to try your skills at being an outlaw or an exile somewhere else on the planet.

Sometimes the government will in fact violate our retained individual rights, or we will disagree with the rights our forefathers surrendered. This is a big problem, and something must be done about it. If our rights have been violated by government, we can bring a case to the courts. And if our rights have been improperly surrendered, we can try to change the law--or rebel.

This isn't social contract theory then, it seems as you've described it. You're just saying that we're agreeing not to act in unreasonable ways, and calling it loosely a social contract. This isn't what political theorists mean when they speak of social contract theory.

Otherwise, I generally agree with you, but you have to avoid imprecise language to avoid confusions. For example, saying it's okay for the government to initiate force because, after all it has to search someone with a warrant. But this isn't an initiation of force, in the same way you wouldn't say the guy coming to pick up the car he just bought is initiating force and the seller is just agreeing to have this force. No it's just not an initiation of force. Nor would inviting you over for dinner be you trespassing and me just agreeing to allow trespass. These are nonsensical formulations. 

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49 minutes ago, 2046 said:

Otherwise, I generally agree with you, but you have to avoid imprecise language to avoid confusions. For example, saying it's okay for the government to initiate force because, after all it has to search someone with a warrant. But this isn't an initiation of force, in the same way you wouldn't say the guy coming to pick up the car he just bought is initiating force and the seller is just agreeing to have this force. No it's just not an initiation of force.

I believe law enforcement is the initiation of legal retaliatory force. It is a process which requires certain actions to complete its purpose. The government must find, arrest, try, sentence, and punish the culprit. Everything done during this process can be considered part of retaliatory force. Rand argued that we delegate the use of retaliatory force to the government in order to ensure that the process is objective and fair. I tend to agree, though I admit she did not detail her version of a "social contract," or whatever you want to call it.

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3 minutes ago, MisterSwig said:

I believe law enforcement is the initiation of legal retaliatory force. It is a process which requires certain actions to complete its purpose. The government must find, arrest, try, sentence, and punish the culprit. Everything done during this process can be considered part of retaliatory force. Rand argued that we delegate the use of retaliatory force to the government in order to ensure that the process is objective and fair. I tend to agree, though I admit she did not detail her version of a "social contract," or whatever you want to call it.

Again I agree, but this language is obfuscatory. Suppose A kills B. A says, yes I murdered B. But B threatened me, so I initiated defensive murder on him. I'm innocent! 

Would kinda make sense but be a linguistic mess. Part of what informs our meaning of terms like murder, theft, rape as opposed to justified killing, trade, consensual sex, etc. is terms like initiation vs retaliatory, and what informs our understanding of rights accordingly.

Edited by 2046

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13 minutes ago, 2046 said:

Part of what informs our meaning of terms like murder, theft, rape, is terms like initiation, and what informs our understanding of rights accordingly.

What if I describe law enforcement as the process of legal, retaliatory force? Then we could possibly argue that this process was initiated by the criminal action, without which no retaliatory force would be justified.

Edited by MisterSwig

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(I got busy, so I don't have time to make long answers. But I'll start answering piecemeal, as I can.)

On Monday November 27, 2017 at 4:12 PM, 2046 said:

So, you have identified a political proposition which conflicts with rights, and are prepared to jettison rights. Whereas I am inclined to jettison the political proposition.

I'm not prepared to fully explain myself at this moment, but the gist of it is that there isn't any general right to refuse to provide testimony, just as there isn't a general right to refuse to permit a search pursuant to a valid search warrant, and just as there isn't a general right to resist arrest pursuant to a valid arrest warrant. I am not prepared to jettison rights, I'm trying to explain that such rights do not exist.

On Monday November 27, 2017 at 4:12 PM, 2046 said:

I would agree with Rand's epic statement:    

When we say that we hold individual rights to be inalienable, we must mean just that. Inalienable means that which we may not take away, suspend, infringe, restrict or violate -- not ever, not at any time, not for any purpose whatsoever. 

Pace Rand, she is abusing the language here.

If I own a toothbrush, I have a moral sanction to take certain actions with respect to it -- I have certain rights.  If I sell it, I no longer have that sanction -- I no longer have those rights, the person to whom I have sold it has that sanction, those rights.  This is precisely the referent of "alienate".  Rights are alienable.

Now, if you say that rights cannot be coercively alienated, I'm right with you.

On Monday November 27, 2017 at 4:12 PM, 2046 said:

Well if you believe, which I do, that philosophy is hierarchical, then you believe that rights both are formulated and exist prior governments, then that is prima facie reason to resolve any conflict between a government policy or construction in favor of rights and not the government. 

 

Philosophy is hierarchical, but the hierarchy is more complicated than you think.  That is, the hierarchy isn't simply rights -> government.  It it was, you'd be absolutely correct -- any contradiction between rights and government would prove a reasoning error and, assuming the derivation of rights is correct, the error would be in that concerning government.

 

But what is prior to government is not all rights, but only the right to life (and maybe a few corollaries).  Because you have a right to life, you need the ability to protect yourself from violence (I'm simplifying a little because I'm short on time), so you settle on government as a means of protecting yourself from violence.  But to have a government, it is necessary to portion out certain activities as things you can do and things you cannot do.   You can't, for example, go out and recover property stolen from you, ransacking one home out of another until you get that property.  Instead, you have to let the government do it.  As you examine the logic of this, trying to figure out exactly what you, your neighbor, and the government must do so that you may live your life without having to constantly protect yourself from violence , you settle on a consistent set of principles that define who may do what when. This, ultimately, is why you don't have a general right to refuse to provide testimony, or allow a search pursuant to a valid search warrant, or resist an arrest pursuant to a valid arrest warrant.  Basically, the choice is between having these "rights" and having a government.  Your logic would, in essence, require rejecting government in its entirety.

 

This isn't 100% right, but I'm already a minute past when I needed to leave....


 

 


 

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1 hour ago, Invictus2017 said:

If I own a toothbrush, I have a moral sanction to take certain actions with respect to it -- I have certain rights.  If I sell it, I no longer have that sanction -- I no longer have those rights, the person to whom I have sold it has that sanction, those rights.  This is precisely the referent of "alienate".  Rights are alienable.

Oh no this isn't correct.  A right to property, according to Rand, is:

Quote

a right to action, like all the others: it is not the right to an object, but to the action and the consequences of producing or earning that object. It is not a guarantee that a man will earn any property, but only a guarantee that he will own it if he earns it. It is the right to gain, to keep, to use and to dispose of material values.

In your particular example, you exercised the right to dispose of the toothbrush.  You also exercised the right to earn the money that paid for the toothbrush.  You didn't alienate any right, you alienated the toothbrush.  

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4 hours ago, Invictus2017 said:

I'm not prepared to fully explain myself at this moment, but the gist of it is that there isn't any general right to refuse to provide testimony, just as there isn't a general right to refuse to permit a search pursuant to a valid search warrant, and just as there isn't a general right to resist arrest pursuant to a valid arrest warrant. I am not prepared to jettison rights, I'm trying to explain that such rights do not exist.

Let me begin this response by conceding that you've put your finger on a true source of tension. I don't want to say "contradiction" yet -- either on your part or Rand's -- but there's something here that's worth exploring, as deeply (and clearly) as we can manage.

4 hours ago, Invictus2017 said:

If I own a toothbrush, I have a moral sanction to take certain actions with respect to it -- I have certain rights.  If I sell it, I no longer have that sanction -- I no longer have those rights, the person to whom I have sold it has that sanction, those rights.  This is precisely the referent of "alienate".  Rights are alienable.

I think that this is the wrong track, and Craig24's response is spot on. If we are discussing rights which are "alienable," then we're not talking about rights (in the sense that Ayn Rand means).

4 hours ago, Invictus2017 said:

This, ultimately, is why you don't have a general right to refuse to provide testimony, or allow a search pursuant to a valid search warrant, or resist an arrest pursuant to a valid arrest warrant.  Basically, the choice is between having these "rights" and having a government.  Your logic would, in essence, require rejecting government in its entirety.

I agree that it is hard to imagine a government without the power of conducting searches or arrest -- and that this extends to subpoena. But let us also remember that you agreed with me that the consistent application of your arguments justifies the draft (within select circumstances; so if we can agree that this is the context, let us also agree that you are arguing for the draft).

Would, then, you say that the right to abstain from conscription, etc., is one of those rights which "do not exist"? I.e. that it is not a right at all: that the individual and his life may be properly used* by the government, when necessary. (*I am trying to refrain from saying "sacrificed," so as to not beg the question)

And I know that you've also appealed to an idea that this is only so in an "emergency" situation. So then, would you say that Rand was simply wrong, not alone for her use of "inalienable," but in her description, when she'd written (as quoted above), "When we say that we hold individual rights to be inalienable, we must mean just that. Inalienable means that which we may not take away, suspend, infringe, restrict or violate -- not ever, not at any time, not for any purpose whatsoever.

"You cannot say that 'man has inalienable rights except in cold weather and on every second Tuesday,' just as you cannot say that 'man has inalienable rights except in an emergency,' or 'man's rights cannot be violated except for a good purpose.'"

For it seems to me that your position is not merely some minor divergence from Rand's, but its complete opposite. That you are saying that what we might ordinarily consider "man's rights" (which you consider alienable) may be "violated" for a good purpose, or in an emergency. That this could conceivably extend to his right to liberty (which subpoena would otherwise threaten), property (taxation and eminent domain), and life itself (conscription).  Do you agree with my assessment? (And for some personal context, I should note that there are places where I starkly disagree with Rand; I don't mean to frighten you off or cow you, as some do, when noting such a disagreement -- but I do want to be clear about what it is we're discussing, and it is more, in my opinion, than a simple alteration to the wording of Rand's prohibition against the initiation of force. I think this runs much deeper than that.)

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12 hours ago, Craig24 said:

In your particular example, you exercised the right to dispose of the toothbrush.  You also exercised the right to earn the money that paid for the toothbrush.  You didn't alienate any right, you alienated the toothbrush.

According to Merriam-Webster, to alienate is "to convey or transfer (something, such as property or a right) usually by a specific act rather than the due course of law".  Once I've made the trade, the toothbrush has been alienated.  But I also no longer have a moral sanction -- a right -- to act with regard to that toothbrush.  I have alienated that right as well.
 

Note also Rand's specific language: "Inalienable means that which we may not take away, suspend, infringe, restrict or violate -- not ever, not at any time, not for any purpose whatsoever."  (underlining added) She doesn't object to voluntary alienation, just alienation by force or fiat.  It is, in fact, my right to alienate my own rights, if I so choose.
 

Edited by Invictus2017
copyediting

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11 hours ago, DonAthos said:

Let me begin this response by conceding that you've put your finger on a true source of tension. I don't want to say "contradiction" yet -- either on your part or Rand's -- but there's something here that's worth exploring, as deeply (and clearly) as we can manage.

Rand made a habit of making sweeping generalizations and grand statements.  Good for rhetoric, not so good for us mere morals who might want to put her ideas into practice.  I've got my proposed city, which will need a government.  Not an abstract government, but a living, breathing, down and dirty government.  If the limits of government -- and private -- action are not spelled out in advance, some variety of uncontained violence is a near certainty.  So these issues are ones I need to nail down, which is why I started this topic.

 

11 hours ago, DonAthos said:

And for some personal context, I should note that there are places where I starkly disagree with Rand; I don't mean to frighten you off or cow you, as some do, when noting such a disagreement -- but I do want to be clear about what it is we're discussing,

I have noticed that some people here aren't really here to have a reasoned discussion, they are here to protect their notion of Rand as God and the inerrancy of His (sic) pronouncements.  I had my fill of that in the 90's, and I either ignore such people or killfile them if they get too annoying. My life is too important to waste it on dealing with their problems.

I do not take you to be one of those people; nothing you have said suggests that you intend to hold a position regardless of the validity of opposing arguments.  And clarity is essential to reasoned discussion; I've found that many disagreements simply evaporate during the search for clarity.  What's that quote about not needing to find answers, but to ask the right questions?

Anyway, now to something substantive.... (next post)


 

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2 hours ago, Invictus2017 said:

But I also no longer have a moral sanction -- a right -- to act with regard to that toothbrush.  I have alienated that right as well.

What do you mean by that right?  The right to property is a single right, not potentially a billion different little rights.   Just one.  Did you alienate your property rights?  No.  You only alienated an object.  Rights don't refer to objects.  You can still act to gain,keep, use and dispose of material values.  That didn't change with any trade you choose to make.   

 

2 hours ago, Invictus2017 said:

She doesn't object to voluntary alienation

The only way you could alienate your rights is by enslaving yourself or killing yourself.  I think Rand does object to that strongly.  

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40 minutes ago, Craig24 said:

What do you mean by that right?  The right to property is a single right, not potentially a billion different little rights.   Just one.  Did you alienate your property rights?  No.  You only alienated an object.  Rights don't refer to objects.  You can still act to gain,keep, use and dispose of material values.  That didn't change with any trade you choose to make. 

Rights are both general and particular.  The right to property is a general right; the actions one may properly take with respect to particular objects are particular rights.  As you say, a general right cannot be alienated; it is a logical consequence of being a human being in a society.  But particular rights can be -- and are routinely -- alienated.

47 minutes ago, Craig24 said:
3 hours ago, Invictus2017 said:

She doesn't object to voluntary alienation

The only way you could alienate your rights is by enslaving yourself or killing yourself.  I think Rand does object to that strongly. 

She would object to doing so sacrificially.  But not if doing so would preserve or gain an equal or greater value. 
 

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Rights cannot be alienated, but they can be vacated by removing the moral sanction upon which the right is based. If I have a right to use my toothbrush, that right comes from the fact that I own the toothbrush. If I sell the toothbrush, then I have vacated my right to it, because I no longer own it. I have not alienated some intrinsic right to a toothbrush. I have vacated my right to that particular toothbrush.

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(Sorry to take so long to post this, but I haven't had much time for writing lately. Hopefully, I'll have more time to spend on the ensuing discussion.)

I begin by sketching Rand's theory of government.

A "right" is "a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action in a social context". "Freedom" means an absence of "physical compulsion, coercion, or interference" by other people. In a proper society, it is improper for anyone to use physical force or the threat of physical force to prevent or respond to that which another has the right to do.

The fundamental right, from which all other rights derive, is the right to one's own life, which means the right "to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life." Implementing this right, and any other rights, requires property rights, "the right to gain, to keep, to use, and to dispose of material values." The right to property "is not a guarantee that a man will earn any property, but only a guarantee that he will own it if he earns it."

Another essential right is that of self-defense. Without it, each person would be a victim to anyone who decided to be immoral and employ rights-violating force. However, self-defense is not a matter that can be left to the individual. That way lies gang rule and arbitrary acts of force. Instead, self-defense must be implemented via a government, an organization that employs force only when objectively necessary to implement the right of self-defense of those within its jurisdiction.

Rand, at numerous places, asserts that force in society may only be used in response to the initiation of physical force and only against the person who initiates the force, the so-called non-aggression principle (NAP) beloved of Objectivists and libertarians alike.

There are some immediately obvious problems with the NAP. In general, neither fraud nor violations of contract involve physical force, so how can a person -- even via his government -- properly defend himself against it? The orthodox solution to this particular problem is so-called "indirect force". I may not have used force in my fraud or contract violation, but when you attempt to retrieve the improperly obtained values from me, I must choose between giving up the values or using force to keep them. If I do the former, there's no issue, but if I do the latter, you may exercise (via the government) your right to self-defense. This "solution" fails because there are means other than physical force to retain values, such as concealment.

Be that as it may, a bigger problem for the NAP comes from the fact that a government must function objectively; the last thing anyone needs is a government that behaves according to whim -- even well intentioned whim. But objectivity doesn't "just happen", it is the outcome of a particular kind of process, one that requires obtaining all the facts known to be relevant. But facts are not generally just lying around waiting for some government agent to sweep them up; they are generally in the possession of people, some of whom may be unwilling to give them up.

So what's a government to do? Well, if you believe the NAP, nothing. The mere possession of a fact of relevance to a proposed government action does not in itself constitute force, not even indirect force.

But if you actually pay attention to the Randian argument, you realize that, no matter how often Rand stressed the NAP, she never proved it, and the method of argument she used in proving the need for government requires discarding the NAP.

The Randian argument for government essentially goes like this: Nature confronts man with a choice, endemic violence or a properly constituted government. A proper life is impossible in an environment of violence, so a rational person will choose government. In terms of Rand's rights formulation, rights are those "actions required by the nature of a rational being" to support his life. Having and supporting the government is not merely something one should do, it is something one has a right to do. Conversely, acting against the government is an action inconsistent with the nature of a rational being, so cannot be a right.

Just as Nature confronts man with a choice between endemic violence or a properly constituted government, it also confronts man with a choice between a government that acts arbitrarily and a government that acts objectively. The former is nothing more than institutionalized violence, and is just as inimicable to life as anarchy, if not more so. In terms of Rand's rights formulation, having and supporting the government's objectivity is not merely something one should do, it is something one has a right to do. Conversely, acting against the government's objectivity is an action inconsistent with the nature of a rational being, so cannot be a right.

Just as the argument for government precludes a rational person from taking self-defense into his own hands when there is a proper government to handle his self-defense, so also does it preclude a rational person from withholding information government must have when performing its function. Neither one of these things can be a right in the presence of a proper government, and so such a government is free to act in response to such actions.

Note that this mode of argument is very limited. It only pertains to what are, in essence, metaphysical necessities of government, things without which the government ceases to be a properly constituted government. Where a government has a metaphysical necessity to act, there can be no right to act in opposition to it. And where there is no right for a person to act, and the government has an objectively demonstrable need to act, it may do so without concern that any of that person's rights are violated -- because there are none.

Limited or not, this argument demonstrates that the NAP is not true; there are circumstances where a person (acting as a government agent) may properly use force against one who has not initiated force.

(I'll review other posts in this topic to see if I need to respond to them. But it won't be today.)

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