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Questions re: Proper role of government

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Tejia
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However, if the reason that there is no such entity as society is that society is only a number of individual men, then why would it be invalid to say that there is no such entity as "government," since government is only a number of individual men?
Government is also not an entity. Not all existents are entities. See ITOE ch. 1, 5 & 6 on "entity" and the appendix on abstraction for elaboration on these concepts. You have misinterpreted what Rand said in that quote. She did not say that society does not exist (nor could one validly say that government does not exist), she said that society is not an entity (and, in parallel, government is not an entity). The consequences of that distinction are quite significant. You are building an argument against government carrying out its proper function by assuming -- contrary to what Rand assumed and said -- that government doesn't even exist.

Your entire argument is based on a false premise. Check your premises.

However, I was led to believe that Objectivism holds self-defence and retaliatory force to be seperate from each other; whereas the literature you asked me to read uses them interchangeably. If force may be used only in retaliation, then self defense is either retaliation or may not be used.
The "I was led to believe" argument isn't a very good one, because anyone who leads you to believe something about Objectivism that isn't true has misled you.

The primary philosophical principle is that the use of force is to be under the strict control of objective law. That means that if you are attacked by an aggressor, law enforcement officers will apply the degree of force necessary to protect your rights. But this principle is not hierarchically higher than the principle that you have the right to exist, in fact it is the other way around. Therefore it follows contextually that if the government cannot, in an emergency, carry out its function and protect your rights, no moral condemnation is attached to you using force to protect your rights.

In light of the Objectivist account of rights and the nature of government, I don't understand your question. You imply that individuals within government have special rights; I don't see where any Objectivist has implied that. Assuming that you understand "the nature of government" and its relationship to "rights", I would think that you would understand why it is not morally proper for you to "regulate or administer the use of retaliatory force". Since you're still asking the question, I am at a loss to clarify, since I don't understand what you don't understand.

I don't think you should feel bad if you don't get it. Now I'm going to go after Mrocktor, mildly (sorry, dude). As an example of improper use of force is the use of non-lethal force by a victim to retrieve stolen property after the fact. This simply is not consistent with Objectivism. The whole point of putting the use of force under the objective control of law is to achieve justice, i.e. meting out that which in reality is earned. If you believe that someone has taken your stuff and you want it back, then in a civilized society, you use reason to regain your stuff: ("The Nature of Government")

The precondition of a civilized society is the barring of physical force from social relationships—thus establishing the principle that if men wish to deal with one another, they may do so only by means of reason: by discussion, persuasion and voluntary, uncoerced agreement.

Either you persuade the person with your stuff to give it back, or you persuade the government that he deprived you of your stuff by force. If you prove that he took your stuff (meaning that you demonstrate that your feelings about whether he stole your stuff are actually justified), then the government will order him to return it, and there will be well-known dispassionate consequences for not complying with the law.

My point is that it is easy to misinterpret your right to your property and life as licensing a "right to vigilante justice, just in case you feel morally certain that you are right". That is not what Objectivism says. The difficulty I think lies in the hierarchical integration of Objectivist principles, and a (natural) tendency to elevate a principle above its proper station. Your "right to your stuff" does not absolutely trump the "right of others to exist free from force". They are in fact one and the same right, so obviously you cannot, by right, coerce a man into a choice so that you yourself can act by choice free from coercion.

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I agree. I think the use of deadly force by individuals should be reserved for immediate self defense (as it is now). I can't, however, find reason to support banning the use of non-lethal force by a victim to retrieve stolen property after the fact. That is the sort of situation which is debatable, in my opinion.

For the same reason: that person you're suspecting stole something from you can and will often defend himself (I know I will open fire if someone enters my house without a warrant signed by a judge), so people will still be killed without an objective legal system applying force as it is appropriate.

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For the same reason: that person you're suspecting stole something from you can and will often defend himself (I know I will open fire if someone enters my house without a warrant signed by a judge), so people will still be killed without an objective legal system applying force as it is appropriate.

Nevertheless, a thief does not have a right to defend himself from the recovery of the stolen goods, his right is forfeit in committing the crime. If he pulls a gun on the victim as the victim tries to recover his goods, the victim is fully right to shoot him down (because at that point a threat to his life is present). In my view this victim of robbery turned killer of the criminal should be tried and, evidence being present to meet the legally defined burden of proof, found innocent of any crime.

It is not the legal system that makes taking the goods back proper. It is not the legal system that removes the criminal's rights. And "having a legal system applying force as appropriate" is not the ultimate goal - it is a means to achieve the goal of protecting individual rights.

So the burden of proving that having an individual exert his own individual rights is a threat to individual rights must be met, if one is to argue that it should be illegal for a victim to forcibly retrieve stolen property from the criminal.

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Nevertheless, a thief does not have a right to defend himself from the recovery of the stolen goods, his right is forfeit in committing the crime.

That's not logical. Why would the guy's right to life be forfeited, when stealing something?

So the burden of proving that having an individual exert his own individual rights is a threat to individual rights must be met, if one is to argue that it should be illegal for a victim to forcibly retrieve stolen property from the criminal.

Even if it somehow made sense to claim that a criminal no longer has rights, the issue of establishing who is and who isn't a criminal through an objective process, and only allowing retaliatory force to be used objectively, is obviously fundamental to a civilized society.

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So the burden of proving that having an individual exert his own individual rights is a threat to individual rights must be met, if one is to argue that it should be illegal for a victim to forcibly retrieve stolen property from the criminal.
I think the root of the problem is that you're assuming that a man has a right to use force to obtain a particular choice from another man. Rand, however states:

Thus, for every individual, a right is the moral sanction of a positive—of his freedom to act on his own judgment, for his own goals, by his own voluntary, uncoerced choice.

In a civilized society, there is no "right to take the law in your own hands". As we know, a right is a moral principle whose purpose is subordinating society to moral law. The most important aspects of that principle are (1) "the barring of physical force from social relationships", (2) recognizing that "the necessary consequence of man's right to life is his right to self-defense", (3) grasping that "the retaliatory use of force requires objective rules of evidence to establish that a crime has been committed and to prove who committed it, as well as objective rules to define punishments and enforcement procedures" and (4) understanding the role of government in this ("an institution that holds the exclusive power to enforce certain rules of social conduct in a given geographical area").

Point (3) is extremely important. This is what puts real teeth into the barring of physical force from social relations. It means that even if the other guy did it, the decision to usurp the proper function of government and introduce force into social relations is not a right.

In the wild, where there is no government that fulfills this force-regulating function, then indeed a man has an unfettered right to defend his life and property. But we're not talking about cave-man days: there is a rights-respecting and protecting government, and you have delegated that right to use self-defensive force to the government.

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Is the initiation of force a proper standard really? For individuals visavis individuals, I see it operating perfectly. But once you involve government I think the standard changes. The reasoning here is that the non-initiation principle is a derivative of the concept of individual rights, itself derived from the nature of man. Looking at the higher-order concept, the idea is that everyone has the full and complete right to interact or not as they choose, consensually, with others in society. The 'right' to use force in retaliation to force is derived from this. Essentially then, a government's role is to use force properly to prevent the improper use of force between citizens.

There are many assumptions here that wealth-creators would inherently be rational - and to the point where they would support a proper view of rights in society. There's no basis for that. Until and unless rules against those that do not support a proper view of rights (i.e.: criminals, defrauders, conspirators, etc.) are properly enforced, the rational wealth creators cannot compete with them purely economically. The only way to avoid the use of force in society between factions is to empower the body of the government - the force monopoly - sufficiently to maintain a general superiority over the most powerful factions. So, the government would be more powerful than any one faction, but less powerful then the people as a whole. You can't do that without coercive taxes at some level in a modern society where wealth is concentrated and centralized. Ultimately, voluntary taxes could only work if the government retained the power and implicit ability to coercively tax. So it's not necessary that they do, but necessary that they be able to.

Coercive taxes may be an initiation of force, but seem to be necessary for individual rights to be protected through the proper institution of a force monopoly in society. Remove government, and there is no proper standard for the use of force in society. That is, in anarchy you must use force consistently in order to preserve a semblance of rights.

I know this is counter to what is officially Objectivist, but I think that position is wrong. I think an Objective government, to be consistent with Objectivism, must indeed have the ability to coercively tax somehow (maybe at a devolved, state level). The key is that the taxation occurs according to a proper standard. Both the means of taxation, and the use of the purse must be carefully proscribed only towards the proper enforcement of objective law that protects individual rights.

If I am wrong, I would liked to be convinced of where I have erred.

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To make my point more clear, I want to say something about the proper means of coercive taxation.

Theoretically, you confiscate wealth from criminals to fund law enforcement. That would be wholly proper. However, a law enforcement apparatus sufficiently empowered against potential crime (as a deterrent) should not have to rely on actual crime to have that power. That is, the goal ultimately of law enforcement is to create a society where crime and the use of force altogether is rare. That's the point of government. So it's unreasonable to expect crime prevention to depend on crime to have teeth.

Instead, just as no citizen should presume to have the individual prerogative to decide how his own rights should be enforced (as in, he must follow the objective laws of society), no citizen should presume to have the individual prerogative to decide how/when/why the law enforcement should ultimately be funded. It will be funded according to the proper exercise of government. A legislature could choose to fund it through a system of voluntary donations, but might also choose a coercive tax as necessary.

I guess my issue is that I don't see a difference between the what and the how of the use of force by the government. If the government should use force in certain circumstances, then it should. Being obligated to use force to protect rights and uphold the law necessitates some ability to be empowered properly to do so. The issue seems to be the same to me. If society votes for a police force to use force in certain instances, but it can't afford to - doesn't that just indicate some disparity between the fair and objective interests of most of society and those who have concentrated wealth? Is that not objectively improper, and a failure of government to fulfill its proper and objective role?

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There are many assumptions here that wealth-creators would inherently be rational - and to the point where they would support a proper view of rights in society. There's no basis for that.
It is unclear what you mean by this. Are you saying that a majority of people would not want capitalism? If so, the discussion about whether taxes are to be voluntary or not would never be of immediate relevance. The only situation where one would have such a debate would be where a good number of people have at agreed to some limited form of government, at least pretty close to capitalism.

Until and unless rules against those that do not support a proper view of rights (i.e.: criminals, defrauders, conspirators, etc.) are properly enforced, the rational wealth creators cannot compete with them purely economically.
Again, this is unclear. Criminals, defrauders and so on are a small minority.

Added after reading your next post: I doubt government can be funded purely from funds confiscated from criminals. Objectivism does not suggest that it ought to.

Edited by softwareNerd
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@Jake Ellison:

Because you defined it as being in competition with others, trying to get hired to do a job, by one of the sides in the conflict. They will be partial to that side.

Why do you assume they would be partial to one side?

Scenario A: Individuals are hired to prevent initiations of force. If these individuals fail to prevent initiations of force, they owe insurance payouts to victims. Incentive: Fewer initations of force = fewer insurance payouts = more profit. Expected result of competition: individuals which most efficiently prevent initiations of force receive more subsribers, make fewer payment, receive most profit. Expected result of lack of competition: payouts can be made so insubstantial that little effort is required to be put into preventing initiations of force. If people want protection, they pay the monopoly. Inefficiency has no negative consequence to those being inefficient.

Scenario B: Individuals are hired to retaliate against initiations of force. Right to retaliatory force is individual right. If individual commits initiation of force against other individual(s), initiator has forfeited rights, may be retaliated against by anyone. Problem: If retaliatory force cannot be proven to be such, retaliatory force will be seen as initiation of force. Solution: In order to avoid being improperly viewed as a criminal, and to safeguard against the possibility of becoming an inaccurate target of retaliatory force, due process is follwed. Definition of due process is dependent on prevailing attitudes of what is required to prove guilt. Problem: ensuring that due process is being followed is time consuming and requires specialized knowledge. Solution: Delegation of retaliation to a specialist. Expected result of competition: individuals which are most efficient in utilizing retaliatory force whilst following due process gain more customers, maximize profit. Expected result of lack of competition: impetus towards efficiency is absent. Also: impetus to avoid becoming target of retaliatory force is absent. Due process need not be followed. Reprisal is disallowed, as it would constitute competition.

Scenario C: Individuals are hired to arbitrate disputes. If individuals are partial, individuals will only be hired by one side of conflict. If individuals are impartial, possibility exists of being hired by both sides of conflict. Reason: It is less time-consuming to for those involved in a dispute to have a shared mediator. Expected result of competition: Individuals whare are more impartial will more often be called upon by both sides of dispute. Arbitrating both sides of a dispute =2x pay = more profit. Imparitality = more profit. Expected result of lack of competition: There is no impetus to be impartial. Arbitration of both sides, and the 2x pay, has already been achieved by eliminating competition.

Absence of competition does not equal impartiality. Individuals are selfish by nature; any action taken is so taken due to a perceived positive or negative benefit ('positive benefit' being a gain and 'negative benefit' being an avoided loss). Choice is not between self / not-self; choice is between benefitting self at own expense / benefitting self at others' expense. Impetus to be efficient in competitive environment arises from potential for increased efficiency to translate into increased income. Increased income results in increase in ability to buy self benefit or decrease in time required to be spent maintaining survival, leaving more time available to spent pursuing self-benefits.

If individuals in government are not in a competitive environment, what is their impetus to be efficient?

Objective law is the application of the principles of objective justice. A judge would apply objective law, while lawmakers would apply objective justice while writing the laws. SCOTUS and other high courts would interpret the laws, and set objective precedents.

Competing private agencies could not do any of those things.

Why are judges / lawmakers / members of SCOTUS or other high courts capable of correctly applying objective law / applying objective justice / interpreting objective law whereas members of competing private agencies are not?

The answer to what is rational in each situation is not self evident, it's not easy to determine, and even fully rational men will often reach conflicting conclusions about it.

I agree. However, a rational individual will know that only one of the conflicting conclusions can be correct. A rational individual would be aware of his potential for error, and, when given evidence that he is operating on contradiction, will refrain from acting on his conclusions until the contradiction has been resolved. To act despite being aware of a contradiction in one's reasoning or conclusions wuold be irrational. If expediency is an issue, then a rational individual may choose to subject the matter to another individual whose decision he believes will be accurate. It is not essential that he do so. It is a time saver.

An if/then statement is not proof that your conclusion is correct. You ignored the "else" part completely. What about if you get into a conflict with someone who doesn't want your friend Susan arbitrating anything, in fact he feels he's doing just fine with that gun he's holding doing the arbitration for him?

Then, as I stated earlier, it is not a judge which is called for. A judge will be unable to arbitrate for an irrational man, whether he has a gun or not.

@mrocktor:

Good question. It would not strictly be a protection racket (where the persons offering protection and presenting the threat are the same). Nevertheless, freedom is what exists when an individual is not threatened by the use of force against his person and property therefore you could not say the choice to fund government is voluntary (i.e. free) if it must be made in the context of being under the threat of force (by the government itself (which is taxation) or third parties (which would happen if a "voluntarily" funded government denied protection to those who do not pay up)).

Jobs, food, clothing, recreation (!), homes, medical care, education, etc., do not grow in nature. These are man-made values - goods and services produced by men. Who is to provide them?

If some men are entitiled by right to the products of the work of others, it means that those others are deprived of rights and condemned to slave labor.

~Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness, Man's Rights, paragraphs 39-40

If freedom is what exists when an individual is not threatened by the use of force against his person and property, then freedom - as you have defined it - is not a right, as it requires the products of the work of others. Who is to provide them?

To say that a choice to fund government is voluntary only if no one is threatening you with force seems illogical to me.

Premise: No government exists.

Scenario A: You are being threatened with force. You wish to create a government to protect you from this threat. However, compulsory taxation is immoral, and voluntary taxation is impossible because you are being threatened with force.

Scenario B: You are not being threatened. Why do you wish to create a government to protect you from a nonexistent threat?

You are entirely correct, though, that in real circumstances there could be many rational reasons to not support the government at any given time. For instance, the current government is increasing staffing beyond what you judge necessary, or is spending on equipment you don't consider necessary, or is implementing policy you don't agree with. All these can happen even in a free country with government based on Objectivist principles.

This feature of voluntary government funding is, in fact, one of its greatest positive traits! The fact that you can choose how much to pay and whether to pay at all constrains the government to spending efficiently and in a matter that is considered reasonable by the people.

I apologize if I was unclear. My questions were intended to discover how an Objectivist government would maintain a monopoly on retributive force with voluntary funding. If funding is voluntary, but I am prevented from funding a competing agency, then funding is not voluntary. If I wish to be safe from initiations of force, but am only allowed to protect myself by relying on a specific group of individuals, then I Must pay this group of individuals if I wish to be safe from initiations of force - because if this group of individuals has insufficient funds, they will be unable to protect me; and if I am not allowed to protect myself or pay different individuals to protect me, then an inability of the group with the monopoly on retributive force to protect me would result in no protection.

1. If a government (i.e. ultimate arbiter of justice and wielder of force in a given jurisdiction) strictly defends individual rights, no one has a right to challenge it.

Challenging an entity that strictly defends individual rights means using force against the innocent. No one has the right to do that.

2. Rights are facts of reality - you cannot have two governments enforcing conflicting law and yet both strictly defending individual rights. If a "competing government" also strictly defends individual rights, the two organizations will actually never conflict - except over procedural matters. What can happen is:

2a. Both organizations have an objective means to settle their procedural conflicts. In this case you actually have one de facto government, though different parts of it call themselves by different names, and not "competing governments". Just as the current federal and state governments are not "competing goverments".

2b. The two organizations do not have an objective conflict resolution mechanism. In this case there is a potential for violence when the two organizations conflict in some matter. This is not a credible arrangement if both are actually strictly defending individual rights (this case would quickly evolve to 2a.)

2c. One (or both) governments is not actually strictly defending individual rights. In this case the potential for violent conflict is real as is the potential for injustice (when one organization fails to protect some individual's rights because of fear of reprisal from the other). This is, essentially, a civil war which can vary from a cold war (where fear and insecurity is the visible effect) to a regular people shooting in the streets sort of civil war.

What the "competing governments" or "private law enforcement" brand of anarchist or libertarian fails to see, therefore, is that either all these entities are actually defending individual rights objectively - in wich case they are actually only parts of a de facto government, or they are not - in which case they are at war.

1. I agree. However, I was not asking why challenging the government is disallowed, I was asking why competing with the government is disallowed. I apologize if this was unclear.

2. Except that the government claims a monopoly on retaliatory force. Even if competing groups of individuals were all strictly defending individual rights, they would still be infringing on each others' claim to a monopoly on retaliatory force. If this would be a de facto government, then the same principle could be applied at an individual level - any individual strictly defending individual rights would be a member of a de facto government.

@DavidOdden:

Government is also not an entity. Not all existents are entities. See ITOE ch. 1, 5 & 6 on "entity" and the appendix on abstraction for elaboration on these concepts. You have misinterpreted what Rand said in that quote. She did not say that society does not exist (nor could one validly say that government does not exist), she said that society is not an entity (and, in parallel, government is not an entity). The consequences of that distinction are quite significant. You are building an argument against government carrying out its proper function by assuming -- contrary to what Rand assumed and said -- that government doesn't even exist.

Your entire argument is based on a false premise. Check your premises.

I at no point claimed that societies or governments were not existents - I claimed that they did not exist as entities. I was very careful in this regard.

Please explain how a society, whilst not being an entity, can rob, enslave, limit, compel, set up a conflict, destroy, be a deadly threat, or provide. These are all actions of individuals. If a society is a group of individuals, then the only actions a society can undertake are growth and shrinkage.

In light of the Objectivist account of rights and the nature of government, I don't understand your question. You imply that individuals within government have special rights; I don't see where any Objectivist has implied that. Assuming that you understand "the nature of government" and its relationship to "rights", I would think that you would understand why it is not morally proper for you to "regulate or administer the use of retaliatory force". Since you're still asking the question, I am at a loss to clarify, since I don't understand what you don't understand.

I misphrased my question, then. I apologize. Correctly phrased, the question is: Why is it morally proper for an individual who is a member of government to regulate or administer the use of retaliatory force, while it is not morally proper for an individual who is not a member of government to regulate or administer the use of retaliatory force?

~~

Thank you again to everyone who has taken the time to respond; it is appreciated.

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Why is it morally proper for an individual who is a member of government to regulate or administer the use of retaliatory force, while it is not morally proper for an individual who is not a member of government to regulate or administer the use of retaliatory force?
Of course it's not morally proper for an individual to administer the use of retaliatory force sua sponte: it is only proper when acting as an agent of the government, following objective law. The reason why it is morally proper for the government to regulate and administer the use of force is that this is the exclusive proper function of government (see "The Nature of Government" for further exposition of the nature of government and explanation for why the institution of government is necessary, i.e. why it is demanded by man's nature and the fact that it is good for man to live in a social context).
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@DavidOdden:

Who decides whether a law is or is not objective? If two individuals have differing conclusions regarding a law, how is it decided which conclusion is correct - or if neither conclusion is correct?

In order for a judge to apply an objective law, someone has to identify this objective law. If rational individuals are capable of disagreement, then who decides which conclusion shall be designated the objective conclusion - and then enforced?

Edited by Tejia
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Who decides whether a law is or is not objective?
This is the topic of Ayn Rand's lecture "Objective Law", available to logged-in users at the ARI web site. I highly recommend it.

Your question isn't really asked correctly. The real issue is determining what the law says, objectively. In some cases (such as the fair use exception to IP law or anti-monopoly law) the law really does not say what the legal requirement is. But that is not the case with e.g. laws against murder or theft. As to what the actual law is, there isn't any ambiguity. Even in the case of federal vs. state law, they don't apply to the same context.

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That's not logical. Why would the guy's right to life be forfeited, when stealing something?

I don't think it is. I think he has no right to resist recovery of that property in any way. So if he does not hand it over when challenged, he can be physically compelled to return it by any means that don't cause him permanent damage (thus, non lethal) - without this being a rights violation. Any infraction of his property rights incurred in recovering the stolen item which does not permanently damage said property is also not a violation of rights (trespassing on his land, for instance). In both those cases I am arguing that the rights that would have been violated by those acts are forfeit in the act of stealing.

If while the stolen goods are being recovered the thief commits additional crimes (such as offering threat to the life of the people recovering the goods - police or not) he forfeits additional rights (in this case his right to life, for as long as he presents a deadly threat).

The fact that "criminals forfeit their rights" is generally accepted. To what extent is rarely discussed. This is, however, essential to this matter.

Even if it somehow made sense to claim that a criminal no longer has rights, the issue of establishing who is and who isn't a criminal through an objective process, and only allowing retaliatory force to be used objectively, is obviously fundamental to a civilized society.

My observing a person take the stereo from my car and concluding he is a thief is an objective process. Government badges and juries are not what make a process objective - they are a means to constrain government to objective process. An individual can act objectively, or not. A government constrained by objective law and due process will act objectively. You here are either ignoring the fact that an individual can act objectively - or simply advocating banning all individual's actions because it can be non-objective.

I think the root of the problem is that you're assuming that a man has a right to use force to obtain a particular choice from another man.

Not "other man". I am assuming a man has a right to use force to obtain restitution from a criminal. No small difference.

In a civilized society, there is no "right to take the law in your own hands". As we know, a right is a moral principle whose purpose is subordinating society to moral law.

Are you saying law is primary, rights secondary? I definitely take the opposite view.

It means that even if the other guy did it, the decision to usurp the proper function of government and introduce force into social relations is not a right.

I argue that there is no such thing as "usurping the proper function of government". Quite the contrary- the government is the only one who can do any usurping, because everything a government can do it can do by delegation of individual rights.

Either an individual has a right to use force in self defense (immediate or retaliatory) or he does not. If he has that right, the existence of a government does cannot take it away. If he does not have that right, constituting a government will not make that act permissible. A government does not produce rights - and should not eliminate them.

Edited by mrocktor
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Not "other man". I am assuming a man has a right to use force to obtain restitution from a criminal.
The concept "criminal" makes sense only in the context of a system of laws which publicly and definitively states what a "crime" is and the procedures for judging a person to be a "criminal" are. You can substitute "assumed evil-doer" if you want, but calling a person a "criminal" doesn't make sense when the conditions of criminality aren't satisfied isn't possible.
Are you saying law is primary, rights secondary? I definitely take the opposite view.
No, I am saying that law is the means of protecting rights. I am saying that you do not have the right to use force to retrieve what you believe to be your property, that such a right has been ceded to the government. The requirement that non-emergency force be fully under government control is necessary in order to protect the primary right of all men, to choose free from force -- the "freedom to act on his own judgment, for his own goals, by his own voluntary, uncoerced choice". Are you denying that primary right?

I am specifically denying that there is a primary right to recover property stolen from you: any such right is logically lower than secondary, and subject to various contextual elaborations. I am asserting as primary man's "freedom to act on his own judgment, for his own goals, by his own voluntary, uncoerced choice".

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The concept "criminal" makes sense only in the context of a system of laws which publicly and definitively states what a "crime" is and the procedures for judging a person to be a "criminal" are. You can substitute "assumed evil-doer" if you want, but calling a person a "criminal" doesn't make sense when the conditions of criminality aren't satisfied isn't possible.

Disagree. Criminal is one who has violated individual rights. Rights are not created by a context of laws nor are they created by government procedures. Rights exist, you violate them you are a criminal.

No, I am saying that law is the means of protecting rights. I am saying that you do not have the right to use force to retrieve what you believe to be your property, that such a right has been ceded to the government.

My rational judgment is the only guide to action I need. I don't need a jury of my peers to validate my conclusions. It's not a matter of "wanting to believe", it is a matter of knowing. You apear to be arguing from the point of view that the individual cannot objectively judge for himself. I'm not letting that slide for one second.

Now I doubt you actually mean that, but in that case you need to present an argument for forbiding rational individuals from acting based on their rational judgment whenever this creates the possibility of their acting erroneously. If such a claim could be proved, it would lead to a radically different politics than Objectivist politics.

The requirement that non-emergency force be fully under government control is necessary in order to protect the primary right of all men, to choose free from force -- the "freedom to act on his own judgment, for his own goals, by his own voluntary, uncoerced choice". Are you denying that primary right?

No. But you have set up a nice contradiction. In order to secure my right act on my own judgment free from force you will threaten me with force so I don't act on my own rational judgment - and defer to the judgment of others instead.

I am specifically denying that there is a primary right to recover property stolen from you: any such right is logically lower than secondary, and subject to various contextual elaborations.

I am free to act in any manner that does not violate another person's individual rights. This is not about a "right to recover property" - it is about the fact that the criminal has no right to hold my property in the first place. I'm not violating anyone's rights by taking it back.

Edited by mrocktor
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I am free to act in any manner that does not violate another person's individual rights. This is not about a "right to recover property" - it is about the fact that the criminal has no right to hold my property in the first place. I'm not violating anyone's rights by taking it back.

You are free to act in any manner that you, through your brute force visavis that of those around you, are capable of acting. That is a statement of fact based on the nature of reality.

Your 'rights' exist only in the context of 1) rational men who 2) choose to rely on an alternative standard to brute force to govern their interactions. Any time anyone hopes to legitimately agree on a non-force standard for interaction, the question of rights must appeal to objective reality - as opposed to the whims of the powerful or majority and so forth. But there must be first the decision that might is not right, and an agreement between men on the terms of this arrangement.

Your personal sense of entitlement to your right, no matter how proper and objective, means nothing to those who cannot accept your point of view and therefore accept some role for force in dealing with you.

Therefore the enforcement of rights in society very much depends on a consensus concerning the specific means of using force in retaliation against the users of force.

In anarchy, you would have an argument - but that assumes that few or none of those with whom you interact are willing to agree to a standard of non-violent interaction as an absolute. So, make sure to save some money for bodyguards, and suspect everyone with whom you deal.

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Incorrect. In that context they are respected. They exist regardless, however.

This idea might be the problem. [edit-sorry, posted too soon by accident]

I'll concede the use of the word exist. I'll replace it with 'manifest'. Rights are manifest only when they are properly respected. My point is that the concept of rights is incomplete when applied to situations in which they are not manifest in a society of individuals. I'm trying to say that I think its improper to have a discussion about rights when you don't address the circumstances under which they are to be properly respected.

Edited by ZSorenson
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I'm trying to say that I think its improper to have a discussion about rights when you don't address the circumstances under which they are to be properly respected.

That is begging the question. To determine "the circumstances under which they are properly respected" you first have to determine what "they" are.

I have framed the issue as a very clear matter of principle in two distinct ways:

Looking at the innocent's rights:

1. Does an individual have a right to use force in retaliation against another individual who has initiated force against him? Yes/No

2. Does the existence of government void an individual's rights in any way? Yes/No

Looking at the criminal's rights:

A. Does a criminal have a right to keep stolen property? Yes/No

B. Are any rights violated when stolen property is retrieved by the threat of force or the use of non-lethal force? Yes/No

That is all there really is to it.

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That is begging the question. To determine "the circumstances under which they are properly respected" you first have to determine what "they" are.

I have framed the issue as a very clear matter of principle in two distinct ways:

Looking at the innocent's rights:

1. Does an individual have a right to use force in retaliation against another individual who has initiated force against him? Yes/No

2. Does the existence of government void an individual's rights in any way? Yes/No

Looking at the criminal's rights:

A. Does a criminal have a right to keep stolen property? Yes/No

B. Are any rights violated when stolen property is retrieved by the threat of force or the use of non-lethal force? Yes/No

That is all there really is to it.

I don't think that is all there really is to it. Your propositions are flawed because they have been detached from the proper context. Asking "Does an individual have a right to use force in retaliation against another individual who has initiated force against him?" the way you are asking it is like asking "Does an individual deserve to be happy?"

Context absolutely matters. I'm pressing this argument because you previously tried to argue that the objective judgment of an individual was all that mattered in terms of the use of retaliatory force in protection of rights, and that that judgment needn't be subordinated to a government's. That's where you're wrong.

An individual deserves to be happy... inasmuch as they can actually obtain happiness - yes, they would then have every right to be happy. An individual has a right to his property and person against the use of initiatory force by others... yes, that doesn't require a government to be valid. But does an individual have a right to use force in retaliation? No, not if its illegal and against the prescription of government.

There are two alternatives: the use of force is subject to objective rules instituted by a government, or it's a free for all. In some sense, the first is a free for all, but proper consequences and standards are established to lessen anarchy.

There is no right to the use of force. The use of force can or cannot properly be employed for the protection of rights. Depending on the context, rights inform what the most proper use of force will be. In anarchy, your individual objective judgment is a sufficient means of determining just action. When rational people interact with each other, and reasonably can institute some form of government, they ethically must. That government is what determines the proper use of force in defense of rights. This 'government' could be anything from a 'Merchants' Code of Honor' to a constitution. The latter is more proper.

As to the use of force - there is no such pure concept as 'retaliatory force'. It is an abstraction. There is: shooting someone in the heart with a bullet, punching someone in the face, tearing an item from someone's arms, sneaking into someone's house and stealing something, destroying someone's property, and so forth. There is no blanket 'right' to use any or each of these tactics 'in retaliation'.

Use of force implies automatically an action. That action may or may not be proper. Should someone be shot for robbing a bank? If it's 1885, they have $15,000, will be untraceable once they leave town, you're the U.S. Marshall, and all that stands between the depositors' and their earned wealth is your bullet... Well, if your savings means eating or drinking, living or dying in a desert boomtown, then you'd say yes. If it's just a new iPod you're losing, then no. That's why voting and 'society' and the legislative process determine the proper use of force. Otherwise, why couldn't the thief be killed because, well darn, the Marshall is supposed to protect that money, and he's pissed today.

Proper use of force is in proportion to the stakes for those whose rights are violated. We can't all be running around with different standards when we can come together rationally and agree upon a common one. Objective rights are the foundation.

Edited by ZSorenson
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Is it? Not by me.

Interesting. In that case do you consider the use of force by policemen to be a violation of a criminal's rights, do you consider that "due process" removes those rights so police can act without it being a rights violation or do you have some other justification as to why the use of force by government against criminals is not itself a rights violation?

Of course I did -- I'm glad you recognized that. Resolving that apparent contradiction is the entire reason for the Objectivist position on government and the necessity for a monopoly on force.

I'm not sure if this is meant to be an ironic non-answer or an actual answer. Knowing you I assume the latter, but the typical Objectivist position on government versus individual retaliation (which I have been arguing against here) is exactly what creates the contradiction. So if you don't mind expanding on how you unravel that contradiction I'd be greatful.

you previously tried to argue that the objective judgment of an individual was all that mattered in terms of the use of retaliatory force in protection of rights, and that that judgment needn't be subordinated to a government's. That's where you're wrong.

I absolutely did not argue that. I stated "an individual is capable of objective judgment all by himself". If you disagree, lay out your case. If you agree, you admit you are proposing the government use force against individuals that are acting based on objective judgment as well as the ones who are not.

There are two alternatives: the use of force is subject to objective rules instituted by a government, or it's a free for all. In some sense, the first is a free for all, but proper consequences and standards are established to lessen anarchy.

This is what is called "false dichotomy".

There is no right to the use of force.

Not as such. There is a right to do anything that does not violate another's individual rights. The question is, therefore, does using force against a criminal in retaliation for the crime he committed violate individual rights?

You are dodging this. Answer it.

Proper use of force is in proportion to the stakes for those whose rights are violated.

Proportionality is not a given. You are again trying to establish a relationship between what can be done against a criminal wihtout violating his rights while discarding the whole discussion about what rights a criminal retains and forfeits in committing his crime (as seen above).

We can't all be running around with different standards when we can come together rationally and agree upon a common one. Objective rights are the foundation.

I quite agree. This is why I'm not advocating "competing governments", "private enforcement agencies" or any other sort of anarchistic or libertarian claptrap that implies the possibility of conflicting rules. I'm advocating that it is sufficient and proper that the government be the ultimate arbiter on all matters regarding force. That respecting the fact that all rights stem from the individual requires recognizing that the individual can exercise them objectively or non-objectively just as he can choose to act rationally or not, criminally or not.

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Interesting. In that case do you consider the use of force by policemen to be a violation of a criminal's rights, do you consider that "due process" removes those rights so police can act without it being a rights violation or do you have some other justification as to why the use of force by government against criminals is not itself a rights violation?

Hmmm, a multiple choice one. I always find myself going with "Other", on these. Criminals are subject to the same justice we all are subject to. Justice, if properly applied, is not a violation of rights as Ayn Rand defined them.

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