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Questions re: Proper role of government

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Tejia
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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.

So, criminals have rights just like any other person. But it is OK to point a gun at them or take them down with a taser - if you have a badge. What being a government employee acting according to due process does to make it OK to violate a person's rights (since we are bunching criminals and non criminals and stating they have identical rights) is not in your answer.

If a criminal has full rights, no one can rightfully use force against him. There is really no wiggle room here. I'm really trying to understand how you reconcile this with reataliatory force but you are not being very forthcoming with your arguments. Which is fine, of course, if you don't want to discuss it.

Edited by mrocktor
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If a criminal has full rights, no one can rightfully use force against him. There is really no wiggle room here.

Simply affirming that there is no wiggle room for criminal justice won't do, you have to tell me specifically how an objective justice system would conflict with individual rights, as Ayn Rand defined them (in other words, how such a system would prevent someone from acting in their rational self interest).

As it is now, I see no such conflict. Only if retaliatory force was up to individuals' judgement would there be an inherent contradiction between rights and justice (since there wouldn't even be a reliable way for me to know what those things others consider crimes are, exactly, I would clearly not be free to act in my rational self interest, without fear of reprisal).

But no one has the right to violate other people's rights, so an objective reaction, as prescribed by properly written laws, is perfectly justified when someone does. (in other words, an objective system of laws, applied by impartial judges would not inherently conflict with individual rights; while not perfect, it would not, as a general rule, prevent me from acting in my rational self interest. on the rare occasion a law or a superior court decision was wrong, at least I would have the chance to look at the laws, and at the precedents set in similar cases in the state or the whole country, and avoid crossing it, while still safely performing almost all other actions I have the right to perform)

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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.
The reason why Objectivist ethics entails government is to contain the contradiction.

Recall that "rights are conditions of existence required by man's nature for his proper survival". Starting from the primary principle that it is right for man to have the "freedom to act on his own judgment, for his own goals, by his own voluntary, uncoerced choice", it is a corollary that use of force contradicts that principle. An act can be judged as "good" versus "bad" using this principle as the standard. If you act consistent with the principle that by men act by making uncoerced choice, then you are acting morally, if you contradict the principle you are acting immorally. You only have a right to act morally.

The possibility of contradiction arises because one person may decide to behave immorally, and steal. The contradiction is that it is right for you to keep that which you have created (or acquired in exchange for something that you created), yet it is not possible for you to keep it because another person has your stuff and isn't giving it back. The contradiction has to be eliminated. If it can be eliminated by persuasion (telling the person to give your stuff back) then that is the best resolution, but assume that the person insists on keeping it, in which case justice is possible only with the additional application of force. Thus force becomes necessary, in order to preserve your right to keep your property. But it does not follow that unlimited force is necessary to preserve your right.

Since there is no "right to coerce into a decision", there is also no "right to act coercively according to your own judgment" -- it is wrong to act coercively according to your own judgment. It is right for you to keep your property. The institution of government was created to precisely define that element of force which is necessary in order to establish the conditions for man's proper existence, by narrowly delimiting the conditions under which acts contrary to man's nature are necessary to enable man to exist qua man. The contradiction that an initiation of force introduces is not rightly answered by applying unlimited counterforce, it is rightly answered by applying only that force necessary to secure human existence.

Government has a special logical status that distinguishes it from men -- it only does that which it is not proper for men to do, namely use force. Government does not act according to its own judgment: it acts automatically and dispassionately according to law, just as water flows dispassionately in response to physical law. Government does not pursue its own values or existence: it only acts to contain the contradiction introduced by men choosing to act against proper human existence by initiating force. It does so by demanding that all uses of force be subject to objective prior scrutiny, establishing rules of evidence which require it to be objectively proven that rights were violated and that the accused violated those rights.

From this it follows that man can be fully free to pursue any action that does not violate the rights of another (by using force to secure a choice), and a man's existence is not contingent on him violating the rights of another. Government exists to automatically apply the level of force necessary to guarantee man's existence, which means that in the context of a civilized society governed by law, force by an individual is not a right, since it is not necessary.

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you have to tell me specifically how an objective justice system would conflict with individual rights, as Ayn Rand defined them (in other words, how such a system would prevent someone from acting in their rational self interest).

I see what you mean. When you talk in such broad generalities there is no conflict apparent. But these principles guide individual action, and define specifically what the government should and should not do. They have to be true in every particular instance. I'll give you two specific examples to illustrate:

1. Locking a person up in a prison certainly prevents him from acting in his self interest in many ways. Men have a right to be free to act in their own self interest therefore putting a man in prison is a rights violation. Yet, we consider it proper - even mandatory - that this be done to certain people regardless.

It is a really simple problem: either there is something that voids rights or rights are not a fact of reality but a human creation (to be granted and taken away by some human created criteria). The former is true. My take on it, based on the fact that a right pertains to the means of survival of a rational being, is that in committing a crime one chooses to act other than as a rational being and thus one ceases to be a being that has rights (to some extent - depending on the crime committed).

This is entirely consistent with the view that all rights violations are due to the initiation of force (since retaliatory force is only employed against individuals who have forfeited their rights and thus there is no rights violation in its use) and with emergency situations (where existing as a rational being is rendered impossible).

I don't see another non-contradictory way to understand how rights, crime and retaliation relate to each other.

2. A man is walking down the street and another person snatches a bag that he is carrying and runs off. The man is under no immediate threat, the thief is simply running away. Now say this man is armed. The view generally expressed here is that by drawing his weapon and yelling STOP this man would be usurping the role of government. He should instead find a police officer, report the crime and wait for the government to take action.

This seems like a bad choice for the victim - trading the certainty of recovering his property by acting himself for the off chance that it might be recovered by the police. Now perhaps someone would classify all such scenarios as "emergencies", but that is really conceding my point without accepting the logic of it (they would be accepting that a victim may use force while not under immediate personal threat).

Recall that "rights are conditions of existence required by man's nature for his proper survival". Starting from the primary principle that it is right for man to have the "freedom to act on his own judgment, for his own goals, by his own voluntary, uncoerced choice", it is a corollary that use of force contradicts that principle.

Initiation of force. The use of force defensively does not contradic that principle.

But it does not follow that unlimited force is necessary to preserve your right.

Agreed.

The contradiction that an initiation of force introduces is not rightly answered by applying unlimited counterforce, it is rightly answered by applying only that force necessary to secure human existence.

Again agreed.

Government has a special logical status that distinguishes it from men -- it only does that which it is not proper for men to do, namely use force.

And here lies the core of my disagreement with you. Government may not do anything that is improper for men to do. It may not initiate force just as men may not initiate force. The issue being: are rights violated by applying the force necessary to secure an individuals rights - retaliatory force - only because the one applying that force is not a government official?

Since an act is what it is, regardless of what men think of it, consider:

Assume proper doctrine for a policeman recovering a stolen item is to order the subject to surrender it, taser him if he refuses. Is it proper to arrest a man for assault if he does the exact same thing - if it can be proven that the "victim" is actually a thief (to the same standards as the policeman would need that proof in order to act) and that the man was recovering his property?

The key here being that an individual and a government official may use the exact same amount of retaliatory force in a given instance, but you are claiming the first one is committing a crime.

Note that I'm not advocating different standards of proof either - only that while the government is constrained by due process before it can act, the individual only has to meet that burden of proof after he acts. This is a limitation on government - its every act must be proven proper before it acts - while individuals are free to act as they please (but held accountable).

In practice I don't see this making absolutely any difference to life in a free country other than that "legitimate defense" would be a valid defense strategy in some cases beyond immediate defense of life (though for deadly force that would remain the only scenario). From a conceptual point of view, though, I think the issue is important.

Edited by mrocktor
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It is a really simple problem: either there is something that voids rights or rights are not a fact of reality but a human creation (to be granted and taken away by some human created criteria).
I don't think that exhausts the possibilities. Another possibility is that rights are contextual. That is to say, if we are to be very exact about it no human being has a "right to roam free" as such. We may use that as a short-hand, but we really mean the right to roam free under certain conditions. We might get more detailed and say: every human being who has not committed a crime has the right to roam free. (Of course, the real detailed specification will include much more.) So, no right was really given or taken away, nor has the being changed his nature.
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Initiation of force. The use of force defensively does not contradic that principle.
It does, but if you don't accept that principle, then of course you will reach a different conclusion. Rand has made particular identifications (the ones that define Objectivism), that "rights are conditions of existence required by man's nature for his proper survival", which means "freedom to act on his own judgment, for his own goals, by his own voluntary, uncoerced choice". How would you restate the concept of rights or man's nature to achieve this complication regarding initiation of force vs. other kinds of force?
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Another possibility is that rights are contextual. (...) We might get more detailed and say: every human being who has not committed a crime has the right to roam free.

This is another way to express the same relationship I established (if I understand you correctly). If rights pertain to non-criminals (this being the context in which they are applicable), using force against a criminal is not a rights violation.

If you put anything abut government or due process in your context for rights, however, I have to object. Rights are the basis and starting point for political philosophy. They are a primary concept and cannot be logically dependent on a particular government structure to determine their applicability.

How would you restate the concept of rights or man's nature to achieve this complication regarding initiation of force vs. other kinds of force?

Defending oneself and one's property against aggression is required by man's nature for his proper survival. Initiating the use of force, on the other hand, is not.

No restatement is necessary.

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Defending oneself and one's property against aggression is required by man's nature for his proper survival. Initiating the use of force, on the other hand, is not.

No restatement is necessary.

It clearly is since, as you can see from Rand's statement, she does not speak of "freedom to act on his own judgment, for his own goals, by his own voluntary, uncoerced choice except when being forced to make a choice in response to his own initiation of force". Furthermore, it is false that in the context of a civilized society, free use of force to regain your property is required for man's survival. That is exactly what the function of government is: to make the use of force unnecessary.
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