Rand, Rothbard, and Rights Reconsidered

By Touchstone, Kathleen | Libertarian Papers, January 2010 | Go to article overview
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Rand, Rothbard, and Rights Reconsidered


Touchstone, Kathleen, Libertarian Papers


Overview

This paper looks at rights and the protection of rights from the minarchist and the anarchist perspectives. The small government view is represented by Objectivist Ayn Rand as well as Neo-Objectivists Tibor Machan and David Kelley. The no-government perspective relies primarily on anarcho-capitalist Murray Rothbard. Minarchists argue for the need for government in order to protect rights; otherwise, they claim, mob rule would prevail. Rothbard (1998) viewed government as compulsory because of its monopoly on force and because of taxation. Machan (1975) did not regard government protection as coercive, although he held the opposite view of taxation.

in my view, government-provided protection is coercive, and because it is, all methods of financing are coercive. Although government is coercive, that does not mean there are no problems with anarchy. My case against anarchy is that children (and others with diminished capacity) would be systematically excluded from rights protection if they have been abused or killed by their parents or caregivers.

Unlike Rothbard (1998), I believe that children do have the positive right to care from their parents. Positive rights are also at risk under anarchy if children (or those with diminished capacity) are neglected or abandoned by caregivers and have no alternative means of care. I think government is responsible in cases such as these because of the issue of rights--not only the positive right to care, but the infringement of negative rights, specifically trespass. If no one takes in a child who is in this situation, the child is necessarily in a position of trespass, regardless of where he is. He is violating law, but he is not culpable. He is in a similar position as a person who is insane and violates the rights of others. Rand claimed that the insane who commit crimes should not be imprisoned, but admitted to asylums. Children and those with diminished capacity (through no fault of their own) who have been abandoned or abused by their caregivers and who have no means of support should have access to care commensurate with their capabilities. At a minimum, government oversight would be needed in these cases.

The arguments presented in this paper are similar in some respects to those in Touchstone (2006). The case for government has been modified in that it is partial rather than holistic. That is, the case for government presented herein is only for the situations described rather than extended to all individuals. The discussion of rights (to life, property, and retaliation) is expressed in terms of their totality and indivisibility. In framing these discussions, I draw from Sciabarra's Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical. His argument was that Rand's philosophy is dialectical in approach. He noted that dialectics stresses the totality, examining it from both a systematic and a historical perspective. I rely on Sciabarra's arguments in my discussion of the indivisibility of rights, in the argument that payment for government protection is coercive, and in the importance of time to the concepts of a human life and of society.

I. Rand

Objectivist ethics (OE) are bio-centric. The "is-ought" gap is spanned by the assertion that what a person is determines what he ought to do (Rand 1964a, 15--17; Merrill 1997, 100). Man has free will. This implies that more than one alternative course of action is available for any given decision and that man has the capacity to choose. It also implies that he has the freedom to choose.

Ethics implies choice. More than one alternative must be available for behavior to have ethical relevance. The fundamental alternative for a living being is between life and death. For humans, life must be chosen. Choosing those actions that sustain life is the essence of OE. This presumes that man is efficacious--that he is capable of knowing which actions will sustain his life and he is able to take those actions (Rand 1964a, 20--22; Peikoff 1991a, 207--29).

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