It Doesn’t Matter “Where” Our Natural Rights Come From

A question that often pops up in political discussions is “Where do our rights come from?”

This query is frequently confused with another related question: Are our rights natural (innate) or not?

Libertarian anarchy holds that rights are innate; in other words, we possess them as part of our existence. They are not acquired or earned. No one else gives them to us, nor do we give other people their rights. We have them whether anyone acknowledges them or not, and we do not require actions on their part in order to exercise our rights.

Specifically, we have only one actual right; the right to our property. It is from this right we have a just claim to own ourselves, self-ownership. We have property in ourselves. We also have the right to speech, worship, and other liberties because they either involve ourselves or our property.

But some might ask “So where do our natural/innate rights come from?”

While it is indeed something worth investigating, I find it to be irrelevant within the context of whether our rights are innate or not. It also goes outside the perimeters of libertarianism because the answer has implications beyond the political.

Think of it this way: We know the Earth exists. We know the universe exists. But we do not need to know where they came from to prove they actually exist (unless you care to argue a la Decartes that the only thing for certain is that you exist). Whether it was the result of a Big Bang or God speaking the universe into existence, none of that changes whether these things in fact exist.

One can argue that our innate rights come from our humanity, our possession of conscious self-awareness not granted to other creatures. Or you could argue that they come from a Supreme Being which has the ultimate authority to give us our innate rights.

Either way, it doesn’t have any relevance to whether or not we actually have said rights.

Now one could argue that we don’t have innate rights, as utilitarianism does, but again, that is another topic.

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5 Responses to It Doesn’t Matter “Where” Our Natural Rights Come From

  1. In this small make-believe village everyone has an acre of land. But the only supply of water is from a spring on one of those acres. The old fellow who owns that acre shares the water with everyone. However, the old guy dies and leaves the land to his son, who is not so generous. The son requires an exorbitant fee from everyone, until most are forced to sell their land to him to pay for water to grow food to eat. He ends up owning all the land, the crops, as well as the water. And for the right to grow food to feed themselves and their families, everyone else is allowed to plant and grow food, as long as the best crops go the the son.

    How does this situation get resolved under your system of property rights?


    • The Question says:

      Let’s assume the son jacks up the price for water. What’s to stop the villagers from doing the same with their own goods – but only for the old fellow’s son? In other words, they raise their prices for their goods and services in direct correlation to how he raises water prices so that they receive back the money they lost by paying high prices. Or, if it is obvious he is trying to take advantage of his position, they can threaten to ban him from their properties and refuse to do business with him entirely. And it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to think some of them have stored up water reserves in anticipation of a drought, which would cause a natural rise in prices.

      The old fellow’s son certainly has the right to raise the water prices as high as he wants; what keeps him from doing this is the fact that the other villagers have the right to raise their prices as high as they wish as well in response. In the end, he is better off charging a fair price.

      This is exactly what happens in real life; when the U.S. passed the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act in the 1920s, which raised tariffs on imported goods from other countries. In response, other countries raised tariffs on U.S. products; U.S. imports decreased 66 percent from $4.4 billion from 1929 to $1.5 billion in 1933. Net exports declined from $1 billion to $600 million, when the GDP was $58.9 billion.


      • Wow! Nice solution. Also like the U.S. building up oil reserves to help mediate price increases from the suppliers in the Middle East.

        The point of the puzzle was to show how the many may be enslaved by the few who control ownership of essential resources. I was around when OPEC raised oil prices triggering double digit inflation during the Carter administration. It was great if you could afford to buy CDs. No such interest available today though. 🙂

        In the puzzle though, the only way out is for the many to assert their right to a fair share of the natural resources from the spring. Because the son first went after their property as payment for the water, he became the sole land owner. Everyone else became sharecroppers, forced to work for him on terms he could dictate. Having the only water to drink as well as the only water to grow food, his “property” right became a right to own all of everyone else’s property. And he could dictate the outcome so long as his property rights were considered more important than the lives and well being of everyone else.

        And that’s the problem with placing property rights about all else.


  2. Pingback: Does the Majority “Grant” Us Our Rights? | The Anarchist Notebook | Libertarian Anarchy

  3. Pingback: How State Priests Administer Rights | The Anarchist Notebook | Libertarian Anarchy

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