Libertarianism holds that a person’s rights are objective (‘A’ is ‘A’), whereas all other political ideologies hold that these rights are subjective (‘A’ is what I say ‘A’ is).
I’m planning on creating a page or posts on the Principles of Anarchism as a sort of consultation guide for those either trying to better understand libertarian anarchy or trying to use it to accurately interpret and comprehend political events that take place in life. I thought it appropriate to begin with this one.
A major flaw among those who defend the legitimacy of the state is that they can never provide concrete, direct, and consistent answers to the most pertinent question: What are our rights, where do they come from, and how did we determine this?
For example, if they answered that rights are decided by a majority vote 50.1 percent of a population) within a specified territory or jurisdiction (direct democracy), despite some obviously glaring problems with their assertion and certainly raises moral and ethical dilemmas, at the very least they are providing an answer that can be quantified or measured independently without their involvement.
It is for this reason, and others, that they won’t give the necessary details. Once they have done so, they have yielded control which in the political realm provides them with cart blanche political authority to make that determination and alter their conclusion in order to suit their current agenda. Naturally, they are the ones who want to decide these things. To empower others to discover these rights for themselves is to strip the “spiritual” leaders in politics, those who decree what is and is not a right, of any power.
It is important to keep this in mind when debating; your opponent’s primary objective is to convince you that they, through their political ideology, have legitimate authority to coerce your against your will, and they will also do their best to direct attention away from any questions as to why this is, mainly by assuming the premise and begging the question.
The lack of specificity plagues their arguments for the same reasons as it does in utilitarianism which, unlike most ideologies, is at least intellectually honest enough to acknowledge that rights do not exist. Yet, this still leaves them with the same conundrum.
How does one go about deciding what should be allowed and not allowed, i.e. what a person has a right to do and not do? How do people obtain these rights? How do we even know what these rights are, if they are not natural? How do we know for certain? And most fundamentally, how did we come to this conclusion?
State Priests Administering Rights
Statism is very much a religion in the sense that those who claim their beliefs give them authority over others via the state are priests, individuals in possession of The Truth. It resembles a cult because only they can be entrusted with its secrets. When you seek it yourself so you too may be enlightened as to The Truth, they will never offer it.
The political leaders and those who promote the ideology are acting as quasi-priests in the same vein of pagan or ancient religions. Their purpose is to defend and promote the legitimacy of the state, as their specific ideology sees it. Much as varying religions hold to certain basic principles (existence of supernatural entities, afterlife) but differ in their ultimate declarations about spiritual matters (monotheism versus polytheism), state priests may not advocate for the same version of the state or for the same objective (communism, socialism, fascism, constitutionalism), but the fundamental premise of the state’s legitimacy remains intact irrespective of its outward appearances.
One of the ways that they do this is by decreeing, or bestowing, certain rights to certain people at certain times under certain circumstances. What’s never explained in any discernible terms is the quantitative method or process they used to determine those are legitimate rights and how the system is the correct one apart from their own interpretation.
Some of these priests are more like friars or hermit monks. They are self-appointed and have no structural support or institution to back them, no power over others. They defend the power others have. This means a state priest could be a random activist on the street arguing in favor of a minimum income guarantee or
free socialized healthcare. But the claim of political authority is the same as any priest claiming to know The Truth. The only difference between them and a bureaucrat priest who gets to dictate public policy within their state department is their ability to make enforce their claim through violence.
The mysticism inherent in these ideologies becomes very apparent once the question of the origin of rights are brought into the discussion. If asked, as Jesus was by Pontus Pilate, what is truth (or rights?) they typically will reply that “rights” are determined by vague, abstract processes, such as “mutual consensus” or by “community,” or “the people.” One can press for precise definitions to these concepts, and they will certainly offer more bewildering explanations; the desired impression given is that the meanings are far too profound for you to comprehend and so you cannot on your own determine what your rights are.
It is at this point I want to make a special exception from this for political philosophies and beliefs rooted in the mutual belief in the state’s illegitimacy but still believe interaction and cooperation on some level is necessary for pragmatic reasons. There are plenty of strict constitutionalists and other minarchist types who will argue that we have natural rights (regardless of where they come from) and that governments violate them and should be limited as much as possible. My criticism here is directed at those who do not believe in natural rights and that state aggression is justified when it coerces people against their will under specific circumstances, circumstances that they get to decide.
One example of state priest rationalization on rights is the argument that they are subject to compromise when it’s for the greater good. What’s left unsaid, but implied, is that only certain people get to decide what constitutes the greater good. This are the modern equivalents of Aztec priests explaining to the masses why human sacrifices were necessary to appease the sun gods. I haven’t checked historical records, but I wonder if it never occurred to those about to have their hearts torn out to ask why it was they, and not the priests, who needed to have their heads removed and their corpse thrown down the temple steps. Nor did anyone ever ask how it served the greater good, who gets to decide this, and why them?
Imagine if you came across a book written in a language you couldn’t understand. Someone looks at it and claims it says something that affects you. Curious, you ask how they know what it says. They insist they know to read read it. A conversation along these lines occurs.
“How can you read it?” you ask.
“Because I can,” they reply.
“Then teach me the language, so I can read it for myself.”
“No, I can read the book for you.”
“No, I want to know the language so I can read the book for myself.”
“No, you can trust me to tell you what the book says.”
“How do I know you’re telling me the truth?”
“Because I said you can trust me.”
“And how can I know I can trust you?”
“Because I said so. I can read the book, and this is what the book says.”
“No, I will find someone else to teach me the language so I can read the book for myself.”
“No, only I know the language, so only I can read the book.”
“If I can’t read the book,” you finally conclude,” and you won’t teach me how to read it so I can find out for myself what it says, then I refuse to believe what you’re telling me.”
“If you don’t believe me then you are rejecting the truth.”
I highly doubt a real-life political conversation this simple, direct, and honest has taken place, but this is the actual argument being made on so many occasions: They know what it is because they are a priest, a stewart of The Truth.
Would anyone actually accept this same line of reasoning as valid proof of a claim to any kind of specific authority? If not, then people must understand that this is at the heart of most ideologies; The Truth is what the priests say it is because they are the priests.
Now, we have to understand something here: Just because a person uses a logical fallacy it doesn’t mean they are incorrect. It means they somehow arrived at the right conclusion through improper deduction. The person in my example above might be correct, but it is his conduct that betrays him. Why then not allow you, the person in question, to read the book for yourself?
The answer is that just as the emperor has no clothes (which only the “intelligent” could see) the truth, or knowledge, is only determined by those who claim to have the innate ability to decide.
Recall what I wrote at the beginning:
Libertarianism holds that a person’s rights are objectively determined (‘A’ is ‘A’), whereas all other political ideologies hold that these rights are subjectively determined (‘A’ is what certain people say ‘A’ is).
While libertarianism has an objective reply (your [property] rights are an innate part of your existence) all other ideologies won’t give you the answer because there is no objective answer. The truth is not found in some external, independent source.
They are the source, the origin of The Truth.
Confession and The Vision™
If one were to get these state priests into a political confessional booth and admit their true intentions, those on both the Right and Left would admit that their ultimate goal is not maximum liberty, but fulfilling what I refer to as The Vision™. I’ll explain it in a moment.
No matter who you talk to, a mainstream conservative or a Progressive, they both reject libertarianism because they oppose the idea that rights are absolute. To them, almost all, if not all, of our rights are conditional; they do not grant that people have the right to do certain things, even if it only involves their property or does not violate other people’s rights. Coercion and aggression must be used to force them to comply if they do not do so voluntarily.
The state is the necessary tool through which The Vision™ is carried out. It is also why you will observe “libertarians” leave the movement or abandon the NAP in favor of state intervention on certain issues. Unwittingly or not, they held The Vision™ higher than the NAP, and so when there is an opportunity to advance it through the state, they cannot yield it for the sake of the NAP.
The belief of The Vision™ can be summed up as follows:
Everyone has the “right” to behave in accordance with social, ethical, moral, cultural, or religious views that fit within how things should be done in all sectors of life. A person’s “rights” can be revoked at any time if they violate or threaten the precepts.
It is from this prescribed recipe for the society at large that rights are determined to be valid or not.
If you look carefully, you can see it manifest in politik speeches. You will also notice that The Vision™ is itself not absolute in its specificity, despite some major structural components due to the underlying philosophical beliefs which guide its adherents. It is also worth noting that every political ideology has its own variation of The Vision which can vary in their degree of control over the lives of individuals. Some versions may recognize more freedom, i.e. rights, than other versions due to either sympathies or influence from libertarianism.
What this means is that something that may be a right one day can cease to be one the next. Or, as we’re seeing currently, what wasn’t a right yesterday becomes a right today.
Second, the very nature of The Vision™ decrees that people do not have equal rights because of their differences in morality, values, culture, language, tradition, societal norms, religion, and other personal preferences.
This is why, as you may notice, statists cannot give a position on rights without knowing first the circumstances involved. Thus, it is impossible to clearly define what a person’s rights are and how they are decided, because whether you have a right is entirely dependent on whether what you’re doing is in accordance with the current version of The Vision™. Consistency when declaring individual rights is impossible.
Furthermore, we see this demonstrated in the dual perceptions they hold of democracy. When it rules in their favor and supports The Vision™, it is a wonderful tool for allowing the people to have a voice. When a small minority shares The Vision™, however, democracy is seen as mob-rule of mindless rabble easily swayed by emotional rhetoric and populism.
It’s only by thinking through The Vision™ you can argue in favor of same-sex marriage on the basis of individual liberty but then promptly turn around and demand that someone bake a cake for those same-sex weddings under threats of violence. It’s how conservatives can balk at government regulations in the economy or at any restrictions on religious freedom but then hawk in favor of foreign interventions overseas financed through taxation of people who are opposed to such actions on religious grounds. One is part of The Vision™, the other is not.
State priests are the ones who take it upon themselves to decide what The Vision™ is and consequently what your rights happen to be, depending on the role you play in fulfilling (or stifling) it.