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What are rights?

in Conversations With My Boys, Liberator Online by The Libertarian Homeschooler Comments are off

What are rights?

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

Editor’s Note: This was written to introduce the idea of rights to the Young Statesman.

What are rights? There are two types or rights: Negative rights and positive rights. If you’ve ever heard the Ten Commandments, you’re familiar with Negative Rights. Thou shalt not…. Negative rights make you refrain from encroaching on the person or property of another.

RightsThou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not steal. Or as Libertarians like to say: Do not encroach upon the person or property of another. Simple, no? These rights don’t require you to Do anything. Only to refrain. A negative right essentially protects you from the encroachment of another person, a group, and the State. The negative right tells you that you can expect not to be subject to violence or coercion.

Negative rights are based on the idea of ownership. You own yourself and you own your property. No one has the right to infringe upon your life or your liberty or your property because they properly belong to you. For a negative right to be violated, one person, group, or State must encroach upon another. (Thou shalt not kill apparently doesn’t apply to tornadoes or earthquakes so if you’re killed by a tornado we don’t say that your rights have been violated.)

If you’ve ever heard someone argue that all people have the right to healthcare, education, food, shelter, or clothing they were making an argument for Positive rights. Positive rights make everyone responsible for providing one another with goods, services, and resources. Positive rights negate the principle of ownership. Every single argument for Positive rights without exception, no matter how kindly intended or reasonable, is an attack on self ownership and property.

Positive rights are based on the principle that we do Not own ourselves nor do we own our property. Therefore access to the property and person of another without their consent–theft and servitude–is fair and reasonable.

Positive rights require that you Do something. This is a violation of the principle of self-ownership. If I own myself, I am not required to Do anything at the behest of another. A Positive right guarantees the encroachment of another person, a group, and the State against your person and property. You will be subject to violence and coercion if you violate the right of another to your labor and property.

Constitutionally, the preservation of Negative rights is the purview of the State. Negative rights are ancient and history has shown that despots violate them first by claiming the ‘general welfare’ or ‘common good’ is being served and after establishing that the people will tolerate their breach they will do away with them in all but name.

Great Idea! Now, Can You Make It Happen Without Force?

in From Me To You, Liberator Online by Brett Bittner Comments are off

Great Idea! Now, Can You Make It Happen Without Force?

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

In order to reach more people, persuade them to adopt a more libertarian outlook, and keep them looking to reject the force of government intervention in our lives, we need to continue to build rapport and challenge their authoritarian beliefs in a friendly and non-confrontational way.

We often recommend building rapport with those you’re looking to persuade to adopt a more libertarian philosophy/worldview/lifestyle. That can be a difficult thing to do when discussing real world political issues, rather than asking some philosophical questions about who is best equipped to make decisions.

With that in mind, here’s a terrific way to build rapport with the people you’re talking with in a way that doesn’t alienate them. When they talk about a particular program or idea, focus on the outcome they desire and point out that the outcome is a good one. Typically, we are in agreement about the outcomes, whether they are prosperity, peace, a well-educated populace, safety and security, or happy lives. 

Next, you can congratulate them on a great idea!

As they bask in the compliment, you can begin asking if they want to make that happen without using force. Force, after all, is a very powerful thing, and is something that libertarians believe should not be initiated, rather it should only be used in response or self-defense.

forceBy praising them for their idea, we reinforce that we ARE listening to them, rather than waiting for our “turn to speak.”

By asking them questions, we SHOW genuine interest in their opinion or belief in an idea.

By asking how they might accomplish that outcome without using force, we LEAD them to come to the libertarian solution on their own.

Rather than start an argument or a fight about something where we agree on the desired outcome, we can engage in a useful dialogue that could very well end up changing the way they think about things… In a good way, without using force.

Once we’ve achieved some success, we can move on to other areas in a similar vein. It might take a few more conversations, as they may need time to reconsider how to get to our shared desired outcome, but without using force.

To accomplish making society freer and more libertarian, we have to change hearts and minds, because the people have the power. Acts of legislation are about 20-30 years behind the mainstream thinking of the people, so by winning over the people, we can already be living a libertarian life when the state finally catches up to us.

Don’t Win the Debate by Losing Your Opponent: Walter Block on Debating

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online, One Minute Liberty Tip by Sharon Harris Comments are off

(From the One-Minute Liberty Tip section in Volume 19, No. 14 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

In a recent post at the LewRockwell.com blog, the great libertarian writer Walter Block — a superb defender Walter Blockof libertarian ideas both in print and in live debates — shares his views on debating:

“My goal, in debating, is, along with my opponent, to get that proverbial one millionth of an inch closer to the Truth. I know this sounds a bit mawkish, and in the heat of the event — I’m only human — I sometimes forget myself, but, at least, this is my goal. In order to do this, I find, it is good to be polite. Not try to hog the podium, not interrupt my debating partner, not engage in ad hominems, etc.

“There are two arguments in favor of this. If we Austro-libertarians approach debates in this manner, we are perhaps more likely to win over our opponents. And if not them, then, perhaps, members of the audience.

“Second, it is always easier to escalate than de-escalate. It is very difficult to start off in a hostile impolite manner and later change our tune than to begin on the note I advocate and then if it is not reciprocated, escalate the hostilities.”

Great advice, Dr. Block! Dale Carnegie made a similar argument in his classic How To Win Friends and Influence People:

“Why prove to a man he is wrong? Is that going to make him like you? Why not let him save face? He didn’t ask for your opinion. He didn’t want it. Why argue with him? You can’t win an argument, because if you lose, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it. Why? You will feel fine. But what about him? You have made him feel inferior, you hurt his pride, insult his intelligence, his judgment, and his self-respect, and he’ll resent your triumph. That will make him strike back, but it will never make him want to change his mind. A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

I’m also reminded of this hilarious remark from libertarian humorist Dave Barry (hopefully he’s joking!): “I argue very well. Ask any of my remaining friends. I can win an argument on any topic, against any opponent. People know this, and steer clear of me at parties. Often — as a sign of their great respect — they don’t even invite me.” Ouch!

Block’s own story of how he became a libertarian is a great illustration of the importance of polite debate linked with a genuine desire to discover truth. He tells it in “How I Became a Libertarian.“ I highly recommend it. Here’s a quick summary.

Block was raised in a liberal household, and never had his leftist views seriously challenged — until 1963, when he was a senior at Brooklyn College and Ayn Rand came to give a lecture.

Says Block: “I attended, along with about 3,000 of my fellow mainly leftish students, in order to boo and hiss her, since she was evil incarnate. Afterward, the president of the group that had invited her to campus announced there was to be a luncheon in her honor, and anyone was welcome to take part, whether or not they agreed with her ideas. Not having had enough booing and hissing at Ayn in her formal lecture, I decided to avail myself of this opportunity to further express my displeasure with her and her views.”

The young Block boldly walked up to Rand and Nathanial Brandon “and announced that there was a socialist here who wanted to debate someone on economic issues pertaining to capitalism. (I was a bit of a chutzpanick in those days.) They politely asked, Who was this socialist, and I replied that it was me.

“Nathan very graciously offered to come to the other end of the table with me for this purpose, but he imposed two preconditions: first, I would be honor bound not to allow this conversation to lapse with this one meeting, but would continue with it until we had achieved a resolution: either he would convince me of the error of my ways, or I would convince him of his.

“Second, I would read two books he would later recommend to me (Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt). I agreed, and we spoke for an hour or so upon that occasion, followed up four or five times more for a similar duration at his apartment, where some of the other Randians took part, including Ayn, Leonard Piekoff, Barbara Branden and Alan Greenspan.

“At the end of this process I was converted to libertarianism.”

Block’s intellectual progress continued via spirited — but polite — debate and discussion with some leading libertarian intellectuals, most notably Murray Rothbard. (Again, you should read the whole story.)

Block’s story shows the importance — and the great pleasure — of friendly, spirited, and polite debate and discourse. Just imagine if Nathanial Brandon, instead of responding politely and helpfully, had simply dismissed Block or called him names. Would the liberty movement have lost the cocky young socialist — who went on to change his mind and become one of our finest writers and thinkers? (I shudder to think of the libertarian movement without the contributions of Walter Block!)

If you aren’t familiar with his work, Block is most famous for his groundbreaking classic Defending the Undefendable. Other books include The Privatization of Roads and Highways, Yes to Ron Paul and Liberty, Labor Economics from a Free Market Perspective, Building Blocks for Liberty, and Toward a Libertarian Society. Add to that countless essays and articles.

And here’s the best news of all: you can download them for FREE from the Mises Institute, along with a treasury of hundreds of other liberty classics. Take advantage of this wonderful gift from the Mises Institute and fill your e-reader with some of the world’s greatest libertarian writing — again, for free.

Go back to the full issue here.