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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.

It’s About Liberty, Not Technology

in Communicating Liberty, First Amendment, Liberator Online, Libertarianism, One Minute Liberty Tip, Philosophy by Sharon Harris Comments are off

It’s About Liberty, Not Technology

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

Last month actor Mark Hamill, an advocate of gun control, posted this tweet to his nearly one million followers:

“Don’t get me wrong, as a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment [sic]—I believe in every American’s right to own a musket.”

right-to-bear-musketsIn doing so, Hamill was repeating an anti-gun argument that’s frequently heard and is surprisingly widespread.

This argument says that the Second Amendment was written over two centuries ago, before today’s modern firearms had been invented. Therefore, the Second Amendment only protects a right to keep and bear muskets and other primitive firearms common at the time.

You might think that this is a satirical remark, more snarky than a real argument.

Yet many opponents of the right to keep and bear arms actually intend this as a serious argument. Even those who use it half-jokingly often believe it makes a legitimate point.

For example, journalist Piers Morgan tweeted this in 2012:

“The 2nd amendment was devised with muskets in mind, not high-powered handguns & assault rifles. Fact.”

I could cite many more. Versions of this argument are circulating on the Internet.

How might libertarians effectively respond to this? One obvious way is to apply the same logic to other amendments.

The First Amendment, which defends freedom of speech and freedom of the press, was written before the Internet, television, radio, DVDs, cell phones and other forms of personal and mass communication.

Yet most Americans, especially liberals and progressives who favor gun control, certainly recognize that the First Amendment protects such modern communication as well.

No First Amendment activist would argue that a newspaper must be printed on 18th century technology to have First Amendment protection. What could be sillier?

Similarly, most reasonable people see that the Fourth Amendment protection of privacy clearly applies to modern technology such as cellphones, laptops, and so on.

In some circumstances, it may also be useful to point out that this issue has already been settled — and quite forcefully — by the Supreme Court.

In fact, in the landmark 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller decision, the Court declared this argument was “bordering on the frivolous.”

Wrote the Court:

“Some have made the argument, bordering on the frivolous, that only those arms in existence in the 18th century are protected by the Second Amendment. We do not interpret constitutional rights that way. Just as the First Amendment protects modern forms of communications… and the Fourth Amendment applies to modern forms of search… the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding.”

The Supreme Court drove the point home just last month in Caetano v. Massachusetts, which concerned a woman who carried a stun gun for self defense:

“While stun guns were not in existence at the end of the 18th century, the same is true for the weapons most commonly used today for self-defense, namely, revolvers and semiautomatic pistols. Revolvers were virtually unknown until well into the 19th century, and semiautomatic pistols were not invented until near the end of that century. Electronic stun guns are no more exempt from the Second Amendment’s protections, simply because they were unknown to the First Congress, than electronic communications are exempt from the First Amendment, or electronic imaging devices are exempt from the Fourth Amendment.”

These are powerful, even devastating, arguments from logic, history and authority that pretty much lay waste to the argument that the Second Amendment is limited to protecting our right to black powder muskets. But… there’s one more important point to make.

We should always remember our purpose as communicators. In most communications and conversations, we should seek to win others to our side, not just to win arguments.

So, rather than just responding with the powerful arguments above, take a moment first to listen to those making these arguments and try to uncover their genuine concerns. Are they worried about our society becoming more violent? Are they fearful of more children being victims of mass shootings? Are they advocates of nonviolence who have adopted an anti-gun position?

These are all legitimate, admirable, understandable concerns. Let your listeners know that you share their concerns (if you do) and then point out that there are libertarian answers — solutions — to all of them. By identifying and addressing the underlying concerns, you can try to win them to our side, or at least to a better and more sympathetic understanding of our views. That’s a lot better than merely winning an argument, but making a permanent enemy.

If the conversation allows it, you could go even further and point out that, to many libertarians, the right to keep and bear arms is rooted in the fundamental libertarian idea that people should be free to do anything they wish as long as they don’t harm others. A conversation that reaches this level can be very rewarding.

There are specific communication methods you can use to respond in such effective ways, and I have compiled many of the best of them in my book How to Be a Super Communicator for Liberty: Successfully Sharing Libertarian Ideas.

Please check it out.

Where Do Our Rights Come From?

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

Where Do Our Rights Come From?

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

Me: What would you say to someone who said rights come from the government?

Young Statesman (then 13): Well, it seems like we get our rights from government, and I think that’s a common misconception.

The Young Statesman Contemplates RightsMe: Why is that?

YS: Because the government is charged with protecting our rights. That’s their job. I think that’s why people get confused.

Me: So how would you explain to someone what rights are and where they come from?

YS: I would explain that there are positive rights and negative rights. Negative rights are a duty to refrain from encroaching on the life, liberty, or property of another.

Me: Is that why they’re called negative rights?

YS: Yes. They’re negative because they’re saying what you can’t do. Negative rights are natural to every person. We have these rights just because we are people. We don’t have to enter into contract for these rights.

Me: So what another person has the right to expect you won’t do?

YS: Yes. So I have the right to expect that I won’t be killed, enslaved, or robbed. Life, liberty, and property. Positive rights are different. Positive rights say you have a duty to provide someone with something.

Me: How do you come about having a positive right?

YS: If a negative right was infringed upon, you have a positive right to restitution. You can also contract for positive rights

Me: Can you take away a peaceful person’s negative rights?

YS: No. If your negative rights haven’t been infringed upon and if you have no voluntary contract, then you have no positive right to a good service or anything like that.

Me: So what if I were to say that what you say about rights makes sense, but I still think rights come from the government?

YS: A legitimate government is just a group of people who have voluntarily gotten together to protect their rights. The rights that existed before the government came into being.

Me: Is there any great difference between a legitimate government and a voluntary mutual aid society that agrees to help one another protect their property?

YS: No. A legitimate government upholds people’s property rights and is voluntary. It doesn’t have a band of enforcers to force you the be part of their system. That violates the rights it claims to protect. If the government violates the rights it claims to defend it’s not legitimate. I should be able to say that I do not want their services. If you aren’t able to opt out, what are you? Do you have your liberty? Slaves aren’t able to opt out, are they? We just have a slightly bigger pen.

To the Death

in Liberator Online by Sharon Harris Comments are off

(From the President’s Corner section in Volume 20, No. 1 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

“Je ne suis pas d’accord avec ce que vous dites, mais je me battrai pour que vous ayez le droit de le dire.”

“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

This magnificent declaration of free speech, tolerance, and liberty, attributed to the great 17th century French champion of liberty Voltaire, is now whirling around the globe in French and English, in print and online, in tweets, memes, newsfeeds and editorials.

The outcry over the murder of 12 people at Charlie Hebdo — killed for exercising their right to speak freely, killed for creating satire, killed for drawing cartoons — has thrust those words and the principle behind them into the minds of millions.

It is heartening to see such an overwhelming response in favor of freedom of speech, one of the most important and sacred of rights.

Freedom of speech has not always been tolerated well even here in America. Right up through the 1960s many novels, including books now considered masterpieces by authors like Henry Miller and William Burroughs, were illegal to sell. For most of America’s history, some words were unprintable, and writing about some ideas — birth control, for example — was forbidden. In the 1960s, Lenny Bruce, one of America’s greatest and most incisive comedians, was constantly harassed and arrested merely for using four-letter words in nightclubs; in despair, he died of a heroin overdose. Theater owners were arrested for showing sexually explicit films, convenience store clerks arrested for selling adult magazines.

Those who stood for freedom of expression in the past, even here in tolerant America, often fought a lonely and difficult struggle. All of us have benefited tremendously from their courage and passion.

Even today, even in America, those on the cutting edge of speech face threats. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo murders, Joe Randazzo, former editor of the satirical publication The Onion, wrote at MSNBC: “I’ve personally spoken on the phone with at least two individuals who threatened to rape me and kill my family” because of his writing.

Randazzo continues: “Satire must always accompany any free society. It is an absolute necessity. Even in the most repressive medieval kingdoms, they understood the need for the court jester, the one soul allowed to tell the truth through laughter. It is, in many ways, the most powerful form of free speech because it is aimed at those in power, or those whose ideas would spread hate. It is the canary in the coalmine, a cultural thermometer, and it always has to push, push, push the boundaries of society to see how much it’s grown.”

Around the world, crowds numbering in the thousands have gathered in defense of this most fundamental of freedoms, some waving pencils and pens, some holding signs reading “Je Suis Charlie” — “I Am Charlie.” Cartoonists worldwide have rallied to honor their fallen brothers-in-ink with an outpouring of creative and defiant tributes.

How glorious, how thrilling to see such passionate defense of free speech in response to those who would use violence to shut out views they disagree with.

Free speech is a value millions hold dearly. But that wasn’t always true. We believe so strongly in free speech today because of the centuries of political activism that won that freedom, defined it, argued for its value, and made it a central part of our lives.

As we libertarians build a consensus on other fundamental freedoms — peace, the right to control our bodies, the right to own and keep the fruits of our labors — we will see these ideas, too, embraced by the people of the world, and vigorously defended when attacked.

I’ll end with another quote from Voltaire, with a message I hope will be taken up one day soon with the same passion as the one at the beginning of this column:

“It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.”

What Are the Rights of Fathers on Issues Like Abortion and Child-rearing?

in Ask Dr. Ruwart, Liberator Online by Mary Ruwart Comments are off

(From the Ask Dr. Ruwart section in Volume 18, No. 15 of the Liberator Online Volume. Subscribe here!)

QUESTION: Do libertarians believe in the rights of fathers in regards to issues of abortion and child-raising? After all, he is partially responsible for the pregnancy. What if the man wants the baby but the woman doesn’t? What about mandatory child support?

MY SHORT ANSWER: Libertarians don’t always agree on the answers to these difficult and controversial questions. Some libertarians believe that the creation of a child obligates both parents to support the child until he or she is self-sufficient. Others believe that giving the gift of life doesn’t create an obligation to maintain it for either parent. Consequently, some libertarians believe in obligatory child support and others don’t.

A libertarian society would likely render abortion obsolete sooner than the society of today, because of rapid technological and economic growth. Technology should soon allow a fetus unwanted by a mother, but desired by the father, to be transferred to another womb, whether artificial or natural. This isn’t science fiction; by some reports (see “Learn More” below) we may have this option available in the near future.

Before this option becomes available, the woman is the one literally giving of her life’s blood to support the fetus. She will probably have the final say about whether it continues to reside within her. The father might be able to persuade an unwilling mother to carry the baby to term, rather than abort, by compensating her for doing so.

Although not a popular idea in today’s culture, potential baby-making activities are best undertaken with partners who can agree on how a surprise pregnancy will be handled. We wouldn’t take on a business partner without planning, via written agreement, for unexpected consequences. Should we undertake sexual congress with a partner without agreeing how unexpected consequences — a new, individual life — will be handled?

LEARN MORE: Suggestions by Liberator Online editor James W. Harris for further reading on this topic:

* “Will Science Trump Politics in Resolving Abortion Debate?“ by libertarian feminist Wendy McElroy. EXCERPT: “[T]he extent of the problem may well be diminished by science, by new reproductive technologies that sustain the viability of fetuses removed from women who do not wish to become mothers. Like heart transplants or intrauterine operations to correct birth defects, ectogenesis may be taken for granted some day.”

* “Artificial wombs: bold, controversial science coming soon,” by Dick Pelletier, PositiveFuturist.com. EXCERPT: “Cutting-edge research in the U.S. and Japan will soon launch a new era in human procreation: a world in which embryos can be ‘brought to term’ in artificial wombs, eliminating traditional pregnancies.”

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Got questions?  Dr. Ruwart has answers! If you’d like answers to YOUR “tough questions” on libertarian issues, email Dr. Ruwart

Due to volume, Dr. Ruwart can’t personally acknowledge all emails. But we’ll run the best questions and answers in upcoming issues.

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