"Guest commentary: New ‘rights’ are wrong"

Don Richmond, Naples

Reprinted from Naples Daily News, April 25, 2010

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Brent Batten was absolutely correct in his column of March 25 when he stated there is no right to “the fruits of another group’s labor.”

The Declaration of Independence holds that rights are “self-evident.” However, it is the failure to grasp the true nature of rights which has brought this country to its current condition. It remained for the 20th-century philosopher Ayn Rand to explicitly identify rights as “moral principle(s) defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context.” Rights pertain only to “freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference by other men. ... Rights impose no obligations on (others) except of a negative kind: to abstain from violating (your) rights.”

The source of all rights is the right to life, and its sole implementation is the right to property, the right to use the products of your efforts to sustain your life. The rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness are the rights to enjoy your life and use your property. Rights are an objectively necessary requirement of human life, principles which apply equally to all persons and at all times. In sum, rights are freedoms for rational beings to take the actions necessary to fulfill and enjoy their lives. Any alleged “right” which violates these rights is not a right, but an excuse for a crime.

The only way to violate individual rights is through the initiation of force. A person who initiates force against you is attempting to negate your means of survival by forcing you to act against your judgment as to what your life requires. The only moral use of force is in retaliation against those who initiate its use. The sole proper purpose of government is to protect its citizens’ rights by banning the initiation of force and placing its retaliatory use under objective control. The purpose of the U.S. Constitution was, and is, to establish and maintain the supremacy of individual rights over our society and our government.

Consider, by contrast, the congressman quoted by Batten: “We have a moral obligation today, tonight to make health care a right.” That person believes he has a duty to force the providers of health care to work. Only a slave has no choice in the work he does. If health care is considered a right, then someone must provide it, willing or not. If too few people choose the profession of health care to provide for everyone’s “rights,” how will the need be met? Will doctors be jailed for the “crime” of leaving medicine? Will students be drafted into medical schools? If so, what kind of doctors will result? A doctor in Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged” says, “A man who’s willing to work under compulsion is too dangerous a brute to entrust with a job in the stockyards,” let alone in an operating room.

The root of this evil is altruism, the perverse principle that “man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue, and value” (Rand). Thus, altruism negates individual rights. If one has no right to exist for one’s own sake, one has no rights whatsoever. The health-care measures passed may be touted as “good-faith efforts,” as Batten stated, but the “good faith” is solidly rooted in an evil premise.

Altruistic ideologues, such as those running our government, believe that the initiation of force to counteract selfishness is not only permitted, but obligatory. To a committed altruist, anyone who refuses to sacrifice, to serve others at his own cost, is harming those others by denying them their right to the product of his efforts.

It was altruism, not selfishness, that gave rise to the horrors of communism and fascism. Both systems, variants of collectivism, deny that individuals have any reason for existence other than to serve others and advocate stamping out self-interest as a moral imperative. By contrast, this country was founded by men who did not consider themselves sacrificial animals, servants or slaves to the state. By claiming that rights are unalienable, they held that rights exist whether or not anyone chooses to recognize them.

There is no more time to evade this choice. Will we recognize the existence of individual rights and the full meaning of what they are and what they require, or will we accept the institutionalized slavery of enforced service of all to all, where ability is penalized and need is encouraged?

Richmond has a bachelor’s degree in physics and a master’s degree in operations research. He was a software systems developer on Wall Street. He is now a residential real-estate appraiser. He is a founding member of the Ayn Rand Society for Individual Rights of Naples (ARSIRN), an organization formed to bring Rand’s philosophy of objectivism to greater public notice. How to participate.