A Conversation with Leland B. Yeager
, by Leland B. Yeager
, Austrian Economics Newsletter
Topics discussed include utilitarianism, rights theory, ethics and economics, mathematics and economics, methodological taboos, hermeneutics, Austrian economics, socialism and Eastern Europe
"AEN: What's wrong with natural rights theory?
YEAGER: Nothing. I consider myself a consistent champion of the kind of rights that are mentioned in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. But it is wrong to start with some conception of rights and then try to derive everything from that. The importance of respecting human rights is a result of our coming to realize how important they are to a good society and human cooperation. I get the impression from libertarian rights theorists--like Tibor Machan--that they want to just posit human rights. The good guys see them, the bad guys don't, and that's that."
A Free-Market Constitution for Hong Kong: A Blueprint for China
[PDF], by Alvin Rabushka, Cato Journal
Discusses the draft of the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, expected to be promulgated in 1990 (actually adopted 4 April 1990 and went into effect 1 July 1997), as a "free-market constitution"
"Chapter III of the draft Basic Law enumerates fundamental rights and duties of the residents: equality before the law; the right to vote; freedom of speech, association, assembly, and trade unions; the prohibition of unlawful search and seizure; freedom and privacy of communications; freedom of movement; freedom of occupation; freedom of academic research; the right to legal counsel; and so forth."
America Is No More
, by Paul Craig Roberts
, 19 Sep 2007
Comments on the lack of concern for constitutional rights under George W. Bush, as evidenced by the tasering of a student at a speech by John Kerry
"Usually when police violate constitutional rights and commit acts of police brutality they do it when they believe no one is watching, not in front of a large audience. Clearly, the police have become more audacious in their abuse of rights and citizens. What explains the new fearlessness of police to violate rights and brutalize citizens without cause?"
Animal Rights Absurdity
, by Scott McPherson, 22 Oct 2003
Benjamin Tucker's Liberty
, by Carl Watner, Reason
, Apr 1979
Examines several of the themes discussed by Tucker in Liberty
, e.g., anarchism, natural rights, monopoly, and how his views changed throughout the years
"In the process, Tucker became a convert to Max Stimer's variety of egoism. ... In later years, Tucker exemplified his new position by questioning the supporters of natural rights. '... These two rights—the right of might and the right of contract—are the only rights that ever have been or ever can be. So- called moral rights have no existence.' Thus Tucker concluded that rights begin only with convention. They are not liberties that exist naturally but liberties that are created by mutual guarantee. So he no longer defended property as a natural right but declared that property is a social convention."
Bentham, Jeremy (1748-1832)
, by T. Patrick Burke, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism
, 15 Aug 2008
"Natural rights, he stated in a famous phrase, were not merely nonsense, but 'nonsense upon stilts.' ... His scorn for natural rights, however, remains controversial and is frequently blamed for providing a key conceptual foundation for the modern welfare state. Traditional advocates of natural rights have accused Bentham of undermining liberty by entrusting to legislators the power to rearrange legal rights whenever doing so might lead to more utility, thereby undermining the stability of rights necessary for generating the very utility Bentham thought the only proper goal of law."
Blessings of Discrimination
, by F. A. Harper
, In Brief
Discusses the human ability to discriminate, e.g., to feel the heat of a stove, which Buddha considered an "essential" virtue, contrasting it with the policy of nondiscrimination on employment, association and other areas
"And in any event, what difference does it make how A arrived at his choice? One cannot question the basis for a choice without questioning the right of choice itself. There isn't much sense to saying that I have the right, for instance, to select any kind of cheese I wish, but that I have no right to select one in preference to another because it tastes better, or has a more appealing color, or is made from the milk of better cows. The right of choice is the right of choice, and the reasons therefor become a sacred part of the right of choice itself."
Book Review: Individuals And Their Rights by Tibor R. Machan
, by David M. Brown, The Freeman
, Jun 1990
Review of Tibor Machan's 1989 book Individuals and Their Rights
"Rights are a kind of moral claim, based on the objective requirements of life in a social context, although they have been treated by many writers, including Thomas Jefferson, as a kind of endowment. By contrast, Machan defines rights as 'social conditions that ought to be maintained, moral principles pertaining to aspects of social life.' He favorably quotes Ayn Rand’s statement that rights are 'conditions of existence required by man's nature for his proper survival.'"
Coke, Edward (1552-1634)
, by Stephen M. Sheppard, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism
, 15 Aug 2008
"The fourth principle inherent in Coke's legal theories is that law is a source of rights. ... Chiefly, he protected what we would now call rights, but which he saw as those interests and privileges in property and offices that were understood as the result of long practice and custom, barring the King from taking privileges from Parliament, as in Bates' Case, and barring Parliament from limiting the prerogative of the King, as in the Case of Non Obstante. Overall, Coke's common law protected the customary rights of the subject from interference from all, whether from interference by a neighbor, a sheriff, the King, or Parliament."
Democracy Versus Freedom
, by Jarret Wollstein
, Future of Freedom
, Jan 2006
"... it is essential to distinguish between electoral and substantive rights. ... Electoral rights give you some say in who governs. They do not guarantee that elected officials will respect your freedom. Substantive rights are the ability to control your own life and property. They are the core elements of freedom."
E.R.A.: A Red Herring at Best
, by Charles Curley, 1981
A rebuttal to an Association of Libertarian Feminists discussion paper in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment
"The Equal Rights Amendment carries with it a subtle and dangerous error. Rights are not given in legislation; not even in changes to the Constitution. Libertarians differ on where they do come from but on one point at least libertarians are agreed; rights are not granted by the rulers."
, by Tom G. Palmer, Reason
, Jun 1993
Review of Liberty and Nature: An Aristotelian Defense of Liberal Order
by Douglas B. Rasmussen and Douglas J. Den Uyl
"Exactly why do individuals have rights? The latest to submit a detailed answer are Douglas Rasmussen and Douglas Den Uyl ... This flourishing of individuals as moral beings necessarily requires for each and every one of them that they enjoy self-directedness ... And in order for each and every one to enjoy self-directedness, they must enjoy a protected sphere of autonomy. This sphere is delimited by the concept and institution of rights, which create 'a sphere of freedom' and 'moral territory.'"
Frederic Bastiat, Ingenious Champion for Liberty and Peace
, by Jim Powell
, The Freeman
, Jun 1997
Lengthy biographical essay, covering those who influenced Bastiat as well as those influenced by him, his writings (including correspondence with his friend Félix Coudroy), his roles in the French Constituent and Legistative Assemblies and his legacy
"He affirmed the natural rights philosophy, the most powerful intellectual defense of liberty which ... had virtually vanished from the English-speaking world. ... 'On the contrary, it is because personality, liberty, and property already exist that men make laws. . . . Each of us certainly gets from Nature, from God, the right to defend his person, his liberty, and his property, since they are the three elements constituting or sustaining life, elements which are mutually complementary and which cannot be understood without one another. ...'"
Related Topics: Frédéric Bastiat
, Richard Cobden
, Foundation for Economic Education
, Benjamin Franklin
, Free Trade
, Henry Hazlitt
, Gustave de Molinari
, Jean-Baptiste Say
, The State
George Mason and Individual Rights
, by Willie E. Nelms, The Freeman
, Sep 1977
Biographical essay highlighting Mason's ideas about individual rights and slavery, from his early childhood reading of Locke, the drafting of the Virginia Declaration of Rights to his opposition at the Virginia constitutional ratifying convention
"The Declaration stated that all men were by nature free and had certain basic rights, including 'the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.' ... The Virginia Declaration noted 'that freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained by despotic governments.' Mason also called for freedom of religion and religious tolerance. The document went on to proclaim that trial by jury was vital, and it set forth the idea that government gained its powers from the consent of the governed."
Herbert Spencer: Liberty and Unlimited Human Progress
, by Jim Powell
, The Freeman
, Apr 1995
Lengthy biographical profile, highlighting Social Statics
and his acquaintance with Andrew Carnegie
"He presented an inspiring moral and practical case for individual rights which he called 'equal freedom.' Everyone should be free to do what he wishes, Spencer insisted, as long as he doesn't infringe on somebody else's equal freedom. Accordingly, he advocated abolishing all trade restrictions, taxpayer church subsidies, overseas colonies, medical licensing, legal tender laws, central banks, government schooling, government welfare, government postal monopolies, and so-called 'public works.'"
Hobby Lobby Ruling Falls Short
, by Sheldon Richman
, 2 Jul 2014
Dissects the good and bad parts of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby
, ruling against Obamacare provision that required employers to pay for contraceptives
"A group of politicians cannot legitimately have the power to compel one group of people—employers, taxpayers, or insurers—to pay for things that another group wants. That's immoral, and it violates inalienable rights. ... When did we start equating the right to buy contraceptives—which hardly anyone disputes—with the power to compel others to pay? It is demagogic to insist that prohibiting the latter violates the former. ... Free persons ought to be at liberty to opt out of any decree that violates their rights. (Decrees against murder, theft, and rape do not violate rights, so one may not opt out of them.)"
In Defense of a Free Market in Health Care
, by Robert D. Helmholdt, 16 Apr 2004
Explains why government health care reforms will not improve the status quo, recommending instead complete deregulation of the industry and reliance on the free market
"Superimposed on all this mess is the pervasive unhealthy belief in our society that one may by right get something for nothing. But it makes no more sense to claim a right to health than to claim a right to wisdom or courage. However, in an age when people are clamorous about 'rights' without responsibility, they don't want to be told that health is primarily their duty and responsibility. They always forget that one person's government care is another person's shackles in taxes!"
In Pursuit of Liberty
, by Jarret Wollstein
, May 1997
Primer on liberty concepts, including voluntary vs. coercive associations, individual rights, government and possible future improvements in the status quo
"Individual rights is the recognition by others that voluntary association is fundamental and you should be free to live your life in peace. Your rights include: - freedom of speech, press, religion and assembly - freedom of association - the right to defend yourself (including the right to own the means of self-defense, such as guns) - the right to keep what you earn - freedom of enterprise and the right to own property."
Jefferson on American Liberty
, by Gary M. Galles, Mises Daily
, 4 Jul 2002
List of Jefferson quotations on the subjects of liberty, rights and government
"Our government exists only to defend our pre-existing rights. 'A free people [claim] their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate.' 'The true foundation of republican government is the equal right of every citizen in his person and property and in their management.' ... 'Our legislators are not sufficiently apprised of the rightful limits of their power: that their true office is to declare and enforce only our natural rights and duties and to take none of them from us.'"
Let the Immigrants Stay
, by Sheldon Richman
, 9 Jul 2014
Discusses the plight of Central American children migrating to the U.S. who face deportation by the Obama administraition
"Our rights can be expressed in many ways, but they boil down to just one: the right to be free of aggression. We have this right not by virtue of being American, but by virtue of being human. It is a natural, not national, right, so these young Hondurans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans have it too. Locking them up and deporting them should offend Americans, who claim to believe in the natural right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
, by F. A. Harper
, 4 Sep 1957
Speech to the Mont Pelerin Society; Harper first offers his definition of liberty, then explores "adulterated" definitions, its relation to morals, moral law and basic humans rights, ending with his hope for the cause of liberty
"Basic among human rights would seem to be the right to life itself. ... The right to life as an assumption is evidenced by the way people act. ... If one has the right to life, he then has the right to sustain his life with his own time and means, so long as in so doing he does not infringe on the same right of others. If one has the right to thus sustain his life, he then has the right to have whatever he is able to produce with his own time and means."
Liberty or Empire?
, by Patrick Henry
, 5 Jun 1788
Excerpt of speech to the Virginia Ratifying Convention; criticizes several clauses of the proposed Constitution and warns about the possibility of a U.S. President becoming even worse than a king
"Will the great rights of the people be secured by this government? Suppose it should prove oppressive, how can it be altered? Our Bill of Rights [Virginia Declaration of Rights] declares that 'a majority of the community hath an indubitable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to reform, alter, or abolish it, in such manner as shall be judged most conducive to the public weal.'"
Lysander Spooner, Part 1
, by Wendy McElroy
, Future of Freedom
, Oct 2005
Lengthy biographical and bibliographical essay; from Spooner's birth to 1850-1860, examining his writings on economics, money, banking, mail delivery and slavery
"Natural-rights or natural-law theory, as espoused by Spooner, is based on the idea that justice and just laws are inherent in nature — in the nature of man and of reality. Thus, rights can be discovered and they can be codified through documents such as the Constitution. Rights cannot be created by man or by human agencies such as government. Rather they emerge through reason and in the process of resolving social conflicts."
Madison, James (1750-1836)
, by Michael Zuckert, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism
, 15 Aug 2008
"Like Locke, Madison identified all rights as property, which he explains to be a 'dominion which one man claims ... in exclusion of every other individual.' There are thus two elements to rights: dominion and exclusivity. The rights holder has a kind of control over that to which he has a right, coupled with an immunity from the intrusions of others on that to which he has a right. ... He included in property in this broad sense 'safety and liberty of person,' 'the free use of ... faculties, and free choice of the objects on which to employ them,' the rights Locke, and after him Jefferson, included in the catalog of rights as 'life' and 'liberty.'"
Natural Law and Peace: A Biography of Hugo Grotius
, by Jim Powell
, The Triumph of Liberty
, 4 Jul 2000
"Natural law, Grotius maintained, is the basis of natural rights: 'Civilians call a faculty that Right, which every man has to his own...This right comprehends the power, that we have over ourselves, which is called liberty...It likewise comprehends property..Now any thing is unjust, which is repugnant to the nature of society, established among rational creatures. Thus for instance, to deprive another of what belongs to him, merely for one's own advantage, is repugnant to the law of nature.' ... Grotius influenced the English natural rights philosopher John Locke."
On Equality and Inequality
, by Ludwig von Mises
, Modern Age
Examines the premise that "all men are created equal" and some possible as well as purported conclusions
"The doctrine of natural law that inspired the eighteenth century declarations of the rights of man did not imply the obviously fallacious proposition that all men are biologically equal. It proclaimed that all men are born equal in rights and that this equality cannot be abrogated by any man-made law, that it is inalienable or, more precisely, imprescriptible. Only the deadly foes of individual liberty ... interpreted the principle of equality before the law as derived from an alleged psychical and physiological equality of all men."
On Liberty & License
, by H. Joachim Maitre, Reason
, Dec 1976
Discusses commentary by supposedly "conservative libertarians" on Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia
and worries about "the amoralism of some of the libertarian movement"
"Radical libertarian thinkers, in rejecting the authority of both State and Church, in not conceding to either the 'right' to grant rights, are left with the task of defining both the origin and justification of rights considered by them basic and inviolable—in particular the 'right to life' and, derived from it, the 'right to property.' They find it relatively easy to refute, as either amoral or technocratic, the notion that 'rights are granted by governments, which also enforce them.' But they have not succeeded so far ... in convincing the intellectual public of the allegedly sacrosanct nature of the individual's rights."
On the Origin and Character of Rights
, by William Blackstone
, The Freeman
, Mar 1981
Selection extracted from Commentaries on the Laws of England
, vol. I
"By the absolute rights of individuals we mean those which are so in their primary and strictest sense; such as would belong to their persons merely in a state of nature, and which every man is entitled to enjoy, whether out of society or in it. ... For the principal aim of society is to protect in the enjoyment of those absolute rights, which were vested in them by the immutable laws of nature; but which could not be preserved in peace without that mutual assistance and intercourse, which is gained by the institution of friendly and social communities."
On the Origins of the Modern Libertarian Legal Movement
[PDF], by Roger Pilon, Chapman Law Review
Historical survey of libertarian influences on constitutional and other areas of law, from the mid-1970s to recent decisions
"After all, I thought, wasn't the nation founded in the name of rights—natural rights, which conservatives dismissed as no business for the courts? And wasn't it the duty of the courts, in the name of such rights, to protect individuals against majoritarian tyranny? Still, I paused, because the conservative critique and those questions were arising in the context of ... an intellectual climate that called for greater protection for 'social and economic rights'—welfare rights—both at home and abroad, which hardly seemed consistent with the Framers' plan for limited government."
Personal 'Freedom': Review of Harry Browne's How I Found Freedom In An Unfree World
[PDF], by Roy Childs
, The Libertarian Forum
, Apr 1973
While admitting that the book has many valuable insights, Childs chastises Browne on his definition of freedom and his views on morality and natural rights
"No one has ever said that rights are enough to make anyone happy: they are rather a necessary but not sufficient condition for individual happiness and well being. And neither is the alternative either-or as Browne implies, i.e. either we rely on rights or we rely on insurance and individual action for protection, for instance. No advocate of natural rights has ever attacked the idea of insurance against theft, and for good reason: the two things are completely different, and have different purposes. Why then does Browne ... have a need to attack natural rights? Obviously they do not defend or help people in the same way, but so what?"
Real Liberalism and the Law of Nature
, by Sheldon Richman
, 10 Aug 2007
Examines Hodgskin's introductory letter to Henry Brougham, a Member of Parliament (later Lord Chancellor), written in 1829, published in The Natural and Artificial Right of Property Contrasted
"Is government the source of our rights? I fear that today many people would say yes. Not infrequently it is said that the government or the Constitution grants us freedom of speech or press or the right to own property. This offends the natural-law tradition that was essential to the genesis of classical liberalism ('liberalism') and the vital institutions it spawned. While some prominent early liberals sought to overthrow natural law in favor of the seemingly more-scientific utilitarianism, the heart and soul of liberalism is — and remains — the natural law. The philosophy would be impoverished without it."
Reasoning on the Nature of Things
, by Clarence B. Carson, The Freeman
, Feb 1982
Discusses how natural law doctrines were repudiated by utilitarians, why natural rights are important from an economic viewpoint, how the rights to life, liberty and property can be construed and what the author understands as the "social contract"
"The rights my friend had in mind were of much more ancient vintage and claimed something much more substantial for their authority. They were rights said to subsist in the nature of things and to antedate governments, courts, and constitutions even. The economic rights he had in mind consist of such things as the right of man to the fruits of his labor, to exchange his goods freely with other owners, to have, to hold, and to dispose of his property, and to be secure in his possessions without arbitrary interference from any person or governmental authority."
Related Topics: Jeremy Bentham
, John Stuart Mill
, Property Rights
, Ronald Reagan
, Adam Smith
The Constitution Within
, by Sheldon Richman
, 18 Aug 2006
Questions the validity of constitutions by relating how James Madison behaved during the debates over the U.S. document and later his introduction in Congress of the amendments that would become the Bill of Rights
"The 1977 Soviet Constitution proclaimed, 'In accordance with the interests of the people and in order to strengthen and develop the socialist system, citizens of the USSR are guaranteed freedom of speech, of the press, and of assembly, meetings, street processions and demonstrations. ... Citizens of the USSR are guaranteed freedom of conscience, that is, the right to profess or not to profess any religion, and to conduct religious worship or atheistic propaganda.' The 1936 Constitution contained some of the same guarantees. How much were those words worth?"
The Critical Dilemma Facing Pro-War Libertarians
, by Jacob Hornberger
, 14 Feb 2007
Discusses the contradictions faced by U.S. libertarians and conservatives who endorsed or encouraged imperial and interventionist foreign policies
"If a government has the power to arbitrarily take anyone into custody and torture and kill him, how can the citizenry in that society truly be considered free? Even if there is freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, the freedom to vote, and even the freedom to own guns, all such freedoms are meaningless if the government has the power to arrest, torture, and execute anyone it wants."
The Drug War's Immorality and Abject Failure
, by Anthony Gregory
, Future of Freedom
, Jul 2006
Discusses how drug use differs from criminal, property-rights violations, the justifications for the drug war and the many areas where it has had detrimental effects on society: inner cities, rule of law, foreign relations, etc.
"What many might not realize, having not been exposed to libertarian ethics, is the nature of the distinction — drug use, in and of itself, is a victimless act, whereas murder, like rape, kidnapping, assault, theft, and trespassing, is a rights violation. People have a right to life, liberty, and property, and to pursue happiness within the limits emerging from other people's equal rights to life, liberty, and property. If not for this, theft would not be a crime."
The Ferguson Distraction
, by Sheldon Richman
, 4 Dec 2014
Argues that the lack of an indictment on the death of Michael Brown distracts us from the more important "racist police brutality that ravages America"
"The ultimate cause of this problem is that the police are the domestic armed troops of America's rulers — falsely called 'representatives' — and the rest of us are the ruled. They know it, and we are increasingly coming to know it. Most of the 'laws' they enforce against us violate our natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The chasm between rulers and ruled exists everywhere in the country, but it exists on a spectrum from the barely noticeable to the extreme."
The Liberty Manifesto
, by P. J. O'Rourke
, Jul 1993
Remarks at May 6 dinner celebrating Cato Institute new headquarters
"[Freedom is] not an endlessly expanding list of rights — the 'right' to education, the 'right' to health care, the 'right' to food and housing. That's not freedom, that's dependency. Those aren't rights, those are the rations of slavery — hay and a barn for human cattle. There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences."
The Rhetoric of the Environmental Movement
, by Ronald Hamowy, Mises Daily
, 26 May 2006
"Rights so conceived do not require that others be forced to act in specific ways if I am to exercise my rights but only that they refrain from intervening in certain areas without my consent. Thus, my right to life does not entail that others are obligated to do everything within their power to keep me alive but only that they cannot kill me."
The Rights of the Colonists: The Report of the Committee of Correspondence to the Boston Town Meeting
, by Samuel Adams
, 20 Nov 1772
Hanover College History Department, Hanover Historical Texts Project
"Among the natural rights of the Colonists are these: First, a right to life; Secondly, to liberty; Thirdly, to property; together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can. These are evident branches of, rather than deductions from, the duty of self-preservation, commonly called the first law of nature."
, by Scott McPherson, 18 Sep 2006
"... the root of the problem is a total breakdown in our society of any understanding of the concept of individual rights ... Were it otherwise, patients and health-care workers alike would stop making spurious arguments about their alleged rights and accept responsibility for their lifestyle choices — whether it's a patient who needs to find a new pharmacist or an ambulance driver who should find a new line of work."
What the Immigration Bill Overlooks
, by Sheldon Richman
, 9 Jul 2013
Discusses the 2013 immigration reform bill approved by the Senate and how it disregards basic human rights
"First, by nature all individuals — not just Americans — have rights. Specifically, they have a natural right to engage in any peaceful activity, that is, any conduct that does not aggress against other people. Among those rights, therefore, is the right to travel and settle anywhere, so long as no one else's rights are violated. ... Third, the free-enterprise system ... necessarily includes the freedom of business owners to hire whoever is willing to work for them. "
Why Should a Supreme Court Justice Care about Natural Rights?
, by Jim Powell
, 9 Jul 2010
Discusses the evasiveness of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan when asked about the Declaration of Independence, and argues why justices should heed the natural rights philosophy embodied by its most famous lines
"Natural rights provide a moral standard, independent of law, for judging the legitimacy of law. ... In July 1847, when housewife Elizabeth Cady Stanton visited four friends in Waterloo, New York, they decided to hold a meeting about women's rights. They needed some kind of statement explaining what they wanted. They realized they could do no better than the natural rights philosophy expressed in the Declaration of Independence. Stanton drafted what became known as the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments and went on to launch the movement for women's rights."