Human Rights & Anarchism
December 13, 2009 · Posted in Philosophy
A lot is being talked about rights. But what is a right? I have written about it before in Ethics, Human Nature, and Government:
A right is defined as a defensible claim to an object, meaning a claim that, if necessary for the preservation and development of mankind, may be defended violently.
But this statement still doesn’t clarify where rights come from. Who determines which creature has defensible claims to what? Thus it is crucial to understand that rights are inextricably linked to and the outcome of a process of reasoning. This is precisely the process I applied in the article I referenced above.
If you haven’t read it yet, do so, because I will not delve into the details here. I will just say that the concept of rights is derived from the assumption that humans have a certain nature and that a part of this nature is the desire to live and the desire to remove uneasiness every step of the way. Part of this nature is also the innate capability to let reason guide one’s actions, as opposed to instincts. Thus it immediately follows that when we talk of rights we always implicitly refer to human rights. We’re not talking about the rights of a cow, a bird or a fish.
If humans did not have a desire to live or to improve their well being every step of the way, the concept of rights would be completely irrelevant. But then, if humans did not have a desire to live I would not be sitting here and writing stuff. I’d have no business doing so. Nor would you be reading this and maybe posting comments on it. You’d have no business in doing so. Thus the desire to live rises to the status of an irrefutable axiom.
But to delimit the scope of human rights requires consistency. If one agrees that he has a right to his body and his property it immediately follows that all other humans do as well. It also follows that if he thinks he may for whatever reason infringe upon someone’s rights, he may rightfully become subject to defensive violence.
Thus a peaceful and just society is only possible if everyone’s rights are respected and exercised when needed. This is by no means to say that all humans are saints. The concept of human rights does not assume that in any way. Quite the opposite: Talking about rights would be completely futile and vain if it weren’t for people who infringe upon them. To state that one has a right to something always implies the threat of defensive violence, were one to become a victim of aggression.
It is also not to say that our current system is in any way designed in a way so as to respect our rights. Again, quite the contrary: A system that involves a government is by definition one that allows a certain group of people to perform aggression and theft on a periodical basis and with complete impunity, meaning without the subjects exercising their rights. It is impossible to institutionalize a system that protects everyone’s rights if the institution entrusted with this task by definition violates them.
There is only one system that establishes the framework that will one day enable all humans to exercise their rights to the fullest extent possible. This system is of course and by definition the system of anarchism.