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Applied Philosophy Online

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Governments and Individual Rights

Capitalism Requires a Strong Government

Copyright 2011 by Thomas M. Miovas, Jr.


Basically, individual rights are a moral concept – it means that it is morally right for individuals to lead their lives as they see fit, so long as they do not use force or fraud against others. The recognition of individual rights is required for one to have the moral stance that one ought to be left alone to be able to act on the decisions of one’s own mind (according to rational principles, which individual rights are designed to protect). The individual mind is paramount, since man has no automatic code of action and must think things through to find out what is beneficial to his life and what is detrimental to his life. It is morally right for a man to live according to his own judgment, because the human mind is the source of his survival qua man and qua individual. The mind is individual, and hence each man has to be free to use his own mind to live his own life.

It is the human mind and the capacity to reason about the facts of reality that make it possible for man to create the values necessary for his survival. Things like automobiles, computers, books on philosophy, movies, radios, etc. are values -- they support human life -- and do not come about due to instinct or feelings, but the rational application of the methodology of thinking about the facts and figuring out how to apply that understanding to the issue of human survival -- to make life better by a rational standard. And the concept of individual rights is there to acknowledge this fact about human existence and to insure that such thinking and activity is protected so that it can flourish. The only way to violate individual rights is through force or fraud (an indirect use of force) – otherwise a man would be free to live his life according to his own standards without interference from others. And the only way to defend oneself from the initiation of force is via protective force – force used against those who would take away one’s property, one’s freedom, or one’s rights. Force is necessary for self-defense, and its only moral justification is for self-defense against those who would use force against oneself. Hence, there is a need to be able to protect oneself from the forcers in order to have freedom to act according to ones own judgment. So, unless one wants to spend a lot of time defending oneself against one’s attackers, some agency of force or counter-force is necessary. And this is the role of a proper government.

Those who don’t want a government would still need some agency of force to defend themselves against attackers, they just don’t want it to be some official agency with that sole power of using force legitimately. But in this state of affairs, with each person choosing their own agency of force, there would be no overriding agency to control the use of force or counter-force, leading to gang warfare – of one private agency of force acting against others, leading to no objective control over the use of force.

So, a carefully controlled agency of force is necessary for a society not to break down into gang warfare. This is the role of the government, with clearly defined areas of operation and carefully controlled operations, generally via a constitution specifically spelling out what the government is permitted to do. Some wonder how this control over the government would operate, and the basic answer is that the people would have to know their rights and have a stance of eternal vigilance against a force welder running amuck and violating rights instead of defending them. In other words, the government requires the consent of the governed, and it is the governed who have to be ever-watchful that the agency of force is not violating rights, but is defending them. The original constitution of the United States was a great document spelling out the role of the government, but it did have some flaws and was not entirely consistent in the defense of rights, and when the concept of rights began to waiver due to the influence of bad (irrational) philosophy, that agency of force began to violate rights instead of defending them. As I’ve said before, the only solution is eternal vigilance and for the people with the right ideas of rights to control the government, primarily by speaking out against the rights violators and voting rights violators out of office. I don’t think there is any other solution to this problem, but I certainly think that getting rid of government is the wrong approach and will lead to gang warfare.


Also see my essay on the logical results of anarcho-capitalism or the open market for retaliatory force