Rights, Obligations, and Ignorant Libertarians

Oh, Rand Paul. What are we going to do with you?

I'll tell you in a moment what I'm referring to. But first: One of the principal functions parties serve is that they act as a heuristic, or cognitive shortcut, for voters. If you have to vote for someone to serve on your city council and you know nothing about the candidates, you can use party as a proxy and you'll be right almost all the time. You can also look to your party to see where you should come down on issues. It doesn't necessarily make you lazy; sometimes it's just efficient to look to others with values similar to yours for cues about what policies are worthwhile. We can't all be experts on everything. In a similar way, parties give people who run for office a set of policy positions they can adopt without having to know everything about anything a lawmaker might have to address.

But if you call yourself a libertarian, you're saying that parties aren't enough for you, even if you're a Republican. Instead, you're motivated by a philosophical perspective to which you've given some serious thought. Every libertarian in politics, including Rand Paul, presents themselves this way. They're concerned with ideas. So if you're going to define yourself by a philosophy, isn't it incumbent upon you to at least have an idea of what that philosophy implies, and a grasp of some basic philosophical concepts—for instance, like what a right is—so that you can talk about them with some modicum of sense when they come up, as they inevitably will?

Apparently not. Here's Paul in a new National Review article:

"There's a philosophic debate which often gets me in trouble, you know, on whether health care's a right or not," Paul, in a red tie, white button-down shirt, and khakis, tells the students from the stage. "I think we as physicians have an obligation. As Christians, we have an obligation. . . . I really believe that, and it's a deep-held belief," he says of helping others.

"But I don't think you have a right to my labor," he continues. "You don't have a right to anyone else's labor. Food's pretty important, do you have a right to the labor of the farmer?"

Paul then asks, rhetorically, if students have a right to food and water. "As humans, yeah, we do have an obligation to give people water, to give people food, to give people health care," Paul muses. "But it's not a right because once you conscript people and say, 'Oh, it's a right,' then really you're in charge, it's servitude, you're in charge of me and I'm supposed to do whatever you tell me to do. . . . It really shouldn't be seen that way."

Oh dear. Paul is obviously unaware of this, but saying that health care is a right doesn't mean that doctors have to treat people without being paid, any more than saying that education is a right means that public school teachers have to work for free. Because we all agree that education is a right, we set up a system where every child can be educated, whether their families could afford to pay for it themselves or not. It doesn't mean that any kid can walk up to a teacher in the street and say, "I command you to teach me trigonometry for free. Be at my house at 9 tomorrow. You must do this, because I have a right to education and that means I am in charge of you and you're supposed to do whatever I tell you to do."

All this talk of "servitude" and "conscription" is just baffling. The only way I can interpret it is that libertarianism is something Paul picked up from his dad, and it seems to go over well with Republicans when he mentions it, but he hasn't spent any time thinking about it.

I don't know if the 2016 Republican presidential contest is going to be quite the nincompoop parade that 2012 was. But I wouldn't be surprised if Rand Paul presents himself as the candidate with the big ideas. Make of that what you will.


'If there is one word that invalidates Ayn Rand's blubbering worship of individual achievement, it would be "exposure". It is a term used in the investment and finance worlds, describing the vulnerability a portfolio, institution or industry can endure in times of uncertainty. It conveys a relative link between two parties that can chain react adversely throughout entire industries, even economies. It wields no stoic or heroic connotation--unlike the feigned bravery of Ayn Rand's discourse.'

The further contradiction (this is where I thought this column was going) is that Ayn Rand's libertarianism is adamantly against Christian charity and social work - what Rand Paul calls "obligations." He's trying to have it both ways. This is the classic modern Republican; somehow both a social Darwinist and a self-professed Christian.

The author does not appeal to Ayn Rand's version of libetarianism, which is not even the definitive authority on libertarian thought in America. If you want to appeal to mainstream libertarian philosophy, you would do better to quote from such scholars as Friedrich Hayek, Murray Rothbard, Albert Nock, Thomas Jefferson, Lysander Spooner, Ludwig von Mises, Noam Chomsky, Walter Block, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Stephen Kinsella, or even Ron Paul. Ayn Rand is a fringe element of the modern libertarian movement, certainly no authority figure, yet detractors of liberty have lately been drawn to lambasting her, as if attacking Rand was somehow sufficient at denouncing all libertarian ideas. Most have never even cracked open her book, but simply regurgitate falsities that they read on other sites.

It is a sad state of debate, that this is such a common thread. Hopefully, the detractors of liberty will come up with some new material soon.

You are absolutely right - "cowboydroid". I can't believe how thin the criticism of this article is. It some weird way it is actually encouraging how weak the intellectual argument against libertarian thought (in any of it's forms like the authors you referenced) is at present.

I don't see any contradiction here whatsoever. "We all agree that education is a right, we setup the system that way". No. I didn't agree to that. Education is not a right nor is healthcare. Educating and healing the unfortunate and impoverished is a charitable act and we should feel compelled to be charitable if given the opportunity. But, to take resources through compulsion from individuals to give these "rights" to others is authoritative and immoral.

Your inability to understand the English languages and the contradictions within your own statements are almost cute.

Compelled- Forced or obliged to do something.
Law- the system of rules that a particular country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members and may enforce by the imposition of penalties.
Tax- a compulsory contribution to state revenue,

We should all feel "compelled" to contribute to these items.... as you say. It is our duty. And to make sure we do feel compelled, we created laws and imposed taxes.

You can not say we all should feel compelled but nothing should be done through compulsion. You don't even bother using a synonym for your contradictory statements.

Being compelled by one's own charitable virtues or nature is vastly different than being compelled by a state that has the power of force.

Chami013, leading off with an ad hominem logical fallacy does not bode well for the rest of your argument...

You've not refuted anything that Eric stated. What Eric stated is absolutely true, nobody has any right to the labors of another, for that would entail involuntary servitude.

"We" do not create laws and impose taxes. The government does. The government is not "us." It is an entity separate from society, an entity with a "legitimate" monopoly on the use of coercive force in implementing its will. The government imposes laws and taxes to control the governed. It does so in the interest of maintaining and expanding its own power and authority.

Compulsory charity is not charity, it is slavery. You cannot force someone into an action and yet claim that they wholly volunteered for that action, that is simply a lie. Stop twisting words.

Yes, the government is us. We elected them to represent us, to vote in our place.

And I'm so sick of hearing that any kind of compulsion is slavery. This is an insult and a slap in the face to people who actually were slaves. We should expand Godwin's Law to stipulate that if someone labels something slavery that obviously isn't slavery, that person automatically loses the argument.

The government is not us. Where does this type of thinking come from? My God. The government is a runaway freight train beholden to special interests. They are not us, not even close. They kill, oppress, manipulate, bail out, prop up, and lie. And you say "the government is us". Like he$$ they are. That's not me and I suspect it's not you either. You want to give this entity the power over the most intimate part of our lives? Terrible idea.

Senator Paul is correct. If people have a right to something that requires resources and labor, then society collectively is absolutely required and obliged to provide that something. That means all the rest of us must, must, must provide that something. There is no one else to do the providing except us humans in that society. "Right" should only refer to the right to be left along and not molested or injured; another term for that is "negative rights."

Nobody has the "right" to the resources and labors of another. Everyone has the right to their own resources and their own labor. People also have the right to contractually exchange property. Confiscation is not the contractual exchange of property, but theft of property.

There is quite a difference between moral obligations and natural rights. You or I might feel the moral obligation to provide for those in need, but those in need have no right to force us to labor in their interest, just like we don't have a right to force them to labor in our interest. And nobody else has a right to force us to labor in someone else's interests.

Natural rights are quite clearly defined as unobstructed freedom of action that does not infringe on someone else's unobstructed freedom of action. A "right" to health care does not fall under this definition, since someone's freedom of action is infringed by someone else's action. There is no such thing as "negative or positive" rights. There are only rights. "Positive rights" is simply a euphemism for state-granted privileges, which necessarily infringe on the rights of one group in order to provide special treatment to another.

Keep regurgitating that libertarian gobletygook. Meanwhile, there are still millions of people without health care. I'll tell you what's immoral: letting people die when we, collectively, could be saving them through the provision of health care. Of course some selfish jerks won't like this and will scream and whine that we're stealing their money to give to lazy poor people who don't deserve to live. Yep, that's why we have government to compel creeps like you to pay up. See, it wouldn't work if we didn't have the force of government. That force is a good thing. It lets people live.

Why so much hate? "We have government to compel creeps like you to pay up." You don't know the first thing about me. You don't know if I give my time and resources to help those in need, you just assume that I must be a selfish creep because I don't want the government to use force to administer what should be a voluntary charitable action by individuals. What are you doing yourself? Are you giving your time and money to those less fortunate? Or, are you just about advocating for a government that compels the rich creeps (which I would presume is anyone that has more than you) to "pay up"? You're caught in a catch-22. On the one hand, if we, as individuals, are so full of hate, animosity and uncharitable actions, then how in the world could we ever hope to effectively elect or administer a government that forces people to help others. On the other hand, if we, as individuals, are charitable then why would we need a government to force people to help others? This is tired old group think infused with embittered class warfare. You're better than this.

If you are so concerned with the millions of people dying in the streets because they can't afford the artificially high health care expenses promoted by government intervention, then why don't you lead off with giving them your own charity?

The real immoral act is that you think you can force someone else to be charitable by holding a gun to their head and telling them to pay up. That is a crime. You talk about others being selfish, but what is more selfish than the idea that you are entitled to the labors of another?

Creeps like you depend on the government to do their good works for them. I give of myself to those in need when I see fit. You have no right to command others how to give of themselves, and any exercise of such an action is a crime.

Force and coercion are evil. Any initiation of force is pure evil. Sociopaths appeal to the initiation of force when they can't get their way. They scream and stomp like children when they can't convince others to agree to their desires, and pull out guns to force them into submission.

Mr. Paul is absolutely correct in his statements. Nobody has a right to the labors of another. We have moral obligations as human beings to help the less fortunate among us, but those less fortunate do not have the right to force us to labor in their interests. We do it out of charity, not slavery.

The author has essentially appealed to hand-wringing in countering Mr. Paul's statement. What is your actual objection? Mr. Paul has clearly defined what a natural right is, and what it is not.

And I'm sorry, but we did NOT all "agree" that education is a right. The Constitution says absolutely nothing about the right to a state-provided education, and there is absolutely no delegated power within the Constitution for the state to provide an education. The Department of Education was established almost 200 years AFTER the Constitution was ratified!

You, the author, apparently have little concept of natural rights yourself. If you assert that people do in fact have a right to education and health care, then how on earth is that right fulfilled if nobody wants to be a doctor or teacher? Is the government going to force certain people to be doctors or teachers in order to fulfill this "right?"

I think you confuse the natural right to the pursuit of happiness with the actual state of happiness. Nobody has the right to a state of happiness, but they do have the right to pursue it.

Jesus, these arguments were made and refuted centuries ago, and yet here we are, still debating them today. You'd think human beings would be capable of learning from history, after 5000 years of repeating it over and over again.

"I don't know if the 2016 Republican presidential contest is going to be quite the nincompoop parade that 2012 was."

If you've seen or heard anything that leads you to believe it won't be, please share. From where I'm sitting, it doesn't look much different.

well, i just wait a what happening in 2016 - baju hamil

Turns out you can be ignorant and write articles about "Libertarians" that aren't Libertarian. Rand Paul is a REPUBLICAN!!!

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(If there's one thing we know about comment trolls, it's that they're lazy)