post

What are Natural Rights?

We’ve all heard of Rights: Equal Rights, Human Rights, and various types of political or social “rights” du jour. Amazingly, there are many people who have never heard the term “natural rights” before and don’t know what that means, or don’t have an accurate and clear understanding of what rights are because the term is so often misused. So what are natural rights?

Philosopher John Locke wrote extensively and passionately about natural rights, which include the right to life, liberty, and property. Locke asserted that these rights are inherent in our nature as humans. This means they cannot be given nor taken away by any governments, politicians, nor documents such as the Constitution of the United States or the Bill of Rights—we simply have them.

what are natural rights
“All mankind...being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions.” —John Locke

Other natural rights that stem from Locke’s trifecta include the right to self-defense, the right of free movement, the right of privacy, the rights to free and independent thought and speech…the list can go on and on. Essentially, the key to remember here is that a natural right is something that you have the power of choice and action over that does not use force or coercion on others. As Ayn Rand wrote in her book The Virtue of Selfishness: “Remember that rights are moral principles which define and protect a man’s freedom of action, but impose no obligations on other men.”

Right To Life

“All mankind…being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions.” —John Locke

By your own efforts, you have the right to work to obtain food, housing, and healthcare. Something that often gets muddled in discussions about this natural right is that some people think these things are owed to them by society. But something is not a true “right” if you use force or coercion to take the things you want and need from others, because that would be encroaching upon their natural rights.

You do not have the natural right to slave labor, which is what you are advocating for if you are demanding food, housing, healthcare, and other life-sustaining goods and services to be given to you for free. Ayn Rand put it this way: “No right can require the material implementation of that right by another man.”

Voluntary exchange and mutual cooperation ensure that everyone’s natural rights are respected, and the more the state can be kept out of transactions between consenting individuals the more freedom, prosperity, and higher quality of life everyone can enjoy.

Liberty

“I have no reason to suppose that he who would take away my liberty, would not when he had me in his power, take away everything else.” —John Locke

This is a word that some people often misuse in a similar way to the word “rights.” They talk about freedom from poverty, freedom from hunger, freedom from debt, etc. Others think of freedom as the license to do anything, without consequences. Both of these approaches are mistaken.

Poverty and hunger are the natural state of humans, and “freedom” from them makes as much sense as talking about freedom from youth or old age. Debt is something that is voluntarily undertaken, and to be “freed” from a debt voluntarily incurred is as silly as saying that you’re “free” from a restrictive piece of clothing you put on—true in a literal sense but not a philosophical one.

The “freedom” from the consequences of your actions is not freedom or liberty at all, because with that liberty you would be able to kill, steal, and enslave others with impunity—not liberty at all, but tyranny. Liberty can only be liberty if everyone possesses it, and so the only possible meaningful definition of liberty is that it is liberty from the interference of others—including the state.

Freedom from the state is important for the preservation of liberty and the other natural rights of individuals. This is what some of the Founding Fathers tried to guarantee with the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights, but as Lysander Spooner wrote: “The Constitution has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it.” Sadly, the only person who truly has the power to defend your personal liberty is yourself, and no government office can be relied upon to safeguard this treasure.

what are natural rights
The US Founders believed that every person had the same rights to life and liberty, and to pursue happiness--and these rights did not come from government.

Property Rights

“Every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has a right to, but himself.” —John Locke

Writer and economist Murray Rothbard has argued that all natural rights can be traced back to property rights alone: your body is considered your property, therefore you have the natural right to consume whatever you wish and move your body wherever you wish (so long as you respect the private property rights of others).

You have the natural right to preserve your body (your property) via self-defense. Owning property such as land gives you the means to provide life-sustaining food and shelter for yourself. The work of your body—physical and mental—can be traded with other people for property, including food and shelter.

Natural Rights and Voluntaryism

What does this have to do with voluntaryism? Voluntaryists believe in social and financial transactions based strictly on consent. This is completely in line with respecting the natural rights of others and ourselves.

The more you understand about natural rights, the clearer it becomes why we should assert them and defend them. A society free of force and coercion is a society firmly rooted in an understanding of natural rights, and a voluntaryist philosophy naturally and effortlessly follows.

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on email
Email
Share on print
Print
post

Charity Never Faileth

Many people associate the word “charity” with classic Christian teachings about love and kindness. The apostle Paul said “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). Jesus encouraged his disciples to love their neighbors and help the poor. Charity is clearly an important part of Christian teaching and living. However, many well-intentioned people confuse the charity and goodness that Christianity teaches with the welfare programs of the government.

This is an easy mistake to make. After all, doesn’t the government help people that are in need? And the money for that comes from taxes, so we shouldn’t complain about paying taxes, right? Many people who learn about voluntaryism and similar philosophies are impressed by the emphasis on individual liberty, but are concerned with what they perceive as a lack of compassion. A research scientist named Dr. Mary Ruwart phrased it this way in her essay “Arriving at Libertarianism”: “Raised as a Catholic, I could not reconcile the concept of ending tax-supported welfare with Christ’s admonition to love our neighbors” (I Chose Liberty p. 502).

Dr. Ruwart’s dilemma is one that is shared by many people. But once you realize that government action means force—violence—the situation becomes much clearer.

"If people needed helping, I should expend my energy to offer help, rather than forcing others to provide it."

“In considering this dilemma, I suddenly became aware of the pivotal point: although refusing to help others might not be very loving, pointing guns at our neighbors to force them to help those in need was even less so. Honoring our neighbor’s choice was more loving than the forcible alternative. If people needed helping, I should expend my energy to offer help, rather than forcing others to provide it” (ibid).

Dr. Ruwart realized the key difference, something that we at Voluntaryism in Action are passionate about: the voluntary nature of the giving. When you give to a needy person because you want to, not only is the needy person helped, but you are uplifted. In Christian terms, you come closer to God—and in anyone’s terms, you become a kinder, better person. Sometimes people say that government welfare and taxation just makes it easier to help the poor—but that’s why VIA is here! We and organizations like us exist to make it easier for you to give voluntarily. To us, it’s just another manifestation of how voluntaryism is a philosophy that really works. Or, as the Apostle Paul put it, that “Charity never faileth” (1 Corinthians 13:8).

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on print
Print
Share on email
Email
post

Government Welfare vs Voluntary Charity

At first, the prospect of government giving welfare to people might seem like a net good. “What heartless person could oppose these poor people receiving aid?” one might think. However, if the process of government welfare is examined, its surprisingly sinister nature becomes apparent.

In the first place, the money that the government spends is not its own—the money has been taken from other people via taxation. There are many different ideas on the morality of taxation—everything from it being a necessary part of society to it being outright theft. No matter your opinion of taxation, the fact remains that the tax money can no longer be spent as the tax payer wishes, but is now disposed of at the discretion of the government. Not only that, but since taxes are mandatory collections as part of a cold bureaucratic system, the taxpayer exercises no volition in the matter and cannot claim to have done a good thing—in fact, he cannot claim to have done anything at all. As Nobel laureate economist Friedrich A. Hayek wrote in The Road to Serfdom, “We are neither entitled to be unselfish at someone else’s expense nor is there any merit in being unselfish if we have no choice. The members of a society who are in all respects made to do the good thing have no title to praise.”

“Very well,” one might say. “I can’t be praised for something that I had no say in, but isn’t the welfare recipient still better off, and all society better off by extension?” Not necessarily. For when the welfare system is examined, we see that people are given money if they earn below a certain income, or work less than a certain number of hours. The intent, presumably, is to help make up for their small income—as some people say, they don’t get a “living wage.” But if we look at it at a slightly different angle, it’s plain to see that the welfare recipient is in fact being paid to earn less than a certain amount! For illustration, let’s say the cutoff for government welfare is $20,000; everyone who makes $20,000 or less receives $5,000 from the government. A person who makes $20,000 per year but could get a harder job that pays $25,000 per year will be discouraged from getting the higher paying job! Why should he work harder when he can change nothing and still get paid? Of course, not every welfare recipient thinks like this—some genuinely only want a little help getting back on their feet. But what the government welfare amounts to is a subsidy of under- and unemployment. That can’t be said to really help the welfare recipients—or anyone else in society.

Well, almost anyone else. There is one class of people who are helped by people being on welfare: politicians and government bureaucrats. The politicians, by having a false appearance of charity (how sincere is the charity when you’re giving away other people’s money?) can get more votes. The government’s “humanitarian” bureaucrats keep their jobs as long as people are on welfare—their good requires that other people be in want. Isabel Paterson put it this way in The God of the Machine: “What kind of world does the humanitarian contemplate as affording him full scope? It could only be a world filled with breadlines and hospitals, in which nobody retained the natural power of a human being to help himself or to resist having things done to him.”

Waiting on government welfare during the Great Depression.

How does this frightful picture compare with voluntary charity? For one thing, nobody is forced to give to anyone unless they want to—and nobody is forced to accept charity unless they really want and need it. Because of this, charitable people are able to choose who they give to—and in what way. It can be on a local level, either personally or in small groups, or through larger charities like VIA. This personal approach is almost always more effective than politicians dispensing welfare funds through a rigid bureaucratic structure designed to benefit whomever can lobby most effectively.

Voluntary charity also differs in that it’s aimed toward the long-term prosperity of everyone involved. The givers receive nothing in exchange for helping those less fortunate except a feeling of satisfaction—either from obedience to religious doctrines or just plain human kindness—at having helped their fellows. Like in any other voluntary transaction, the spender is anxious to get the most out of their money—in this case, they will want it to do the most good it can. And the most good it can do is to get people to a point where they no longer need charity! Therefore, the giver of voluntary charity has an incentive to maximize the well-being of the receiver of the charity—he has no reason to keep poor people poor, as does the politician.

The recipient of voluntary charity is also in a better position. Faced with people who are genuinely interested in their long-term success, the recipient is able to ask for whatever help he needs as opposed to having to meet the unyielding requirements of the government welfare system to receive a one-size-fits-all benefit. The recipient also has an additional incentive to make an effort towards financial recovery, because with a plan to follow and goals to achieve—thereby showing the giver the good their gift will do—he’s more likely to receive donations than someone simply asking for a handout.

For all the reasons above and more, we at VIA believe that voluntary charity is vastly superior to government welfare—for the giver, the recipient, and society at large. We believe it so much that we’re here doing it now, every day, with all our hearts—and we invite you to join us, voluntarily. After all, as Murray Rothbard said, “No action can be virtuous unless it is freely chosen.”

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
post

What is Voluntaryism?

Writer Auberon Herbert coined the term “voluntaryism” in the 19th century. A classical liberal philosopher and individualist, he was an advocate for individual liberty, private property, and voluntarily-funded government. He argued that government should never initiate force and should only be a vehicle for defending individual rights. In his essay “The Principles of Voluntaryism and Free Life,” he writes that in a voluntaryist society “the state employs force only to repel force—to protect the person and the property of the individual against force and fraud; under voluntaryism the state would defend the rights of liberty, never aggress upon them.”

Voluntaryism is a philosophy based on consent consistently applied in all human interactions. Consent—uncoerced, positive agreement—is an integral part of a society based on natural rights, including freedom of association, private property, and self-defense. This sounds great to most people when they first hear it, but some struggle when applying this consent-based philosophy in all social practices—perhaps especially when it comes to taxation.

British writer and politician Auberon Hurbert

Voluntaryism rejects forced taxation as a valid mode of funding governments and their social programs because it is impossible, as things are currently organized, to obtain consent from each individual—not only in the appropriation of these funds, but also in the ways taxpayer dollars are used. Under taxation, pacifists are forced to fund war, vegans are forced to subsidize dairy farmers, pro-life advocates are forced to fund abortion providers, homeschoolers are forced to fund government schools they don’t use, and everyone is forced to pay the salaries of the unelected bureaucrats who administrate these operations. There are too many examples of conflicting interests to even list because individuals vary too much for central planning to accommodate everyone in a truly ethical way.

If at some point in the future we could individually opt-in to the government services and programs we wanted to pay for and opt-out of the ones we don’t like, and create what Herbert called a “Voluntary State,” that would be a different story! But for now, the voluntaryist philosophy states unequivocally that taxation is theft. What the money is used for, whether we like and use or benefit from the programs it funds or not, does not change this fact: that if you refuse to pay your taxes you will be robbed of property, forcibly jailed, and/or killed by the state. There is no consent, and it is not voluntary. The voluntaryist will assert that this kind of aggression and coercion against individuals is immoral. Force and aggression, according to voluntaryism, are only appropriately applied in self-defense of person and property.

VIA’s mission is to show the world that voluntary philanthropy is not only already extremely common, but much more efficient than government welfare programs (which divvy out pennies for every dollar they appropriate), as well as being the most moral way to provide charity. We reject the state’s use of coercion, force, and aggression—even when their gains are used to help the less fortunate. We are here to show the world that we can provide ethical, direct charity to individuals in need with the consent of all parties involved, through purely voluntary interactions.

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on print
Print