Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Most Important Thing Ayn Rand Got Right

Ayn Rand on collective rights:
Since only an individual man can possess rights, the expression “individual rights” is a redundancy (which one has to use for purposes of clarification in today’s intellectual chaos). But the expression “collective rights” is a contradiction in terms.
Any group or “collective,” large or small, is only a number of individuals. A group can have no rights other than the rights of its individual members.
A group, as such, has no rights. A man can neither acquire new rights by joining a group nor lose the rights which he does possess. The principle of individual rights is the only moral base of all groups or associations.
“Collectivized ‘Rights,’”The Virtue of Selfishness, 101
Rand, a bitter opponent of Marxism, had Communism in mind when she wrote this. Since Communism recognized no individual rights (apart from the right to be a Communist), therefore Communist governments had no rights.

But it's important to clarify something. Having no rights is not the same thing as other people having the right to do whatever they want to you. Just because the Communist government of the Soviet Union was illegitimate, or the theocracies of Iran and Saudi Arabia are illegitimate, doesn't give someone else the right to declare war on them capriciously. These governments may have no regard for the rights of their citizens, but their citizens do have human rights nonetheless. The government of North Korea is utterly illegitimate, but dislodging it would probably create more suffering than the regime itself does. Totalitarian states have a way of protecting themselves like that.

At the opposite end of the ideological spectrum, we have the concept of "States' Rights." One interpretation of "States' Rights" is the rights held by the government of some geographic area. That's easy to dispose of: a State in that sense is an arbitrary polygon on a map. It can no more have rights than latitude and longitude have rights, or a UTM grid square has rights. In fact, in Rand's interpretation, a state government, being a group, has no rights.

The other interpretation is that States' Rights means the rights of the citizens living within those states. That's the only definition that makes any sense. And so, for example, the citizens of 49 states have the right to pump their own gas at a service station, but not the citizens of Oregon. That's probably motivated by a desire to preserve jobs in the filling station business, or prevent accidental spills, but there doesn't seem to be any widespread resentment over it in Oregon. The militants who took over a wildlife refuge had many grievances against the Federal government, but never uttered a peep about being forced to let someone else pump their gas.

One ironic fact is that people who want the 17th Amendment repealed (which provided for popular election of Senators) appeal to States' Rights in terms that seem to regard States as abstract entities that have rights in and of themselves. As one site put it:

The popular election of our senators is bad public policy because it stripped the states of the one voice of representation they had in Washington, DC.
Note the assertion that popular election of Senators stripped the states of their rights, and therefore the states are entities that have rights independent of their citizens. One wonders what those rights might be? The cynic in me suspects those "rights" are really the rights of interest groups, that is, the right of wealthy and powerful individuals to draft their own laws.


Anonymous said...

I would really like you opinion of common core.

I have really liked you opinions on so many subjects, I have really found you ideas refreshing.


Steve D said...

Thanks. Pretty off topic, but here goes. I really don't have much opinion. What I've seen of the math component seems to be a rehash of the "New Math" chimera, the hope that somewhere there's a recipe that will make math easy or fun, together with the fantasy that math will be more understandable if kids learn the theory behind it. Interestingly enough, learning the theory behind reading - phonetics - is out of favor despite the fact that it DOES work.

Nothing becomes intuitive without a lot of repetition.

As for the rest of it, it seems to freak out a lot of people because it seems to be a top-down system that threatens to teach kids things they don't want taught, like Jefferson on church and state.