Does Anyone Know What a Right Is ?

Nobody has a clue as to what “rights” are. Government-run schools and an ignorance-peddling media have done their jobs well. People are (at best) stupid on the subject and (at worst) willfully malicious.

Most people think of “rights” as getting something for free. They think they have a “right” to free college; to health care; to a house; to retirement pensions; to child care; the list is endless. Note that everything deemed a “right” today is to be paid for by another (or by a Federal Reserve which inflates the currency to pay for its massive spending and borrowing).

You don’t have a RIGHT to anything other than sovereignty over your own life. What you do with that life is YOUR choice and YOUR responsibility. If you need or want help from someone, it’s your job to obtain it — through charity, persuasion, trading or any other VOLUNTARY means. You have no “right” to hire an armed gunman to get money or property from someone else just because you need it or want it, or just because they have more. But that’s what government has become in America, as in every prior collapsing civilization in human history. America is no longer special; our government has become a glorified Mafia.

You do not have a “right” to enslave another person. When you claim you have a right to “free” anything, then by definition you are authorizing the government to impose force to make that other person pay for it. That is NOT your right.

Ayn Rand, decades ago, gave a great description and definition of what a “right” actually is. Note how her framework is the utter opposite of the attitude now prevalent in America under America’s Marxist-fascist hybrid horror show.

Rand wrote: A “right” is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context. There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man’s right to his own life. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action; the right to life means the right to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated action—which means: the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life. (Such is the meaning of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.)

The concept of a “right” pertains only to action—specifically, to freedom of action. It means freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference by other men.

Thus, for every individual, a right is the moral sanction of a positive—of his freedom to act on his own judgment, for his own goals, by his own voluntary, uncoerced choice. As to his neighbors, his rights impose no obligations on them except of a negative kind: to abstain from violating his rights.

The right to life is the source of all rights—and the right to property is their only implementation. Without property rights, no other rights are possible. Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life. The man who produces while others dispose of his product, is a slave.

Bear in mind that the right to property is a right to action, like all the others: it is not the right to an object, but to the action and the consequences of producing or earning that object. It is not a guarantee that a man will earn any property, but only a guarantee that he will own it if he earns it. It is the right to gain, to keep, to use and to dispose of material values.

Michael J. Hurd/Ayn Rand

Capitalism and The Swedish Welfare State

As Ayn Rand observed, a compromise between two opposite principles – such as between freedom and government controls in a welfare state – is never sustainable,

Prompted by my recent visit to Finland, I listened to a lecture about the country’s challenges in the new world economy. It was delivered by the controversial banker and economist Björn Wahlroos at Aalto University Business School, my alma mater. (The lecture is available on YouTube, with English subtitles promised soon. Wahlroos’ talk starts at minute 37. Most comments about Sweden start about minute 65).

Dr. Wahlroos is a controversial figure in Finland, a country committed to the egalitarian welfare state, because he has been a provocative proponent of free markets and a critic of the welfare state. In this lecture, however, he argued that it is possible to have both the welfare state and market freedom if a country approaches them “sensibly.”

Wahlroos criticized the Finnish government for the zero GDP growth rate in the last 13 years and attributed it to the government’s “insensible” approach to growing the welfare state while failing to facilitate economic growth through market mechanisms. He cited Sweden as a model, where the modest annual GDP growth of 2% in the same period has financed welfare spending and avoided accumulating government debt.

In a 10-year period from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, Sweden’s social democratic government recognized the unsustainability of the ever-ballooning welfare state and set to restructure it (without giving it up). According to Dr. Wahlroos, Sweden did this primarily by lowering taxes and by reforming labor laws. It abolished the wealth tax for its wealthiest citizens in 1995 and the inheritance and gift taxes for everybody about ten years later. It also increased the tax deduction for employment income and changed labor laws, which encouraged those on welfare to go to work. Finally, in 2020 the government introduced a flat state income tax of 20%.

For such improvements of people’s economic freedom, Wahlroos deservedly praised Sweden. However, his endorsement of the Swedish welfare state model which permits modest economic growth by slightly expanding economic freedom, is indefensible. He argued that Sweden (where he now lives) represents a middle ground (a compromise) between the Asian tigers (such as Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan) and Venezuela. Therefore, it is “a sensible home for industry and also a tolerable home for capitalists.”

Dr. Wahlroos’ argument is indefensible because a compromise between two opposite principles – such as between freedom and government controls in a welfare state – is never sustainable, as Ayn Rand has observed.

Why? Because a system based on opposite principles is unstable and always moving toward either direction. There is no “sensible” middle to which the proponents of the principles can agree in the long term.

A welfare state based on a mixed economy, is founded on the idea that society – all its members collectively – must take care of everyone’s needs. In a welfare state, those who have more needs must be taken care of by those who are more productive and therefore can afford to help.

This principle of “to each according to his needs and from each according to his ability” is in a fundamental conflict with the opposite principle that individuals should be free to pursue their own interests. The latter includes trading with others and not being forced (through taxation and regulation) to give away the wealth they have produced so that the government can satisfy others’ needs.

The welfare state with lower taxes that incentivize production of goods and services and thereby wealth creation may be tolerable to some capitalists, as Wahlroos argued. In a world that consists mainly of welfare states of varying degrees and dictatorships of various stripes, this may be understandable.

However, why should capitalists – those who accumulate wealth by producing and invest it in further production and wealth creation – want to compromise and merely have “tolerable” conditions for production?

They do so because they have embraced the welfare state as an ideal. They have accepted that it is their duty to fulfill the needs of others by enabling the welfare state. But if the capitalists and the producers really wanted to increase everyone’s prosperity and wellbeing, they should reject this wrong ideal. Instead, they should embrace true capitalism: the principles of individual freedom and free trade. It is only such a system that can maximize and sustain economic growth and wealth creation, and therefore, human wellbeing.

The evidence, both historic and current, shows clearly that freedom leads to the greatest prosperity and wellbeing for all, and that government controls hinder them. If human flourishing is the goal, the compromise between the principles of individual freedom and the government control that is the welfare state should not be tolerated or embraced.

Jaana Woiceshyn

Jaana Woiceshyn teaches business ethics and competitive strategy at the Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary, Canada. How to Be Profitable and Moral” is her first solo-authored book. Visit her website at profitableandmoral.com.

Today’s Tyrants Don’t Want Success; They Want YOU to FAIL

“They do not want to own your fortune, they want you to lose it; they do not want to succeed, they want you to fail; they do not want to live, they want you to die; they desire nothing, they hate existence, and they keep running, each trying not to learn that the object of his hatred is himself . . . . They are the essence of evil, they, those anti-living objects who seek, by devouring the world, to fill the selfless zero of their soul. It is not your wealth that they’re after. Theirs is a conspiracy against the mind, which means: against life and man.”

— Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

Candace Owens and the Founding Fathers

Wars are fought over land and money—never ideology. Ideology is what those that are in power use to convince those beneath them that they should be willing to lay down their lives on behalf of. Virtues and values are never practiced by those that demand we die for it.

From the Declaration of Independence:

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

Writes Ayn Rand on ideology:

“A political ideology is a set of principles aimed at establishing or maintaining a certain social system; it is a program of long-range action, with the principles serving to unify and integrate particular steps into a consistent course.”

“It is only by means of principles that men can project the future and choose their actions accordingly.”

“Anti-ideology consists of the attempts to shrink men’s minds down to the range of the immediate moment, without regard to past or future…above all, without memory, so that contradictions cannot be detected, & errors or disasters can be blamed on the victims.”

“In anti-ideological practice, principles are used implicitly and are relied upon to disarm the opposition, but are never acknowledged, and are switched at will, when it suits the purpose of the moment. Whose purpose? The gang’s.”

“Thus men’s moral criterion becomes, not ‘my view of the good—or of the right—or of the truth,’ but ‘my gang, right or wrong.’ ” [“The Wreckage of the Consensus,” Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal]

Today’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

In Chapter 6 of The Book of Revelation in the Bible, something akin to the last judgment is symbolized by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The horses are colored white, red, black, and pale; they symbolize (depending on the interpretation) conquest (or pestilence), war, famine, and death (or plague)-in sum, the end of the world. They represent God’s punishment for rejecting faith in God and may preview the second coming of Christ where all accounts will be settled.

The symbols, though not their religious base, can be applied today to the secular world. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse now are China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea. These countries have five anti-freedom and anti-life characteristics in common:

  1. They are all totalitarian dictatorships which deny political rights to their citizens, i.e., one-party systems, government censorship of speech and the press, political trials and associated punishments, and no private property by right. Citizens are forced to live and die in obedience to the state.
  2. These countries are all imperialistic. They act to bully, dominate, or take over by force any countries that they can and/or do not like.
  3. They have a passionate fear and hatred of free countries, and especially the United States, because it has the military power to destroy any aggressor(s) and represents a moral and practical repudiation of their own rulers who gain and retain their power only at gunpoint.
  4. They give moral support to each other (to rationalize coercion) and often give material support to each other such as supplying food to prevent starvation and/or providing goods which free countries will not supply. They also share military technology designed to suppress rights such as weapons and spy systems.
  5. They all have or are building nuclear missiles with the capability of reaching the United States and other free countries. They routinely threaten to use them.

In sum, these countries have the desire and potential to destroy the free world and bring us to a new Dark Age with them as rulers—a real Apocalypse. But the antidote is not the worship of an imaginary ghost in the sky (mysticism) but rather, better horses– representing reason, individual rights, self-interest, and capitalism. The application of these principles would greatly reduce or eliminate pestilence and famine, bring peace and greatly increase life expectancy.

Free, capitalist countries deal with one another by voluntary trade and have very little if any incentive to go to war as Ayn Rand said in “The Roots of War”:

Laissez-faire capitalism is the only social system based on the recognition of individual rights and, therefore, the only system that bans force from social relationships. By the nature of its basic principles and interests, it is the only system fundamentally opposed to war.

Men who are free to produce, have no incentive to loot; they have nothing to gain from war and a great deal to lose. Ideologically, the principle of individual rights does not permit a man to seek his own livelihood at the point of a gun, inside or outside his country. Economically, wars cost money; in a free economy, where wealth is privately owned, the costs of war come out of the income of private citizens — there is no overblown public treasury to hide that fact — and a citizen cannot hope to recoup his own financial losses (such as taxes or business dislocations or property destruction) by winning the war. Thus his own economic interests are on the side of peace.

In a statist economy, where wealth is “publicly owned,” a citizen has no economic interests to protect by preserving peace — he is only a drop in the common bucket — while war gives him the (fallacious) hope of larger handouts from his masters. Ideologically, he is trained to regard men as sacrificial animals; he is one himself; he can have no concept of why foreigners should not be sacrificed on the same public altar for the benefit of the same state.

The trader and the warrior have been fundamental antagonists throughout history. Trade does not flourish on battlefields, factories do not produce under bombardments, profits do not grow on rubble. Capitalism is a society of traders — for which it has been denounced by every would-be gunman who regards trade as “selfish” and conquest as “noble.” [1]

It should be noted that if dictatorships with advanced weapons did not exist, there would be no need for free countries to build thousands of atomic missiles—there could be a rational and safe trend toward some nuclear disarmament. Pacifist demands by leftist intellectuals for unilateral disarmament in free countries would disappear.

Given that the four bad horsemen of death are here, how should they be dealt with?

1. Acknowledge the fact that a cold war exists.
2. Arm ourselves to the teeth.
3. Cooperate with other free countries based on mutual self-interest.
4. Make a moral judgment: state publicly that dictatorships are morally wrong and that we and other free countries are morally right.
5. Assume that the bad horsemen will do everything in their power to manipulate and deceive us. Take suitable precautions.

Notes

[1] Ayn Rand, “Roots of War“, June 1966, The Objectivist Newsletter.

A New Era of Objectivism

The Atlas Society stands for an open, benevolent, intellectually tolerant approach to Objectivism in which philosophical disagreements are dealt with through civil discussion and intellectual exchange. We adopted this approach partly in contrast to an approach that has led to many unnecessary conflicts and schisms among adherents of Ayn Rand’s philosophy over the years, as discussed in David Kelley’s book, Truth and Toleration in Objectivism (1990, 2019).

The Ayn Rand Institute recently published a long article addressing this history of schisms—the first official comment on the issue from that wing of the Objectivist movement in many years. The article rehearses selective details of some disagreements among Objectivists in an attempt to vindicate the many bridges ARI has burned over the decades. Yet along the way, it ends up embracing the key ideas The Atlas Society has been advocating all along.

First, ARI acknowledges that it is not the definitive representative or arbiter of the philosophy of Objectivism.

ARI does not regard itself as the leader of an organized Objectivist movement:

ARI…does not pretend to be a spokesman for Ayn Rand or Objectivism…. ARI seeks a “movement” only in the sense that Rand describes above: independent individuals and organizations working on the task of spreading ideas—specifically, on increasing awareness and understanding of Objectivism—who cooperate when they find it mutually beneficial to do so and who otherwise go their separate ways.

Moreover, they concede that after Ayn Rand’s death, “She was no longer there to police the use or misuse of her name or philosophy, to declare who is an authorized representative and who is not. And no one could reasonably regard any existing individual or organization as a spokesman for a person now deceased.”

As to whether this is how ARI has actually conducted itself over the years, those who have been in the movement can consult their own memories of the various past disagreements and decide for themselves. Rather than revive these debates, we choose simply to accept this implicit acknowledgement that the questions of what the philosophy of Objectivism means, what principles are essential to it, and what new ideas are consistent with it are to be evaluated by every individual Objectivist based on his own judgment. No person or organization has a central role or special authority. To which we can only say: “Amen.”

Second, ARI acknowledges that ideological disagreement within a movement, even sometimes deep and bitter disagreement, is normal and natural.

It is entirely normal for a movement that is engaged in bringing important new knowledge to the world to have leaders who disagree, often vehemently, about the meaning and application of that knowledge.

If disagreement is normal, it should be treated as such and addressed through the ordinary norms of intellectual debate, not through division into warring camps along with warnings against sanctioning each other’s sanctioners. We are glad to see that such demands have now been conspicuously dropped and ARI has nominally adopted the more benevolent approach of “going our separate ways” as and when we disagree.

That leads us to the final point of interest in this article, which is its repeated use of the phrase “other Objectivists,” including “other Objectivist intellectuals or organizations,” to describe the counter-parties of the various breaks and schisms. It is an implicit recognition that despite our disagreements, we are all advocates of the same philosophy and that there is a multiplicity of Objectivist voices.

Objectivism is and should be a movement of “independent individuals and organizations…who cooperate when they find it mutually beneficial to do.” We agree and are glad to see the Ayn Rand Institute endorsing the same idea. There is still a great deal that needs to be done to make this happen, rationally and benevolently, in practice. But we are happy to see it acknowledged in theory.

The Atlas Society has been putting these principles into practice for many years, and to the extent others choose to follow that lead, we can all move forward into a new and more productive era in the Objectivist movement.

The Atlas Institute

Ayn Rand: on Poverty

If concern for human poverty and suffering were one’s primary motive, one would seek to discover their cause. One would not fail to ask: Why did some nations develop, while others did not? Why have some nations achieved material abundance, while others have remained stagnant in subhuman misery? History and, specifically, the unprecedented prosperity-explosion of the nineteenth century, would give an immediate answer: capitalism is the only system that enables men to produce abundance—and the key to capitalism is individual freedom.

Poverty is not a mortgage on the labor of others—misfortune is not a mortgage on achievement—failure is not a mortgage on success—suffering is not a claim check, and its relief is not the goal of existence—man is not a sacrificial animal on anyone’s altar nor for anyone’s cause—life is not one huge hospital.

Rand’s Attila and Witch Doctor

In our latest “Draw My Life” video – “My Name is Ukraine” – we travel back in time with our protagonist, whose bounty born of fertile soil “attracted trade from the west and north… but also envy from the east….Mongol hordes invaded, leaving not just ruin, but a poisonous idea, of a strongman to rule and own everything and everyone is his realm.” Later, under communism: “They collectivized my farms, starving 4 million of my people in the Great Famine. Led by the New York Times and Marxist apologists, many in the West stood by, denying this atrocity, but one woman spoke out.”

“Ayn Rand’s family had taken refuge in my Crimea, before she eventually escaped to America, ‘the first society whose leaders were neither Witch Doctors or Attilas, a society led, dominated and created by the Producers.’”  

After the fall of Communism, a new Attila consolidated power in Russia, Vladimir Putin: “His Witch Doctors were the Russian Orthodox Church, and philosophers who wove conservative nationalist visions of a Greater Ethnic Russia.” While the West obsessed over climate change, Putin focused on regime change, invading Ukraine in early March. 

This latest video, launched last Friday, was produced in record time – from conception to scripting, to art, to music, to voiceover and production in two weeks. In the weeks ahead, we’ll continue to feature different perspectives – including strongly divergent ones among our own faculty. One thing that makes The Atlas Society unique is our tolerance of strong intellectual disagreement – even on hot-button topics like the proper US response to the war in Ukraine. If you are interested in hearing how our scholars diverge regarding Ukraine, check our Events Page, where, as you’ll see, Professor Jason Hill will host a two-part series on why “Defeating Russia and Defending Ukraine is in America’s National Interest,” while Professor Richard Salsman is scheduled for a couple of talks on “why Russia legitimately fears NATO, and Ukraine does not deserve U.S. help.” You may also want to check out Professor Stephen Hicks and Robert Tracinski’s previous Current Events panel on Ukraine. We’re adding an additional webinar to allow our scholars to debate, and allow YOU to hear their different arguments, and make up your OWN mind.

Watch Ukraine’s story HERE, the latest addition to our growing Draw My Life library, whose 30 videos you can explore HERE. And stay tuned for our next video release: “My Name is Karl Marx.”

Wisdom of Ayn Rand

Observe that the philosophical system based on the axiom of the primacy of existence (i.e., on recognizing the absolutism of reality) led to the recognition of man’s identity and rights. But the philosophical systems based on the primacy of consciousness (i.e., on the seemingly megalomaniacal notion that nature is whatever man wants it to be) lead to the view that man possesses no identity, that he is infinitely flexible, malleable, usable and disposable. Ask yourself why.

Philosophy: Who Needs It

“The Metaphysical Versus the Man-Made,”
Philosophy: Who Needs It, 28

They want to cheat the axiom of existence and consciousness, they want their consciousness to be an instrument not of perceiving but of creating existence, and existence to be not the object but the subject of their consciousness—they want to be that God they created in their image and likeness, who creates a universe out of a void by means of an arbitrary whim. But reality is not to be cheated. What they achieve is the opposite of their desire. They want an omnipotent power over existence; instead, they lose the power of their consciousness. By refusing to know, they condemn themselves to the horror of a perpetual unknown.

For the New Intellectual

Galt’s Speech,
For the New Intellectual, 151

Observe that the philosophical system based on the axiom of the primacy of existence (i.e., on recognizing the absolutism of reality) led to the recognition of man’s identity and rights. But the philosophical systems based on the primacy of consciousness (i.e., on the seemingly megalomaniacal notion that nature is whatever man wants it to be) lead to the view that man possesses no identity, that he is infinitely flexible, malleable, usable and disposable. Ask yourself why.

Philosophy: Who Needs It

“The Metaphysical Versus the Man-Made,”
Philosophy: Who Needs It, 28

They want to cheat the axiom of existence and consciousness, they want their consciousness to be an instrument not of perceiving but of creating existence, and existence to be not the object but the subject of their consciousness—they want to be that God they created in their image and likeness, who creates a universe out of a void by means of an arbitrary whim. But reality is not to be cheated. What they achieve is the opposite of their desire. They want an omnipotent power over existence; instead, they lose the power of their consciousness. By refusing to know, they condemn themselves to the horror of a perpetual unknown.

For the New Intellectual

Galt’s Speech,
For the New Intellectual, 151

ness to be an instrument not of perceiving but of creating existence, and existence to be not the object but the subject of their consciousness—they want to be that God they created in their image and likeness, who creates a universe out of a void by means of an arbitrary whim. But reality is not to be cheated. What they achieve is the opposite of their desire. They want an omnipotent power over existence; instead, they lose the power of their consciousness. By refusing to know, they condemn themselves to the horror of a perpetual unknown.

For the New Intellectual

Galt’s Speech,
For the New Intellectual, 151

It is important to observe the interrelation of these three axioms [existence, consciousness, and identity]. Existence is the first axiom. The universe exists independent of consciousness. Man is able to adapt his background to his own requirements, but “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed” (Francis Bacon). There is no mental process that can change the laws of nature or erase facts. The function of consciousness is not to create reality, but to apprehend it. “Existence is Identity, Consciousness is Identification.”

The philosophic source of this viewpoint and its major advocate in the history of philosophy is Aristotle. Its opponents are all the other major traditions, including Platonism, Christianity, and German idealism. Directly or indirectly, these traditions uphold the notion that consciousness is the creator of reality. The essence of this notion is the denial of the axiom that existence exists.

No !–by Ayn Rand

Then I saw what was wrong with the world, I saw what destroyed men and nations, and where the battle for life had to be fought. I saw that the enemy was an inverted morality—and that my sanction was its only power. I saw that evil was impotent—that evil was the irrational, the blind, the anti-real—and that the only weapon of its triumph was the willingness of the good to serve it. Just as the parasites around me were proclaiming their helpless dependence on my mind and were expecting me voluntarily to accept a slavery they had no power to enforce, just as they were counting on my self-immolation to provide them with the means of their plan—so throughout the world and throughout men’s history, in every version and form, from the extortions of loafing relatives to the atrocities of collectivized countries, it is the good, the able, the men of reason, who act as their own destroyers, who transfuse to evil the blood of their virtue and let evil transmit to them the poison of destruction, thus gaining for evil the power of survival, and for their own values—the impotence of death. I saw that there comes a point, in the defeat of any man of virtue, when his own consent is needed for evil to win—and that no manner of injury done to him by others can succeed if he chooses to withhold his consent. I saw that I could put an end to your outrages by pronouncing a single word in my mind. I pronounced it. The word was “No.”

— Ayn Rand