Cactus Club April 1998

Cycle II: Part 3

2 April 1998.............too many rights make a wrong

Quoting from MORAL RIGHTS AND POLITICAL FREEDOM by Tara Smith--------"These explanations reveal only part of the reason for the unabating expansion of rights claims. Such ill-founded rights could take hold only if the existing conception of rights were vulnerable._______At root, the burgeoning of rights claims arises from our failure ever to have fully formulated and adequately defended a theory of the exact kind of moral principle that rights represent, the function that rights are to perform, and the justification of attributing rights to people._______Without secure foundations for rights, we have been adrift without a compass to guide our determinations of which rights claims are and are not legitimate." Comment: Rights are a metaphysical shield surrounding our person and property. No one has a right TO anything but everyone has a right FROM interference as long as they act within their own shielded circle. Anyone who breaches another's circle is committing a crime(assault or theft in one form or other). By implication, activities which do not breach another's circle are not crimes. Question: Shouldn't we exclude the representatives of a democratically elected government from this definition of a criminal? (PD)

4 April 1998...............more regulations or higher real wages and more job opportunites

Quoting from SIMPLE RULES FOR A COMPLEX WORLD by Richard Epstein----------"______the emphasis on law and regulation ignores the cumulative impact of independent systems of regulation on a single social institution. The employment contract may be able to survive minimum wage or maximum hour regulation, or discrimination and wrongful discharge suits, or health and safety regulation, or Social Security and Medicare taxes, or handicap access and the uncapping of mandatory retirement, or family leave and workplace safety, or unionization and collective bargaining. But is there any reason to think that real wages and job opportunities can rise in the face of all these regulations together, or that each new form of regulation can be justified without taking into account the regulations already in place?" Question: Is there a trade-off between real wages/job opportunities and regulations designed to help workers and if so is this unintended consequence worth the price? (PD)

6 April 1998................Americans, the Drug War, and the concept of rights

The following editorial appeared recently in the on-line publication DRCNet and was written by Adam J. Smith, a member of TCC. Any comments? (PD)

9 April 1998........................natural law and reason

In the first chapter of THE ETHICS OF LIBERTY, entitled Natural Law and Reason, Murray Rothbard discusses the concept of natural law and the means to the discovery of these laws. Questions: Are there ethical natural laws as well as physical (the law of gravity, etc) natural laws and is it possible to know these laws without understanding theology or having faith in God? Is there a connection between evolutionary psychology and the idea of a universal human nature? (PD)

14 April 1998................natural law, jurisprudence, self-defense and anarcho-capitalism

What is the connection between natural law and jurisprudence? Does government promote justice or as the old saying goes----- the law is not just, it's just the law. And how about the need for defense? Does an understanding of natural law and natural rights lead to the acceptance of the political philosophy of anarchy? Here are two readings concerning these important questions: Article one and article two. Any comments? (PD)

16 April 1998....................Cicero, natural law, and Thomas Jefferson

One of our members, Don Boudreaux, has arranged for an article by Jim Powell (which was published in the January 1997 issue of THE FREEMAN magazine) to be available for us to read on the web. Thanks also to Marybeth Fennell at FEE for her assistance. Click here to read about Cicero and natural law. Question: Did Cicero influence Thomas Jefferson and does the U.S. Constitution and/or the Declaration of Independence reflect this influence? (PD)

20 April 1998................Bastiat and the purpose of government

According to Frederic Bastiat in THE LAW................"Force has been given to us to defend our own individual rights. Who will dare to say that force has been given to us to destroy the equal rights of our brothers? Since no individual acting separately can lawfully use force to destroy the rights of others, does it not logically follow that the same principle also applies to the common force that is nothing more than the organized combination of the individual forces? If this is true, then nothing can be more evident than this: The law is the organization of the natural right of lawful defense. It is the substitution of a common force for individual forces. And this common force is to do only what the individual forces have a natural and lawful right to do: to protect persons, liberties, and properties; to maintain the right of each, and to cause justice to reign over us all." Questions: In the philosophy of natural rights, is there any function for government other than to assist individuals in the process of self defense? If government were to lose all of the other powers, now conferred for the good of society, would the next logical step be to privatize the justice system? And if we did, what would happen to society? (PD)

22 April 1998....................islands, bridges, and people

Not to contradict John Milton, but, every man IS an island. On this island he has his person and his property. Since he is a social animal, he also has bridges to other islands where he interacts freely and voluntarily with people on their islands and they are then welcome to do the same on his. From time to time some uninvited visitors come across the bridges to try and control his personal activities. They tell him not to gamble or take drugs, etc. They are conservatives. Then there are those who come across to demand some of his property for the common good. They are liberals. He sometimes observes members of both groups arguing with the libertarians, who never come on his island unless invited. Other than the conservatives and the liberals, the only ones who visit without permission are the criminals. The liberals and the conservatives are part of a political process called government. At first the purpose of the government was to protect him from the criminals but recently it's become harder and harder to tell the government from the criminals. The only difference, as far as he can see, is the intent of their uninvited visit. The liberals and conservatives want to help someone called "society" whereas the criminals only want to help themselves. He sometimes can't tell one from another since they all have the power to injure his person and/or take his property if he disagrees with them. And the number of uninvited visitors is increasing all the time. They often interfere with the activities of the invited visitors. He doesn't understand why, if he is willing to stay off the other islands without an invitation, the liberals, conservatives, and criminals will not do the same for him. And then there's this pesky socionomist trying to get an invitation to come on his island to explain why the liberals and conservatives feel the way they do and how the bridges get produced "spontaneously", whatever that means. And how he has a natural right to defend his island. He really doesn't have time for complexity theory, evolutionary psychology, and social philosophy. He's too busy producing things in order to provide for himself and his family. And he's spending more and more of his available productive time trying to keep those uninvited visitors off his island. (PD)

23 April universal standard of rights

Regarding Tara Smith's attack on 'burgeoning rights claims', here is some grist for the mill.

If there never was any person who invaded the rights of another, there would never be any reason to talk about rights. But since there are, in every society, people who invade other people's rights, we start talking about rights!

It is the responsibility of the people to set standards for rights. These standards will vary from country to country, culture to culture, state to state. There isn't a universal standard of rights. If there was, we would all drive on the "Right" side of the road. Every society would chop off the hand of alleged thieves. While I agree that rights should be recognized as a shield, it is not sufficent to say that everyone has a right FROM interference as long as they act within their own shielded circle. No ten people anywhere will agree on the boundaries of that shielded circle. When we do not agree on rights, well, Houston, we've got a problem. That's where we begin to define rights and recognize them. That's why we have tribunals. That's why we have jurists, and hopefully, jurors.

One might have the right to engage in some activity or trade, but that right would never amount to squat if none of his neighbors or fellow citizens recognized that right. Rights TO or FROM anything are not significant unless we, as a responsible people, define and most importantly, protect that right. That is why our responsibility as citizens and fellow human beings is so grave. If we become lax when rights come under attack by people of no principle, and do not act to defend one another's rights, we will live in a country of decayed rights. Remember, and correct me if I'm wrong, but the discussion always begins when rights are taken or invaded. Then we begin to set standards that are right for our culture or area. We define, defend, emphasize, promote -- or ignore, rights. To me that is the norm, and a job that we should all take very seriously. (NL)

25 April 1998..............a universal standard for human rights

Before David Hume inflicted a festering flesh wound on the concept of natural law, John Locke derived the concept of natural rights. The question of which rights are actually rights has been with us ever since.

Civil rights, children's rights, animal rights, and the right to this and that have occupied much of our political discourse. The major question being how are these rights determined. There are three options. One is by custom such as the right to a trial by jury. Two is by authority such as the right to a social safety net ( the authority may be democratically elected), and three is by reason. The third method is often in conflict with the first two. Regarding that method, we must determine the purpose of rights and then figure out which rights will and will not allow us to accomplish our goal. If natural rights can be determined by right reason as we have done with the law of gravity then it must be true that these rights are independent of culture and society. Since a right is simply something that it is immoral for someone else to interfere with by use of force then we are talking here about moral imperatives. If moral means what is good for mankind in regard to the fulfillment of their potential as a human being, then we must study the nature of mankind to determine what that potential is and then we must study what does and does not promote development toward that potential. Anything that thwarts the attainment of this potential can be defined as against the laws of nature and by definition immoral. To deprive a plant of light and water is thus by analogy immoral, since it will not allow the plant to thrive. The determination of the need for light and water requires the application of reason in regard to the nature of the plant. By the same token we must analyze the requirements of social interaction that will allow individuals to develop toward their potential. For a more in depth explanation of the ideas explored in this input, please read(or listen to the tape of) THE ETHICS OF LIBERTY by Murray Rothbard. (PD)

26 April 1998(1).................self defense, Rothbard, and public goods

Here's a reply to one of the questions posed:

"In the philosophy of natural rights, is there any function for government other than to assist individuals in the process of self defense?"

The answer depends, of course, on which philosophy of natural rights we consult.

A theory like Rothbard's that considers self-ownership and property rights inalienable and inviolable leads logically to free-market anarchism, in which the only "government" is that for which people voluntarily contract. We might speak of the "government" of a condominium association, for example. (Some distinguish government in this sense from "the state," which by definition rules its subjects whether they explicitly consent or not.) Such a contractual government may certainly have functions other than defense; it might collect trash and maintain roads. In a Rothbardian rights theory there is *no* legitimate function for any non-contractual or involuntary or coercive governing apparatus, not even defense.

To get a natural rights theory to yield defense as a legitimate purview of non-contractual government, but not to yield every other function governments may wish to perform, some categorical moral distinction would have to be drawn between defense services and other services. I don't know what that could be. If the justification of using coercive taxation to fund police and courts is that defense and justice are "public goods" in the technical economic sense, then that justification also applies to every other good that fits the description of a "public good". (LW)

26 April 1998(2)'s nature or european nature

The following email was received from one of my students. I am posting it for your consideration. (PD)

28 April 1998........................reasonable sentiments

Quoting from THE ABOLITION OF MAN by C.S. Lewis----------------"I myself do not enjoy the society of small children: because I speak from within the Tao I recognize this as a defect in myself--just as a man may have to recognize that he is tone deaf or colour blind. And because our approvals and disapprovals are thus recognitions of objective value or responses to an objective order, therefore emotional states can be in harmony with reason (when we feel liking for what ought to be approved) or out of harmony with reason (when we perceive that liking is due but cannot feel it). No emotion is, in itself, a judgement: in that sense all emotions and sentiments are alogical. But they can be reasonable or unreasonable as they conform to Reason or fail to conform. The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should obey it." Comment: Once again C.S. Lewis leads us back to the beginning of our three cycles of socionomics education. He seems to bridge the gap, about which he speaks, between the sentiments and our powers of logical reasoning. Question: Is there any connection between what we feel and what we think or does Hume's distinction between the normative and the positive fully explain them as separate functions with separate purposes. And does evolutionary psychology help to understand this question. If so, how? (PD)

29 April 1998................response to 26 April 1998


First of all let me congratulate you on your reading outside the confines of the course and on your curiosity. These are the marks of a truly good student. Now in regard to your question. There is a misunderstanding that all Natives did not have or understand property rights. It is true that some did not but others did. It seems the difference had to do with production methods not human nature. Those that hunted abundant migratory animals like the buffalo did not have a need for property rights concerning the land. There were other tribes, however, who hunted different types of animals or fished and farmed that actually developed the social institution in land that we call property rights. In the first case I'll bet there would have been some disruption if one member of the tribe tried to take the personal property of another like say his horse or weapon or clothes. Property rights evolve when the need occurs and that need may be latent in certain cases. The law of gravity existed before Newton discovered it and even if the apple remained on the tree. When societies clash the first thing to go is respect for the property rights of the enemy as tribalism takes over, goaded on by the leaders. The other side is depersonalized and is actually looked upon as if they were property to be used or destroyed as the victor determines. The rule of law is ignored.

Civilization, which is the evolutionary process applied to societies, does not always move in an evolutionary stable direction and consequently adjustments are made. Those who are successful transmit their ideas and way of life and those who are not go into the history books. In addition I might add that much of the tragedy of the American Indian took place under organized methods of violence such as the calvary and the tribe. If individuals had been left to solve the problem, would there have been as much bloodshed? I believe there is a universal part of human nature and it is possible to discover the natural laws of this nature that when misunderstood result in social failure. A society that understands these laws will have a legal system that works best just as a structural engineer will build a bridge to withstand a certain load. And it doesn't matter who drives over the bridge, the color of their skin or their language and culture. It will bear the load if you build it right. -Prof. Ferguson