What are individual rights?

” ‘Rights’ are a moral concept—the concept that provides a logical transition from the principles guiding an individual’s actions to the principles guiding his relationship with others—the concept that preserves and protects individual morality in a social context—the link between the moral code of a man and the legal code of a society, between ethics and politics. Individual rights are the means of subordinating society to moral law.” — AYN RAND, Man’s Rights 


What are individual rights?

To live rationally by one’s reason in society, the individual needs only one thing from his fellow human beings: freedom of action. One requires rights to those actions necessary to support one’s life, the fundamental right being the right to life, from which all other rights, including the right to liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness derive.

Rights are moral principles. Rights are principles that form the bridge between individual morality and the ethical principles governing society. Rights say that morally certain actions are right, and all other actions that forcibly interfere with those actions are wrong.

Rights are violated by the initiation of physical force (including fraud).

Rights are inalienable — within a man’s sphere of action, they are absolute.

By inalienable, we mean the right may not be alienated from the person who possesses them, i.e., they may not be given or taken away, i.e., they may not be morally infringed upon. For example, a robber may steal a car from a doctor, but morally the doctor’s right to the car is not alienated, i.e., the doctor is in the right, and the robber is in the wrong. Though the robber has possession of the car, the car still belongs to the doctor.

The fundamental right is the right to life from which all other rights, including the right to liberty, the right to property and the right to pursue happiness derive.

These rights are corollaries of the right to life and are applications of the right to life and as a body form a single integrated whole. These other rights are the right to life applied to different contexts.

All rights are rights to freedom of action: the right to those actions necessary to support one’s life — so long as one does not violate the rights of others.

Freedom of action does not mean freedom to act by permission, to be revoked at a dictator’s, or democratic majority’s whim, but freedom to act as an absolute — by right.

Rights are not guarantees those actions will be successful.

The right to pursue happiness does not necessarily mean achievement — it only means one is free to pursue what one thinks will make one happy. Pursuit does not mean attainment, though pursuit is a precondition to attaining it.

The right to life is the right to take those actions necessary to survive, free from the physical compulsion and interference of other men. The right to life does not mean that one can force others to support one’s life against their will. [what rights do guarantee is that if your actions are successful, no one may rob you of the results of those actions].

How does one delimit one’s rights from that of another? The principle delineating ones rights from the rights of others is that no right can violate the rights of another. If it does, it is not a right, i.e., there is no such right as the right to enslave.

In practice this means that any alleged “right” that involves the initiation of force, cannot be a right action: it is always wrong.

Suggested Reading: Man’s Rights by Ayn Rand

What is the meaning of the initiation of physical force?

”Man’s rights can be violated only by the use of physical force. It is only by means of physical force that one man can deprive another of his life, or enslave him, or rob him, or prevent him from pursuing his own goals, or compel him to act against his own rational judgment. The precondition of a civilized society is the barring of physical force from social relationships—thus establishing the principle that if men wish to deal with one another, they may do so only by means of reason: by discussion, persuasion and voluntary, uncoerced agreement.” — AYN RAND, The Nature of Government

In a political context, freedom has only one meaning — freedom from the initiation of physical force by others. By initiation is meant those who start the use of force to achieve their ends, i.e., a bank robber. Only the initiation of force can one stop one’s mind, rendering useless as a means of survival. Only by the initiation of force can one be prevented from speaking, or robbed of their possessions, or murdered. Only through the initiation of force can an individual’s rights be violated.

Can men use force in self-defense?

To use force in retaliation — in self-defense against those who initiate it — is not a moral option, but a moral requirement. A moral man has nothing to gain when a man tries to kill him, but he has much to lose if he does not defend himself. The use of force, in and of itself, is not evil — but to initiate (start) force is. Contrary to the doctrines of the pacifists, using force in self-defense is a good.

Any man (or group of men) who initiates force against others is a dictator — a monster — and should be treated as such, to the extent he initiates force.