Politics of Capitalism: Individualism

“The only proper purpose of a government is to protect man’s rights, which means: to protect him from physical violence. A proper government is only a policeman, acting as an agent of man’s self-defense, and, as such, may resort to force only against those who start the use of force.”

— Ayn Rand

 

How shall one live amongst other individuals in society? This question is fundamental to the branch of philosophy called politics. Politics being the application of ethics to social issues. What does the science of ethics have to say about this issue? Ethics tells us that politically, the individual must be left free to act rationally in the pursuit of their self-interest. The individual requires political freedom.

Individual rights are moral principles defining one’s freedom of action in a social context

“A right,” according to philosopher Ayn Rand “is a moral principle defining an individual’s freedom of action in a social context.”

The concept of individual rights, observes Ayn Rand,

“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.”

The fundamental right is the right to life (the right to take those actions required by a rational being to live in society so long as one respects the equal right of others to do the same). All other rights (liberty, property, freedom of speech, etc.) are corollaries or applications of the right to life to varying contexts.

The right to life states that you are sovereign, (your body is your property and belongs to you, i.e., you own yourself) and as such it is proper to take those actions (right to liberty) to legally acquire and use property (right to property) which is necessary to flourish (right to the pursuit of happiness), free from the physical compulsion by other individuals.

 

A proper society subordinates force (might) to reason (right)

The use of force, in and of itself, is not evil; but, to initiate (start) force is evil, as force renders the individual’s mind useless as a means of survival. One morally has the right to use force to defend and retaliate against those who first start the use of force.

However, this raises a problem: man’s state in nature, where all are allowed complete discretion in the use of force, according to the “laws of the jungle,” is anarchy  — perpetual civil war and gang warfare. To place the retaliatory use of force under objective legal control, the individuals that make up society delegate to government, their right to defend and retaliate against those who initiate force.

 

The purpose of government is to protect the individual’s right to life, by banning the initiation of physical force

Under capitalism, the fundamental purpose of government is to protect individual rights. In practice, this means the government’s job is to defend and retaliate against those who initiate physical force, as the initiation of physical force is the only way one may physically prevent an individual from acting rationally in their self-interest.

Under capitalism, the government’s job is not to force people to act rationally (morally) and regulate their behavior but to use its monopoly on the use of physical force to protect and retaliate against those who start the use of force (and its corollary fraud).

 

Statism is the opposite of capitalism

Where a capitalist society regards the individual as a sovereign being, a statist society holds that the individual’s life belongs to the state, to be sacrificed (altruism) for the good of the collective (collectivism). Examples of statism include communism, tribalism, (unlimited), theocracy, monarchy, apartheid, (pure) democracy, socialism, nationalism, fascism (corporatism), and all the hyphenated versions of capitalism which are some form of “mixed economy” welfare statism.

Where they may differ in appearance, all forms of statism adhere to the principle that the individual’s fundamental purpose is to be sacrificed for the good of others. The only difference between the different forms of statism is to whom and to what extent the individual is sacrificed for, i.e., the commune, tribe, “the people,” majority, monarch, god, race, society, nation, “the poor,” etc.

Given the inherent dangers of the arbitrary use of force by the government poses to the freedom of the individual, every aspect of the use of force is regulated by an objective rule of law.

 

SUMMARY

Capitalism is the social system of laissez-faire that regards the individual as a sovereign, independent being with an inalienable right to their own life.

  • Individual rights are moral principles defining one’s freedom of action in a social context
  • A proper society subordinates force to reason, that is might to right
  • The purpose of government is to protect the individual’s right to life, by banning the initiation of physical force
  • The opposite of capitalism is statism