Individual Rights

The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities. – Ayn Rand

Libertarians believe that the individual is the most important unit in society, and that American individuals have unalienable rights under the U.S. Constitution. Thus, arguments that individuals should be sacrificed “for the common good” do not have merit.

The libertarian view of individuals is profoundly different than the view that communists, socialists, totalitarian dictators and many modern “progressives” have. These statists believe that “society” is more important than the individuals who live in that society (the Nazis’ slogan was “Gemeinnutz vor Eigennutz,” or “common interest before self”). They are willing to force individuals to act for the betterment of society. This view is what has led to some of the worst human rights violations and economic disasters in modern history: it is estimated that communism was responsible for 100 million (!) deaths during the 20th century.

Libertarians believe that true freedom means being free to look out for your own interests. Our Declaration of Independence guarantees us the rights to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” The Declaration does not qualify these rights in any way; a person cannot be forced to serve another person’s happiness, and “society” cannot dictate what should make a person happy.

The Pursuit of Happiness means that each person has the right to do whatever she wishes, as long as her actions don’t trespass on the same right of other individuals. (I have the right to swing my fists in any direction; however, my right to swing my fists ends at your nose, since you have a right to not be assaulted.) Consequently, government should not restrict people’s actions unless they harm others directly. (Socialists argue that rich people “indirectly” harm poor people simply by being rich, so that we should take their money and give it to the poor. However, libertarians believe that such actions are simply legalized theft.)

Our Declaration does not, however, guarantee us the Attainment of Happiness, only the Pursuit of it. This is where collectivists have confused the issue. None of us have the “right” to a job, health insurance or a “living wage,” because guaranteeing them would mean trespassing on the rights of others (employers, doctors and taxpayers). And “All Men are Created Equal,” merely means that we all enjoy equal rights under the law, not that we should all be the same. We all have the right to aspire (and attempt) to be as wealthy as Bill Gates, but we do not have the “right” to be as rich as he is.

All of this talk of individual rights has been condemned by socialists and “progressives” as selfish, “atomistic” and “wild individualism.” However, individualism doesn’t mean that we don’t need to belong to groups. Individuals do naturally and voluntarily form families, social groups, religious groups (churches), charities and business groups, all of which provide mutual aid and society. The key is the voluntary nature of these groups, in contrast to the forced nature of legal restrictions and taxation to support an artificial “society.”