Unfortunately, I don’t have my books with near me, so this is the best excerpt that I could find for the topic:
Since Man has inalienable individual rights, this means that the same rights are held, individually, by every man, by all men, at all times. Therefore, the rights of one man cannot and must not violate the rights of another.
You may not coerce another person because they have rights, and living rationally means respecting those rights. To live irrationally means to reject life. Objectivism is not primarily about selfishness, but about rationality.
Now. this is getting interesting. There one or two things I want to pick at:
- The idea of “inalienable” individual rights and whether it contradicts Ayn Rand’s personal views on religion and god
- Whether or not Objectivism is really more about rationality or selfishness
Ayn Rand was a noted atheist. Her stance on the existence of god—we have no evidence to proove god’s existence—seems to contradict her acceptance of the concept of inalienable rights.
As far as I understand, inalienable rights are rights that an individual can not alienate because they’ve been bestowed upon them by a higher power, i.e. god. The text of the second section of the U.S. Declaration of Independence reads (emphasis added):
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
So it seems to me we have a contradiction. How can Ayn Rand use the concept of inalienable rights if she doesn’t believe in the creator who’s responsible for bestowing them.
And here we get back to my original question. Free Broccoli:
You may not coerce another person because they have rights, and living rationally means respecting those rights.
Why not? You say they have rights… where did they get the from? Who gave it to them? I understand a religious person’s response to that: “god did, and you have to respect them because god said so”. Ok… not for me, but at least I see where they’re coming from. However, I don’t understand Ayn’s justifications. She doesn’t believe in god—that cancels out the concept of inalienability—and she thinks that individuals should pursue their own selfish interests. So, if not god, then what exactly is stopping those individuals from using force, coercion, bribery and corruption.
I suspect Free Broccoli’s response would be reason. But reason can’t be the answer because it’s application is not universally consistent. What’s reasonable for some is completely unreasonable for others. Again, Free Broccoli:
To live irrationally means to reject life.
Does the opposite hold true: if I reject life then am I living irrationally? So what then of the soldier who knowingly sacrifices his life on the field of battle in order to protect his country, family, way of life, etc.? Is he living irrationally?
Enough for now… I’ll tackle the importance of rationality over selfishness in Objectivism and the interesting kind of outcomes that can produce in another post.
Note: I share Ayn’s skepticism about the existence of god and I’m not an apologist for faith or religion.