John Singleton with Bob HowardRip Van Australia (Stanmore: Cassell Australia, 1977), pp. 216-19, under the heading “Rights”.

Just about everyone accepts the basic concept of individual or human rights. The main difficulty lies in determining just exactly what the concept means. We all have rights. What, then, are they?

Many different rights are often mentioned — the rights to life, freedom, property, equal opportunity, free education, free contraception, a decent wage, adequate healthcare, the pursuit of happiness, and so on. Are all of these valid, or only some of them? If only some, which ones and why?1

There are two essential points to be considered in sorting out those that can be truly said to be rights. Those that are not rights are either privileges or permits.

  1. Rights are held equally by all individual people and can only be held by individual people. They are not granted to people — people have rights simply because they are people.
  2. This implies that no person or group of people can violate the rights of any other person or group of people, for if they do, not all people hold rights equally. It further follows that, as each individual person has rights, each person is free to dispose of his or her rights as he or she thinks fit.

These two statements have enormous implications, and give clear cut means for determining what can be claimed as rights and what can’t. They also determine what governments can and cannot do. Perhaps the most important point of all is that rights cannot morally be violated — not at any time, in any way or by any person or group of persons. Private individuals can voluntarily delegate their rights, and/or forfeit them, however.

If all people have rights, because they are people, and those rights cannot be violated, then government don’t grant them, but can only recognise and protect them (that, after all, is supposed to be the primary function of governments), and by so doing, governments obviously can’t violate them. When a government undertakes to provide services or goods to people (for example, “free” contraception, “free” education, “adequate” healthcare, “equal” opportunity) what they are actually doing is granting privileges or permits to one section of the population at the expense of another. Who pays for the education, contraceptives, and health care? Who loses opportunities so that others may be given them? All people are supposed to have equal rights, but if some have their property expropriated to provide privileges for others, then the government is guilty of violating rights. Obviously, our governments do this all the time.

Thus, it is an inescapable fact that in Australia today nobody has any rights at all. What freedom we do have we have, not by right, but by government permission. The only time our rights are recognised is when a government does not have the constitutional power to commit any act that violates them. When the government does have such power, then we are completely at its mercy — just as, if a hold-up man was holding us at the point of a gun, we could only hope that he wouldn’t shoot us. Constitutions are intended to disarm governments and prevent them from acting as hold-up men. However, there hasn’t been a constitution written yet that hasn’t contained flaws that have allowed unscrupulous people to use it as an instrument of coercion.

What is taxation if it’s not theft; conscription if it’s not slavery; government schooling if it is not kidnapping or slavery; war if it is not mass murder; economic regulation if it is not coercion; fractional reserve banking if it is not fraud; and devaluation if it is not a refusal to pay debts? It cannot be claimed that the “wider rights of society” take precedence, or that “the public good” or “national interest” are more important.

Societies consist of collections of individuals. Societies are not separate entities with their own rights. Only individuals have rights, not societies. Nor can it be claimed that we have delegated our rights to the government. We (the authors) certainly didn’t delegate ours, and furthermore, we can’t recall having been asked.

Anyway, even if we did delegate our rights, could it be said that one group of us delegated to the government a “right” to loot another group to give us a privilege? There can be no such thing as a right to education, free or otherwise, or a right to healthcare, or contraception. It would make just as much sense to say we all have a right to a new Mercedes or a triple storey mansion. If we have a right to healthcare, that makes doctors slaves, because if they refused us healthcare they could be accused of violating our rights. If they have to give us this healthcare, why should we bother paying them? Hold-up men don’t pay their victims to stand with their hand up while they rob them — they don’t have to. And if no one pays doctors, how do doctors survive?

The only possible answer would be the socialist one — the State pays them. This puts doctors at the mercy of two sets of masters — the patients and the State. Then it must be asked — where does the State get its money from? Taxation, which is the forcible expropriation of wealth from those who rightfully own it. The same arguments apply to all government services. To say that people have a “right” to them is vicious garbage. They don’t. And to say they do is just a nice emotional rationalisation to cover up straight out thuggery.

The only rights we have are those that do apply equally: the rights to life, freedom and property, for example. (Equal[it]y, in this sense, means that for example, we all have an equal right to own property. It does not mean we all have a right to own equal amounts of property.) None of these rights are recognised by the State. Taxation robs people of part of their life, for in the time that they are forced to work to earn the money to pay taxes, they are slaves. One aspect of the right to freedom is the freedom to voluntary trade, and that obviously doesn’t exist. (It is conspicuously absent from both the Liberal and National Country Party platforms too, a feat which requires for its rationalisation a great deal of mental gymnastics.) The right to property is constantly violated by such things as taxation, land resumption, economic regulation, and so on, ad nauseum.

None of these rights can be construed to mean more than freedom of action either. The right to life does not mean that someone else should be forced to provide us with food, shelter, clothing, and other necessities. That would be obviously inconsistent, because it would violate the right of freedom, and rights must be held equally. The right to free speech does not mean that newspaper proprietors should be forced to provide us with pen, paper, and newspaper space; or that television network owners should provide us with time. The right to property does not mean that someone else should be forced to provide us with it.

What these rights do mean is that we should be free to try to acquire them, through our own effort and with the voluntary co-operation of others. Nobody has the right, as some are claiming now, to an “adequate living wage”. The factor that is always forgotten in these claims is: where does the money come from? In practice, such claims mean that “we demand that other people be forced to support us”.

Where people do delegate their rights are in such things as voluntary euthanasia (suicide, incidentally, is simply a person exercising his right of ownership of his/her life — every person has the moral right to take their own life, but only if they have no contractual obligations left to fulfil), the appointment of agents to carry out certain tasks, and through all manner of voluntary contractual arrangements. A sadist-masochist sexual relationship, for example, does not involve any violation of rights if all partners consent to it.

People forfeit their rights only when they violate those of others. We can’t violate rights and then turn around and insist that our own be respected (see Crime; Justice). By our action of violating rights we indicate that we do not respect them. It would be gross hypocrisy to then insist that our own were respected — after, that is, it has been established that we were guilty of the violation of the rights in question.

The issue of rights is a crucially important one, and, currently, an incredibly confused one. If we could firmly establish the principle of rights in our society, we would have the necessary rules for resolving most, if not all, social conflicts. Needless to say, that’s something we could all desperately use right now.

Footnote

  1. For a serious philosophical discussion of the concept of rights, see: Nathaniel Branden, “Ethical Egoism: A Reply to Professor Emmons,” The Personalist, Spring, 1970, pp. 196-311; and “Ethical Egoism — Continued,” The Personalist, Summer, 1970, pp. 305-313. Tibor Machan, “A Note on Emmons’ Random Observations,” The Personalist, Winter, 1971, pp. 96-106; and Human Rights and and Human Liberties, Nelson-Hall, Chicago, Ill., 1975. Eric Mack, “How to Derive Ethical Egoism,” The Personalist, Fall, 1971, pp. 735-743.
(in order of appearance on Economics.org.au)
  1. Governments Consume Wealth — They Don't Create It
  2. Singo and Howard Propose Privatising Bondi Beach
  3. Singo and Howard Speak Out Against the Crackpot Realism of the CIS and IPA
  4. Singo and Howard on Compromise
  5. Singo and Howard on Monopolies
  6. Singo and Howard Support Sydney Harbour Bridge Restructure
  7. Singo and Howard on Striking at the Root, and the Failure of Howard, the CIS and the IPA
  8. Singo and Howard Explain Why Australia is Not a Capitalist Country
  9. Singo and Howard Call Democracy Tyrannical
  10. Singo and Howard on Drugs!
  11. Simpleton sells his poll philosophy
  12. Singo and Howard Decry Australia Day
  13. Singo and Howard Endorse the Workers Party
  14. Singo and Howard Oppose the Liberal Party
  15. Singo and Howard Admit that Liberals Advocate and Commit Crime
  16. Up the Workers! Bob Howard's 1979 Workers Party Reflection in Playboy
  17. John Whiting's Inaugural Workers Party Presidential Address
  18. John Singleton and Bob Howard 1975 Monday Conference TV Interview on the Workers Party
  19. Singo and Howard on Aborigines
  20. Singo and Howard on Conservatism
  21. Singo and Howard on the Labor Party
  22. Singo, Howard and Hancock Want to Secede
  23. John Singleton changes his name
  24. Lang Hancock's Foreword to Rip Van Australia
  25. New party will not tolerate bludgers: Radical party against welfare state
  26. Singo and Howard introduce Rip Van Australia
  27. Singo and Howard on Knee-Jerks
  28. Singo and Howard on Tax Hunts (Lobbying)
  29. Singo and Howard on Rights
  30. Singo and Howard on Crime
  31. Singo and Howard on Justice
  32. Singo and Howard on Unemployment
  33. John Singleton on 1972 cigarette legislation
  34. Singo and Howard: Gambling Should Neither Be Illegal Nor Taxed
  35. Holed up, hold-up and holdout
  36. The libertarian alternative vs the socialist status quo
  37. Workers Party Platform
  38. Singo and Howard Join Forces to Dismantle Welfare State
  39. Singo and Howard on Business
  40. Singo and Howard on Discrimination
  41. Singo and Howard on the Greens
  42. Singo and Howard on Xenophobia
  43. Singo and Howard on Murdoch, Packer and Monopolistic Media
  44. Singo and Howard Explain that Pure Capitalism Solves Pollution
  45. Singo and Howard Defend Miners Against Government
  46. Singo and Howard on Bureaucracy
  47. Singo and Howard on Corporate Capitalism
  48. The last words of Charles Russell
  49. Ted Noffs' Preface to Rip Van Australia
  50. Right-wing anarchists revamping libertarian ideology
  51. Giving a chukka to the Workers Party
  52. Govt "villain" in eyes of new party
  53. "A beautiful time to be starting a new party": Rand fans believe in every man for himself
  54. Introducing the new Workers' Party
  55. Paul Rackemann 1980 Progress Party Election Speech
  56. Lang Hancock 1978 George Negus Interview
  57. Voices of frustration
  58. Policies of Workers Party
  59. Party Promises to Abolish Tax
  60. AAA Tow Truck Co.
  61. Singo and Howard on Context
  62. Singo and Howard Blame Roosevelt for Pearl Harbour
  63. Singo and Howard on Apathy
  64. Workers Party is "not just a funny flash in the pan"
  65. Singo and Howard on Decency
  66. John Singleton in 1971 on the 2010 Federal Election
  67. Matthew, Mark, Luke & John Pty. Ltd. Advertising Agents
  68. Viv Forbes Wins 1986 Adam Smith Award
  69. The writing of the Workers Party platform and the differences between the 1975 Australian and American libertarian movements
  70. Who's Who in the Workers Party
  71. Bob Howard interviewed by Merilyn Giesekam on the Workers Party
  72. A Farewell to Armchair Critics
  73. Sukrit Sabhlok interviews Mark Tier
  74. David Russell Leads 1975 Workers Party Queensland Senate Team
  75. David Russell Workers Party Policy Speech on Brisbane TV
  76. Bludgers need not apply
  77. New party formed "to slash controls"
  78. The Workers Party
  79. Malcolm Turnbull says "the Workers party is a force to be reckoned with"
  80. The great consumer protection trick
  81. The "Workers" speak out
  82. How the whores pretend to be nuns
  83. The Workers Party is a Political Party
  84. Shit State Subsidised Socialist Schooling Should Cease Says Singo
  85. My Journey to Anarchy:
    From political and economic agnostic to anarchocapitalist
  86. Workers Party Reunion Intro
  87. Singo and Howard on Freedom from Government and Other Criminals
  88. Singo and Howard on Young People
  89. Singo and Howard Expose how Government Healthcare Controls Legislate Doctors into Slavery
  90. Singo and Howard Engage with Homosexuality
  91. Singo and Howard Demand Repeal of Libel and Slander Laws
  92. Singo and Howard on Consumer Protection
  93. Singo and Howard on Consistency
  94. Workers Party is born as foe of government
  95. Political branch formed
  96. Government seen by new party as evil
  97. Singo and Howard on Non-Interference
  98. Singo and Howard on Women's Lib
  99. Singo and Howard on Licences
  100. Singo and Howard on Gun Control
  101. Singo and Howard on Human Nature
  102. Singo and Howard on Voting
  103. Singo and Howard on
    Inherited Wealth
  104. Singo and Howard on Education
  105. Singo and Howard on Qualifications
  106. Ron Manners on the Workers Party
  107. Singo and Howard Hate Politicians
  108. Undeserved handouts make Australia the lucky country
  109. A happy story about Aborigines
  110. John Singleton on Political Advertising
  111. Richard Hall, Mike Stanton and Judith James on the Workers Party
  112. Singo Incites Civil Disobedience
  113. How John Singleton Would Make Tony Abbott Prime Minister
  114. The Discipline of Necessity
  115. John Singleton on the first election the Workers Party contested
  116. Libertarians: Radicals on the right
  117. The Bulletin on Maxwell Newton as Workers Party national spokesman on economics and politics
  118. Singo and Howard: Australia Should Pull Out of the Olympics
  119. Singo and Howard Like Foreign Investment
  120. Mark Tier corrects Nation Review on the Workers Party
  121. The impossible dream
  122. Why can't I get away with it?
  123. The bold and boring Lib/Lab shuffle
  124. Time for progress
  125. The loonie right implodes
  126. Max Newton: Maverick in Exile
  127. John Singleton on refusing to do business with criminals and economic illiterates
  128. Censorship should be banned
  129. "Listen, mate, a socialist is a bum"
  130. John Singleton on Advertising
  131. John Singleton on why he did the Hawke re-election campaign
  132. Sinclair Hill calls for dropping a neutron bomb on Canberra
  133. Bob Howard in Reason 1974-77
  134. John Singleton defends ockerism
  135. Singo and Howard talk Civil Disobedience
  136. The Census Con
  137. Singo and Howard Oppose Australian Participation in the Vietnam War
  138. Did John Singleton oppose the mining industry and privatising healthcare in 1990?
  139. Bob Carr in 1981 on John Singleton's political bent
  140. John Singleton-Ita Buttrose interview (1977)
  141. John Singleton on elections: "a Massive One-Day Sale!"
  142. John Hyde's Progress Party praise
  143. King Leonard of Hutt River Declares Defensive Just War Against Australia the Aggressor
  144. Singo says Lang Hancock violated Australia's 11th commandment: Thou Shalt Not Succeed
  145. Singleton: the White Knight of Ockerdom
  146. John Singleton bites into Sinclair Hill's beef
  147. Save Parramatta Road
  148. 1979 news item on new TV show John Singleton With a Lot of Help From His Friends
  149. Smoking, Health and Freedom
  150. Singo and Howard on Unions
  151. Singo and Howard Smash the State
  152. Singo and Howard on the big issue of Daylight Saving
  153. Come back Bob - It was all in fun!
  154. A few "chukkas" in the Senate for polo ace?
  155. Country Rejuvenation - Towards a Better Future
  156. Singo and Howard on Profits, Super Profits and Natural Disasters
  157. John Singleton's 1977 pitch that he be on a committee of one to run the Sydney 1988 Olympics for profit
  158. Thoughts on Land Ownership
  159. 1975 Max Newton-Ash Long interview on the Workers Party
  160. The Electoral Act should allow voters to choose "none of the above"
  161. The great Labor Party platform: first or last, everybody wins a prize
  162. The politics of marketing - laugh now, pay later
  163. Singo and Howard call Australia fascist and worse
  164. The mouse will roar
  165. Viv Forbes and Jim Fryar vs Malcolm Fraser in 1979
  166. Quip, Quote, Rant and Rave: four of Viv Forbes' letters to the editor in The Australian in 1979
  167. Australia's First Official Political Party Poet Laureate: The Progress Party's Ken Hood in 1979
  168. Hancock's playing very hard to get
  169. Harry M. Miller and The Australian disgrace themselves
  170. Ocker ad genius takes punt on art
  171. John Singleton 1976 ocker Monday Conference Max Harris debate
  172. John Singleton mocks university students on civil liberties and freedom of choice in 1971
  173. Murray Rothbard championed on Australian television in 1974 (pre-Workers Party!) by Maureen Nathan
  174. John Singleton profile in 1977 Australian MEN Vogue
  175. I think that I shall never see a telegraph pole as lovely as a tree
  176. Ralph Nader vs John Singleton on Consumer Protection
  177. John Singleton's first two "Think" columns in Newspaper News, 1969
  178. Singo and Howard on Ballet
  179. Product innovation comes first
  180. Protect who from a 'mindless' wife?
  181. A party is born
  182. Tiny Workers' Party gives us a hint
  183. John Singleton on the ad industry, consumerism and innovation
  184. Workers Party Economic Policy Statement, December 1975
  185. Lang Hancock on the Workers Party, secession and States Rights
  186. John Singleton and Howard on Government Largesse
  187. Counterculture must exclude government handouts
  188. John Singleton's 1974 Federal Liberal Election Campaign Ads
  189. John Singleton believes in the Workers Party
  190. Write-up of John Singleton's 1978 speech to the Australian Liberal Students Association
  191. Singo in 1987: "Joh doesn't go far enough ... I want absolute deregulation of the economy"
  192. Maxwell Newton chapter of Clyde Packer's No Return Ticket (1984)
  193. Singo and Howard on Totalitarian Socialism and Voluntary Socialism
  194. Rip Van Australia on Ripoff Vandals Taxing Australia
  195. Singo and Howard beg for tolerance
  196. John Singleton's 1985 advertising comeback
  197. Singo and Howard Demand End to Public Transport
  198. John Singleton and Howard on Fred Nile, Festival of Light, FamilyVoice Australia and the Christian Lobby
  199. Capitalism: Survival of the Fittest
  200. Return Australia Post to Sender
  201. Singo and Howard on Public Utilities
  202. John Singleton and Howard say monarchy should be funded by monarchists alone
  203. John Singleton on cigarette advertising
  204. Singo in 1972 on newspapers' demise
  205. John Singleton farewells Bryce Courtenay
  206. John Singleton on Australian political advertising in 1972
  207. Gortlam rides again
  208. Announcement that Lang Hancock will be guest of honour at the Workers Party launch
  209. John Singleton on trading stamps, idiot housewives and government
  210. 1975 John Singleton-Sir Robert Askin Quadrant Interview
  211. Singo asks two prickly questions
  212. VIOLENCE, TV BAN, DRINK - SINGO SPEAKS HIS MIND
  213. Why John Singleton can't keep a straight face
  214. Why John Singleton Defends Smokers Rights
  215. Tony Dear on Paul Krutulis, the Workers Party and murder
  216. An Ode to Busybodies
  217. Progress Party and Workers Party lead The Australian
  218. How many tits in a tangle?
  219. Viv Forbes in 1978 on loss-making government, the Berlin Wall and misdirected blasts of hot-air
  220. John Singleton wants the Post Office sold and anti-discrimination legislation scrapped
  221. A speech from the Titanic
  222. A crime must have a victim
  223. John Singleton vs Australia Post
  224. Minimum wages the killer
  225. Has Fraser got his priorities all wrong?
  226. John Singleton says "the royal family should be flogged off to the U.S."
  227. John Singleton vs Don Chipp and the Australian Democrats
  228. John Singleton vs Don Lane
  229. John Singleton. Horseracing. Why?
  230. John Singleton's 1986 reflection on the Workers Party
  231. Bob Howard in 1978 on libertarianism in Australia
  232. John Singleton on the stupidity of anti-discrimination laws
  233. Thou shalt know the facts ... before thou shoot off thou mouth
  234. Charity: An Aesop Fable
  235. Bob Howard announces the Workers Party in freeEnterprise
  236. New improved moon
  237. Announcing people ... YES, people!
  238. Creativity in advertising must be pointed dead on target
  239. John Singleton on barriers to, and opportunities for, effective communication
  240. Wayne Garland on John Singleton on Advertising
  241. John Singleton schools ad course
  242. John Singleton: advertising awards
  243. Mr Singleton Goes to Canberra for Australian Playboy
  244. John Singleton on his TV career for Australian Playboy
  245. John Singleton sacked for telling the truth about Medicare
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