The right to choose your government.

I am, and am not, an Individualist

I am an individualist in a certain sense. I believe completely in the dignity of every individual human person. I believe in the right of every human person to self-determination, the ability to make the important decisions in life that effect them. I believe in the right of each person to choose their religion, or choose to have no religion. I believe in the right of each person to choose their government at every level of society, or to choose to be represented by no government at all (if they are able to suffer the consequences). I believe that the human right of sovereignty resides first in the human person, and only then may come to exist in all social groups to which they belong, which have sovereignty solely in reference to that of the humans by which they are comprised.

I am an individualist (in the first sense) and not a collectivist, because no group of persons has rights that may alienate my human rights from me. This is not to say that I may not default on certain rights by my actions. Any time I act in violation of the rights of another, I lose my rights in proportion to the harm that my actions cause. If I take the life of another in any circumstance other than self-defense, I forfeit my own right to live. If I take or damage that which is owned by another, to that extent I forfeit the right of ownership without penalty. But beyond this, no person or group of people has any right over me.

I am not an individualist (in the second sense) that I am entirely independent of other human beings, because, as a human being, I am by nature social. Society, that group of people with whom I interact in some way or another, obliges me in ways both negative and positive.

Negatively, as a member of society it is understood that my doing harm to another’s person or property will not be tolerated by society without consequences to myself. What I have taken from another, society has the right to force me to return or make good on, and I have the right, as a member of society, to expect the same justice for any loses I suffer at the hands of another. Negative obligations are dealt with by laws that recognize human rights to life and property, but which are restrained from imposing penalties for any human activity that does no harm to another.

On the positive side, society has every right to expect of its members some level of empathy for others. Yet these expectations cannot be enforced by laws and sanctions, because these obligations are moral and not legal.

As a child, I was entirely dependent on others for my very survival, and, if I live long enough, it is quite likely that I will once again be entirely dependent on the good will of others for my continued survival. For some, their condition of weakness may require life-long attention to their physical needs by others. Individualists, in the sense of one who does not acknowledge any moral obligations as a member of society, refuse to accept moral obligations as such. But as one who is not an individualist in this sense, and as a member of human society, I recognize that I am morally obliged to have an empathetic response to the needs of others.

To collectivists, it seems right that all persons who are strong should be legally as well as morally obliged to contribute in some way to the care of the weak. Individualists (as opposed to collectivists), on the other hand, recognize that human weakness does not only include physical weakness, but moral weakness as well, and that a certain level of tolerance of moral weakness is called for, since force is not useful in encouraging a morally weak person to develop empathy for others. Collectivism as such is contrary to human nature, since it tries to enforce by legal means obligations that are moral. They take the view that humans can be forced (in fact, should be forced) to do the right thing morally. This is a simplistic approach to human society, and counter-productive. Moral obligations exist, but forcing people to do the morally right thing, while superficially having the appearance of doing good, does harm instead. Using force against people who do harm to others is consistent with human nature, and is therefore helpful. Using force on people to get them to do the “right thing” is to assume a right that is not consistent with human nature, and is therefore destructive.

Panarchy is the right of each person to choose their own government. By creating, as it were, a free market in government, we will move closer and closer to a society where legal rights relate to human rights, and moral obligations are not subject to coercion.


2009/11/01 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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