Oftentimes, this phrase is inserted into a debate as a sort of “end all-be all” conclusion, even though it has little meaning to most people that use it. For many, it is a verbal manifestation of inner frustration, of the absence of logical arguments to reinforce one’s opinions. This, however, is not always the case. In fact, the simple phrase, “You have no right…” is a deeply moral claim which, when applied properly, sets a clear and distinct barrier between one man and the actions of another, a barrier which no man is permitted to cross.
These claims are the ones that defenders of capitalism ought to use – no attack from statists of any color is able to overcome them. Instead, statists’ last recourse rests in their distortion of the moral argument used by capitalists – the one which claims no man has the right to initiate force against another – into one that seemingly supports their own stances. To their credit, the distortion outlined in the succeeding paragraphs is clever, and it surprised me when I first heard it a few months ago. Since then, however, the flaw within their claim became crystal clear to me once examined in the full context that statement, but before I refute their claim, I must first explain it.
The fallacy goes as follows:
Me: “You have no right to use government force to have me submit to your will. Doing so is nothing more than legally enslaving me to you.”
Statist: “Well what about you? [Already a tu quoque fallacy.] You’re trying to use the government to force me to do what you want. Why is that any different from what I’m doing?”
Reading it now, I am surprised that I did not note the disanalogues between my argument and that of the statist immediately. Though I was able to give a sufficient defense at the time, it was not until later that I devoted thought to the issue and developed a complete response. Initially, I stumbled over the issue of drawing distinctions between the government force used by statists and the government force used by the defenders of individual rights. As the statist attempted to define both as retaliatory force (in the sense that force is only used when a law, just or unjust, is broken), he attempted to eliminate the distinction between retaliatory and initiated force. (He ultimately failed because, as unjust laws are already in violation of one’s individual rights; they are an initiation of force rather than a retaliatory use of it, but his philosophy was such that it prevented him from seeing these distinctions.)
At the time, my first response was, “No one can force you to be free. You are at complete liberty to sign away your rights to anyone you want, but you cannot force me to do the same. Under my system, you’re still free to give away your rights as you please, but under your system, I am unable to exercise mine as I please.” While this is true, it was not the kind of moral defense that I want to give, let alone the one that I ought to give. Rather than giving the “why,” I gave the “what” – I explained the existential differences between a capitalist and a socialist system without clearly outlining the moral superiority of the capitalist system. The preferability of capitalism can be seen in my retort, but as some may prefer things that are irrational or immoral (and since I did not actually draw moral distinction between the two forces), the defense remained incomplete.
The first point that I overlooked is that liberty does not contradict itself. No man is at liberty to take away the liberty of another. So, when my opponent claimed that I was forcing him to conform to my will – which coincides with the principles of liberty – he failed to remember that, regardless of my will, he still possessed no authority to take away my rights or those of anyone else. Even in the case of an undeniable supermajority favoring a statist policy, that policy has no moral legitimacy and should not be implemented as law (hence the flaw of an unrestrained democratic system, direct or representative).
Drawing from that, the distinction between initiated force and retaliatory force can be seen more clearly. No force, initiated or threatened (which becomes actualized through punishment when not acquiescing unjust and immoral demands) , can be used to violate the rights of another man. Only when man forfeits his own rights by infringing upon those of others can force be used justly in a retaliatory manner. When one man denies another his rights, he forgoes his own to an extent coherent with the severity of the infringement (measured in relation to man’s life and codified into law) thus morally permitting the use of retaliatory force to rectify the wrong and to prevent further violations. This is the concept of justice.
Furthermore, liberty is inherent. It is the state natural of man and it is proper for his existence. It cannot be forced from one man onto another for the simple reason that liberty is implicit within the identity of man. When liberty is trespassed, man is reduced to the status of Africans under the Barbadian Slave Code of 1661 – chattel, a physical object without rights to protect the self-initiated and self-sustaining actions necessary to continue and improve its state of existence. A capitalist system rejects the classification of man as anything less than a free and rational animal; a socialist system supports the belief that man is anything but free and rational. My opponent was incorrect in the fundamental premise of his argument: I was not forcing him to conform to my will that he be free, nor could I if I wanted. Metaphysical reality exists with or without my desire to adhere to its dictates. Only by rejecting reality can one ever come to the conclusion that man should be under any system of government save one that permits him absolute liberty.
The fallacies used by statists, altruists, progressives, etc. are usually simple to recognize. Much like the tu quoque fallacy, many are classifiable and need little additional information beyond the name and definition of that fallacy. Many, however, are informal – they are failures in knowledge or in reasoning and require careful scrutiny to refute in a compelling manner. No matter what nonargument seemingly justifies statism (or disproves capitalism), they all crumble upon examining the morality of the capitalist system and the coalescence between that morality and metaphysical reality. An ethical defense will always justify capitalism, and an ethical defense will always be what capitalism deserves.