After an intense summer and what for me was a mental health break, fall came and the webinar season resumed. I was honored to be a part of the Human Rights Summit organized by Ayn Rand Centre Romania and the Free Market Road Show, where I paneled in a discussion entitled „Rights and Duties”. What I argued? I am a natural naturalist, and I hold the position that philosophy should be linked closely with our everyday life. And that respect for THE objective truth is crucial in maintaining our inalienable natural rights. See a polished transcript below… I’m very excited to report that I will elaborate on this topic in a podcast hosted by Ayn Rand Centre Romania!
(PS: and yes, the promised post about the worst dead-end of the evolution of dialectics is coming soon)
Where do human rights even come from? Who are we to be talking about it?
Human rights are derived from human nature.
And I know there is this criticism going around, saying objective, inalienable human rights are nothing more than an unverifiable religious concept, that there is no objective human nature that we can know of.
I argue this is wrong. And that the more you look into such criticisms, the more you see the roots of them are relativist, meaning they ultimately reject the notion of truth. But truth does exist. Even if we are too flawed to know it. There is an objective human nature. And that from that nature stem inalienable, natural human rights.
Granted, we may not have the divine knowledge about human nature per se. That is a question that is even theological in nature. But we know each other ENOUGH to know how we should be treated and why, and this IS verifiable.
We actually know enough about human nature to defend human rights.
We learn about ourselves by experience and by relations with others. We know when we are abused. If someone hits us, steals from us, controls us, manipulates us, we feel violated, angry. An anger already is an important piece of information about who we are. We know we need unconditional love as children to grow properly. This tells us volumes. And – because the philosophy we talk about should ultimately deal with real life of real humans – I am an advocate of making interdisciplinary journeys into the field of psychology when we talk about ourselves.
If we live in fear, we know we’re not flourishing, we’re not reaching our full potential and we are slowly degraded into an object in someone else’s game, but we are not happy.
Why? Because this is not who we are.
We know enough about ourselves to know we are not objects, that we have agency, that we strive to choose our life path – and this is enough knowledge about human nature to start deriving human rights from.
We may not have the full philosophical knowledge about who we truly objectively are, but we know when something’s wrong. And the previous century has proven it too many times already. We know there have been very wrong answers to the question of human nature. For instance, there is no way we can force a new socialist man to replace who we are. And the trial to do this has left people traumatized and numb, left people feeling isolated, worse than, feeling like they are unable to communicate their experience… These effects are still lingering in the post-Soviet area – and we can see this today in psychological evaluations between Eastern and Western Germany. The same problems are reported by people who left individual abusive relationships where they were objectified.
It destroys us ultimately – the objectification of totalitarian regimes or of toxic relationships in our individual life. And we need to fight for ourselves. It’s not some kind of abstract philosophy, but our life we’re talking about.
So, knowing what makes us unhappy, who are we?
Experience shows us we are not objects: when we are treated like objects, we are left traumatized. We are not to be used in someone else’s game, not means to an end, but an end in ourselves.
That’s Kant and that’s Ayn Rand – but in a way it’s still a negative formulation, meaning it tells you how NOT to treat a human being.
… How TO treat a human being then?
We are unique in our agency, in our nature, in our right to choose, and we are uniquely deserving of love and respect. I’d argue that it is the personalist approach that reflects the human nature as fully as we possibly can. Personalism adds to what St Augustine and Aquinas wrote, but focuses on human relations – and learning through them.
And when we are treated like who we truly are, with respect, without violation of our life and property, we do great things. We have initiative and help others, lift others out of poverty – we have seen this tremendous growth in the last centuries.
So if a philosophy gets human nature right, it is reflected in real life results. We have a lot of data about it – and we see it in front of our eyes.
What are the inalienable natural rights that stem from the objective truth of human nature? The right to physical integrity, to not be forced into any choices, to keep the fruits of your labor, to self-expression.
Those are all negative rights: leave me alone and respect my agency, my choices, my income, and I’ll do the same for you.
What is important to say that these truths about human nature are impossible to change by any human being. This is what natural rights mean, and that is the tradition of Aristotle, Cicero, Aquinas, it is the Jeffersonian view and, in the religious version, it’s the view of John Paul II. And it’s the only approach that preserves human dignity, and we should be proud to defend this philosophical tradition.
Now the opposite legal approach, opposite to naturalism, is positivism, meaning whoever is in power can write down laws and these laws are legal. So if you wear a uniform, if you are in charge of the written laws in the country, if you ratify a treaty – you have the power to force whatever it is you have written upon others.
And yes, I surely am aware there are different legal systems, constitutions, ways that are said to protect human rights as they are, that there exists – more or less – the rule of law, but experience showed us they do not really work. Even in the States the traditions of the Founding Fathers got slowly but surely washed away with each Supreme Court case. And the freedoms that we are deserving of as human beings got violated. Let’s get street smart here: with power comes corruption and deception. Remember we do live in a positivist world, which means legal scholars of today believe that we can write down that you have to give away 80% of your income and it is legal, and if you don’t, you’re violating the law.
According to the truth, to the natural law, THEY are criminals for taking away 80% of your income. It doesn’t matter that they are wearing a uniform. It doesn’t matter that they wrote it down on an official-looking piece of paper. They are violating THE LAW. This is what it means that the natural rights are inalienable. If a dictator writes down that you have no freedom of speech, you still have your freedom of speech. Because you ALWAYS have freedom of speech as a respectable person with the right to self-expression nobody can take away from you. And the dictator is then a criminal.
Someone would say: isn’t it radical when you talk about… well, taking away some part of your income? Why do you already call it a violation?
Well, then where do you draw a line?
How can you be consistent in your philosophy when a little violation is OK but a big violation is too much? What do you even base your philosophy on, positivists, really? If the state can ratify into existence any law they think of, where do they stop? Can they write off your right to live?
Because they did. Last century, people in uniforms wrote down official orders that wrote off people’s rights to live. Would legal positivists say then it was the law? Or would they call them murderers as any person with a spine and a conscience would?
You know it’s not abstraction – when I go to my family grave, not everyone mentioned in name is physically buried there. One is in a mass grave far away to the East. It did happen, and it happened by an official order.
If you issue an official order to kill someone, it not wash away the FACT that you are a murderer.
If you issue an official order to steal from someone, it does not was away the FACT that you are a thief.
Because we are respectable humans with rights that are inalienable to our nature.
This is why any dictatorship, any regime, any state that wants to do something fishy, which means every state, let’s face it – they always attack the truth first. Whenever someone tries to trick us into obedience, into not questioning anything, when anyone tries to deceive us – and it doesn’t even need to be on a political scale, it also happens in individual toxic relationships – they always attack the truth first.
They try to manipulate us, make us afraid, make us stop questioning anything, make us unable to stand up for ourselves. And sadly, they have the psychological tricks for that. So we have to stay firm in defending our dignity.
If we look at the philosophies that caused so much misery in the last century, they all say truth is relative. Which effectively means truth doesn’t exist.
Because they knew that if they acknowledge the notion of objective truth, they will have to face what’s right and what’s wrong. And someone will call them out on their atrocities. And their systems would not survive it if confronted with truth, so truth must be eliminated.
To give you some quotes:
“If relativism signifies contempt for fixed categories and those who claim to be the bearers of objective immortal truth, then there is nothing more relativistic than Fascist attitudes and activity” – Mussolini
„The term „everyone is equal with respect to the truth” is a bourgeois slogan negating the class nature of truth, used to protect the bourgeois against the proletariat. It is a slogan that is against Marxism – Leninism” – Chinese Communist Party, 1966.
Mussolini rejected the truth. Marxist – Leninists rejected the truth.
And they were explicit about it. They knew their violent ideologies cannot handle it.
Such truth rejection resulted with massive violations of human rights. Because it was in its nature the rejection of what a human being actually is, the rejection of the respect each of us deserve.
Nothing abstract. Real life. You can see the importance of natural rights there, so don’t ever let anyone tell you that it’s some kind of hardcore philosophical concept you cannot prove.
If someone tells you you cannot logically defend the existence of natural rights – they are wrong. You have all the arsenal to defend them, and I even invite you as far as to use psychology and what our emotions teach us about human nature to defend the existence of natural rights. There are very real, down-to-earth things we know about humans that we can use in such defense.
Because if we do not have inalienable rights as respectable persons just because we are humans, we do not have them at all. If we do not have natural rights, then the ultimate logical consequence is that whoever wears a uniform can kill us with a stroke of a pen and he won’t be a murderer. And it’s just not true.
So stay firm in defending the objective truth. Have a spine. Stay strong.