ETHICAL EGOISM AND RIGHTS
Although I agree with Tibor Machan's claim that there is no incompatibility between ethical egoism and a correctly identified doctrine of rights, I should like to note several problematic points in Machan's "On Rejecting Human Rights" [REASON, May 1973]. (1) Machan suggests that the root of the idea that "a consistent individualist, acting in terms of ethical egoism, has to reject that his actions ought to be guided by considerations of what others have a right to" is a Stirnerite subjectivist brand of individualism. While such a doctrine, insofar as it has any determinate implications, certainly implies a rejection of the conception of rights, it is clear that one need not have this sort of egoism in mind when claiming that ethical egoism is incompatible with rights. Indeed, as we shall note, Machan's argument is not directed against those who have this sort of egoism in mind. One might intelligibly (though I think mistakenly) deny rights on the basis of the view that each person ought to maximize his own self-interest. One would argue that on this view (which, following Hospers, is usually called "impersonal ethical egoism"), the scope of rational moral considerations does not include respect for rights. One would simply hold that impersonal ethical egoism implied that the only calculations a person should engage in are calculations of personal utility and that such calculations exclude considerations of what others have a right to. As I understand it, Machan counters this argument with the claim that calculations of personal utility cannot (in normal contexts) exclude considerations of persons' rights. This argument is not directed against the Stirnerite, rather and properly it is directed against the rejector of rights who accepts impersonal ethical egoism.
(2) Machan suggests that all anarchists are committed to the rejection of the concept of rights. For he says, "Human rights are not ethically, only politically basic. There is no politics for anarchists." On the contrary, however, most libertarian anarchist objections to the limited government position are presented in the name of natural rights and the nondelegation of those rights to any single State. Surely a commitment to the employment of the concept of rights does not commit one to the limited government position. My point here is affirmed by Machan himself in the course of his final note. There he cogently argues that those who do reject human rights cannot properly call themselves anarcho-capitalists or capitalists. For, "Without the general standard of human rights, how would one identify what belongs to whom, whose privacy includes this property, what may someone trade off as he wishes etc." This argument implies that rights is an essential concept in the anarcho-capitalist doctrine. Lysander Spooner provides a historical illustration of two relevant points. His individualist anarchism depended upon his conception of natural rights and natural law, and in these conceptions he stood opposed to those individualist anarchists (such as Benjamin Tucker) who came under the partial influence of Stirner.
(3) My own paper on the relationship of ethical egoism and rights, which Machan cites as appearing in the Fall, 1972 issue of THE PERSONALIST, actually appears in the Winter, 1973 issue of that journal.
Seneca Falls, NY
DR. MACHAN replies: Professor Mack is right that the arguments which have recently come to fore in opposition to human rights do not explicitly embrace the Stirnerite egoistic approach. I contend that in the end they could only be successful from within such a subjectivist egoistic framework—and Professor Mack must agree, I think, since he himself finds the argument based on impersonal ethical egoism fallacious. The point is that outside the Stirnerite framework egoism implies human rights.
About the issue with anarchists and human rights—it seems to me that anarcho capitalists may very well wish that anarchism and capitalism might be combined, but I see no way that they could achieve that end without either giving up human rights (ergo, capitalism) or the possible protection and preservation of human rights (ergo, anarchism). As to their attacks on government, I have never encountered any argument by anarcho capitalists that achieved the purpose of showing that no government could be morally feasible—although many have tried (e.g., Rothbard, Tannehill, et al); whereas I have good reason to think that human rights could only be protected and preserved (as organizing principles of a human community) by what is most accurately called a government. (Defense agency notions, with due respect to Rothbard & Co. as economists, sound to me entirely confused.) As I have argued elsewhere, as an anarchist one has no room for human rights; as an anarcho capitalist the burden of proof cannot be denied and one must show that human rights will be protected (i.e., that a means for dealing effectively with those who use or threaten to use force is found without violating morality) and preserved. Eric Mack misunderstands me: I argue that anarcho-capitalism is incoherent, impossible, self-contradictory. That goes for libertarian anarchists, as well. (Spooner was not trying to formulate but merely offer criticism of one particular kind of government. So we cannot say that he is properly designated an anarchist. Simply refusing to sanction the U.S. system does not make one an anarchist—nor does calling oneself a libertarian suffice to make one such.)
RIGHT TO SECEDE
The problem of Hospers vs. Rothbard [REASON, May 1973] disappears if we discard the idea of Limited Government as a single philosophical position. Actually there are infinite numbers of limited government formulas and zero government is one of them.
If libertarians are elected, should they determine under which of these limited government formulas I must live? The answer is no, because individuals calling themselves libertarian could declare limited government to mean The Welfare State.
The only solution would be to secede and form another government with a different formula. So secession provides a choice between a number of limited government formulas and natural selection would eventually determine the optimum formula. The optimum may turn out to be zero government but we need not debate the issue. What we need to do is obtain the right to secede.
El Cerrito, CA
Accolades are due for your editorial: "The Need for Truth" [REASON, June 1973]. I am inclined to speculate that Watergate may well prove to be the libertarian watershed in 20th Century political affairs. It certainly bodes a considerable change in the political climate.
D. Frank Robinson
Assistant to the Editor
Oklahoma City, OK
ELLSBERG INTERVIEW LAUDED
I want to congratulate you for the excellent and very revealing interview with Daniel Ellsberg in the June issue. I certainly think that it deserves to be printed separately so that more people would be able to read it. Are reprints available?
I especially applaud Ellsberg's stand on amnesty for draft evaders and an end to the draft. I was struck by his motive of urgency in revealing his information. I know how appalled I was when reading a book about F.D.R., disclosing how he tragically changed the whole course of American and world history. Time is running short. We do not have thirty years to unravel the threads of government secrecy. By that time there may be no U.S.A. Unfortunately, governments do not learn from history. Each has had to find out for itself the bitter consequences of not learning this basic lesson. I am slowly becoming an anarchist the more I learn of governments.
Jean P. King
Reprints of the Ellsberg interview are not separately available, but discounts are available on bulk purchases (10 or more) of the entire June issue. The cost for 10 or more copies is 50¢ each, postage-paid. [Ed.]
The Rothbard-Pastor exchange [REASON, June 1973] on the relative aggressiveness of the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. can be partly settled by reference to yet unpublished material. I have just completed a listing of all world conflicts from 1820 to 1973 involving more than 20 killed; the first attempt at a complete analysis.
The number of conflicts involving the U.S.A., the U.S.S.R. (and Switzerland for comparison) between 1917 and 1973 is as follows:
More than 20 killed:
Internal riots, and civil wars: 16—14—1
External wars on own territory i.e. an invasion: 8—0—1
External wars where crossed own national boundaries i.e. prima facie aggression 35—32—0
In brief we may conclude:
(a) Both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. have crossed their own boundaries to engage in foreign wars on about an equal number of occasions (32 to 35 respectively).
(b) The U.S. has been more successful in keeping out invaders.
(c) Both have had comparable numbers of civil wars and riots but those in the U.S.S.R. have been much more costly in human terms (not reflected in above figures which give numbers of conflicts).
(d) The comparative Swiss data comprises a communist rising in 1932 and an attack by U.S. bombers in 1944.
The results obviously confirm libertarian expectations about the operation of statist regimes.
Antony C. Sutton
REPLY TO MAFIA
Speaking on behalf of da Government, we guys don't take kindly to the sort of talk you punks in da Mafia are starting to spread [REASON, Letters, July '73]. Remember who it was that made you what you are today. Where would you be if we didn't grant you monopolies on alcohol, gambling, drugs to name a few. We don't mind tossing you dese crumbs to make you grow—just don't start thinkin you're so big you can start workin our side of da street.
Re: John Hospers' July letter. The esthetic judgments in his letter appall me—not in content, but in process. What he said about BUTTERFLIES ARE FREE was correct and about THE EMIGRANTS partly correct (Must the artist bore you to death in order to portray the boring drudgery of life in Sweden?). In any case, these judgments can be objectively proven. But what he said about music cannot, as Rand has shown. All one can say is "I feel ennobled by the MESSIAH," not "Bach, but not Rachmaninoff, is of towering eminence."
Please don't misunderstand me—I think music should be listened and responded to for what it is—music. As Hospers properly notes, music's religious origins, etc. have nothing to do with its merit. But neither can anyone declare the objective value of a piece of music. For Hospers, as a philosopher and esthetician, to do so is disgraceful.
Oak Park, IL
WATER OR WINE?
I propose that Charles Barr's MOVIES column is informational, not argumentative. Barr voices his opinions, and seems to know that's what they are; there are better and worse opinions, but opinion is opinion. John Hospers (REASON, Letters, July 1973) seems to think that one can argue over the subject. After denying that Barr's pick for best film of the year was correct, Hospers goes on to reply that "the best of the best was…" and highly praises "the most highly inspired masterpieces" of music, naming Bach and Handel at the expense of "assorted nineteenth-century works" of the Romantic school which "are as water unto wine compared with the works of towering eminence I have mentioned." Even if this were not art criticism but theoretical esthetics, Hospers has apparently forgotten that no evaluations of artistic creations are worth listening to unless the standard and means of measurement for gauging "eminence" and "masterpieces" are supplied. I happen to prefer water to wine, and I think Hospers cannot come up with an analytical, nondogmatic (i.e., non-Objectivist) way to legitimately claim his preferences are anything preferable to those who like myself have been di-hydro-oxygenized.
San Diego, CA
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".