Founding Principle of the United States of America: Individual Rights

Our country was the first and only country in history that was founded on a brand new idea, the idea that people have rights. These rights are:

• the right to one’s own life (which includes that which one has worked for)

• the right to one’s own liberty (freedom to live the way you want provided you don’t hurt anyone else)

• the right to pursue one’s own happiness (not everyone else’s—yours)

When America was created, there was another new idea -- the idea that the only legitimate purpose of government was to protect these rights, to make sure no person violated the rights of another. Government was not there to tell men what to do, or how to live their lives, or to take by force what each man has earned by his own efforts to give to another. Initiation of force was banned from human relationships. The only proper use of force was in retaliation against those who had initiated force or fraud against another. Force was only used as a means of defending rights through three branches of government: the police, the military and the courts. And that’s it.  The purpose of government was to only do that one thing and nothing else.  It was to protect individual rights.

The implementation of these two ideas created something unseen before on the face of the earth. For the first time men were free from other men. They were no longer subservient to a lord, master or king. They could live their lives and pursue their goals independently yet associate with each other voluntarily instead of by force. With individual rights as a guiding principle, all other freedoms fell into place: economic freedom, religious freedom, social freedom, freedom of association, contractual freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to bear arms and so on.  And look what happened. The United States of America became the happiest, wealthiest, most prosperous, most advanced nation on earth. It was also the most moral country because it recognized individual rights.

But the concept of rights has been corrupted over time.  Now people claim they have a “right” or are entitled to things like an education, medical care, food, housing and so on.  But if people have a “right” to something, it means that somebody has to provide it.  And when someone has to provide something against his will for someone else, there is only one word to describe it—slavery.  Yet if man’s survival is the objective, freedom is imperative.  Since man does not automatically know how to survive, he has to use his mind in order to figure out how to live.  He requires freedom so that he can think and act in accordance with the conclusions of his mind.  Therefore, a moral country provides the conditions necessary for this to happen and there is only one political system that does this--Capitalism. 

Capitalism is a social system based on the concept of property rights.  Without property rights, you have no right to your own life.  If you can’t keep what you have worked for in order to support and enjoy your life, if you have no say in what happens to your property, you have no power over your decisions and actions, which means your rights to your life, your liberty and the pursuit of your happiness have been taken away.  Is this happening here in the United States?  Yes, it is.  Can it be saved?  Only if Americans discover our founding principle of individual rights and eliminate the government programs and laws that don’t protect them.  Here are just a few examples: 

  • Re-distribution of wealth doesn’t protect rights.  The man who earns an honest living has his money taken against his will (theft) to be given to someone else.  His right to what he has worked for, that which supports his life, has been violated. 
  • Socialized medicine doesn’t protect rights or life.  The doctors become slaves of the state that regulates how they should practice medicine and the patients no longer can choose the best treatments for the best prices.  Their right to use their own minds to decide what to do and to form contractual agreements with each other has been violated. 
  • Social Security doesn’t protect rights.  The man who wants to invest for his future the way he chooses can’t, because his money is taken away from him to give to someone else.  His right to his property, to what he has earned, has been violated. 
  • Regulations on businesses don’t protect rights. The businessman can’t hire or fire someone without going through a “process” dictated by the government.  His right to use his mind to make decisions regarding voluntary associations has been violated.  When oil companies aren’t allowed to drill for oil,  their property rights are violated.  Companies that have to follow government mandates lose the freedom to be innovative.  The right to think, form conclusions and take action with property has been violated.
  • Anti-trust laws don’t protect rights.  The businessman is treated as a criminal no matter what he does.  If his prices are too high, too low or the same as his competitors, he can be prosecuted at the whim of some bureaucrat.  His right to his property (to charge the price he wants in order to sell it) has been violated.
  • Bail-outs and subsidies don’t protect rights. The government decides who succeeds and who fails instead of citizens who trade with each other.  Taxpayers pay to support businesses by force through their tax dollars and become poorer because of it.  The right to freedom of association and property has been violated.
  • Welfare programs don’t protect rights.  The person who wants to give money to a charity of his choice has his money confiscated for government programs that he may or may not support.  His right to use his property (his money) the way he wants has been violated.
  • Bans on consumption of certain foods don’t protect rights.  The right to one’s own body is a property right and this is violated.
  • Taxation without representation doesn’t protect rights.  Money is stolen from one group of men to give to another.  Re-distribution of other people’s money is a direct violation of their property rights.

Any violation of our rights completely contradicts the ideas of our Founding Fathers who were very serious about individual freedom.  On February 25, 2011 Yaron Brook gave a rousing speech at the Tea Party Patriots Summit in Arizona where he pointed this out about the Founding Fathers: “They didn’t say, ‘We just want a little bit less taxes, please, King George.’ They didn’t say, ‘Give us some liberty, please, King George.’ They changed the world because they asked a fundamental question. And the question they asked is, ‘Who does your life – does my life – belong to?’ That’s a question that people had never asked, because it was always obvious: your life belongs to the state, to the king, to some emperor, to somebody else – and it’s your job to do his bidding. The Founders of this country said ‘No: sovereignty belongs with the individual. My life is mine. Your life is yours. And nobody can take that away – not a king; but not even a majority!"

If we want to restore freedom to our country, we must re-discover our roots. Our Founding Fathers were so committed to their revolutionary ideas that they were willing to put their lives on the line for the document that laid the moral foundation for the United States of America—the Declaration of Independence.  We need to be willing to do the same.  We need to be willing to stand up and say: “My life belongs to me, not to the government, not to the state, not to King George, not to a welfare program, but…to me!”  We need to believe in that principle and commit to that principle, the principle of individual rights.

“I want you to look at the birth of a miracle: the United States of America. If it is ever proper for men to kneel, we should kneel when we read the Declaration of Independence.  The concept of individual rights is so prodigious a feat of political thinking that few men grasp it fully – and 200 years have not been enough for other countries to understand it.” -- Ayn Rand

Charlotte Cushman is a Montessori educator and authored Montessori: Why It Matters for Your Child’s Success and Happiness.  She has been involved in the study of Ayn Rand’s philosophy since 1970.



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