Western Culture Knowledge Center:
What is Western Culture?ReasonIndividualismHappiness RightsCapitalism

Rights Born with Us
One Fundamental Right

Guardian of Rights
Danger of Democracy
Dream Out of Reach

Western culture recognizes rights.

This follows logically from Western culture’s embrace of reason, individualism and happiness. This is because rights originate from humanity’s rational nature, belong only to individuals and make possible self-preservation and the enjoyment of life.

Rights Born with Us
Reason, which is humanity’s primary means of survival, is an attribute of the individual. This fact demands that the individual be able to act on his or her reason and judgment and that it be considered wrong for others to forcibly stop him or her from doing so. In other words, human nature demands that the individual have rights.

Rights are principles defining and sanctioning an individual’s autonomy in a social context.[1] Rights, in other words, sanction freedom—which means freedom from physical force initiated by another or others, particularly by the government.[2] [3]

Since the source of rights is reality, specifically the requirements of survival for a rational being, rights are inalienable. They are absolutes incapable of being surrendered, transferred or revoked by another or others for any purpose.

Or as American statesman John Dickinson (1732-1808) explained: “Rights are not annexed to us by parchment and seals…They are born with us; exist with us; and cannot be taken from us by any human power without taking our lives.”[4]

One Fundamental Right
All individuals everywhere possess one fundamental right: the right to life. This right has several branches, which are merely different aspects of it. These branches are the right to liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness.

  • The right to life is the right to protect, sustain and further one’s life; it is the right to take all of the action that one’s life requires as a rational being.
  • The right to liberty is the right to act in accordance with one’s judgment to attain one’s values.
  • The right to property is the right to sustain and benefit oneself by keeping, using and disposing of the material values that one has created or earned.
  • The right to the pursuit of happiness is the right to live for one’s own sake, fulfillment and enjoyment.

An individual possesses these rights absolutely as long as he or she respects the same rights in others.

From these basic rights there are many applications, including but not limited to freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to petition and assemble, as well as the right to trial by jury and due process of law and protection against unreasonable searches and arrests.

Guardian of Rights
The only function and purpose of a proper government is to protect the rights of the individual. Government is the agency that holds a monopoly on the lawful use of force in a given geographic area.[5] And a proper, fully Westernized government uses force, under impartially defined laws, only in response against those who initiate its use—that is, only against those who violate rights.

In other words, according to Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826): "No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another; and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him.”[6]

A proper government derives its moral authority from “the consent of the governed.” This means that the power a proper government possesses has been delegated to it by the citizens for the purpose of protecting their rights. If a government does not protect the citizens’ rights, but violates them, then such a government has no moral authority or rational reason to exist.

The types of government that violate rights, as opposed to protecting them, include theocracy, communism, socialism, fascism, Nazism, absolute monarchy and simple dictatorship. These governments, by their nature, are truly at war against their own citizens. The citizens, consequently, have the right to defend themselves by overthrowing their government and creating a new, proper one.

Danger of Democracy
A proper government is not a democracy. A democracy literally means unlimited majority rule or mob rule. A democracy allows the majority, by vote, to violate rights—the rights of individuals in the minority. In other words, a democracy holds that there is no right and wrong, and people can do whatever they please, given they have enough votes.

Or, in the words of American Founding Father James Madison (1751-1836): “Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; they have ever been found incompatible with personal security or...rights…”[7]

A proper government is, or should be referred to as, a rational republic. This is a system of government that is restricted to protecting rights, such as the system established by the United States Constitution. Majority rule in such a system applies only on a limited basis, such as in regard to the selection of government officials and representatives. In other words, a rational republic recognizes that rights are absolutes that are not subject to vote.

Dream Out of Reach
Non-Western culture does not recognize rights. Governments of nations where non-Western culture dominates are disgustingly abusive and brutal toward their own citizens and often others. These governments act not as servants that protect rights, but as masters that violate them. This tyranny ultimately exists because non-Western culture fails to embrace the foundation of rights: reason, individualism and worldly happiness.

Since non-Western culture devalues reason, it does not respect the requirements of survival for a being who survives by reason—that is, it does not respect rights. In addition, rights require that people deal with one another and settle disagreements through the use of reason, discussion and persuasion—not by physical force. But since reason is devalued in non-Western culture, physical force becomes the primary way to settle disputes, and rights seem impractical as a result.

Further, by not embracing reason, people in non-Western culture are often ignorant and helpless, lacking the knowledge required to produce the material goods that their lives require. This contributes to the fact that people in non-Western culture must often fight over a limited quantity of material goods, even food. Violating others rights, as a result, becomes a requirement for survival since they must cheat, steal, kill, etc. to survive. For example, competition for scarce resources is likely one of the causes of the violence in the Darfur region of western Sudan.

Non-Western culture’s rejection of individualism also prevents it from respecting rights. Virtually all emphasis and value in non-Western culture is placed on God or/and the group (such as the state, society, the class, the tribe). The individual, by contrast, is considered largely insignificant or even unreal. Consequently, according to this view, any and all sanction to independent action and freedom belongs, not to the individual, but to God or/and the group, specifically to those on earth who claim to represent them, such as a dictator.

Finally, non-Western culture’s general scorn for worldly happiness prevents it from respecting rights. Non-Western culture holds that the individual does not exist for his own sake and fulfillment, but only to serve God or/and the group. In other words, the individual is only a means to an end, not an end in himself. However, only a being who is an end in himself can claim a sanction to independent action and freedom. If the individual exists to serve God or/and the group, then he would have no rights, but only the duties of a servant.[8]

* * * *

The slave labor, speech and press restrictions, executions and imprisonment without trial, beatings, government expropriation of property and countless other rights violations, which are part of daily life in non-Western culture, will not go away—not until reason, individualism and worldly happiness are admired and pursued, at least implicitly.

Only when people in non-Western culture embrace these ideals and values will they start living the dream of having their rights recognized.

Go to Capitalism

[1] Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness; “Man’s Rights” (New York, Signet, 1982) p.93 paperback.
[2] Physical force means harming, damaging or otherwise physically affecting the person or property of another against his or her will. The initiation of force means starting the process—that is, being the first to use physical force.
[3] For an excellent description of the nature of freedom, see George Reisman's Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics; “Chapter 1: Economics and Capitalism” (Ottawa, Ill, Jameson Books 1998.) p. 21. His book is available online here.
[4] Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (Cambridge, Harvard U.P., 1967), p. 187.
[5] Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness; “The Nature of Government” (New York, Signet, 1982) pp.107, 109 paperback.
Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Francis Gilmer, 1816.
[7] The Federalist Papers, ed. C. Rossiter (New York, New American Library, 1961), No. 10, p.81.
[8] Leonard Peikoff, Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand, (New York, Meridian 1991) pp. 354-355 soft cover.

Home | Knowledge Center | Top 100 Western Culture Heroes | Projects | About Us | Contact

© 2009 Western Culture Global