Ritchie and philosophy

All property rights are created by law

Err, no.

All legal property rights are created by law, this is entirely true if tautologous.

But there are also so called natural rights. And it’s entirely possible for legal rights to violate such natural rights.

For example, I think we all agree that it is a natural right that a man owns himself. Yet there have most certainly been laws that allow slavery: the legal rights to property being in violation of the natural rights to such.

At which point Ritchie’s argument that property rights are conditional upon having paid any level of tax demanded falls apart. For those legal rights to the taxation could indeed be in conflict with the natural rights of those being taxed.

22 thoughts on “Ritchie and philosophy”

  1. I wish just once he’d try and be consistent with himself. For he is always complaining that Osborne’s tax changes offend natural principles of justice and can therefore safely be ignored.

    If he believed the stuff he writes, such formulations would be completely impossible.

  2. Unfortunately natural rights are also something of a legal fiction. In that we claim the jurisdiction to deal with some violators of some natural rights wherever they may be. The fact remains that there are a lot of places where you cannot assert your right to not be killed or your right to not be a slave, ergo there is no such thing as natural rights. We are certainly very-well served by pretending that there are such and that they are so universally-held that they are inviolable, and I am a strong supporter of the concept, but their establishment and protection is ultimately a matter of law.

  3. Ritchie flits from perch to perch entirely on whim, and fervently believes each perch to be the one single truth until he flits to the next one.

  4. “I think we all agree that it is a natural right that a man owns himself.” What bollocks. I’d rather say that I am utterly opposed to slavery, rather than rephrase that into the pompous but intellectually vacuous language of “natural rights”.

  5. I am of course delighted that my civil rights include the right not to be a slave, and am happy to pay the price viz being denied the right to own a slave. In my view that’s a splendid trade-off.

  6. Natural rights.? Whooo…no way! No right can exist for an individual without others observing that right. So rights, themselves cannot exist in isolation. Hence they can’t be “natural”.
    Very, very nasty philosophy that. There’s absolutely nothing can’t be claimed as a “natural” right..

  7. Sorry, natural rights are a fiction and if there is a legal dispute about property involving so-called natural rights then it is a matter of law, therefore Murphy is right.

    Better to reason from one or more axioms (e.g. JSM’s harm principle) and argue about the reasoning than invent and argue about natural rights and reason from them.

  8. It needs to be understood that the term “natural rights” arose in the 18th century, and did not mean “rights which (pre)exist in nature”. The word “nature” was used in the same sense as-

    “Naturally, we will pay your expenses”

    -it mean “obviously” or “of course” hence in the US Constitution, rights are “self evident”. So it’s a pretty meaningless, self referential definition.

    But, these rights are not “created by law”. The law reflects those rights that people have decided between themselves exist, at least in a free society. The law simply describes what can be done when those rights are violated.

    For instance, in another thread, Ironman argues that 14 year old girls (and boys presumably though not stated) have no rights. I think they do or, rather, should have. But they can only have rights when the people comprising the society with the legal system under discussion agree those rights exist, and then we can make laws to punish rights violators.

  9. Surely all rights are created by man for the benefit of man. The test of whether something is ‘natural’ must be “does it exist in the natural world outwith human society?” Rights quite simply do not. Plants have no riights that other plants observe. Sure, animals can have forms of society, rituals, protocols, etc, but a) they are enforced by aggression, and b) other animals sure as hell don’t recognise them. Lions do not recourse to protocol when deciding what to have for lunch.

    As others have said, there are societies that do not recognise the natural ‘right’ not to be a slave. Even some libertarians take the view that voluntary slave contracts* do not run counter to essential human liberty.

    *yes, yes, usually sexual.

  10. It needs to be understood that the term “natural rights” arose in the 18th century, and did not mean “rights which (pre)exist in nature”. The word “nature” was used in the same sense as-

    “Naturally, we will pay your expenses”

    AIUI, the sense is as-in “God-given” or “inherent in being human” or “from nature”.

    it mean “obviously” or “of course” hence in the US Constitution, rights are “self evident”. So it’s a pretty meaningless, self referential definition.

    I think you mean the Declaration of Independence.

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

  11. Sam-

    I didn’t know it for a long while either and ended up in numerous circular and fruitless libertarian arguments about “natural rights”. I only clocked it by accident, watching the famous BBC series Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation where, by chance, in one episode he discussed the usage of the word in the period, that still exists as the figure of speech, “naturally”.

  12. The purpose of natural rights -language was to persuade people the power of the state ought to be limited, that there are things that may not be taken away by the state or its laws, or taken away or infringed by other people, indeed the purpose of government is to protect natural rights. We’re talking about a time of oppression, revolution and the development of new constitutions. The language is in terms of nature, god-given, Creator-given, what people are born or created with, to justify the ‘existence’ of the limits. After all, how can a king argue with god-given rights? How can a government argue with nature? It justifies the overthrow of a king or government that tramples over natural rights.

    Then you have people like Bentham and Burke criticising natural rights on that basis. Bentham essentially said of “the natural and imprescriptible rights of man” (Article 2, Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen), it’s a load of bunkum, something that’s been made up, rights don’t exist in the absence of government.

    (There was the argument that people ‘naturally’ know how to get along in the absence of government and laws. Well, they might know how to do that but it doesn’t stop us from killing, stealing, raping or slaving etc.)

  13. Can’t say I’m particularly impressed by the Dec of Ind of the US of A when it comes to ‘natural rights’. The guys wrote it were quite happy with slavery. Those quoting “natural rights” are usually trying to get away from having to argue an unarguable case by appealing to higher authority. Guy with the beard or Mother Gaea or somesuch.

    ” After all, how can a king argue with god-given rights? ”

    That the same king ruled by Divine Right, or a different one?

  14. The only consistent system is that based on duties rather than rights, as in the Pentateuch/Torah. Many of the so-called “rights” are mutually incompatible, particularly freedom of speech with umpteen different “rights”.

  15. “But there are also so called natural rights.”

    That statement is proof that you are an economist. Start with a controversial assumption and proceed from there.

  16. Must say I’m a lot more comfortable with the notion of “duties” as proposed by john77. It can be a lot easier to discharge two conflicting duties than address two conflicting rights claims. The how of the discharge rests with the discharger not the claimant..

  17. Ritchie is right – just this once. Natural rights exist only in legal systems. When rights-talk crops up in moral and political discussions, it is as a metaphorical shorthand derived from legal theory.

  18. I find the idea that the Jewish law is some kind of worthy model baffling. It’s just a bunch of arbitrary tribal shit cobbled together. We’re shepherds, our tribal enemies keep pigs. So, no bacon sandwiches.

    Yes, thanks for that, now fuck off.

    I mean, honestly. The fact that they’ve spent 2000 years trying to pretend it has some more profound intellectual basis earns a A for effort, but an F for common sense. The notion of “duties” presented here positively, is simply a codification of tribal obligation systems, the existence of which are the fundamental reason the Middle East remains a violent tribalist shit-hole.

    Look, this is a bit off topic but let’s get down to cases here, just this once. The reason Europe developed an ideal of “rights” at all comes from our pagan heritage. We never sank into the morass of Orientalist despotism (despite some close calls). Our hairy heavy metal playing ancestors had nuclear family based tribal systems, which meant more individualism, a tendency towards trade as a means of production distribution, and a strong suspicion of autocracy. We didn’t get “democracy” and limitations on monarch from the fucking Greeks, we got it from the Saxons and the thing system. We didn’t get the idea of law from the bloody Jews, and we didn’t get our morals from the goddamned Bible.

    So, yes, when we dragged ourselves out of the Dark Ages (thanks, Christianity!) and got all intellectual, we have searched for intellectual justifications for individualism and universalised citizen law systems, and come up with all sorts of intellectual constructs like natural rights. But it all boils down to the basic fact that European culture is one in which if the Chief gets to uppity, you depose him and put someone else in his place, and you just don’t like his minions coming poking around your farm. Which is what “rights” is. Are. Whatever. You have rights-based law system because you don’t have polygynous tribal clans policing themselves internally. Women have to be able to walk the streets safely because the families aren’t big enough to be internalised “clan” economies. So, they need “rights”. Everyone needs “rights”.

    Rights are an occidental cultural theme, however you pretend they exist or are intellectually justified. The Torah just codifies the barbaric tribal clan system of an oriental pastoralist culture, utterly obsessed with defining the ingroup against the outgroup. It’s no use to us. To hell with it.


  19. And-

    Many of the so-called “rights” are mutually incompatible, particularly freedom of speech with umpteen different “rights”.

    This is retarded an’ all. “You cannot make a law against speaking, writing, publishing, etc”. I mean, how fucking hard is this? What “umpteen different rights” does it conflict with?

  20. I’ll try to find it, but there are some interesting anthropological studies of tribes who have property rights but no State.

  21. Why human societies? Even a dog knows it’s wrong for another dog to steal his bone. “Natural rights” is what we end up with once someone’s said “do unto others …” and most of us nod in agreement. But that isn’t adequate either because wanting to be raped doesn’t give you the right to rape.

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