My belief is that a Republic would be the ideal form of government. Unfortunately, the word republic has been vastly misused. Today’s “Republicans” are not republican. Very briefly, a republic is a system of government where natural rights are the basis for law. The political point of view which sustains the general idea of a republic is called libertarianism.
Libertarianism must not be confused with anarchism. Anarchism is the complete absence of government – libertarianism promotes a reduced form of government. If you take the political spectrum as starting from “least government – most freedom” to “most government – least freedom”, libertarianism is at the extreme left and totalitarianism at the extreme right.
A republic is the form of government that libertarianism advocates : a system where everything is based solely on rights. More precisely, the government’s range of action is limited to protecting the rights of its citizens. This considerably lessens its extent – after all there can be no such things as social programs or taxation if the rights to property are respected, to give only one example.
From a broad historical perspective, libertarianism could be said to be the inevitable result of social evolution. From our prehistoric beginnings of inevitable anarchy, we suffered divine-monarchy systems for quite a long time (the brief democratic Greek and republican Roman stint notwithstanding). During the Dark Ages, the divine status of kings were on the decline, as testified by the Magna Carta (signed in 1215). In this century, we have seen less tyrannical systems of government, such as communism, fascism and democracy (once again, excluding the brief republican American stint). The first two have already been dealt a severe blow, but democracy is still thriving. It has been hypothecized in recent years that the logical conclusion is a libertarian form of government. One of the main arguments for this is the advent of new communication technologies like the Internet, which will, if unregulated, eventually make financial privacy total and signal the end of the government’s control of the cash flow.
My own system of government is not strictly based on Objectivism or libertarianism. Ayn Rand did say some terribly stupid things, like saying that the govenrnment should have the monopoly on the use of force, or that critical situations cannot be analyzed by ethical considerations. Libertarianism, on the other hand, has no basis for the rights it advocates, saying they are “axiomatic”. Obviously both systems are very similar and share a lot of premises.
The prime right is the right of self-ownership – ownership of one’s self. Basically, one’s life and body belongs to oneself, and can therefore only be controlled by oneself. This is the notion that the self is one’s property.
All other rights are derived from this right, as all other values are derived from the prime value. Since control over one’s life necessary implies control of one’s body, the right of life necessarily implies the right of self-ownership. It’s the fundamental principle – no one can be libertarian if he does not subscribe to it (for example, as in the case of abortion, which is a problem related to the self-ownership of the mother).
The right of self-ownership implies the right to one’s actions, since ownership implies control. The result of one’s actions, in a social context (be it production or trade), is property. Therefore the two great categories of rights which are derived from self-ownership are rights of action, and rights of property.
The right of free action is the fact that anyone can commit any action they want. This includes of course the right of trade, free speech, and such. Note that this does not mean that someone can kill someone else, or take one’s property – no one can break the rights of another, otherwise he removes himself from society’s protection. One only has right of free action with his own property.
The right of property is the fact that anyone can possess anything. Once again, one cannot break any right while doing so – one cannot claim as property something which has been stolen from someone else.
We usually think of the right of property as being more important and basic than the right of free action – because property is more tangible, material, than actions. However the right of free action is the foundation for the right of property.
It would make no sense to speak of the right to self-ownership without the right to action or property. If the government controls your actions, then you do not control your own self. If the government controls your property, then you do not control your own actions (and therefore, your own self).
One consideration on rights to emphasize on : a right OF something is not a right TO something. The right of property as applied to a salary, for example, does not equal a right to a salary. This is because if there was such a thing as a right to something, this something would have to be taken from the total of resources present – that is, stolen from someone else, which breaks the right of property.
This brings us to the principle of non-initiation of force. One principle of a rational society is that the government has the monopoly on the initiation of force. No one else is in his right to initiate force – however, contrarily to what Rand promoted in politics, there is such a thing as self-defense. Thus citizens have the right to protect themselves from the initiation of force, be it from other citizens or from the government. Any action which breaks one of the three basic rights has to be done with the use of force – killing, disrupting, stealing, etc.
An objection can be raised that rights do come in conflict in certain circumstances : for example, person A sells a house thru the newspapers and person B buys space just below to denigrate that house. Person B, or so goes the argument, is breaking the rights of person A.
What we seemingly have here is a conflict between freedom of speech (right of action) and reputation (right of property). The article diminushes one’s reputation and therefore one’s potential sales.
The problem, however, is that this loss is not direct. The action of posting a critical article is not a direct theft or destruction of property – it is the consumer’s choice to believe or not. In fact consumer organizations have freedom of speech even today.
Of course, the newspaper belongs to someone, and this person sets the rules – whenever he wants such things to appear in his newspaper or not.
Such a reasoning shows an unwillingness to consider humans as having a capacity of choice, and a penchant for emotionalism. With that reasoning, commercials should also be banned, and so should pretty much any other kind of communication for that matter. Saying that influencing the consumer ona particular product should be prohibited would entail that a company which improves its product in order to gain more market share is criminal (it hurts the other companies’ sales). Of course I know that some people do believe these things, but rationally we cannot admit it.
What is the effect of such a system on laws and the government ? The most obvious effect would be the abolition of all government infringments on property rights. There would be no such thing as taxes or governmental programs – in theory at least. The size of the government would therefore be significantly reduced. Also, there would be no such thing as victimless crimes – if there is no force involved, there is no victim.
Ayn Rand thought that under a system of rights, the government would be reduced to three main, and separate, functions – the police, the army and the judiciary system. It would be safe to say that the ideal system would have a government reduced to these and a very limited number of other functions. One of these functions is the redistribution of wealth dependant on one’s infringments of rights, for example, the redistribution of money from a polluter whose pollution exceeds the bounds of his property, to the citizens of the locality. Another of these functions is the administration of global necessities such as roads (although private road systems could also be used).
The other important part of a political system, besides the government itself and its laws, is the economical sector. Economics are inherently political because they depend directly on the recognition, or lack thereof, of natural rights. If the right to property is not recognized, then property can be stolen and given away. If the right to free action is not recognized, then trade on certain items can be stopped or hindered in some way. Obviously this will shape the entire economical system.
The notion of action and property rights is against any system but a capitalist system. This is because capitalism is the only system which is based exclusively on trade – that is, the action of exchanging a certain value in return for another value. This is opposed to theft, which is the use of force in the taking of value.
Therefore it seems that the economics should be purely capitalistic, based on trade and contracts. A contract is protected in this system by the right to property. This can be seen by examining what a contract is : when two parties sign a contract, they lawfully establish that each other’s part of the contract (to be ulteriorily fulfilled) belongs to the other. A breach of contracy is simply taking another’s property, when the contract stated that the property belonged to him after a certain date or circumstance.
One way to raise money for the renewed service of the government that has been hypothecized was to assign a certain price to pay for the legal binding of a contract.
For more on capitalism, read “capitalism vs socialism”.
Some objections could possibly be raised about such a system. One of them is on and undue reliance on the system of rights itself. While on the one hand it is a known fact in politics that when men rule, there is always the problem of abuse of power – on the other hand, you cannot have political doctrine that cannot be changed at all. There must always be room to overrule possible errors, all the while without alienating any right. This is why a pure democracy is unacceptable in such a context. Reviewing laws would have to be a rigorous and very open process.
Furthermore, it seems that the replacement of all social programs should be supported in some way. It would not seem unreasonable for such a government to issue regular updates on the organizations involved in such tasks, for a price of course. There are many such services that the government could provide, in order to temporarily compensate for the unusual freedom that such a system would provide.
Another thing which can complicate matters is emergencies. As I wrote in “Objectivist morality”, an emergency in the ethical sense is an situation where the individual is forced to break someone else’s rights, either because he is threatened by force, or he is about to die otherwise. The procedure to follow in these situations would be to insure our survival and interest, to the point that the emergency is ended – at which point we must restore, when possible, the damages that we were forced to do.
There is no reason why crimes committed under the first case of emergencies, that is actions under threat, could not be covered by law. The second case, a situation that is not directly caused by someone else, is more delicate. There is a fine line between an accidental situation that is directly the cause of one’s duress, and a duress that we could have changed (the difference, if you will, between someone who is starving because he had an accident on a mountain and could not eat for days, and someone who didn’t want to work and spent all his money).
Upholding the illegality of taxes brings another problem : since the government would not have any inflow but would still offer some services, where do we take the money ? There are many possible solutions to this one. One of these solutions would be a pay-per-use system. As people use governmental products, like police or power, they pay the minimal amount of money necessary to compensate for costs. Of course this would allow for competition – in no case could there be a governmental monopoly on anything.
For the basis of the political rights, read “objectivist ethics” and “from ethics to politics”.
Other systems of government are not based on rights but on the tyranny of a certain group of people. They are therefore not based on any moral grounding. Monarchy is the rule of the king, socialism is the rule of the few, and democracy is the rule of the majority.
Aside from the rights problem, pragmatically, all tyrannies shares 3 main problems, to a certain extent (as highlighted in Libertarianism : A Primer p12) :
the totalitarian problem – concentration of power leads to abuse
Such a problem would not exist here since the “power” would be very minute in quantity.
the incentive problem – lack of inducement to work because of the lack of right to property
the calculation problem – the inability to allocate resources according to consumer preferences
Both problems cannot exist in a capitalist system.