The mission of the Ayn Rand Center is to advance individual rights (the rights of each person to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness) as the moral basis for a fully free, laissez-faire capitalist society.
America’s history overflows with evidence of the material abundance, the health and the happiness that individuals can achieve when left free. But where does such political freedom come from?
Freedom is not a product of historical destiny, divine intervention or happy accident—it’s an intellectual achievement that depends on the vital concept of individual rights.
America’s Founding Fathers consciously designed a government dedicated to protecting the individual’s rights to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness. From across the globe, individuals emigrated to the United States because here they would be free to think for themselves, and advance their own interests by their own actions. American capitalists, set free to produce, built an industrial giant out of a wilderness, transforming this nation into a beacon of hope for the world.
Today, however, the Founders’ vision of individual rights is forgotten—buried under a slag heap of “rights” that don’t deserve the name. You can’t open the newspaper without encountering new claims to collective “rights” based on race, ethnicity, gender, disability, economic hardship, or some other source of grievance to be rectified by restricting the individual’s freedom. If, for instance, employees have a “right” to a minimum wage, then an individual business owner has lost his right to set compensation in his own company, and an individual unskilled worker has lost his right to accept a wage at which he would actually be employable.
Even worse, rights are no longer treated as rights to action but as claims to wealth—as in the “right” to a job, a bottle of medicine, an appendectomy, or a market share. But if rights are claims to values created by others, where does that leave the producers—the businessmen, pharmaceutical companies, doctors, and all the others whose silent compliance is counted on to satisfy the angry claimants’ needs? What of these individuals’ inalienable rights to pursue their lives, their property, their own happiness?
If “rights” are claims to the goods and services produced by others, then government must enforce these “rights.” Hence the growth of the welfare state, to redistribute wealth through Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and similar schemes. And if it’s illegitimate to consistently pursue one’s own life, property and happiness—if this violates other people’s “rights”—then government must curb such behavior. Hence the growth of the regulatory state and such agencies as the FDA, the FCC, and the EPA, to curtail self-interested action and promote the so-called public interest.
Freedom in America has diminished—and power has become more and more concentrated in the hands of government at the expense of the individual—because we have lost hold of the concept of individual rights.
Two centuries of intellectual and cultural deterioration have swamped the Founders’ view of rights and obscured the need to clarify their moral basis. This was Ayn Rand’s achievement: to sweep aside accumulated distortions and establish, with full philosophical clarity, why rights must be based on an ethics of individualism and rational self-interest.
Ayn Rand showed that individual rights are not gifts from a deity or grants from society—they are moral principles necessitated by human nature. As she wrote in Atlas Shrugged, “If man is to live on earth, it is right for him to use his mind, it is right to act on his own free judgment, it is right to work for his values and to keep the product of his work. If life on earth is his purpose, he has a right to live as a rational being: nature forbids him the irrational.”
Rights are moral principles that define your freedom of action within society, and your fundamental right is the right to your own life. This is your moral entitlement to engage in every type of action objectively necessary to sustain a human life. All other rights—including property rights, without which no other rights can exist—are implications of this bedrock right.
Rights serve the crucial function, in Ayn Rand’s words, of “subordinating society to moral law.” Morality says, “If you want to live and attain happiness, perform these actions.” Politics says, “If you want a society in which life and happiness are possible to every individual, preserve everyone’s freedom to perform these actions.”
Because individual rights are principles, they apply equally to all human beings. So there’s no such thing as one person’s right to rob, enslave, or murder his neighbor. Likewise, no group—not even the most lopsided majority of a nation’s electorate—may infringe upon the sacred rights of the individual.
Because individual rights are moral principles, they require a moral defense. If it is moral to pursue your own happiness, your own self-interest, and your own life, then you should possess the freedom to pursue these goals without interference from others. But if you regard the unwavering pursuit of your own self-interest and life as immoral—if instead your selfless duty is to fulfill a despot’s demands, serve the “public interest,” or advance some god’s cosmic plan—then you have no moral claim to the freedom that the Founders proclaimed as yours by right.
What social system fully implements the principle of individual rights? Laissez-faire capitalism. It’s the only system that allows every single individual—entrepreneurs, businessmen, intellectuals, professionals, laborers, homemakers—the freedom, in Ayn Rand’s words, “to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life.” A proper government’s sole purpose is to secure and protect each citizens’ rights; the state itself is constitutionally prohibited from encroaching on the rights of the individual. This was the system that the Founding Fathers’ political revolution came close to fully achieving.
In the nineteenth century, capitalism proved its productive power to the world. In the twentieth century, capitalism found its moral defender in Ayn Rand. Now, in the twenty-first century, capitalism awaits its new champions—those willing to advance the principle of individual rights as the basis for a free society.
Read more about Ayn Rand’s Philosophy.