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(“Man’s Rights,” The Virtue of Selfishness, 1964, p. 93

What is a 'right'?

A possible action is considered to be a right when and only when the action is never destructive in any way to the life of any other non-consenting individual. A right is said to be "respected" if no individual attempts to impede the action considered to be a right. Thus, an individual is morally bound to respect the rights of another. The reason for this is because respecting rights is conducive to the lives of all parties involved.

If one individual contravenes the rights of another, it is moral and proper for the victim to defend himself against his attacker, as well as to force the attacker to recompense the victim.

The notion of freedom is closely allied with the notion of rights. An individual is free to do precisely that which he has the right to do. An individual is said to be free (in general) if and when all of his rights are respected.

Collective Rights

There is no such thing as a collective right. An aggregate collection of individuals (i.e., a group) cannot logically claim a right that the individual alone cannot possess. For example, a political advocate may claim the existence of a "social contract" to justify levying a tax—but individuals do not have a right to steal, and so no larger group of individuals is subsequently magically bestowed with it after some arbitrary size is reached or a vote is held proclaiming intent. Such as group would, at that point, be hypocritically initiating force upon dissenting individuals.


As collectives, governments therefore do not have rights. They merely enforce their whims, to lesser or greater ill upon humanity. Governments are commonly preoccupied with restricting individual rights while simultaneously claiming those same rights for itself, to be subsequently doled out as privileges. For example, a government might forbid the ownership of various types of property, such as weapons, and have its edicts enforced by police officers armed with the very same weapons. It may have laws forbidding driving too fast, yet its police officers are exempt (i.e., it is their privilege), and they will not stop speeding vehicles with government plates. Government invariably forbids theft, yet routinely seize property under all manner of pretexts, such as eminent domain, and it may invent categories of crime in order to extort from individuals convicted of violations.

Claiming to act in the public interest, in practice most governments are nascent tyrannies straining to escape the restraints of their founders, if any.

(Atlas Shrugged, p. 567-568)

See also