Force: The violation of rights

The last lecture hit on the concept of rights. How does the term 'force' come into play? What exactly does it mean, and what's the relationship with individual rights? This lecture will discuss the concept of force, provide some examples of the different kinds of force, and discuss the moral status of force.

To start with, what exactly do we mean by force? The word has a lot of meaning. To force someone to do something, you might have this image of wrestling with them and forcing their hands into the right position. Forcing a baby to eat her food involves actually shoving the food in her mouth with a spoon. But in the political sense, force is a much wider concept.

Force includes things like murder, physical violence, theft, or the threat of any of these. Force is the means by which a person violates the rights of another person. The criminal is preventing a person from acting according to his own judgment by physically preventing it. In the example of a threat of force, the criminal threatens to harm a person's life unless they act in a particular way.

For instance, imagine a mugger pointing a gun at someone's head and demanding his money. This is a pretty clear case of force. The gunman is forcing the victim to give up his wallet or he'll be killed. The action is unwanted by the victim, but because his life is on the line, he has no choice. He has to choose between his own life and whatever is demanded of him. Even if he can fight back, he's still risking his life involuntarily.

Let's take a moment to consider what it means for something to be voluntary. Couldn't it be argued that the mugger has given the victim a choice, and whichever he picks is still voluntary? Not if the word has any meaning. The mugger has forced the victim into an unnecessary choice. The mugger has attacked the life of the victim by forcing this choice upon him. It doesn't matter that the victim still has some semblance of a choice remaining, it doesn't make it voluntary. And since his life is on the line, there is no real choice.

This is the nature of physical force. One person puts another person into a situation against his will. It's called physical force, not because it requires heaving loading or exercise, but because it's implemented in action. The use of force prevents a person from acting according to his own wishes. It does this in the physical world by actually preventing the action, either directly or indirectly (i.e., threats).

Rand observed that force and mind are opposites. When one uses force against another, it severs the connection between their resulting actions and their better judgment. They are prevented from acting in the way they way, which means their own judgment is overturned by an outside agent. Force invalidates the effectiveness of your mind. It invalidates your own moral choices, and forces you to act according to the wishes of someone else. When that happens, your mind shuts down.

A violation of rights comes in the form of a use of force. The two concepts are inextricably linked. Individual rights describe the range of free action that is yours by right. A violation of your rights ultimately means an infringement on your freedom. It means that you are no longer allowed to choose your actions. You are prevented from choosing your actions by someone else who, through the use of physical, destroys your ability to act on your own judgment.

The use of force is not necessarily bad, though. It can be life-preserving in certain contexts. In a regular day-to-day context, where people live peacefully, the use of force is wrong. When someone begins the use of force, or "initiates force" against another, they're destroying the harmony of interests that furthers both of their lives. The principle that recognizes that an initiation of force is wrong is called the Non-Initiation of Force Principle (NIOF).

Once force has been initiated, it is proper for others to respond to that force with force of their own. They may seek to stop the use of force, to repair the damage, or to punish the violator. To do that, they use physical force of their own against him. This second force is called retaliatory force, or sometimes defensive force. Retaliatory force is a necessary measure to further a person's life. Rights-violators should not be allowed to initiate force at will, or anyone can be harmed. It is in your interest to prevent your rights from being violated. It is in your interest to respond with force against initiators of force, so they can't do it again.

Objectivist politics is compromised of two basic moral guidelines. The first is to not initiation force, and thus sustain the harmony of interests. The second is to retaliate against the initiation of force, in order to remove existing conflicts and restore the harmony of interests.

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