Nowadays, the idea that people have a ‘right’ to a job, a ‘right’ to an education, and a ‘right’ to all sorts of other things is so widespread and accepted that hardly anyone seems to give it any thought. It has become one of those self-evident truths that no one bothers having an actual justification for. And yet these supposed ‘rights’ are the logical equivalent of arguing that we all have a ‘right to enslave’.
I’m sure I’ve already alienated most readers. But let’s start from the beginning, with the definition; and follow the logic wherever it leads us. The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘to enslave’ as: (1) to make (someone) a slave or (2) to cause someone to lose their freedom of choice or action. To fully understand the first definition it is therefore also necessary to look at the definition of slave: a person who is the legal property of another and is forced to obey them.
Next it is important that we understand the implications of rights to education, healthcare, jobs, etc. What most people never fully (or even partially) seem to grasp is that those rights do not just affect those whose right it is to reap those benefits. Education, jobs, healthcare, and many of the other ‘human rights’ don’t just come into existence. Someone has to provide the resources and labor. Perhaps in an ideal world there would be multitudes of doctors, businessmen, and teachers who perform their jobs voluntarily for free. But in reality this is clearly not the case.
So where does this leave us? If all people have a right to education, some other people must necessarily have to provide the labor and resources required for that endeavor. If they are not willing to do so voluntarily, then they must be forced to do so. Notice that there is no third option. They may either voluntarily provide the services, or be compelled to do so through violence or the threat of violence.
It is important to note that even if for some period of time there were sufficient benefactors to ensure that everyone have access to ‘human rights’, by virtue of the fact that their services are voluntary it is impossible to ascertain with any certainty that such a state would be permanent. Thus we arrive at our final conclusion. If people are to have a right to education, they must also have a right to (directly or indirectly) use force (which requires violence or the threat of violence) to acquire those rights. That’s something you don’t hear every day: the right to education is the right to use violence. And yet the logic is sound. By loudly and proudly proclaiming everyone’s right to education, you are just as surely proclaiming everyone’s right to use violence to force others to provide that education to them.
It means that, were all the doctors of the world to suddenly lose their desire to work as doctors and seek employment elsewhere, the rest of the population, armed with their right to healthcare, would be completely justified in using any force necessary to return them to their previous occupations. If the world’s teachers one day decided they would all rather become marine biologists, the world would be acting entirely morally in forcing them back into their classrooms, at gunpoint if necessary. After all, a right is supreme. If we have a right to education, then that right is always ours. There can be no compromises with rights – we either have them or we don’t. Such scenarios are so unlikely to ever happen we can easily dismiss them as impossible. And yet, they are a useful way of understanding the implications of having rights to others’ labor. A moral and philosophical concept as powerful as rights should be sufficiently robust to withstand such a simple test. There aren’t any situations, however absurd, under which the right to our own life would be evidently wrong.
How does this violence manifest itself at present? It is clear that no one interprets the right to education as a license for any underprivileged person to walk into a classroom, point a gun at the teacher’s temple, and force the poor teacher to teach him or her (although I doubt many could offer a well-developed reason as to why not). Instead, we give the state a license to extract payments from the entire population and distribute the funds as they see fit (not before taking out a nice large chunk for themselves for having provided those ‘services’).
What happens if you disagree and refuse to pay? First, you are threatened with added fees. If you continue to refuse, the fees continue to pile up, until, eventually, you get a knock on your door, and men with a special paper stamped by a special person claim they have the right to enter your own home. You are then taken into a special car, by force if necessary, and brought into a special room where, if you stand by your principle of refusal, you are swiftly told that you will serve a certain amount of time in a special cage. If you try to refuse this last command, and attempt an escape, you are likely to be shot, harmed, or forced to accept an even lengthier sentence. This is, in actual fact, the result of refusing to pay for something that was deemed someone else’s right. It is no longer an absurd example or speculation. This is exactly what would happen. Thus the right to education justifies the shooting or lengthy imprisonment of a person who may well have been entirely nonviolent. In fact, if Gandhi himself refused to pay his taxes, he would be forced to spend his entire life in jail, despite never having hurt a fly. And other nonviolent people would be forced to pay the bills to keep him locked up.
After some consideration, it seems apparent to me that the right to education is in fact the right to enslave. If some have a right to education, others are born partial slaves to them. There can be no doubt using the Oxford dictionary’s second definition (to cause someone to lose their freedom of choice or action), as it is clear that whether it is the teachers or doctors who are forced to work or the rest of society that is forced to pay the bills, someone is being forced to lose their freedom of choice or action (especially considering that the income tax usually takes around 40% of income, meaning that for a whole five months of the year the product of your labor is taken from you by force). But it is equally apparent using the first, somewhat stronger, definition (to make (someone) a slave; i.e. a person who is the legal property of another and is forced to obey them). If completely nonviolent dissent is sufficient grounds for lengthy imprisonments or even deadly force, there can be no doubt that we are all, to some extent at least, the legal property of our governments, forced to obey them or face the possibly deadly consequences.
I’m sure most of the few people who read this will scoff at the absurdity of my arguments, convinced that the logic is too extreme to take seriously and confident in their own conclusions knowing that almost everyone they know would agree with them. And yet I challenge you to take five or ten minutes to write me a comment as to why I am so wrong. Give me a logical explanation; point out a logical flaw in my arguments. Don’t tell me everyone should have an education: I completely agree. Don’t tell me it’s horrible for people to be turned down from a hospital because they don’t have enough money to pay the bills: I agree, it is horrible. But none of those emotional appeals have any bearing whatsoever on the fact that if we have a right to an education, a right to healthcare, a right to a job – then we also have a right to use violence on people who have done nothing at all to harm us or anyone else.
A note: I’ve left out that the quote for the title came from an essay by Ayn Rand because of the ridiculous prejudice that such an association would necessarily establish in the minds of most readers. I do want to give credit to it, however, because it is a phrase I directly quoted from her essay Man’s Rights, which appeared in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.