Imputed Rights
by Robert V. Andelson

An original argument for human rights based on Christian theology and classical liberal political philosophy. He says that man is created in the image of God, but because of original sin, man is a worthless worm with no rights and is unworthy of respect, except for the miracle of atonement whereby God chose to forgive us and to allow us to glorify him through service to mankind.

Since God commands us to serve him through service to mankind, we have imputed rights to act in his service. It is therefore wrong to deny any man the freedom to perform his duty to God. From this he derives the right of reciprocal freedom.

He says it is rational to prioritize our acts of service to maximize their effects rather than to simply serve those who happen to be our nearest neighbors. The way to optimize our service is to establish a covenant whereby we create a limited government with the primary responsibility to secure reciprocal freedom. He then advocates libertarian positions on many issues: free markets, no legislation against vices, no welfare legislation.

He varies from libertarianism on enough issues to warrant classification as a conservative. He favors strong military forces and restrictions on freedom for national security. He adopts Henry George's views on taxing all land profits. He would outlaw libel and slander. He thinks the state should appropriate the property of anyone who dies without children. He advocates eugenics to the extent that the state is responsible for ensuring that insane, defective, and incompetent people do not reproduce. He favors tax-financed education of children (but he opposes public schools because the kind of education that justifies tax support is education for responsible citizenship, which according to his theory, is based on religious principles, which the state needs to keep its hands off). He favors tax-financed legal representation for everyone and tax-financed political campaigns so that wealthy people have no advantage in legal or political contests.

He refers to many classical liberal scholars: Lord Acton, Kant, Locke, David Ritchie, Isabel Patterson, Henry Hazlitt, David Hume, Mises, Hayek, Herbert Spencer, W.E.H. Lecky, John Milton, and William Graham Sumner.

My Reactions

This book provoked some new thoughts. If man is made in the image of God, does this mean God has two arms, two legs, and a face? Does God have a nose? Does God need to breath air? How could this be possible if God existed before he created air as the Bible story says?

If God is a spirit, he has no definite physical form. So man cannot be made in the physical image of God.

Man is a moral agent unlike any other creature. In this regard he is like God. But unlike God, man is imperfect and man chooses evil sometimes. This could be what the author is getting at when he describes man as having been made in God's image (as a moral agent), but flawed by original sin (a tendency to make the wrong moral choices).

Was it wrong for God to create an imperfect creature? Is it wrong for people to have children if the try to raise them to be good? What is the purpose of man, qua man? This is debatable. What is the purpose of man, qua moral agent? That is clearly to choose between right and wrong. Man, qua man, has many interests and goals besides morality. But man, qua moral agent, has moral duty and moral rights as his defining values. The proper end of a moral agent is to act morally, which means to choose to do the right thing, which requires freedom of choice. Moral agents have the right to do their duty.

Sometimes he uses God to mean the good, sometimes the capacity to choose the good (which is moral agency), and sometimes our conscience. If God is equal to the good, then by choosing to do the right thing, a moral agent chooses to serve God and there is truth in the claim that you cannot be moral if you do not believe in God. However, this God, as defined, is not the same as the Creator, nor the same as any of the deities who are worshiped by the religions of the world. This god does not have a personality at all. It is simply an idea, and it is not even a religious idea. It is simply the appropriation of a word that usually has religious significance and using it in a non-religious way. We can't use this special definition of God to smuggle in religious notions.


Sir Ernest Barker in Introduction to Social Contract: Essays by Locke, Hume, and Rousseau (New York: Oxford University Press, 1948), pp. xxxiv—xxxv:
I surrender all of myself—and I surrender it all to 999 others as well as myself; I only receive a fraction of the sovereignty of the community; and ultimately I must reflect that if I am the thousandth part of a tyrant, I am also the whole of a slave.
Andelson makes good points against utilitarianism:
The psychological hedonism which is its ground is not demonstrably compatible with its end of quantitative happiness, for on the basis of empirical method which it presupposes, utilitarianism is unable to show why, if men always seek their own pleasure and avoid their own pain, the greatest happiness of the greatest number can or should be the only proper end of conduct. It is incumbent upon the moralist who holds that individuals are invariably guided by self-interest and the rightful end of human action is the general maximization of happiness, to provide conclusive evidence that the individual's felicity and that of the whole are ultimately the same. If he cannot do this, he sets forth a goal which may be impossible to realize because it is contrary to human nature. On the other hand, if such a demonstration could be made, the position would boil down to the assertion that everyone inevitably does what he ought to do, in which case the services of a moralist would appear to be superfluous.... the tradition excludes any qualitative criterion either for the valuation of different kinds of happiness or for the discrimination between individuals as to their capacity for the enjoyment thereof. Thus this philosophy, when not modified by other influences, leads undeviatingly to the domination of mere numbers. p. 9
The idea of duty implies something more ultimate than itself, in terms of which it exists. If duty is to have any moral significance at all, one must define it as that which value commands.... the good will ... fulfills and validates the life of man by raising it above itself. Man transcends creaturehood only as he accepts it in obedience to the demand which absolute value makes upon him... Kant was correct in his assertion that duty predicates freedom... p. 27
...our innate consciousness of duty, tells us that value is worthy of our unconditional loyalty, regardless of prudential considerations. It tells us that the good will requires and incorporates the will to justice. p. 29
Justice consists in giving value its due... p.30
Moral perfection is not automatic. It must be willed by moral agents:
... it is by definition impossible that a free moral agent be created perfect; perfection in this context demands a voluntary effort of the will. p. 46
It is true that all men are sinners, but not all sinners are guilty of the same specific sins. ... To ask me to acknowledge guilt for acts with which I had no sympathy and not even the most remote connection is to invite me to place my guilt for acts for which I really am responsible on the same fictitious plane, and thus to dilute and cheapen the idea of guilt itself. p. 50
It is true that fallen man still possesses such remnants of the image of God as enable him to distinguish in a general way between right and wrong, and to know that he is obligated to do the right. pp. 51—52
Christian love has nothing to do with liking; if it did, it would be an emotion, and therefore could not be commanded. p.59
The only right established... is the functional freedom correlative to the capacity for the fulfillment of a proper end. p. 59
It is in terms of his priesthood that every Christian must insist upon his rights... p. 64
... the neighbor whose welfare one is thus obliged to maximize is Everyman, not merely the immediate neighbor, the one who simply happens to be nigh. Because the term "neighbor" in this sense embraces all humanity, love must be distributed with forethought, lest it be randomly bestowed on some at the expense of others. p. 70
While in charity love goes beyond justice, justice is at the same time love's most imperative and unconditional demand. Love incorporates justice but justice does not incorporate charity. ... Before love can be equitably bestowed upon those whose only claim is need, claims based upon rights must first be satisfied, and mere need does not establish rights. p. 70
When people urge the "humanization" of economic relationships, i.e., the imposition of extraneous personal considerations upon the operation of the market, what they are really advocating is paternalism, which demeans personality by substituting for the free exchange of goods and services an association between dependent and patron. p. 73
...he who is helpless to restrict his use of freedom so that it will no interfere with that of others, must have it restricted for him ... p. 75
... the only legitimate reason for interfering with freedom is to protect freedom. p. 76
...[mutual] freedom is the primal right from which all others spring. It is anterior to and a necessary prerequisite for the unhampered operation of voluntary cooperative relationships and the rationalized enjoyment and development of all other social goods. If it be violated even in the most minute particular for the sake of some other good, a precedent has been set for the negation of that upon which the stability of every social good rests. Thus no man can be said to have a right to the positive fulfillment of his end (even if that end be seen functionally in terms of selfless service to the neighbor), for such would inevitably trench upon the freedom of others to seek the fulfillment of their ends, undermining the structure of mutual non-interference which provides the only rational criterion for adjudicating competing claims to personal fulfillment. p. 79
... the positive fulfillment of man's end is not admissible as a right to be enforced: it does not provide for any regulating principle in cases of conflict. ... What an individual needs apart from freedom in order to fulfill his proper end, cannot be objectively determined by any reliable criterion. We must depend either upon his own subjective assessment or upon the arbitrary decision of some authority. p. 80
... since it is axiomatic that man's wants are unlimited, any government which seriously undertook to guarantee "freedom from want" would need unlimited power. Even if its power were unrestrained by constitutional or other political limitations, it still could not succeed, for the limitations imposed by Nature would remain. As for "freedom from fear," it is hard to see how a government could assure it short of enforcing mass lobotomization. p. 81
The only legitimate goal of any nation as a political unit is that of insuring the reciprocal freedom of its citizens to pursue goals of their own choosing. p. 82
Herbert Spencer, Principles of Ethics (New York: Appleton, 1893) II, 222:
beyond maintaining justice, the state [cannot] do anything else without transgressing justice.
Back to Andelson:
only that which stems from free volition can be morally good—i.e., good in terms of motivation. p. 83
for many minds it would seem as if a benevolent object is all that is required to put the stamp of legitimacy upon robbery as long as it is perpetrated through the taxing power of the state. This double standard will not stand the test of moral scrutiny: stealing does not cease to be stealing when it is authorized for philanthropic purposes by vote. p. 86
to usurp property legitimately acquired is logically the same as cutting off so many hours from its producer's life... p. 103
The right to property naturally incorporates the rights of gift and bequest, for to deny them is to deny the right of a man to labor voluntarily for others. p. 103
Andelson probably did not have Jesus in mind when he wrote:
One who remains passive when aware of crime is rightly regarded as an accessory. 131

Year Read: 1997

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