I believe the foundation of morality to be self-ownership; therefore, respecting the rights of the individual is the baseline for moral behavior. These rights are determined by our sentience and humanity. Because we recognize that we are alive, we have the right to live unmolested. Because we recognize that we have opinions, we have the right to voice those opinions. Because we recognize that we can produce goods and services, we have the right to keep the fruits of our production. Rights come in two forms: personal rights and property rights. My rights end where your rights begin, as I do not have the right to abuse you or your property. The function of government should be to protect each citizen’s rights.
In order to define my moral philosophy, I must first define what constitutes a personal right and what constitutes a property right. In my view, personal rights are encapsulated by the right to life. The right to life is the right to live physically unmolested. This means that any law restricting self-ownership is immoral, as laws are inevitably backed up by the threat of physical violence. For example, I believe hate speech laws to be immoral. The act of voicing one’s opinion is well within the purview of self-ownership. Any law that restricts that right ultimately results in the violator being dragged to prison, thus violating their right to life. Similarly, a ban on gay marriage is one of the ultimate violations of personal rights. An agreement between consenting adults is not open to interference by anyone else because that agreement does not infringe on another’s personal or property rights.
The moment you cross the threshold into violating another’s right to live is the moment in which their possession of that right trumps yours. For instance, threatening someone with a firearm places their right to live in immediate danger, and it becomes their right to kill you in order to preserve their own rights against an aggressor. An example of this would be the trial of a man for killing a SWAT police officer after the officers had stormed the wrong house. The man, not knowing that it was a police raid, used his own firearm to kill an apparent home invader who had a gun. The trial was dismissed, as the man had his right to life threatened and acted to preserve it. Similarly, a murderer or rapist gives up their rights the moment they infringe on the rights of another through an act of aggression. They then are stripped of their rights through things such as prison time to whatever extent the society deems appropriate.
Property rights are the rights to retain what you produce through your own means or what you obtain through consensual transaction. My stance on property rights as a matter of morality means that I believe Marxism and its associated politics to be fundamentally immoral. The idea that an individual is entitled to another’s labor is immoral as it violates a right guaranteed by our existence. We possess the ability to produce without violating anyone’s property rights or right to live; therefore, what we produce by our own means is inherently ours and should not be taken at gunpoint. Though I believe that taxes are necessary to maintain government at the functioning level, any bureaucratic waste or large-scale wealth redistribution constitutes theft. There are certain allowances that must be made in order to live within a functioning country, such as the possession of a military and a public education system. These issues should be left up to a democratic vote; however, I believe the guiding principle of government should be the protection of the personal and property rights of its citizens.
My guiding moral principle can be seen in a quote from President Thomas Jefferson. In discussing religious freedom, he stated that the “legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” Though Jefferson is referring specifically to government involvement in religion, his last sentence can be applied to all human interactions regarding morality. It is no one’s business to enforce “morality” upon others. The only just moral action is allowing individuals to do what they please so long as it does not encroach on the personal rights or property rights of another individual.