Man’s nature as a moral being necessitates Rights, moral principles “defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context.” The only fundamental Right is man’s right to his own life. Ayn Rand correctly identifies life as “a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action; the right to life means the right to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated action—which means: the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life.”
The most basic corollary of the Right to life is the Right to property. The Right to property makes all other Rights possible. Why? Because man is a rational being. To quote Shaun Connell over at Reason and Capitalism: “Man does not have the brute strength to kill deer, he is not born with fangs to poison his prey, or claws to use as weapons. Man has only his mind. It is his mind that separates man from the animal.” The product of man’s own creative effort is his property. Without the unlimited control over the disposition of his own property, man has no means to sustain his life fully, as he sees fit. “The man who produces while others dispose of his product, is a slave.”
The only way to deny this is to resort to a form of collectivist thinking; that the property of some people belongs to other people; that other people can make unearned demands on your property through: sheer weight of numbers (majoritarianism), force, or a duty-sense of morality (such as the bankrupt Kantian imperative, all religions, utilitarianism etc). However, Rights apply to the actions of individuals; society is not an individual and it is not a superbrain that emerges when two or more people assemble, and it is not a Borg Collective. There are only individuals, and there are only individual Rights. Taking the property of a person by unprovoked force is a violation of Rights, and therefore a criminal act. It is a crime whether it is done by another individual, a majority of individuals, or a State. Only a moral subjectivist would assert that a crime becomes acceptable when it is sanctioned by the power of a majority vote, such as democracy. (Moral subjectivism reduces to moral nihilism and should be ignored.) Democracy gives the majority the power to violate the Rights of the minority. The only way to check the power of a democratic government is with constitutional guarantees, such as are present in the United States Constitution. But what does the Constitution guarantee? Individual rights. But you cannot morally justify violating some rights and not others. It is a contradiction; either we have individual Rights or we don’t, and who decides what Rights we forfeit and those we don’t? Well, certainly not the individual in a democracy. No other current system of government does any better though, and most of them are even worse.
So do we even need a government? In a word, yes. I am not a Libertarian nor an anarchist. Those who proffer that we don’t need government are irrational. The only question is: what is the proper role of government? The answer: one that fully respects individual Rights, and whose power is limited to performing only its necessary tasks. What are government’s necessary tasks?
First, consider individual rights. The only way to violate the Rights of a person is by physical force. That is why people must be stopped from using any use of force against their neighbours, with equal or greater force. So the only legitimate use of force is in response to those who initiate its use; those who have violated the Rights of individuals and forfeited their own. Except in an emergency case of self-defence, the issue of what constitutes necessary retaliatory force can be capricious and whimsical; it is in order to guarantee individual rights that the use of retaliatory force be objectively defined and objectively employed. This is why it cannot be left to the whim of an individual. A moral society invests the use of force in a government whose actions are dictated by objective laws. That is why it is necessary to have an objective legal system. But note that all these governmental actions serve one ultimate purpose: to protect the Rights of its citizens. So what are the only legitimate services of government? Protection of citizens against internal or external threats, and a fair objective legal system to mediate disputes between men and define what constitutes a crime or not.
Since government has a monopoly on the use of physical force, its power must be limited to very specific tasks. Government is the only institution that has the power, at the point of a gun, to make demands of an individual. Government exists to protect us from criminals who would violate our rights, therefore it cannot be such a criminal itself. “The source of the government’s authority is “the consent of the governed.” This means that the government is not the ruler, but the servant or agent of the citizens; it means that the government as such has no rights except the rights delegated to it by the citizens for a specific purpose.” – TVOS
“Under a proper social system, a private individual is legally free to take any action he pleases (so long as he does not violate the rights of others), while a government official is bound by law in his every official act. A private individual may do anything except that which is legally forbidden; a government official may do nothing except that which is legally permitted.
This is the means of subordinating “might” to “right.” This is the American concept of “a government of laws and not of men.”” – TVOS
Taxation is the forced expropriation of individual property. As such, it is an immoral and illegal use of governmental power. The redistribution of wealth is the implementation of mass unearned demands on the property of others; it reduces men to parasites of other men. It is based on the notion that man has a duty to sustain the life of others, but this is patently false. The Right to life means the Right to take action to sustain your life, it does not mean that others must hand you everything you desire. Whether you are unable or unwilling to support your life is either unfortunate or immoral, but one person’s bad luck or laziness is not a burden on anyone else, no matter what the circumstances.
As to what happens to the disabled in such a society is a topic for another discussion, or I direct you to an excellent article here. As to how government is financed in a properly free society is again, a discussion for another article. These issues properly belong to the philosophy of law, but they should start from a foundation of individual rights.
Now, even if it could be argued that taxation was moral and necessary, and that redistribution of wealth was moral and necessary (both of which are grossly incorrect), would that make it acceptable to enforce it? No. Remember that man is a moral being; morality being a code of values to guide actions. Where choice is impossible, value is impossible; where value is impossible, morality is impossible. The only way to render choice impossible is by the use of force. So whilst redistributing wealth to others may be moral (it isn’t), doing so at the point of a gun is immoral. There is nothing generous or moral about someone who is forced to give his property to those who may or may not have earned it. “Mutual consent” is an expression that becomes meaningless in a society where the refusal to consent is met with a loaded gun. Enforcing a system you believe to be moral is contradiction of the most heinous sort.
A legitimate government acts to protect individual rights against those who violate them first. It has no other moral role.
(All Ayn Rand quotes are taken from The Virtue of Selfishness, unless otherwise stated.)