Stop justifying yourself!

“You slept with a consenting adult of the same sex? How dare you! Why?!?”

“You said something that goes against my values? How dare you! Why?!?”

“You own a gun? How dare you! Why?!?”

The three answers most commonly deployed to the previous questions usually go as follows:

“I was born with an innate biological sexual preference for members of the same sex exclusively, and therefore it is okay for me to have sex with consenting adults of the same sex.”

“I said it because I believe your values are incorrect for various reasons and I wished to critique them.”

“I own a firearm for the protection of myself against dangerous criminals or pre-emptively, in case the government becomes tyrannical.”

Even if these answers are sincere, and even if these answers are technically correct, I will argue that offering these answers is the wrong thing to do.

Why? Because an important component of your rights is that you are entitled to act within them. You are entitled to act within them however you wish, and decisions made within the scope of your rights do not need to be justified to anyone.

To be clear, moral justification is one thing; people are entitled to moral beliefs as well, and are also entitled to live by their moral beliefs (personally). But I am not speaking about morality; I am speaking about politics. And an unfortunate byproduct of justification-based argumentation is the undermining of rights arguments.

Decriminalization of homosexual sex is the obvious example here. From a classical liberal standpoint, every individual has the right to do what they want so long as it does not involve force, fraud or coercion. This implies every individual has an unconditional right to whatever sexual activity they wish to practice with consenting adults. We could extend this argument to same-sex marriage to the extent marriage is an operationalization of the rights to contract and free association.

But the gay rights lobby did not make this blindingly obvious, classically liberal argument. Instead, a foundation of their argument was that homosexuality was an innate identity rooted in biological realities, and thus certain people simply couldn’t help but exclusively desire sex with members of the same sex.

Instead of arguing “its my right to shag any consenting adult I wish,” they argued “but I can’t help it.”

To be fair, this was a political necessity in a world which didn’t believe that individuals had an absolute right to private consensual sexual conduct. However, this style of argumentation should still be critiqued by classical liberals because it concedes too much to those who do not accept natural rights.

We see the same pattern in debates over gun rights. Restrictionists ask gun owners “why do you need a gun?” When gun owners invoke the prospect of government tyranny, being mugged, home invasion, marksmanship sports or hunting, what they implicitly concede is that they need a reason to justify owning their gun. In other words, they are conceding that they don’t really have a right to own what they own.

Let us look more at these questions demanding justification, and flip them around a little.

“You own a television. How dare you! Why?!?”

This question sounds patently absurd.

“You ate a slice of cake. How dare you! Why?!?”

Again this sounds absurd, yet if the object of consumption were suddenly changed from cake to cocaine some people would think the question becomes more reasonable.

“You went to a particular religious temple for worship services. How dare you! Why?!?”

Here, people would be very likely to make the correct response of “I have a right of religious freedom.” Not as many people would respond by saying that their religion serves their psychosocial needs or gives their lives a sense of meaning and purpose. Instead they would proudly declare that they are acting within their rights and thus dismiss the question as beneath a teleological-consequentialist answer.

I submit that demands to justify one’s guns, one’s sexual preferences (within the realm of consenting adults), or one’s nonviolent and non-coercive actions, are not always about moral justification. Rather, they are often made from the perspective that the action or possession which is being complained about is something which should not be permitted by default, and thus needs to be justified somehow. As such, the person demanding justification is acting as an opponent of the individual’s rights and should be treated accordingly. When someone demands justification of an act well within one’s rights, and not mere moral justification, they are acting on the basis of tyrannical premises and when you hear their demand you are hearing the wails of a wannabe-dictator.

If someone tells you to justify your gun, or justify keeping more of your honestly-earned income, or justify your sexual preferences, or justify your non-defamatory, non-fraudulent and non-inciteful speech, or justify your religion or lack thereof, or justify your preferred relaxant-intoxicant, don’t tell them that it’s about crime. Don’t tell them it’s about preserving incentives and providing for your family. Don’t tell them you were born this way. Don’t tell them your words are full of social, scientific or artistic value. Don’t tell them your beliefs give you a sense of purpose and meaning. Don’t tell them that you have a terrible disease and the only treatment is what you consume.

Tell them to go to hell. Because your rights are innate, they are yours by default, and you should answer to no one for exercising them. The truly radical response to demands for justification is to assert that your action needs no justification at all; you are the warrant and the sanction not merely for your own existence but for all actions within your rights. The burden of justification lies not with the actor but rather with the advocates of further restricting action. When someone asks “why should you have a gun?” the mildest reasonable response is “why shouldn’t I?”

You don’t have to justify anything.

Andrew Russell