Individual rights are principles specifying the kinds of actions required to live a fulfilling, successful life among other people. They name the things that it is proper — based on human nature — for a person in a society to be able to do. The famous statements of John Locke and the Founding Fathers identify the basic rights: life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness.
The foundation of these is the right to life, which means: it is right for you to live a full, human life.
A person lives fundamentally by his or her own judgements and actions — so it is right that you enjoy liberty.
A human cannot survive, as an animal does, in untamed nature — so it is right that you create and use property.
A full, successful, flourishing life is a happy life — so it is right that you pursue your own happiness.
Without a consistent observation of individual rights, human life is not what it can and should be. This has been the case for most of history, in which billions of people have lived and died in a world dominated by hardship, hunger, and war. It was the Declaration of Independence which first put the Rights of Man into widespread practice — and the result was a thriving society in which the pursuit of happiness has been possible to hundreds of millions.
A fuller treatment of individual rights can be found in Ayn Rand's essay Man's Rights.
Here is an excellent speech by Dr. Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights:
The Founding Fathers implemented what would become the greatest country in history using the political philosophy of John Locke and other 17th century thinkers. However, the essence of that political philosophy was that you should be free to pursue your own happiness — and this logically required an ethical theory to defend the pursuit of your own happiness as good. It did not come. As brilliant in politics as Locke and the Founding Fathers were, none of them questioned the fundamental ethical premise which still dominates today: the notion that it is morally superior to give up on one's own desires and happiness for the benefit of others, rather than to be "selfish".
The politics enshrining the individual's pursuit of happiness is incompatible with the ethics of self-sacrifice. If, in ethics, you should above all be focused on others, then, in politics, you are your brother's keeper. For this reason, the United States was moving away from the Rights of Man in earnest by the end of the 19th century, and it may soon be indistinguishable from the socialist systems of Europe — and without a free United States, there is little keeping the modern world from sliding back into the nightmare of statism and barbarism which has characterized most of world history.
Although individualism and individual rights were partially practiced in the United States, with monumental results, they were never fully understood nor morally defended. Until Ayn Rand. With the publication of Atlas Shrugged in 1957 came a complete philosophic revolution in metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, and esthetics. Ayn Rand called this philosophy Objectivism, and she provided the first rational defense of rational egoism, and subsequently of individual rights and of capitalism.
Philosophy is the most fundamental science, and so a revolution in philosophy is necessarily at odds with established intellectual and cultural trends. Objectivism, however, is founded upon the most rational elements from the history of philosophy (especially Aristotle's realization that reason is the human faculty for identifying the facts of the world via the evidence of the senses), and it perfects Locke's discovery of individual rights; thus Objectivism defends what was already implicit in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Objectivism is the philosophy of the United States — of what she was meant to be and still can be, a country where no group is more important than the individual and nothing is more sacred than the exercise of reason.
The Second American Englightment will require not the superficial and cynical arguments of partisan politics, but Ayn Rand's full identification of individual rights, as described in Atlas Shrugged, which is selling approximately 500,000 new copies per year, and identified and defended in her essays: Man's Rights, The Nature of Government, and The Objectivist Ethics.
"Capitalism is a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned." - Ayn Rand
The only way to violate your rights is to use physical force (or its indirect equivalent: fraud) against you. Voluntary relations with you do not limit your liberty; contracted trades with you involve no theft. But to use physical force against you — to injure, or threaten to injure, your body; or to control or appropriate without permission your property &mdash is to contradict the fact that we all live by the power of our own free judgement and action. To use force upon another is to evade the fact that the individual's reason is the law of human nature, and without it no human life or happiness is possible.
A capitalistic system is one in which private property is observed and personal liberty is absolute, by banishing force from all human relations.
Capitalism requires a government that is strong but entirely delimited to one purpose: the rejection of the initiation of physical force against any citizen.
A government is an institution with a monopoly on the use of force in a geographic region. Individuals form governments, properly, to delegate their own right to self-defense to an objective, lawful organization. The government should be allowed to use force, but only on behalf of the citizens' right to be free from coercion, which means: only as a response to and a rejection of any initiation of physical force.
A proper government is nothing more than the institutionalization of self-defense.
The legitimate functions of such a government are: the police, to protect individuals from criminals; the military, to protect citizens from foreign aggressors; and the courts, to objectively resolve disagreements. Read more in The Nature of Government.
Oregonians for Individual Rights (OIR) is an educational organization, started in September 2009, dedicated to locally promoting Ayn Rand's identification of and philosophic basis for individual rights. OIR's interest is in philosophic education: OIR is not affiliated with any other organization, and it is non-partisan and will not support any candidates. The OIR contact is Brad Williams, bradw2k-at-gmail.com
Until this site is more complete, please visit the following for more information about individual rights: Principles of a Free Society