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Ethical right is largely abstract; legal right is mostly concrete. Ethical right the just man wishes to be established; legal right is already established. Ethical right and legal right mutually exclude each other; where one prevails, the other cannot endure. One is founded on power, on might; the other on justice, on equality. One appeals to the sword to settle matters, the other appeals to the judgment of men. For illustration: Governments have the right to do wrong; that is, they have the power, the legal right, to do anything they choose, regardless of whether it is good or bad — and their choice is usually bad from the ethical standpoint. Governments can and do invade nations, rob the people of their property, enslave or kill the inhabitants; all in perfect accord with legal rights, but in gross violation of ethical right. Let it be understood that the right of a government is coextensive with its power; it has not the right to invade, enslave or kill the people of a stronger nation or government, for it lacks the power on which this right is based; but, having the power, it has the right to commit these acts against a weaker nation. Let us not mistake things as they are for things as they ought to be.
Charles T. Sprading (more quotes by Charles T. Sprading or books by/about Charles T. Sprading)
(1871-1959) Libertarian activist, writer
Charles T. Sprading's Introduction to Liberty and the Great Libertarians; An Anthology On Liberty; A Hand-book Of Freedom (Los Angeles: The Libertarian Publishing Company, 1913)