What are rights? How do we define them? The concept of a right in today’s power driven, power grabbing political class is a flexible concept that they can use to buy your vote. But, if they can reclassify what is a right and then give them away for votes… Yes, that is cynical, think deeply on that as we proceed and see if you don’t feel used by the end. We must get back to the founding principles of a constrained government that protects our freedoms and liberties. A government that keeps others from infringing on our rights. The rights we hold that are not granted to us by any government or ruler.
The start of paragraph 2 of the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
Unalienable Rights – Separate and equal station entitled by the laws of nature. Those are very powerful statements. It is a lot of responsibility for us to hold and maintain those rights, that station. But, they are ours to lose. The only guard is our vigilance to this concept and our demand to keep and have our rights protected, something we only gain through self-responsibility, self-governance. Remember, the original constitution did not have a bill of rights, The first 10 amendments added after ratification. The founders did not want to enumerate our rights and make it seem like they were given to us from our government. If you read the first 10 amendments, they are really a refined set of restrictions on congress to protect specific rights we already had. Well done really.
So, what is a Right?
To find a definition I had to search a lot of places. A great start is John Locke. His two treatises on government in 1690 were the basis for a lot of the founders thinking on liberty, rights, limited government and even wording in the Declaration of Independence. It is worth a read and study on John Locke and Thomas Hobbes. Some great philosophical thinkers from the Enlightment. Side note:
John Locke expressed the radical view that government is morally obliged to serve people, namely by protecting life, liberty, and property. He explained the principle of checks and balances to limit government power. He favored representative government and a rule of law.
Definition of Unalienable Right:
Things which are not in commerce, [such] as public roads, are in their nature unalienable. Some things are unalienable, in consequence of particular provisions in the law forbidding their sale or transfer, as pensions granted by the government. The natural rights of life and liberty are UNALIENABLE. – Bouviers Law Dictionary 1856 Edition
John Locke wrote:
“Reason, which is that Law, teaches all Mankind, who would but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his Life, Health, Liberty, or Possessions… A Liberty to follow my own Will in all things, where the Rule prescribes not; and not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, Arbitrary Will of another Man.”
Rights are mutually exclusive, my right to life does not infringe on your right to life. My right to my opinion and free expression does not infringe on your right to do so. Note, that is slightly more refined than the simplistic free speech. There are things I can say that begin to infringe on your rights, your safety, your protection and as a civil society we can make laws to limit harmful speech. But, we must be very careful where we draw that line. We do not have a right to NOT be offended. Trying to protect that right would certainly infringe on others rights. Policing thoughts and speech becomes a dangerous precedence. If you want the right to free speech you must defend another’s right to speak their mind even if you do not like hearing what they have to say. That is real liberty and freedom. That is what it takes to defend your own rights.
A definition of Civil and Political rights:
A class of rights that protect individuals’ freedom from infringement by governments, social organizations, and private individuals, and which ensure one’s ability to participate in the civil and political life of the society and state without discrimination or repression.
Personally I would change that definition to Civil Rights protection laws. A class of laws that protect an individuals’ rights and freedom… … Right to pursue happiness.
So, do I have a right to health care? Or a right to affordable healthcare? I do not see a way to enforce/protect that right without infringing on another’s right. Someone else would need to pay for or provide that healthcare. I am under no obligation by even natural law to provide that service or “right” to another person. Do not confuse that with a moral obligation or the “right thing to do”, to help my neighbor. But, I should be able to help my neighbor under my own free will. By choice, not by force. Do not confuse what is right with a right. We all have different opinions of what is right and we are free to have those opinions, but there is really no question on the unalienable rights. Forced morality and charity is not compassion. I also believe it breaks the laws of nature, has consequences and begins to erode our rights, not protect them.
I do have a right to pursue happiness (not be given, but to acquire by my own doing); vocation, property, find and procure reasonably priced healthcare from people willing to create that contract with me. That is a right. One me must honor and protect. That is the market. Remember the definition above, a right are things that are not in commerce. Things that cannot be sold or transferred. Let’s not confuse the market, the freedom of the market, the freedom to pursue, contract law and the guarantee of equal protection of the law by due process, with rights. By the way, like Locke, I believe we only have the guarantee of equal protection, due process and the rule of law because we agree to not infringe on another’s rights as a society. That agreement is aligned with natural law and the ramifications of not honoring natural law. As the Declaration of Independence says:
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed
We gave up some of our rights and powers (infringed on ourselves) to give our government power and due process to protect our life, liberty and property, our right to pursue our needs, our happiness.
Rights are ours to lose. Use them wisely and responsibly. Do not water them down by declaring everything a right in a selfish endeavor, or as a way to gain power, force others to do right. If I have a right to food, housing, education, healthcare, etc… I am infringing on others rights to liberty, property and their own pursuit while they provide those “rights.” I am diluting and eroding my own rights. I must now support others through the “Arbitrary Will of another Man.” If we are Separate and equal in station, individual and equal, we must protect our rights and not infringe on another’s. We must not vote for the politician that will promise us something at the expense of others, claiming it is a right! Individual rights are the greatest promise. The individual is the greatest minority that must be protected.