A lot is said about rights. Not all everything called rights have anything to do with what essential rights are. If one were to get down to the root of the matter – rights are first and foremost unalienable, inherent, part and parcel of your very being. If at any moment the idea is accepted that rights are anything but unalienable, part of your very existence, then what you think you have is no longer a right but a decree, edict, endowment or some specific benefit bestowed by some higher authority, usually some form of government or ruler.
In the first case, your rights are the basis of law; in the latter, law and government define your rights. Further, if rights are inherent, unalienable then no person, entity or governing body can be said to have jurisdiction over your rights. This is because the rights of every individual emanate from each and every individual’s very existence; this bundle of rights exist a priori, proceeding any law or government.
This is precisely what was meant by that portion of the Declaration of Independence which reads:
“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.”
Frédéric Bastiat in “The Law” says it this way:
We hold from God the gift which includes all others. This gift is life—physical, intellectual, and moral life.
But life cannot maintain itself alone. The Creator of life has entrusted us with the responsibility of preserving, developing, and perfecting it. In order that we may accomplish this, He has provided us with a collection of marvelous faculties. And He has put us in the midst of a variety of natural resources. By the application of our faculties to these natural resources we convert them into products, and use them. This process is necessary in order that life may run its appointed course.
Life, faculties, production–in other words, individuality, liberty, property—this is man. And in spite of the cunning of artful political leaders, these three gifts from God precede all human legislation, and are superior to it.
Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.¹
This cannot be understated: whether you believe in a God or not, if your rights begin with a governing entity they also end with that governing body. Pause and roll that around in your mind. If this is true, what ever you think you own, you do not possess unalterable, unalienable, inherent rights. What you would have were little more than someone giving you at their discretion what they deem you should have. Their presumption is that they have the right and therefore the authority to decree as they see fit. How do they have such authority? Did you give it to them? By what right do they claim such power? Birth? Privilege? A superior intellect? Some high moral character that sets them apart and above the rest of humanity? Or is it mere political power?
Why would anyone base their life, their support for government on such a ridiculousness notion and not expect to be abused? If what you cling to as “rights” under this scenario can be dismissed at the whim and leisure of a ruling individual or group, then rights do not exist; only authority and political power. If rights are believed to be endowed by authority, and not inherent, unalienable, then political structure doesn’t matter – it can be a true dictatorship, an oligarchy or a democracy (which is little more than soft tyranny of the majority).
Are you comfortable with the idea that what you believe you have as rights is nothing more than what another deems it to be? Or does it make more sense that rights are truly part and parcel of your being and the being of every individual? If these essential rights are inherently yours, then they are not and cannot be given to you.
In which case do you truly have rights and in which are rights an illusion?
No one can give you what is already yours: Life, Liberty, Property. Everything else grows out of this basic concept. Rights either are inherent and unalienable or law is based upon who rules at the time. The choice should be obvious.
This may seem ridiculous to cover, but so many assumptions have glossed over the basic concepts and observations of our own humanity and our relationships, they have to be mentioned. These are what make a truly free society possible,. Precisely because these are presumptive they are often overlooked and forgotten.
So what happens when the co-equal and inalienable rights of two individuals cross paths? Shall one merely use force to take what they want or need from the other? Or shall a mutually agreeable exchange be made to the basic satisfaction of both parties? Which of these choices would be the more civil and respectful? Which action represents freedom and tolerance?
¹ The Law by Frédéric Bastiat (all free) 75 quick pages……
No One Can Give You What is Already Yours is the first in the “How Big a Life Do You Want?” series.