Of Rights and Realities

 

obama-burns-constitution-

The subject of rights is what I like to think of as a cornerstone subject.  It is the premise from which so many other arguments fall into place.  I was planning to write a post on America’s dysfunctional healthcare “system,” for instance, but that’s a topic which, in my mind, begins with the fundamental question of what our rights are.  Consequently, rather than do an inordinately lengthy post involving two equally important subjects I would like to first talk about the subject of rights.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll get onto healthcare (I know you can hardly wait).

The concept of human rights, and the rights of American citizens in particular, is something that I’ve given a great deal of thought to over the years.  I wrote an essay on the subject on my old blog back in July of 2011.  Thinking I might save myself some time and just tweak that post a bit I revisited it this morning, but upon reading it again I ultimately decided just to re-post it in its originally form even though I might have revised it somewhat if I were starting over today.  The reason I’m doing so is because the ensuing discussion in the comment section, which I am also re-printing following the essay, includes what I believe is a thought-provoking dissent and discussion between myself and a fellow blogger whom some of you may remember, DrPete.  Here it is from 2011:

~CW

 

What Makes a Right a Right?

There’s a lot of discussion over at Townhall, and I’m sure it’s the same on other conservative blogging sites, about the origin of our “rights.”  Some say our rights come from God, some say they are derived from the Constitution, some say they come from nature and some say they simply exist and are not granted or bestowed on us by anyone or anything.  In reality, none of the above is true.

What makes a right a right – what gives it value, in other words – is the mutual agreement that such a right exists and/or the ability to defend that right.

Consider a scenario in which two people are stranded on a deserted island with no expectation of being rescued.  Now suppose that the stronger of the two demands that the other work as his slave, or else he will kill him.  If the right to life and freedom were truly unalienable, then the weaker fellow need simply assert those rights and the problem would be immediately resolved, correct?  In reality though, if the stronger man does not agree to those rights and cannot be held accountable for depriving the weaker man of them, then those “rights” are meaningless and may as well not exist at all.

It is the Declaration of Independence which declares that, “…all men…are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights;” however, the mere declaration of such rights is not sufficient to establish them.  If it was, then we would also be enjoying the right to free food, housing and medical care as per the declaration of such rights by one resident leftist over at Townhall.  Anyone can declare themselves entitled to “rights,” as the Left frequently proves.  Going back now to the DOI, England did not agree that our right to liberty was “unalienable.”  We had to fight to defend it, with many learning in the process that the right to life is not so “unalienable” either.  Ultimately it was only the demonstration of our ability to defend those “rights” that preserved them for the remaining Americans.

The Constitution does not “grant” us rights; however, it does three vital things that give us the best chance for being able to exercise certain rights.  First, it defines those rights with specificity, the founders having undoubtedly understood that specificity is key to enforceability.  Next, by incorporating the Bill of Rights into the Constitution they established the presumption of mutual agreement by virtue of citizenship.  It is this presumption of assent that then makes it possible to establish a means to defend those rights by way of due process and our justice system.  Brilliant?  That’s up to each of us to judge, but what it says to me is the founders astutely understood the intangible and precarious nature of “rights” and the problems associated with both guaranteeing and not guaranteeing them.

Ultimately our “rights” are only as good as our ability to enforce them.  Keep that in mind whenever someone presumes to declare what their rights are.

Posted by CW

 

DrPete:

Oh geeez, there’s such a love fest here. Why do I wanna rain on a parade with everyone so in step with each other?  That a right isn’t a right unless you are powerful enough or have bigger weapons for self-defense is nonsequitur. Though a misuse of the phrase, might does NOT make right.

I guess our government has a right to hand us unfunded liabilities of $120 trillion, current debt of $14+ tril, and deficit exceeding $100 bil per month. Why? They/ve done it and we weren’t powerful enough to stop them. They have the tanks and the nukes.

The Bill of Rights does NOT specify our rights. It provides civic examples of them. For example, the 2nd amendment affirms our unalienable right to liberty and to self-defense of our unalienable rights.

Because I have an unalienable right to life, doesn’t NOT mean that I’m impenitrable. Someone who murders me violates my right to life, and THAT is why murder is a crime.

 

CW:

Actually, drpete, although I’d been mulling over this subject for some time, it was something you said that finally inspired this post. You said something about having the right to abuse your dog if you like, because of your inalienable right to property (I’m paraphrasing so please correct me if I got that wrong). This was a bit puzzling to me, since most local governments have laws against abusing animals and hey, didn’t Michael Vick spend a couple of years in prison for abusing his dogs? How can that be, I wondered, if we have “the right” to treat animals as we please? I considered debating the issue with you but ultimately I figured, what was the point? All declarations aside, you can’t enforce your “right” to abuse animals, and the reason you can’t enforce it is because society won’t let you. So what does that say about your “right” to abuse your dog? If it’s a right, it’s a worthless one. That’s why the premise of this post was to understand what gives a right VALUE. That understanding, IMO, is of greater consequence than any one individual declaring what his rights are because, as you know, 10 different people will give 10 different lists if they’re asked to list their rights.

>>”Someone who murders me violates my right to life, and THAT is why murder is a crime.”

What about those countries where men can legally murder their wives or daughters? If it’s not a crime, does that mean those women and girls don’t have a right to life?   While I agree in principle that people have the right to live, I would say that murder is a crime here because citizens have come to a mutual agreement that it will not be tolerated and society has enforced its will by creating and enforcing laws against it.

 

DrPete:

I am more convinced now, CW, that our disagreement is semantic. If some people have government pass and enforce law infringing on my unalienable (from the Creator) right to liberty, I contend that such a right still exists, but is being illegally infringed. You say that, since the right is no longer exercisable, it doesn’t exist.

Am I correct, then, that while I’ll fight to the end to impeach the progressive plunderers, you’ll merely say “c’est la vie”?

 

CW:

Yes, drpete, I think semantics is definitely a factor in our disagreement.

>>”You say that, since the right is no longer exercisable, it doesn’t exist.”

I wouldn’t say that they don’t exist, in part because I can’t say that they ever existed in the first place. I would say that if you cannot exercise a “right,” it becomes meaningless.

>>”Am I correct, then, that while I’ll fight to the end to impeach the progressive plunderers, you’ll merely say “c’est la vie”?”

No, that’s not correct. A right BEGINS with our belief that we are entitled to certain things, and when we declare something to be our right we are essentially asserting that we intend to fight for that entitlement. That’s what the authors of the Declaration of Independence were doing when they wrote that document. They were notifying England and anyone else of concern what they were prepared to fight for. It was, essentially, their line in the sand.

Like everyone else, I believe there are certain things in life I am entitled to, including life, liberty and property, and I am willing to sacrifice and fight for those things. But my declaration of these entitlements does not guarantee that others will agree with me and honor my right to them. This is why the Constitution, to the extent that we are able to uphold it, is so vital. As the Law of the Land it provides the assumption of mutual agreement and the mechanism of defense that give our rights significance.

 

DrPete:

I think, CW, that the Founders DEDUCED that humans must be born with certain rights, that human life made no sense without these rights having been endowed. They were certainly also aware that in the entire history of humankind, those rights had been infringed and plundered by despots of one or another stripe.

These men set out to forge America as the first place in history to respect, protect, and defend those rights. I agree with their thinking processes, their deductions, and their conclusions. And I’d like to help restore their vision.

 

CW:

I think you’re right, drpete, but in the end they were merely men and their deductions were merely their opinions, just like you and I (except that I’m not a man, but you get what I mean). I agree they showed enormous wisdom and I, too, would like to see it restored, but this brings us back to the eternal struggle – what gives us the “right” to do so if others disagree with that vision? I would say that, to the extent we have the “right” it’s because the Constitution is still the Law of the Land and mutual agreement is implicit; but enforcing it is a whole other ball of wax.

In your last post you talked about marching on Washington to physically remove those people that you perceive to be illegally messing with the Constitution, and restoring the founders’ vision via your own “benevolent dictatorship.” Doesn’t that sort of smack of the “might makes right” which you chided me for? That’s not meant to be any sort of gotcha. I’m sincerely interested in what you see as the difference.

 

DrPete:

Might, CW, doesn’t MAKE right, but self-defense with force as necessary to protect and defend life, liberty and property is an unalienable (from the Creator) right with which each of us is endowed. It is THAT — self-defense — that We the People empowered our federal government, the authority and duty to do collectively what each of us had the right to do individually.

Now that the federal government has overstepped its authority (by in my estimation fourfold) and plundered, rather than defended, individual liberty, it is the right of each and all of us to UNDO that.

As aside, it scares me that the federal government is not only the enemy of the people, but it out “guns” us by a cubic pantload.

 

DrPete:

I want to disagree, CW, with your contention that the Founders’ “deductions were merely their opinions . . . ” The conclusions they drew from reasonable premises and deductive reasoning, it seems to me logically follow.

Humans have intelligence both different from and superior to other animals and all plantlife. They are capable of planning and organizing, of inventing, of agriculture and manufacturing, of choosing and behaving as they choose. Choices have consequences. Behaviors have consequences. Humans are capable of living and surviving, indeed thriving, sans cooperation or assistance.

They must be free to choose or they cannot help in their own survival. Their first property is themselves. The taking of a human life is totally unnecessary for a human to survive and thrive. The right to control one’s own property, oneself, is. Etc. Etc.

Such thinking isn’t just opinion. It’s logic. It’s rational. It’s the opposite of progressivism which is mindless feeling.

 

CW:

drpete:  I agree with you that it’s logical and rational, but so what? That’s merely my opinion, agreeing with your opinion which agrees with the Founders’ opinions. To the extent that you can persuade people with that reasoning, that’s great.

A liberal I used to argue with once said that the right to life means we also have the right to food, housing and employment because life cannot be sustained without these things. That, to him, seemed perfectly logical, therefore HE was right. You see?

The only thing we have going for us right now is the Constitution, because (at the risk of being obnoxiously repetitive) it is still the Law of the Land and it still contains the assumption of mutual agreement that existed at the time of the founding, and which is the only way, IMO, to enforce our “rights” (other than by physical confrontation, and the odds, as you point out, are against us). Granted, the Constitution is hanging by a thread…

 

DrPete:

Your arguing here, CW, reminds me, sorry, — Oh don’t go there, Pete, don’t — of my wife. “It’s just YOUR opinion. Others have THEIR opinions. Doesn’t make you right.”

There ARE facts. And 2+2=4, regardless of someone’s opinion. I have a pantload of facts to support my premises that humans have assets that other animals don’t and that plants don’t. Once there, reasonable premises added to facts yield logical and supportable and verifiable conclusions. Data and observation prove those with contradictory opinions WRONG.

I knew I shoulda quit while I was only slightly behind.

 

CW:

It’s obvious, drpete, that your wife is an intelligent woman (she chose you, didn’t she?).  If facts and logic ruled the day, we wouldn’t have a leftist in the Whitehouse.

I rest my case. 🙂

 

November 15, 2016, epilog:

The subject of what determines rights, along with many other subjects, churns in my head continuously and refines itself as – I like to think – I refine myself.  If I were to start over and write that post today I would change the last sentence of my first paragraph which said, “In reality, none of the above is true.”  Instead, I would say, our belief in where our rights originate doesn’t necessarily matter except to ourselves, or except to the extent that we are able to persuade others of our logic or righteousness.  I stand by my contention that what gives a right value is our willingness to assert and fight for that right as well as our ability to defend and exercise it.

civil-and-political-rights

natural-and-legal-rights

 

In this country and around the world we are constantly seeing epic struggles over the question of rights.  Today, groups like Black Lives Matter and other leftist organizations are increasingly trying to assert “rights” not found in the Constitution through violence, force and intimidation.  Any failure on the part of our ostensibly representative government to fight back with equal force, as has certainly been the case under the current leftwing regime, is akin to recognizing their claims. We can take some comfort in knowing that these movements have come and gone in the past and establishing rights by violence and hissy fits has been rejected by virtue of the voters directing a change in control of government, but the peace generally comes with some unwritten bargain that nudges that line in the sand to give more room to the would-be anarchists and less to those of us who still support the Constitution as originally intended.  The election of Donald Trump – and rejection of Hillary Clinton – is one side’s way of telling the other side that they have once again gone too far.  The question now is, where will Trump & Co. reset the line?

 

~CW

 



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9 replies

  1. I do not think a right is something that can be bought, especially through the government. I have the right to bear arms, but that does not mean the government should buy me a gun if I cannot afford one. I am all for helping people who are down on their luck but are willing to help themselves. However I do not think that is the government’s job. That is the job of charities. Charitable giving and receiving are not rights. It is just good human nature – neighbors and family have been helping members for centuries. Government welfare takes away people’s right to choose. I cannot choose where my tax money goes. I cannot pick a family that I want to help when I have less money. My money goes where the government wants it to go and I get no say. Because of my tax burden, I have less money to use as I please to help friends or family members in need. Even if government money is used to help one of my friends or family members, only 30 cents on the dollar reaches them. This is a pyramid scheme, not a right. Healthcare is not a right. How is something I am being forced to buy or accept a penalty a right. How is housing a right if the person getting housing credits destroys the house because they do not care since they do not own it. If it were a right why wouldn’t the person take care of the home. How is food a right if someone can choose to spend the money on a lap dance or marijuana. How are free meals a right at a church when most of those accepting them talk badly about the church and its members. A right shouldn’t be an either or proposition.

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    • Very well said, Patrick.

      You make a great point when you say, “I cannot pick a family that I want to help when I have less money. My money goes where the government wants it to go…” In charity as in everything else, the government deprives us of our proper roles as careful consumers. We see what the results of such foolishness leads to.

      Also, good post on why Clinton lost! Looking forward to part ll.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Like

  2. Great debate, folks, and bringing out excellent points. The unfortunate thing is that you’ll seldom find this particular issue discussed on leftist sites since they embrace the concept of “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine” rather than why the founders were wise enough to anticipate how human nature would try to circumvent society’s rules.

    I think, as pointed out, that the seminal question is exactly how a “right” is defined – what separates a “right” from a “want” and that is (I think) covered quite nicely by your statement that “What makes a right a right – what gives it value, in other words – is the mutual agreement that such a right exists and/or the ability to defend that right.” In other words, mutual agreement coupled with enforcement. One without the other won’t result in a peaceful society. BTW, I think that the “and/or” ought to be revised to be simply “and.”

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    • Thanks, Garnet.

      The reason I say mutual agreement and/or the ability to defend is that if there’s mutual agreement about rights there’s no need to defend them and if you can successfully defend them you don’t need mutual agreement but in an ideal world you would have both.

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  3. “Liberty must at all hazards be supported. We have a right to it, derived from our Maker. But if we had not, our fathers have earned and bought it for us, at the expense of their ease, their estates, their pleasure, and their blood.” – John Adams, 1765

    Our Founders gave credit to God for those rights, but ultimately they were the ones to determine what our rights are, and they did that based on the way England was ruled at the time.

    This may be a bit simplistic, but basically our rights is a list of things that they agreed on that wouldn’t be tolerated from the government in the new country. Instead of dubbing it our rights, they could have called it the list of limits or restraints. They were saying here’s what the government can’t do and the people can, and we’re willing to fight to keep it this way.

    As you said, it’s the line in the sand and that’s what gives it value. Unfortunately, complacency in the people and the lust for more power by those in charge of the government has obliterated that line.

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    • Great comment, Kathy.

      You hit the nail on the head when you talked about complacency by the people. We take our rights for granted, failing to understand that the slightest lapse in vigorous defense of our rights is an open invitation to those who are waiting to usurp them. We understand the threat when people come bearing guns and swords and with unabashed force, like ISIS, but we don’t see the threat in the three-pieced suit or designer pantsuit. We dodged a bullet (for the moment) with a win by Trump, but that was as accidental as the guy who evades getting shot because he happened to bend down to tie his shoes at just the right moment. The threat still looms large.

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  4. “What makes a right a right – what gives it value, in other words – is the mutual agreement that such a right exists and/or the ability to defend that right.”

    I agree 100%, and think you captured completely the essence of the issue.

    Any society is a social construct with a social contract. Some members of that society give up some of their liberties in order to enjoy some benefits that can only be achieved through some collective effort of the group as a whole.

    We do have examples of societies with no restrictions on individual liberty, and Somalia’s probably a good example. Because any society with no rules at all that restrict individual action is essentially anarchy. Complete freedom, but also complete risk. It invariably ends up in a big game of King of the Hill, with the strongest ultimately imposing a tyrannical rule.

    This goes to the basic human nature of mankind. Homo sapiens is by nature a social/tribal animal, just like elephants are. We naturally construct some kind of social structure with a hierarchy. That’s simply unavoidable; it’s in our nature. We’re not solitary animals like cheetahs. Therefore we can’t have complete individual freedom. That goes against our nature. We’re naturally going to congregate into some form of group, and once that happens rules are going to have to be imposed.

    So once we recognize the human nature aspect of the equation, that social structures are unavoidable, we then have to try to adapt them into organizations which still allow the most individual freedom of action. As Thoreau put it, “that government is best which governs least”.

    The Founders realized all of this and so devised the Constitution, which recognizes the need for rules, but tries to limit the power of the group to devise and impose those rules.

    Of course, the danger always exists that human nature will again express itself and pervert the Constitution, and of course that’s exactly what we’re seeing happen in today’s political reality. I think the Tytler Cycle expresses the issue best:

    “A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.

    “The average age of the world’s greatest civilisations from the beginning of history has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence: From bondage to spiritual faith; From spiritual faith to great courage; From courage to liberty; From liberty to abundance; From abundance to selfishness; From selfishness to complacency; From complacency to apathy; From apathy to dependence; From dependence back into bondage.”

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    • Thanks for that outstanding comment, Brian.

      >>”A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury.”

      That goes right to the heart of the rights question addressed in my post because the point at which voters discover they can vote themselves gifts from the public treasury is also the point at which they cease to agree (by virtue of their actions) on what rights people have to their own property. A person who continues to acknowledge and respect another person’s right to his own money does not then presume to help himself to that money just because he has the strength in numbers to do so. That’s one reason that the election of socialist politicians is so alarming. It signals the shifting attitude amongst our co-citizens about what our rights are, and what they now believe themselves entitled to. Those who are thieves and thugs at heart exist at all times in every society, but they are emboldened when their enablers are put in charge.

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