Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What are rights?

Our nation is one founded in, and centered in, the existence of rights. But what are rights? How do they express themselves? The exploration of this topic, is, and must be, an exploration of history, human philosophy, and morality. Each person has his or her own interpretation of rights, therefore, to explore this thinking, we must look at the people's own ideals of rights.

The first question to explore is what one is meaning by saying 'rights'. In our imprecise, and often variable language, phonemic shifts create different meanings often from the same word. We hear about our civil rights, and our human rights, but these words mean little without an exploration of the core term.

Rights, by their nature, are difficult to quantify, they're almost as difficult to conceptualize. The works of John Locke, Blackstone, and many others must be perused, and the interpretation of those works by the various common law courts over the centuries. It is the concept of rights, and right, that give us the system of laws that exist worldwide. The expressions, and experiences of those laws are different, but it requries a 'right' in the minds of the creators to make the very law itself.

Rights is simplest explained as a plural of 'right'. But what is a right? This leads us back to the same conundrum we started with. It is a circular definition, a definition that defines itself. We, as a people, find ourselves hanging with the Sword of Damoclese suspended over us.

To start with, there are individual rights, and collective rights. Individual rights are permissive, collective rights are prohibitive, by nature. In explanation, collective rights are the myriad shift between people exercising individual rights, and setting limitations on those individual rights by force of law. The Locke approach was one of reason, an approach of logic. To quote:

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.”

But what is liberty? To quote an online dictionary:


n. pl. lib·er·ties


a. The condition of being free from restriction or control.

b. The right and power to act, believe, or express oneself in a manner of one's own choosing.

c. The condition of being physically and legally free from confinement, servitude, or forced labor. See Synonyms at freedom.

2. Freedom from unjust or undue governmental control.

3. A right or immunity to engage in certain actions without control or interference: the liberties protected by the Bill of Rights.


at liberty

1. Not in confinement or under constraint; free.

2. Not employed, occupied, or in use.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common Defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the blessings of Liberty for ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The Locke view was that the people were sovereign, rather than the government, that the people established power, and that power was ceded to the government, and could be returned ot the hands of the people. The Locke view also involved an explicit right of revolution, a right with which to trump tyrannical government.

whenever the Legislators endeavor to take away, and destroy the Property of the People, or to reduce them to Slavery under Arbitrary Power, they put themselves into a state of War with the People, who are thereupon absolved from any farther Obedience, and are left to the common Refuge, which God hath provided for all Men, against Force and Violence. Whensoever therefore the Legislative shall transgress this fundamental Rule of Society; and either by Ambition, Fear, Folly or Corruption, endeavor to grasp themselves, or put into the hands of any other an Absolute Power over the Lives, Liberties, and Estates of the People; By this breach of Trust they forfeit the Power, the People had put into their hands, for quite contrary ends, and it devolves to the People, who have a Right to resume their original Liberty.”

John Locke had a very strong influence on the nature as well as the principles behind the Declaration of Independence, and the Articles of Confederation. He further had even stronger influences as the Several States under the Articles of Confederation formed the new Constitution.

With great irony, John Locke was also absolutely against public schooling, and strongly encouraged the parents to home school their children, and to instill there, in them, the strongest love of liberty and respect for the people themselves, as the public schooling system, under governmental control, was the surest tool to educate people into the acceptance of tyranny.

Let us examine, for instance, our 'Bill of Rights'. The first amendment has been expounded upon strongly, the freedom of the press (not the news services, but the press itself, the freedom to print and publish whatever is wished, so long as it not be libelous or malicious) the freedom of speech (so long as it not be slanderous or malicious) and the freedom of religion.

The second amendment was to guard the first and all others. With the potential of the creation of a standing military (a system by which the Government had long exercised total control of the people) the founding fathers wished to prevent the power of the Government from exceeding that of the people, and many state governments already had this provision, due to that individual power. It was recognized that these rights, according to the Boston Journal of the Times:

Instances of the licentious and outrageous behavior of the military conservators of the peace still multiply upon us, some of which are of such nature, and have been carried to such lengths, as must serve fully to evince that a late vote of this town, calling upon its inhabitants to provide themselves with arms for their defense, was a measure as prudent as it was legal: such violences are always to be apprehended from military troops, when quartered in the body of a populous city; but more especially so, when they are led to believe that they are become necessary to awe a spirit of rebellion, injuriously said to be existing therein. It is a natural right which the people have reserved to themselves, confirmed by the Bill of Rights, to keep arms for their own defence; and as Mr. Blackstone observes, it is to be made use of when the sanctions of society and law are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression.

John Adams, indeed, was a defense attorney for the British soldiers on trial for the Boston Massacre, stating:

Here every private person is authorized to arm himself, and on the strength of this authority, I do not deny the inhabitants had a right to arm themselves at that time, for their defense, not for offence.

Noah Webster:

Another source of power in government is a military force. But this, to be efficient, must be superior to any force that exists among the people, or which they can command; for otherwise this force would be annihilated, on the first exercise of acts of oppression. Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretence, raised in the United States.

Our rights are simple things... the right to property, the right to life, the right to health, the right to liberty, and the right to property.

To guard our property, to guard our lives, to guard our health, the right to self-defense ensues. To guard our families, that self-defense permeates outward, to guard our nation, and our world. The rights of others to not be imposed upon by our rights limits those very rights. The right to health was not a right to health care, but a right to pursue the dictates of our health as we saw fit, including, should we be so inclined, to choose not to treat our own bodies, and to die without that treatment. The right to property was the right to ownership of the works of our hands, or the lands to which we had title and deed.

It is a conundrum, a problem of epic proportions, when the rights of any individual, or any society, are valued over the rights of any other individual or society. When such a situation exists, it is inevitable that the privileged society will crush those under them. It is an open invitation to slavery and tyranny to allow any people, any government, to limit the rights of others, for when those rights are limited by law, they will limit all rights, and ultimately all liberties. The very few who stand in the positions of power will end up with the power that was ceded from the people.

But can a law limit rights? Can any law trample upon the liberties of man? Has any law such authority, such power, as to limit the rights and commitant liberties of man? What is a 'due burden'? Whilst the payment of taxes is needful for the community, state, and the continuance of government, what is the burdens that are truly due?

Read well what was written by Patrick Henry, so long ago, about the congress and public liberty:

Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect every one who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined. … O sir, we should have fine times, indeed, if, to punish tyrants, it were only sufficient to assemble the people! Your arms, wherewith you could defend yourselves, are gone; … Did you ever read of any revolution in a nation, brought about by the punishment of those in power, inflicted by those who had no power at all? … Will your mace-bearer be a match for a disciplined regiment?

Measure yourselves carefully with that sentiment.

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