Reading the comments in my posts, and those in other posts on this same subject, I see that people simply refuse to accept the truth of what a right is and is not. Instead, they cling to their claim that a right is whatever they want it to be without ever stopping to consider the ramifications of their claim – even for themselves. The truth is, if you have to force someone to do something, then whatever you claim as a right is not a right. I have already tried to explain this in my post, Rights Bubbles: the Origin of Universal Morality, but it would seem I need to try to make the point even more clear than I thought I had already made it.
The first principle we need to establish in defining rights is that a right is something to which you have a claim as an inherent part of your being. I start from free will and extrapolate a fuller definition from there. You can read that extrapolation under the header, “Natural Law,” at the top of this page. But, to keep it simple, a right is something you are born with and can exercise entirely on your own. I like to use the example of a deserted island. If you were stranded on an island with no other people, then everything you can do on that island is a Natural Right.
The second principle of a right is that you cannot harm anyone by exercising that right. This means you cannot force a person to do something against their will; you cannot cause physical harm to a person’s body; and you cannot cause harm to certain types of property – mainly that property to which a person has a Natural Right as an extension of their will and labor and which is necessary to their survival. It must be noted that this does not necessarily include property that is created through the Social Contract, such as intellectual property, corporations and real estate. These types of property do not exist in the State of Nature, and thus, are not Natural Rights.
Now, notice what does not fall under the terms of this definition. We will not find a ‘right’ to not be offended. This is because there is no way to avoid offending people. We are emotional creatures and what may not offend us today may well offend us tomorrow. We are also different, and what may offend me may not offend you. So, how can we legislate something that is so subjective? We can’t, and this is one of the reasons that there is no Natural Right not to be offended. On top of this, we must look at the conflicts we create when we try to violate Natural Law by trying to legislate ‘offensiveness.’ You may think this post is offensive and demand a law against my Natural Right to freedom of expression. In that case, you have violated my Natural Rights. Or I may be offended by your wealth and seek to use government force to limit how much you can own. If I do that, then I have trampled your Natural Rights to exercise your free will, labor and to own Natural Property. This same process extends to things such as bigotry, religion, etc. If you have to force someone to do or not do something where they are not causing you real harm, then they are not the one causing you harm, but you are the one who is trampling the rights of another.
The real issue here is what Obama likes to call ‘positive rights.’ He laments that our founders enforced ‘negative rights’ and did not establish these ‘positive rights.’ This is because the founders were seeking to preserve liberty for others, whereas Obama is seeking to establish control over others. But you have to understand the words Obama uses to understand why this is true.
Our founders established ‘negative rights’ in the form of prohibitions on the government. They did this by telling the government what it could not — ever — do. This was to protect the people from the government doing what it has been doing to us now for nearly a century: forcing us to do its will at the expense of our Natural Rights. But Obama likes this. He calls it ‘positive rights,’ or, things the government must do for you. Only, where Obama says it is ‘for you,’ it is — in reality — to you!
Obama would say the government has a duty to provide a ‘positive right’ of a minimum income. The problem with this is that, to do such a thing, someone has to pay for that income. This requires that they be forced to give up their property for another. Argue this point however you wish, but when you force one person to work against their will for the benefit of another, that is slavery. There are many such examples of what Obama calls ‘positive rights.’ For the most part, they make up what we know as the Progressive agenda, but which is better known as the Socialist ideal. This is why Socialism is an enemy of Natural Law: because it requires government to force a minority of people to work for the benefit of the majority. So, how is it that, if we do this same thing on the basis of skin color, this entire nation gets up in arms. But if we do it based on how much money someone has, then we declare it to be ‘social justice?’ The principle is the same: we are forcing someone to work for us against their will. In truth, the only difference is we are the benefactor.
Funny how right and wrong get so mixed up when our personal gain is involved, isn’t it? Well, that is exactly why so many people no longer understand the difference between a right and a privilege/entitlement. It is also why they do not understand right and wrong. All they see is me, me, me, and where ‘me’ is concerned, whatever they want suddenly becomes the right thing and a ‘right’ — that is, until they encounter someone with more power who wants to impose their will on them. When that happens, when things get reversed, what was OK when they did it to someone else suddenly becomes wrong, and for no other reason than it is now being done to them. But then, this is the mess we make when we try to legislate the PC agenda on society. It creates lawlessness because it destroys Natural Law.
However, when we try to govern ourselves according to the principles of Natural Law, we do not have these problems. For example: I am gay and I want to have a cake made for my wedding, but the first baker I choose does not want to serve me. Under lawlessness, I go to the government and force my will on the baker. I do not have a right to do this, I just happen to have the support to force it on the poor baker and I do not have a conscience enough to care what I do to them. In effect, I am a modern-day slave owner: I can always justify my actions. On the other hand, if I try to live according to the principles of Natural Law, when the baker tells me they do not want to serve me, I say thanks for your time and go to the next baker. I do this until I do find a baker who will serve me. In this case, I get what I want and no one is forced to work for me against their will — and society is better for it all the way around. But in this me, me, me environment we live today, this is not the way we live. No, whatever we want is our ‘right,’ and the government needs to give us our ‘positive rights’ — even if it means enslaving another to make it happen. That’s OK — so long as we do not enslave a politically protected class of people, that is.
4 thoughts on “More on ‘Rights’”
I truly believe the fundamental difference between those that understand GOD-given rights and man created rights and those who cannot, is the WORD of GOD, i.e.: the Standard on which all of America’s morals are based. Those people who ca not identify between right and wrong have no wisdom because they do not honor GOD anywhere in their heart(s). They are spiritually blind .. their hearts have been seared with a hot iron (by GOD). They will not ever understand that unalienable rights are given by GOD and not man. “This is the generation that knoweth not GOD…” “They do not want to retain GOD in their knowledge..” This is the line in the sand …
I do not disagree with you, my friend. But we are still called to spread the Gospel until the very end — so that we may be found doing our Master’s work when He returns.
Thanks so much Joe for spelling this out. Sadly, too few understand morality, which is surprising given how simple the rules are.
Rights are best defined in the apophatic sense, that is by defining what you cannot do. Spell out the wrongs (as defined by God), and then everything else is a right. Our rights are infinite, provided our actions cause no harm to the person or property of another, so listing out the ‘positive rights’ is an exercise in futility. Listing the wrongs is both simple, and a concise statement of God’s Law. Do No Harm.
A slightly stronger statement is through the principle called the “Golden Rule” – treat others as well as (or better than) you would yourself. If everyone followed that one simple rule, you would always be in compliance with Natural Law (never commiting a wrong), and Freedom would be the result.
I wish I could have said it as well, and as succinctly as you just did. Thank you.