|15A025 The Source of Rights by Jim Davies, 4/7/2015
It's just a year since the owner of Strike the Root declined to expel from his web site a writer who had emphasized his belief that none of us have any rights. Since that belief is central to the Communist position, I distanced myself from that otherwise fine site.
"Right" is just a word, but it represents something vitally important and I know of no better one to describe the idea that we human beings have a natural entitlement to own and operate our own lives. That self-ownership right is the one from which all others (the rights to speak freely, to own property, to make choices...) derive. But a fair question is, what is its source? From where does it come?
Theists assert that it comes from a Creator, and on that theory we must note first that it comes with strings. The right of self ownership is, in that case, not absolute. It's limited, and conditional. Ultimately we are God's property, but hold our lives in a kind of trust from Him. The Conservative broadcaster Rush Limbaugh often uses a phrase for that: he claims to have certain talents "on loan from God."
Much worse, however: on that theory, for the right to be valid, the existence of a creator must be certain; the one depends wholly on the other. Yet the existence of God is very far from certain. In fact, to my knowledge the term "God" has never even been defined, and no proof of existence is possible for an entity incapable of definition. This entity cannot be detected by any of our five senses - touch, hearing, smell, sight or taste - yet is said to have brought the whole universe into being out of nothing. That is all a hornbook example of "myth." Even their own holy books give no proof or evidence of its truth; they just assert it, as a dogma to be accepted on pain of eternal damnation.
If human rights depended on such a flimsy foundation, they would be equally fictitious. The referenced Communist recently wrote that the notion of rights is a religion, and if they really rested on religious faith like that, unfortunately he would be correct. But they do not.
In reality, the self-ownership right has an altogether different, and unassailable, basis: reason.
Reason always begins with a premise, a proposition that can be challenged - and if the challenge fails, then the premise is certain and becomes an "axiom." This premise is that every human being has the natural right to control his or her own life, and challenges - attempts to refute it - fail at the first fence. If', arguendo, the challenger does not have the right to control his own life, he would have no right to form an opinion or open his mouth or operate a keyboard, without permission from his owner. Thus, the very act of attempting to refute the premise requires him to endorse it; in order to refute the premise explicitly, he would have to affirm the premise implicitly. The challenge fails.
Another approach is to ask: if a person does not belong to himself, to whom does he belong, and how did that owner acquire possession? No such owner can be human, for that premise holds that humans don't even own themselves, let alone other people too; so the owner must be super-human or divine, and must have acquired ownership by creating the person owned. Please see above for a demolition of that fantasy.
So, each of us does have the right of self-ownership. It's logically certain, irrefutable.
All other or lesser rights derive from that one, and while they all can be and frequently are denied, none of them can be eradicated while life remains. There's a big difference. When the 149 passengers and crew were murdered on the French Alps on March 24th, their right to own and operate their own lives were intact right up to the moment of impact and death. The right was however denied, from the moment the pilot, Andreas Lubitz, took control and began the fatal descent; he was taking them where they did not wish to go.
Governments routinely take all of us where we do not wish to go, and some people it kills; but all the time it does so, as long as we live we have that right. However the question then arises: if it can be so easily denied, what's the use of it?
There are multiple important uses for it, assuming of course that we live in a society with other people and not in isolation as hermits. First, it's the source of all other rights including that to property. I own myself, therefore my labor; if I exchange my labor for property, I have an equal, absolute right to that property. Any confiscation of property is therefore a denial of that right, and of the humanity that underlies it. Since no government can exist without confiscating property, the whole institution of government denies that right and the human nature that underlies it. Governments often concoct a theory that property is to be held "in common", as in "Commonwealth" and "Communism" but those are mere lipstick on the pig. All government is a denial of human rights, period.
Second, it's the basis for all justice. Absent a clear right to one's own life and property, any adjustment of circumstances by any kind of "court" is arbitrary and farcical. That is, in fact, the case today, in the government justice monopoly; it acts on the basis that we are entitled only to such rights as the government (the court owner) decrees. True justice is about restoring true, natural rights that may have been denied, for example by assault on person or property. Without justice, society would dissolve into violence; literally ruled by might instead of right.
The natural and irrefutable right to own our own lives is, likewise, the basis for seeking the ultimate justice of terminating government, as the primary denier of rights. Without the assurance that we have that right, there would be no basis for anarchism; we'd merely be trying to express one opinion among many. As it is, however, we know that if human beings are to enjoy in practice the rights we certainly have in theory, government must vanish.