Friday, March 17, 2006

Individual Rights: An Absolute

Note: libertopia came into being one year ago this week. The following essay was originally posted on 16 March, 2005 (minor editing was required for the sake of intelligibility).

Meaningful discourse is impossible without agreement among the participating parties on first principles or the definition of terms. This is especially true when the topic has to do with what people ought or ought not to do. The core of such issues is none other than the meaning of “rights”.

Much of the political rancor these days is due in large part to a disagreement about what constitutes a right. There is a wide divergence of thinking here. Some claim the right to healthcare, a living wage or housing, while others insist upon a right to regulate speech in campaigns. Still others argue for the right of a fetus to be born while their counterparts assert a right to choose abortion. The only way for this to make sense is for the term “right” to have no objective definition...I argue that it does!

My friend Warbs has a provocative post dealing with this subject; it deals with the concept of freedom, which is inexorably linked to the idea of rights. And as most of us know, the Declaration of Independence declares:
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—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...
Interestingly enough, there are some that take issue with this. One such collectivist-individual (a walking contradiction) is all but infamous in the blogosphere…it’s none other than DADAHEAD, the disembodied wooden head. In the aforementioned post, DH commented thusly:
“…you SHOULD be helping others voluntarily, but since you're not going to, we'll go ahead and force you to.”
And subsequently reiterated:
“you should be sharing your wealth out of a sense of altruism. But since you won't, we/the govt. are going to forcibly take it from you.”
Lastly, this little gem:
”…property rights are not absolute. If I can save a life by 'stealing' someone's property, in many cases I am going to do just that.”
Sadly, this type of thinking is not unique to blockhead…er DADAHEAD. In fact, most Democrats and many modern Republicans would have no problem with such statements; but I find it intolerable and antithetical to the principles of liberty and individual rights. The individual is possessed of rights as a consequence of existence. Right are, by definition, absolute and unalienable. That which is conditional is not a right, but merely a privilege. The alternative to individual rights is collective or government rights, where the individual may or may not do this or that depending upon the ruling authority or prevailing majority.

The US Constitution only recognizes individual rights, not government rights; the government may act only with the consent of the governed and is constrained by the rule of law, which is embodied in the constitution. The failure to acknowledge and preserve individual rights inevitably leads to tyranny…totalitarianism, authoritarianism or chaotic anarchy. Tyranny inevitably increases after having been tolerated; it grows like a cancer.

I fully understand that the concept of rights is abstract and subject to violation by thugs and looters. This is why a healthy civilization must revere the concept of individual liberty and acknowledge the right of citizens to self protect from either a single brute or an oppressive government.

This is the wisdom of our founding document: the unwavering protection of minority rights…a minority of one.