There appears to be a growing number of people in America who either fail to understand, have yet to entertain, or outright despise the American concept of Rights. I was once the same way, so any vitriol you may detect below is partially directed at a younger version of myself in addition to the people who persist in meeting the previous description.
So, what are Rights?
When referring to the usage in phrases like human rights and civil rights, Mirriam-Webster defines rights as “qualities (as adherence to duty or obedience to lawful authority) that together constitute the ideal of moral propriety or merit moral approval.” That’s close to what I have in mind, but not quite what I think our Founding Fathers meant.
When the United States claimed Freedom from British rule, the men who instigated the rebellion used the concept of Rights as their main rationale for doing so. The Declaration of Independence, which would be read and studied far more often if I were in charge of public schools, states this explicitly:
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, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
This passage is an atom bomb of America fired upon the impeders of Liberty and despotic societal organizers. It acknowledges that “Rights” (notice the capital R) are not granted by the government, determined by a voting majority, or invented by the Founders themselves, but “endowed” by a “Creator” (notice the capital C). By using the term Creator instead of God, the Founders simultaneously reveal the holiness of Rights and the nondenominational nature of the ambiguous Creator denoted (as mostly Deists themselves, the Founders were not enamored with a particular version of a particular religion, but had the humility to admit that the universe exists in ways beyond our capability of comprehension). The term “self-evident” used to describe the “truths” of our “unalienable Rights” is essential as it bypasses data collection, qualitative analysis, and straw polls to establish the power of the individual to harness his Rights by his own mind and accord.
The second half of this passage, which could easily be commandeered by the Subjectivists and Post-Modernists running rampant in our universities, must be understood as it is intended to be as well. While Socialists, Fascists, and Communists may attempt to usurp the meaning of “it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it [destructive form of government], and to institute new Government,… as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness,” this in no way legitimizes a fundamental revolution or redefinition of Rights imposed by a voting majority. Because the American government derives its “just powers from the consent of the governed,” it does not have the Right to take away Rights simply because a Collectivist horde demands it. The power of the government does not exist without “the consent of the governed.” Therefore, if a majority claims it has come to power, it is not so unless the minority it holds power over submits to its will. Laws and regulations enacted by the government must not contradict the Rights of men, and if they do, they are illegitimate and ripe for disobedience. This should be a nonpartisan rallying cry as politicians and voters on both sides of the political spectrum increasingly create unconstitutional and immoral laws.
Rights are bigger than the minds and desires of governments and men. Rights do not need to be proven in a laboratory or granted by a legislature because no sane, honest, good adult could ever disagree that they are innate. Rights are not up for a vote. And while they can be discussed, questioned, expanded, refined, and debated, the Rights of man are nonnegotiable.
I do not imagine that Democratic-Socialist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders would agree with this truth. He is often cited for his honesty. But if he is indeed honest, he must also be ignorant, insane, stupid, or evil.
He demonstrates his lack of understanding of the Objectivity of Rights (or his betrayal of the truth) by claiming that healthcare is a Right. I would have agreed with him several years ago, but I was wrong and am relieved to admit it. By looking at several examples of unalienable Rights, it can be seen that the assertion that healthcare is a Right is nonsensical.
The Rights the Founders specified in the Declaration of Independence are a great starting point for understanding the concept of Rights. You have a Right to your Life, and it is the truth. This does not mean that someone else must be forced against his will to protect your Life, but rather that no one may take your Life away. It does not mean that it is impossible for someone to take your Life, but that it is wrong for that someone to do so. Your Life is inherently yours, your neighbors’ lives are inherently theirs, and none of you has a Right to the take or own the Life of the other. You also have a Right to Liberty. This means that you are the executive official and sole arbiter of what you will do with your Life. Since everyone else has a Right to Liberty as well, your Liberty is only limited by the Liberty of others. As American philosopher Zechariah Chaffee once said, “Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins,” and that is the truth. Finally, you have the Right to pursue what you define to be Happiness. This does not mean that the government or another individual is tasked with the responsibility of making you happy, as that would be an obvious violation of said person’s Liberty. Instead, it means that you may use your Life and the Liberty that comes with it to attempt to accomplish goals, achieve fulfillment, or whatever else floats your boat.
Another excellent demonstration of your Rights can be found in the Bill of Rights of the American Constitution. The First Amendment explains to the government that men have the Right to speak freely, worship freely, report the news freely, assemble in a peaceful manner freely, and petition the government’s actions and policies freely. Man is forced to do nothing. Only the government is forced, and it is forced to obey the Freedom of man. The Second Amendment, in the same vein, does not demand men take up arms, but forbids the government from infringing upon man’s Right to prepare to defend his Rights from the government or other forces.
Here is a quick, paraphrased run-through of the other 8 Amendments:
3. The government shall not force the people to house soldiers during peacetime, and must follow lawful guidelines during times of war.
4. The government must obtain a warrant based on probable cause before it can engage in search or seizure of property or individuals.
5-8. The government must follow strict guidelines in administering justice through the court system.
9. NOT every Right of the people is explicitly stated in the Constitution, so the government must respect Rights claimed by the people even if they are not mentioned.
10. Every Right of the government IS explicitly stated in the Constitution, so the government must respect the will of the states and the people respectively on matters it has not been overtly deputized to handle.
Each Right mentioned is written either to preserve the innate Liberty of men by restraining the government or to establish strict, humane and reasonable procedures during Life-and-Liberty-threatening situations, the latter being the government’s only truly necessary function.
Can you find any Rights that illustrate what you must do to or for others? Any Rights that illustrate what the government must do to or for you? No? That’s because there could never be any Rights that involve removing the Right to Liberty all men are born with unless they violate another person’s Rights first. Rights are not entitlements to goods and services; they are Freedoms that one can only justifiably lose by unjustifiably trampling on the Rights of others.
Because of this, healthcare can never be a Right. Freedom of Speech is a Right that prevents others from forcing you to conceal your opinions. “Free” healthcare would mean stripping others of their Liberty, and forcing them to become doctors, build hospitals, create medicine and equipment, and take care of you simply because you were born. Rights are meant to be social, polite, and eternal in nature. They make sure we all live freely instead of like animals or slaves. Demanding that others take care of you is anti-social, impolite, and conditional. In fact, that kind of thinking is pure narcissism, and should be shunned by all of us.
This reality in no way suggests that people should refrain from helping one another. Voluntary charity and compassionate discounts for loved ones and strangers alike are uniquely human phenomena, and make Freedom and Liberty all the more wonderful and all the more possible when put into action. No other creature has the capacity to empathize or reason, so we’re special in this regard, and we should teach our children to pay it forward when they can. I would love to see the day when politicians stop taking our money and forcing us to have what the people who will reelect them think is best for us, so we can rediscover the beauty of self-governance, self-determination, personal responsibility, family values, and respect for others once again.
I would propose loosening up on licensures, taxes, and regulations, so we are more able to help each other without Big Brother looking over our shoulders and the tax man knocking on our doors. It might mean a bit of a net loss in security, but the fact that captive animals live longer than wild animals does not persuade me to desire to live in a cage.
Sadly, I think this Age of Enlightenment is choking for its last gasps of air. The Socialists, Theocrats, and language police seem to be winning. But by keeping these ideas alive, we increase the chances of inspiring a new awakening someday down the road. Win or lose in our lifetimes, planting seeds of Liberty is the most altruistic thing we can do.
So, to Bernie Sanders and the Socialists, I have but one request. You want universal healthcare? Fine. But for the sake of dignity and the English language, be honest. Call it a federal mandate, and not a human Right.