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Unalienable Rights

I will return to my macro model shortly but I am feeling philosophical today.  The Declaration of Independence famously states “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.”  The idea of a right has been severely distorted over the years and we need to reconnect with the true meaning of the concept.

What does it mean to say that a right is “unalienable?”  From the Oxford American Dictionary, inalienable is defined as “not able to be given away or taken away.”  The key word is able.  These are rights which come from “their Creator” and cannot be subverted by man.  They did not say “certain rights which should not be alienated.” This distinction is very important.  To understand the significance let’s examine the particular rights mentioned.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are rights which every man brings into the world with him simply by virtue of being born into it.  No decree is required by any other man for you to have these rights.  Furthermore, no decree by any other man can take them away.  If you are living, then you are alive (a is a) and if you are alive, you are free.  That is to say that you and only you control the actions of your body and mind.  Nobody else can control them for you.  No law can be passed wich makes you, through no volition of your own, wiggle your pinky or invent the lightbulb.  So what can laws do? 

Laws and governments change the options you face.  Another man can decree that if you do not wiggle your pinky, he will kill you.  Actually to put this more precisely, he can decree that he will try to kill you.  This gives you the following options: wiggle your finger or don’t wiggle it and face the threat of death.  You still choose one or the other.  You still have the liberty to make your own choice and you still have the ability to choose the option which is most conducive to your own happiness.  What’s more, if you choose not to wiggle your pinky, you may choose to fight for your life.  You have a right, by your very existence, to hold onto your life as long as you are physically able.  Another man cannot make you sacrifice your life, he can only give you a set of choices where death is the most appealing option. 

The Declaration goes on to say:

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.

They are not saying that it is the job of government to grant these rights to the people.  They are saying that these rights exist regardless of government and that because of this, government should not be organized in a way such that it is in conflict with them.  When government secures your right to live, accumulate and use property, and generally pursue happiness in whatever way you see fit so long as it does not interfere with another’s inherent right to their life and property, government acts in harmony with these unalienable rights.  When government alters the options you face in such a way that you must choose between one form of destruction and another, it is in conflict with them.

Now consider what progressives mean by “rights.”  Take the idea that healthcare is a fundamental right.  To say this is to say that you are entitled to be kept alive by means completely disassociated with your own judgement, ability, or choices.  This is not an unalienable right.  You are not born with the guarantee that you will survive no matter what you do.  In order for a human to survive, it must learn to make decisions which are conducive to its survival.  You are not born with a guarantee of survival, you are born with the right to choose to survive.  If you make choices which are not conducive to your survival, you are choosing your own destruction.

Progressives want to live in an alternate reality.  They want to live in a world where life is guaranteed and no choice is necessary.  They think they can create this world by decree–that if they decree that healthcare is a fundamental right, then survival will no longer be dependent on choosing the actions which are conducive to survival.  They try to replace the liberty to choose that which is most likely to lead to your happiness with the liberty to choose whatever you want and still be happy.  But this system is in conflict with the true unalienable rights.

Healthcare must be produced.  If you have a “right” to it which is independent of your ability to create it or to create something of value that can be traded for it in a mutually voluntary manner, then someone else’s options have to be restricted in order for you to get it.  This is because the person who must produce it has an unalienable right to choose what is in his best interest from the available options.  If giving you healthcare for free is not what he considers the pursuit of happiness, then the options he faces must be altered to induce him to choose this.  This may be done by decreeing that he must produce healthcare for free or go to jail.  Or it may be done by telling others that they must give up a portion of what they produce so that the doctor may be paid enough to induce him to produce healthcare or else they will go to jail.  Or it may be done by giving you a “right” to “healthcare” but restricting the type and amount of healthcare you may receive to only that which others choose to provide for free (or for whatever price government decides is “fair” to pay out of the pockets of others in the second way) and if you try to negotiate a mutually voluntary trade for any further care, you will go to jail. 

Most likely in practice it will be some combination of all of these, but they are all in conflict with the real unalienable rights in two fundamental ways.  On one side, they seek to restrict the options someone faces in order to get them to choose an action which would not be in their interest otherwise.  On the other they try to disconnect the real consequences of people’s choices from those choices so that the pursuit of happiness is no longer required for its attainment.  Frankly that world sounds crummy to me, but even if it sounds good to you, you can’t have it.  Your beef is with God not government, please let the rest of us live in the real world.

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Categories: Uncategorized
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  1. September 30, 2010 at 6:07 am
  2. October 6, 2014 at 1:05 am

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