Third Party & Independents Archives

What Are "Rights"?

The word “rights” is often confused with what it truly means. The word is thrown around and given to things the government grants but are not truly “rights”. And just as often, the word is misused to explain what some people in different parts of the world do not have the same “rights” to as their counterparts elsewhere.

When an agreement of what the word actually means and how it can be applied to society is reached, only then can we begin to truly debate the correct issues. I will attempt to lay the groundwork for how I believe the word should be used. Every single individual is born with certain rights. What those rights are may be discussed later. For now I shall look at the fundamentals of rights.

First off, rights are not something that can be granted, for if you are naturally born with something, how can it be given? One example of this is the right of free speech. Every single individual is born with the right of free speech. Living in the United States all of my life, this is something that I, as well as others around me, tend to take for granted. Here in the USA, this right is unquestioned. Of course we have free speech. However, when we look at other parts of the world, we tend to think they do not have the same rights. An example of this can be found in China. It is well known that people in China do not have the right to free speech…

Ah, but therein lies the foundation of the problem. People in China DO have the right to free speech… But how can this be? In 1989 countless people were gunned down in the now infamous Tiananmen Square massacre by Chines troops. These people were gunned down because they were demonstrating their right of free speech. It could, of course, be argued that rights are of no value if you are shot dead while using them, and that may or may not be the case. But the simple fact remains, the people of China DO have the right to free speech, those rights are simply not RECOGNIZED.

Now that opens up another can of worms altogether. If everyone has certain rights but those rights are simply not recognized, then why do not more people stand up for those rights? That is indeed a question that haunts me to no end, for there is no greater power than the power of one person standing up for his or her self, taking responsibility for their actions, and recognizing the rights of others.

Back to China, and anywhere else the right of free speech is not recognized. The government that does not recognize the right of free speech in no way takes away those rights, for again, something cannot be taken away that was never given. Governments such as these are of course oppressive and in the end will come tumbling down as the movement will inevitably begin to have individual rights recognized. However, until that day comes, these governments will continue to oppress the right of free speech, but not take it away.

Another example of unrecognized rights can be found in the history of the United States. Before the U.S. Civil War, the rights of African Americans to hold dominion over their own lives were not recognized by the government of the United States. It was widely considered that these people had no rights. They were inferior and therefore their owners could use them in whatever way they pleased. This led to many caring white people, usually from the North, to work tirelessly along side the black leaders of their day to work toward an end to slavery and the right for African Americans to hold dominion over their own lives. When the Civil War ended the rights of the former slaves to hold this dominion were granted by the U.S. Government…

Now again I submit that the usage of the word “granted” is incorrect in this case, for how can you be granted, or given, something that you were naturally born with? It leads me to believe, therefore, that African Americans of the slavery days had these rights all along, they were simply not recognized. The correct terminology that should therefore be used for the post Civil War times is that the U.S. Government finally recognized, and not granted, the rights of this group to hold dominion over their own lives. This, in my opinion, changes things dramatically. As bad as we may now think of slavery and the United States’ endorsement of it, we must now hold it in an even darker, grimmer light.

If, during the time of slavery, African Americans did not actually have the right to hold dominion over their own lives, then we did them no injustice, for we were not taking anything away from them. However, when we view it from the point of view that the right of dominion over one’s own life is something that everyone is born with, the action of slavery becomes the single worst crime humanity has ever committed upon itself. The rights of African Americans were suppressed before the Civil War, not granted after it. This is significant.

My point? (I do tend to ramble…) Simple… “Rights” are something that every human being is born with. If free speech is truly a “right” of humanity, then everyone on the planet has it… it just isn’t recognized by many governments. If the idea of holding dominion over one’s own life is truly a “right”, then African Americans were never “granted” the freedom from slavery… that freedom was just finally “recognized” by our society. By this definition, these two rights discussed were there all along… just not recognized.

So, by this definition, what are our “rights” as individuals? That’s a whole ‘nother ball o’ wax for a whole ‘nother time…

Posted by Doug Langworthy at April 26, 2007 7:16 PM
Comment #218551

This seems pretty much a semantic excercise, but to play devil’s advocate for a minute, I’ll say this: I don’t think that people are either born with rights OR granted them.

If you divorce the idea of rights from what the government permits and say that people are born with them, then why—until fairly recently in human history—were the majority of people born into feudal systems where they were either serfs or slaves?

On the other hand, the nature of governments doesn’t seem to be to “grant rights” but (as an act of self-preservation) to give people what they demand. Rights therefore flow up from the demands of individuals, not down from governments.

This is why all rights and freedoms are in constant danger from governments and why government must be constantly monitored and placed in check. There is nothing inherent in how we’re born or in the nature of government that ensures rights—there is only the people’s will to demand them.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at April 26, 2007 9:21 PM
Comment #218554

Interesting… I think semantics are important… nearly everything else I agree with.

Posted by: Doug Langworthy at April 26, 2007 9:42 PM
Comment #218556

You have articulated the theory of natural or God given rights. We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are endowed by their creator with inalienable rights. Governments cannot legitimately “grant” these rights or take them away. This idea become kind of a conservative thing these days.

Governments threaten these rights, as in your China example. That is why we need to limit the power government can exercise.

Posted by: Jack at April 26, 2007 10:13 PM
Comment #218557

Uh, consider your response (#218415) to Scottie’s article:

The ACLU Attacks a License Plate:

“My question for all of this… WHO CARES?

Who cares who cares who cares??? Who the freak cares?”

Scottie’s article absolutely represented his opinion of what a specific “constitutional right” is or is not. The specifics of that “right” didn’t matter to you, nor did they matter much to me, but Scottie certainly had the right to express his opinion.

When you bring up the question of “rights” it’s quite complicated. For instance I constantly argue with Rhinehold and KCTim about a “humanitarian” right to shelter, food, etc. They argue that it’s unconstitutional to “steal” their money to support a program they didn’t volunteer to support.

At the end of the day I think Rhinehold, KCTim, and myself are all correct, but we’re correct based on different criteria. Almost certainly they are correct in citing the constitution regarding “taking”, but I’m right because duly elected representatives decided the current (or past) procedure of taxation and domestic welfare.

Rights? Well, numero uno is the right to vote! That is the biggie!

Probably the greatest “rights” violation in America today is the rights of gay and lesbian couples. I think the whole argument should be reframed into a question of just who decides, and how it’s decided, that a person is male or female.

That also addresses the issue of gender inequality. Gender simply should play no part in the “right” to do anything!

I could talk about “rights” all day. GW just lost the right to wage endless war. He’s just too stupid to know it. I still have the right to push for reinstating the draft and I have the right to grin because this conservative town elected a liberal Mayor!

Posted by: KansasDem at April 26, 2007 10:17 PM
Comment #218558

I thing semantics are important too.

And also that we tend to forget that when our founders said that people are born with “certain inalienable rights,” that was at the time an extremeley wild, outlandish and revolutionary idea.

It was definintely not an historical observation.

Such a notion flew in the face of what the vast majority of the human race had actually experienced for thousands of years, and when John Locke said that governments derive authority from the consent of the governed, that was also not an historical observation but an act in itself of revolutionary agitation. Indeed, governments of the time saw themselves as deriving authority from “divine right” or simple brute force.

The French and American revolutions were not achieved, therefore, by semantics, even if semantics had its role (meaning propaganda value). These revolutions were achieved by the brute force of popular will matching and overpowering the brute force of government. I guess what I’m saying is that there’s a significant Darwinian factor that goes along with the ideological factors here.

Very important to remember for anybody who is passively sitting around waiting for the government to grant them the rights they think they deserve.

It also means, however, that we have to acknowledge when people insist that something is their “right,” or that they have certain rights, it’s not always an appeal to genuine inborn rights or to ideals of good government. Sometimes it’s just a naked, self-interested grab for power which is backed up only by coercion. A lot of the “rights” claimed at this late stage in American democracy are actually rights to trample on the rights of others. Affirmative action being the classic example.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at April 26, 2007 10:17 PM
Comment #218563

Kansas Dem… wow… I’ve never been directly quoted like that… I didn’t know I had such a fan in you! ;-)

I’m kidding…

In all seriousness… I agreed with most of your post… and, in fact, although I disagree with you most of the time, I am a fan of yours…

Yep… I went on the “who cares” rant about the Indiana liscence plate and I absolutely stand by it. You point out that Scottie has the “right” to his opinion as if I dispute that? Of course not… and, in fact, when it comes right down to it, the state probably shouldn’t offer the religious-connotated plate for free while charging for others… AND… there are certainly bigger fish to fry than this… like your gay-lesbean example… that is MUCH more important than whether or not one plate has a $15 fee and the other doesn’t… THAT was the whole point of my “who cares” rant… there are whole groups of people in our own country whose “rights” are not recognized by our government (read: the people?) and we’re concerned with $15 dollar liscence plates?

As an aside… Rhinehold and KCTim are correct, in my opinion, we do not have the “right” to shelter or food, but we do have the right to pursue these things… no one has the “right” to force others, through their own hard work and money, to forcebly support others…

Posted by: Doug Langworthy at April 26, 2007 10:48 PM
Comment #218564
Reminds me of a Preying Mantis!

Get them to screw you while you bite the back of their head off.

Once again, I’m not sure what Bill Clinton has to do with this debate.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at April 26, 2007 10:48 PM
Comment #218569


Your post, leading off with semantics, was brilliant (although your slick willy reference was equally so!)… Thank you…

Posted by: Doug Langworthy at April 26, 2007 11:22 PM
Comment #218592

“no one has the “right” to force others, through their own hard work and money, to forcebly support others…”

Doug Langworthy,

Which, of course, brings us to the “common good” and responsibility. I think this article explains that quite well:

Progressive Taxation: Some Hidden Truths

I’m physically incapable of in-depth commentary at the moment, but as Ahnold might say, I’ll be baaack.

Posted by: KansasDem at April 27, 2007 10:46 AM
Comment #218620

Doug, your entire argument is fallacious because your premises are false.

You said: “First off, rights are not something that can be granted,”

This is patently false as demonstrated by the entire history of humankind. It is a common mistake to superimpose the present on the past. Just because you were born into a country that Constitutionally acknowledged (gives) you certain rights, in no way makes the case the history of humankind or present humankind in other nations are born into cultures that acknowledge any rights at birth.

‘We hold these truths to be self-evident’ means they chose to make certain things true for them. But, that in no way implies what they held to be true is true for everyone, everywhere, and at all times.

You said: “It is well known that people in China do not have the right to free speech…”

Again, you statement is wrong. I watched video just a couple weeks ago of Chinese news in which evicted Chinese citizens cursed their government and its leaders and they were not arrested or punished in anyway for their words. In China, they have very free speech with some exceptions. In the U.S. we have very free speech with some exceptions. Try yelling ‘fire’ in a theatre, you will be arrested and likely convicted if injuries ensue and go to jail. China has differing conditions on when certain kinds of speech are not permitted. But, outside those conditions, like here, they are free to speak anyway they choose.

China does not permit free assembly for political purposes without a permit. Guess what, America has the same restrictions. Our government even goes so far as to screen whether you are a supporter or critic of the President and tells you where you can assemble on that basis, in view of the President and press or out of view of the President and press.

Doug, I am sorry to be so blatant about the false premises of your argument, but, it is necessary because while I feel the overall point you are trying to make is worthy, you do the point no good by trying to defend it on false premises.

If you are going to compare and contrast freedoms between the U.S. and China, you must do so accurately and on a relative basis. Your argument falls flat when you succumb to culture-centric stereotypes of “We” good, “They” bad, black and white arguments which are false on the face of them.

Posted by: David R. Remer at April 27, 2007 2:25 PM
Comment #218623

One further point, do you remember a female reporter who went to jail for not speaking as the government instructed her to? It wasn’t that long ago. Freedom of speech should include the right to not speak as well, should it not? Yet our government can and does jail persons for not speaking or speaking (gag order) when the government has instructed them otherwise.

Freedom of speech is a relative thing and easily lost in increments, as we are losing it today under the Bush administration. We even torture people to make them speak words we want to hear. How much freedom is there in that?

Posted by: David R. Remer at April 27, 2007 2:30 PM
Comment #218630


Thanks for the response…

Yes, I do remember the female reporter that went to jail… certainly not right, but you pointing this out in no way interferes with my argument. As I pointed out, and this is a good example, simply because the government does not recognize the right to free speech (or the right to not speak) does not mean these rights are not there. The fact that she was jailed actually kind of supports my argument. She was jailed for using her right to free speech in the face of a government that did not recognize it… but she still had it. I’m thinking you didn’t read the part of my post that mentioned:

“It could, of course, be argued that rights are of no value if you are shot dead while using them, and that may or may not be the case.”

You quoted me where I said people in Chine do not have the right to free speech as if it were the basis of my argument, yet you made no mention of the following sentences:

“Ah, but therein lies the foundation of the problem. People in China DO have the right to free speech…”

I was attempting to use the ol’ bait and switch technique to make a point… obviously it was ineffective. You are right… people in China DO have the right to free speech (even though they were gunned down at Tiennenmen)… which is exactly the point I was trying to make. We all do.

The main difference, it seems to me, is that you are arguing that we do not have certain rights unless the government grants them, which sounds rather authoritarian to me. After reading many of your posts I have never gotten that impression from you. My whole point is, governmentally recognized or not, there are rights with which every human being is born.

Posted by: Doug Langworthy at April 27, 2007 5:01 PM
Comment #218634

Doug, the point is that there is a world of difference between rights one takes for one’s own (Like Cho’s right to mow down people at Va. Tech.) and legal Rights granted and protected by the state.

Your argument assumes people may assign their own rights in whatever fashion they choose like Cho did. That is a discussion for religion or ethicists. But when discussing politics and governments, a Right is defined by law, not the individual.

Posted by: David R. Remer at April 27, 2007 7:01 PM
Comment #218651

My argument in no way implies people may assume their own rights in whatever fashion they choose… and please, do not liken me to Cho… in fact, Mr. Remer, I explicitly say:

“So, by this definition, what are our “rights” as individuals? That’s a whole ‘nother ball o’ wax for a whole ‘nother time…” (See above)

Perhaps my use of slang was confusing… but what I meant by this was that there must be indeed some definition of reasonably and generally agreed upon natural rights that are not simply up to individuals to assume in “whatever fashion they choose” but instead are, well… reasonably and generally agreed upon.

And… on another note, you directly say “legal Rights granted and protected by the state.” Again, this is the whole point of my argument. “Rights” are naturally bestowed upon us as human beings, not “granted” by an artificial and temporary “state” which changes with the wind.

“States” come and go… “Rights” endure.

Posted by: Doug Langworthy at April 27, 2007 11:42 PM
Comment #218656

Doug, your reply still is not logical. On the one hand, you say individuals do not define rights. In fact, you say “that there must be indeed some definition of reasonably and generally agreed upon natural rights that are not simply up to individuals to assume…”

And who is it that gets together and decides what these generally agreed upon ‘rights’ are going to be? The Christian Church? How about the Buddhist Priests? No? How about the Aryan Nation, they are a group with a generally agreed upon definition of rights?

If not religions, if not special interest groups, and not individuals, who beside the laws of the state shall define these rights. And once defined, who would enforce their protection, if not the state, against hostility by others who do not believe in those rights? Or should each ‘rights’ belief group have its own vigilante group to protect their self-defined rights?

Posted by: David R. Remer at April 28, 2007 4:22 AM
Comment #218681

“Rights” are a human construct. That’s not to say that everyone shouldn’t have “inalienable” rights, just to say there is nothing in nature or the fundamental laws of the universe that grant such rights.

That’s why “rights” are often secured by blood.

Posted by: Gerrold at April 28, 2007 3:20 PM
Comment #218685

Gerrold, correct, and subjugation.

Posted by: David R. Remer at April 28, 2007 4:38 PM
Comment #218698

David, and Loyal Opposition as well,

What Doug is engaging in is not semantics (not in the derogatory sense) but philosophy.

If you believe that rights are merely a human construct and are dependent on which ‘social contract’ you may happen to live under, then you are advancing a theory of moral relativism.

In order for universal rights to have any meaning whatsoever, their authority must be above individual governments. They must be above human construct.

Thus to say that a right to speech is an inherent right, no matter where or when you were born, is not contradictory. It is entirely consistent.

Most of the ‘rights’ we enjoy as a part of our legal system are not recent inventions either. They are ancient precisely because they are self-evident.

Freedom of speech is not new. The right to due process is not new. Much of our legal framework has been handed down to us from the romans to the British, and thence to us.

Jewish law also has numerous examples of the same ‘rights’ to be heard, to have a fair hearing, to not be deprived of life without cause etc.

To say that someone somewhere did not enjoy the same granting of express and enumerated rights does not argue against natural rights. In fact, what you are doing is pointing out the exception — ie and example when natural rights were abrogated. It is just that. An example when rights were abrogated.

The Feudal system was

Posted by: esimonson at April 28, 2007 11:31 PM
Comment #218699


The Feudal system was a leftover of the last ‘social contract’ of the Roman empire. You can directly tie the Feudal system to what I call the progressive taxation policies of Diocletian.

If you want to see the logical end of liberal policies do some reading on Diocletian, Constantine, and the bureaucracy of the late Roman empire.

What you end up with when ‘collective rights’ of the government take the place of individual rights is in fact feudalism. …or socialism if you prefer.

Posted by: esimonson at April 28, 2007 11:40 PM
Comment #218712

Esimonson, philosophy? Yes. Indeed. And you have not answered the central question posed to Doug. Islamic inherent rights, Buddhist inherent rights, atheist inherent rights, or Christian-Judeo inherent rights? There of course many others, like those Brazilian aboriginals or Australian. If they are inherent, why are the standards so different amongst differing groups of people?

You see, if it were natural, all groups would have nearly the same view of rights. Rights are NOT natural - they are cultural, historical, religious, political, and socially specific, and above all, they derive from power to defend and protect what are claimed as rights.

Do animals define rights for themselves? Their nature does. Are humans animals? Those who engage in war and combat certainly seem to attest to it. Are humans more than animals because they can define “rights”? Likely. But, ‘Animal Farm’ points to the woeful inadequacy of humans to define rights in any consistent or integral manner, because humans act as if some have more rights than others. Actions speaks deafeningly louder than words.

Take our most fundamental definition of economics, for example. How finite resources are apportioned amongst people with infinite demand. That definition has war built into it. Who has rights in a war? The victors of course. So, much for natural and unalienable rights.

One can entertain fanciful notions of inherent rights and unalienable rights till the cows come home, but, unless people ACT as if all people share the same rights, fanciful notions is all such rights of rhetoric will ever be. Do those who belong to al-Queda have the same rights as we? Have we not reserved some of al-Queda’s rights for ourselves with Abu-Ghraib, Guantanamo, rendition for torture, invading and bombing and causing the deaths of 650,000 Iraqis all in the name of our rights to their OIL.

What is the difference between Darfur and Iraq? OIL! Little more. We have defined for ourselves a right to their oil and we used our military to secure the free exercise of that right. Is this a right you Eric, would confer upon al-Queda? Somehow, I think not. Rights are not universal, nor natural. They are even diversely defined amongst the various major religions of the world despite their all being theistic.

Reality is what it is. Power defines rights. That is what makes the idea of democracy and religion so tantalizing and desirable. For in a democracy or a religion, the people can agree upon and define rights as Islamic Fundamentalists do, and Christians do. But, the only rights that will be protected and defended with any hope of fairness and equality are those backed by police or military enforcement of laws that embody them. Ergo, governments define the only potential universally applied rights, and that universe is small, limited to those living under that government, and not universal at all outside of it.

And they will be fair and equally applied only if those in power grant that it be so. That is why democracy holds the greatest hope, for in a democracy, power is supposed to derive from the consensus of the people, not from lords over the people who of course, as in Animal Farm, will reserve the ‘right’ to be more equal than others and therefore deserving of a greater share of the finite resources.

Posted by: David R. Remer at April 29, 2007 8:45 AM
Comment #218730


Most people are moral relativists regardless whether they think “rights” are human constructs or based on some deep truth revealed by God or implicit in the laws of the universe. I’ve read you railing against those who lament the detainment and torture of those our president terms enemy combatants. Many of these people are believed by our military to be innocent (do your own research; this stuff has been posted many times). I don’t hear you defending their right to free speech.

How a person behaves is much more important than what he says he believes.

Posted by: Gerrold at April 29, 2007 2:03 PM
Comment #218796


…you have not answered the central question posed to Doug. Islamic inherent rights, Buddhist inherent rights, atheist inherent rights, or Christian-Judeo inherent rights? There of course many others, like those Brazilian aboriginals or Australian. If they are inherent, why are the standards so different amongst differing groups of people?

Again, you seem to miss the point. Islamic rights, Buddist rights… both point out the same difference as nationally defined rights. You might as well reference Nazi rights as well. Because in your definition all are equally moral.

Whether or not the actions of any particular group, or their stated/enumerated rights are different from what they do - the inherent rights of humanity is the same.

I think you are confusing practices with concept, i.e. theory.

If, as you say, rights (and morality) are entirely relative, then there are no rights or morals.

Posted by: eric simonson at April 30, 2007 12:37 PM
Comment #218816


Here’s where you are wrong. You essentially say that if rights or morals are not inherent (that is grounded in something extrahuman or supernatural) than there are no rights or morals. That’s poppycock, a very old canard that simply demonstrates an absolutist view. Are you telling me that if you didn’t believe the injunctions against murder were founded on some sort of absolute morality that you’d go around murdering? If so, then I’m glad you believe as you believe. Insofar as religion keeps such impulses in check, I’m all for it.

Some of us value certain “rights” because they are good for society and reflect positive human emotions and instincts. It’s a mistake to believe that “relativists” don’t think some things are better than others.

Posted by: Gerrold at April 30, 2007 3:01 PM
Comment #218827

Eric, you still have not defined what rights, and from whence they derive. Nice dodge of the question, yet again.

Are you referring to Christian defined rights? Because they are not the same as those defined by Buddhism or Hinduism, for example. Please be specific. What rights and derived from what consensus group?

Posted by: David R. Remer at April 30, 2007 3:26 PM
Comment #218916


If I may, I would suggest simply that rights do not exist in a vaccum. They are a by product of environment. Rights “bestowed” on Americans were derived within a context. That context was the rebellion from England and the desire to construct a set of rights more reflective of our needs and desires. Rights in Nazi Germany were a result of a much different context. So if that is relativism, so be it. I think it is reality.

Posted by: Chi Chi at May 1, 2007 9:07 AM
Comment #219265


“I think the whole argument should be reframed into a question of just who decides, and how it’s decided, that a person is male or female.”

this ones pretty easy to answer. people are for the most part,born either male, or female, simple question of genitalia. if you have an outie, your a male, if you have an innie, your a female. wheather like the fact your one or the other has nothing to do with rights.

Posted by: dbs at May 3, 2007 7:12 PM
Comment #219560

Chi Chi, quite right and observant. Both your examples are rights as defined by the state. Rights are not rights unless they are protected and upheld, and the only way they can be protected and upheld whether evil or good rights, is by a governing group with police power to protect and uphold those rights. All other definitions of rights are not rights, but, opinions by individuals or groups about what they would prefer as rights. But, unless they gain control of the police power to protect and defend their definition of rights, they are not rights.

This is precisely why democracy is hands down the most viable and important form of government from a moral and ethical point of view, because in a democracy, all have a say in defining and protecting the rights which police power will protect and defend. And individuals may not alter the rights established by consensus of the nation’s people.

Whereas, in a dicatorship, the individual may alter the definition of rights as they please and as benefits them as an individual without regard for the people of the nation.

Posted by: David R. Remer at May 6, 2007 1:55 AM
Comment #282622

dear doug i am a langworthy decended from andrew and highly respect edward for signing the arcticles of confederation i salute u as a fellow libertarian we as constitutionalists need to inform the misled and ill informed sheeple because we are at a piviotal point in decideing the future of this once great nation. our governmentis is not recignizing our rights. the govt has turned its back on the constitution. and has disrespected the brave people that have given their life and limb for this republic i hope u contact me because it is time for change (no the change the new fuer talks about) god bless

Posted by: chuck langworthy at June 8, 2009 12:25 AM
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