A typical comment directed at me elsewhere, inspired some cogitation resulting in the following explanation of ‘natural rights’:
“What is the point of the constitutional phrase right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness if you can murder babies in the womb? We only have a right to life if we are already born? That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”
That phrase is found in the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution, and it was part of the sentence declaring the equality and natural rights of all ‘men,’ not babies, or children, and certainly not fetuses. In our Founder’s time, it probably did not even include women, and for an embarrassingly significant percentage of them, it excluded the entire negro race. Allow me to offer another way to look at this business of natural rights, which may help you make some sense of them.
When Enlightenment thinkers developed the philosophical concept of natural rights, it was in the context of individual sovereignty. The extant paradigm for Western civilization at that time, was that one was necessarily born into servitude, to the sovereign potentate claiming dominion over the territory in which one was born. There were different classes in society, enjoying differing levels of privileges; but all were born subjects of their king, whether serf or gentry. Supported by the clergy, the king had the divine right to rule over his subjects. He could order a subject’s head detached on a whim, and a serf was not permitted to relocate or change occupations without permission.
Set aside for a moment, the Orwellian ploy to redefine the word ‘baby’ to include a developing fetus, and think of fully formed men (for my own purposes here, the terms man, men, and masculine personal pronouns, are intended to subsume both genders, and all races). One’s natural rights are meaningless, unless one is also a sovereign, with full authority over one’s own life, and not subject to rule by others. This requires that one be a self-sufficient individual, able to assert and willing to defend one’s own natural rights, which place no obligations on other sovereigns to suspend theirs.
You wish to live? Then go live, and don’t bother me about it. It is not my job to feed, clothe, or provide you shelter. You wish to be free? Then go be free; I won’t try to stop you. Someone is trying to enslave you? Then fight them, it is not my job to protect you, unless you wish to hire me to perform that service for you. Or, perhaps it would behoove we Liberty loving sovereigns to cooperate in a mutual defense pact. It might be a good idea for the whole voluntary community of sovereigns to join it; but no one has a right to force another to do so, just because he happened to be born in the same arbitrarily delineated territory. Conversely, however, if one chooses not to join, others are not in the least obligated to defend him.
You wish to own property? Then earn the money and go buy it from a willing seller. It is not my obligation to provide it for you. I am only constrained by my philosophy from taking it away from you; but you best be prepared to defend it, for not all men will acknowledge such constraint, and it is not my obligation to protect it for you (See your options for mutual assistance above). You wish to be happy, then go be happy. It is not my obligation to do things that make you happy. Nor, are my choices any of your damn business, if the things I do to make me happy displease you.
Do you get the idea? Life, Liberty, Property, and the Pursuit of Happiness are not free. They must be earned, defended from trespass, and they place no obligation whatever on anyone else. A man who cannot earn and defend his natural rights, has no grounds to assert them, and doesn’t really have them, does he? If he chooses the life of a moocher, he abdicates his sovereignty, and is not a free man. He has voluntarily placed himself in servitude, one way or another, to the benefactor providing his sustenance.
Now, walk this concept back into childhood, during the multi-year process of creating a man. There is a reason the legal term for a court order, giving a child early independence from parental authority, is ’emancipation.’ Children are dependent on their parents for survival, so their parents get to make the rules by which they must live. They are not yet ready for sovereignty and the responsibility of earning and defending their natural rights. They are essentially in servitude to their benefactor parents, until such time as they become self-sufficient competent adults.
This is not a bad thing, although in many modern households, it can get a bit testy from the point of puberty on. Biologically, they are ready to assert their rights; but in the modern quest to extend (or even perpetuate) a carefree playful childhood, they are generally woefully unprepared for the attendant responsibilities of adulthood. (This was never a problem for our Founder’s generation, who were not being deliberately held back from maturity. Franklin was a printer’s apprentice at the age of 12. Washington was the official county surveyor at 17. Jefferson had already graduated from college, and was gainfully employed as a law clerk, at 18.)
The farther one regresses, the more dependent and less responsible a child is. Just because a child desires the freedom to do something, which a parent deems dangerous or ill-advised, doesn’t require the parent to permit it. It is actually rather silly to suggest that a two-year-old is a sovereign with natural rights. It would be the height of irresponsibility, for a parent to permit him to assert them. If allowed to run into the street, or taste all the liquids found under the sink, he likely would not survive to become a man.
An infant is clearly at the mercy of his mother’s benevolent good will. Even if food, water, and the other essentials of life are at hand, the infant is incapable of even feeding himself, much less walk, talk, change his own diapers, or defend himself from predators. He is off to a good start, in the process of becoming a sovereign man with natural rights; but he is a very long way from attaining that goal. Meanwhile, his parents have their own natural rights, to choose for themselves the rules for living in their household, how best to raise their children to maturity, and yes, whether they even wish to take on the awesome responsibility, of engaging in the process of creating competent men.
So-called society may very well decide to interfere with the natural rights of these sovereigns, and coercively impose ‘community standards’ on unwilling parents; but it is a slippery slope that must be approached very cautiously, with a lot of careful thought. Who gets to decide what the ‘community standards’ are? What if the Progressives want an earlier shot, at programming our children’s malleable minds to conform to their preferred worldview, not ours, and enact mandatory attendance from the age of three, in a government run preschool?
The next step back, in the years-long process of creating a man, is in the womb. Skip the third trimester, with its issues of viability. Skip the second, where the fetus is taking human form, and the anti-abortion advocates like to tug at our heartstrings, by pointing out how it already looks like a tiny baby. By all means, skip the reptilian stage in the first, where it is still sporting its long tail, which raises all manner of uncomfortable questions regarding evolution. Go all the way back to the freshly ‘conceived’ zygote, which has yet to attach itself to the uterus, and begin dividing the cell into two, to initiate the process of forming a developing fetus.
Yes, it is a form of life, by the scientific definition; but by no means what our Founders meant, when they employed the term. One could accurately say the same, about a cancerous tumor or a parasitic tapeworm, without the proper philosophical context. Some say a woman (or young teenager, as the case may be) is somehow obligated to sustain that cellular life form, whether she wishes to or not, and must invest the next two decades of her own life, dedicated to the process of growing it into a man.
This view suggests that her own sovereignty and natural rights have somehow evaporated, even if the zygote is the unwelcome seed of the cretin who raped her. That strikes me as immoral, although those who hold it think the opposite. In any case, it is a philosophical question, not a Federal level political one. Moreover, I must conclude that the notion of a zygote as a sovereign individual, with natural rights, is rather preposterous. The anti-abortion advocates need to find a better political argument, for their religious agenda. The natural rights of sovereigns, just doesn’t apply in the womb. ◄Dave►