After some fruitful discussion on my “Natural Rights Explained” essay, posted here and elsewhere, my blogging partner, Troy, posted his “Natural Rights Refuted” post, neatly dismissing the whole concept. This is my rebuttal to that.
We may be twisting ourselves into semantic knots here, Troy. Suggesting there is no “such thing,” comports with the understanding we had already developed, which suggested that natural rights are ideas, akin to opportunities, rather than things. Yet, as Chris pointed out, ideas are ‘things’ too.
I had been working on the notion that it was sovereignty itself, which was the primary, and the concept of natural rights were mere corollaries of that proposition. Then, the Enlightenment era treatise by Quesnay, suggested that it was the right to pursue one’s own pleasure, which was fundamental and gave rise to the notion of sovereignty, and the other so-called natural rights.
In any case, I entirely agree with your assessment of the intention of Jefferson, et al. That was precisely the point I was making in my original “Sovereign Rights” essay back in ’07, when I interpreted and restated his most famous line about self-evident truths, in the Declaration of Independence, thusly:
“We freeborn Americans are sovereign individuals, each on par with King George III himself, with the inalienable right to live our lives as freemen, pursuing our own happiness, subservient to no one.”
Do natural rights exist? As ideas, they most certainly do. The meaning, validity, and/or effect of those ideas can certainly be fairly challenged; but their existence cannot, and more importantly, probably should not. I think we need to back up and look at the big picture, to assess the whole point of this discussion.
As I implied, I wrote my essay to challenge the commonly held belief, among those most inclined to speak of natural rights, that somehow we each were issued a gilded set of our own, at a precise and fortuitous moment, while our parents were pursuing their own rightful pleasure, by engaging in some social calisthenics. Well… at least one of them was; the other might well have been a victim of aggression, experiencing anything but pleasure.
To hear these anti-abortionists tell it, we also received in that magic moment, the equivalent of a ‘conception certificate,’ proclaiming our legal status as an official ‘pre-born’ citizen, of these United States of America. This then legally entitled us, from that moment forward, to all of the rights, privileges, and Federal protection for same, afforded to all other citizens. Then, in some manner that has never been explained to my satisfaction, our spanking new set of rights, trumped our mother’s own set.
Even if our father was a brutal rapist, and our mother was an innocent teenaged victim, she somehow became obligated to incubate us through birth, before she would be permitted to reject unwelcome motherhood. Apparently, to these morally challenged absolutists, taking an abortifacient to reject a zygote she isn’t even sure exists, is sinful and should be illegal; but abandoning a baby she had given birth to, to the bureaucracy of the state, is laudatory and celebrated as a victory for ‘life.’ Go figure.
However, the moral and legal gymnastics required to sustain this conclusion, is a bit beyond the point. It does seem that we both agree that the above worldview, regarding natural rights for a zygote, is wrong and ought to be cleared up. Yet, I am not ready to discard the utility of the venerable concept of natural rights entirely, in order to do so. The basic term ‘rights,’ is too ubiquitous in our political lexicon, and too cherished by the voters, to ever eliminate. Human rights, equal rights, civil rights, property rights, minority rights, women’s rights, children’s rights, gay rights, employee rights, welfare rights, voter rights, etc., ad infinitum.
With all of these subjective ‘rights,’ which are vulnerable to political manipulation, having a class of basic ‘rights of man,’ declared inalienable and beyond the reach of government bureaucrats and/or politicians by our Founders, is not a bad thing. While they generally go under the rubric of ‘Constitutional rights,’ introducing the Lockean notion that they would still apply in the absence of government, takes several issues (such as eliminating our right of self-defense, by repealing the Second Amendment), off the table. It may be a bit pragmatic for your tastes; but couldn’t you agree to the utility? An artifice, perhaps, but what possible harm is done to the cause of Liberty, by employing it? 😉 ◄Dave►