Rights and Government (A Somewhat Updated and Expanded Blast from the Past as “Rights and Government”).

Democrat Presidential Candidate Francis O’Rourke (calling himself “Beto” to try to give himself a Hispanic cachet) said, as part of his arguments for gun confiscation back when he was running for President (call it a “mandatory buy-back” if you will it’s still confiscation) said that you can’t fight a tyrannical government “nor do you have a right to.” (I’ve dealt with the “you can’t” argument before.)

That follows, of course, if you take the view that rights are something granted by government.  If Rights are granted by government then of course there is no right to forcibly resist that government.

He’s not alone. There was this genius:

If the only rights you have are those granted by government than no government can ever be said to violate “human rights.” The rights, after all, are what the government says they are, neither more nor less.  The UN Human Rights Council is meaningless. (Well, I agree it is, but not because rights are only what governments say they are, but because of the UN’s penchant for putting representatives there whose positions are anathema to the very idea of human rights.) All the “sanctions” against various nations for violating human rights?  In error because how can a government that gets to decide what rights one does or does not have possibly violate rights.  If it kills you, has it not simply decided you don’t have a right to life?  If it imprisons you, has it not simply decided you do not have a right to liberty?  If it impoverishes you, has it not simply decided you do not have a right to property?  And so on.

I would like to think that the person with the obscured name was engaging in satire or sarcasm but the wording of the comment suggests otherwise.  This person apparently truly believes that the right to life–the most fundamental of all rights as one cannot hold any other right from the grave–is only yours if government permits it to you.

I do not subscribe to that view.  Here’s why.

First off consider what it means if rights only exist because the government says they do.  That directly implies that rights don’t exist if the government says they don’t.  If you take that position, then nothing government does can ever be “wrong”.

Let’s look at some examples to see where the government granting rights, and therefore is able to take them away, leads.

In March of 1492, the then government of Spain, specifically the Joint Catholic Monarchs of Spain, Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, ordered the expulsion of all the practicing Jews from Castile and Aragon and all their territories and possessions (including essentially all of modern Spain as well as additional territories).  This, of course, was entirely proper (given our presumption that government grants rights) since the government is simply rescinding the right of those Jews to live in Castile and Aragon and possessions.

There can be no objection to this, of course, since the right to live there was granted by the government and therefore could be taken away by the government.

In 1836 the “Treaty of New Echota” called for the removal of the Cherokee from all lands east of the Mississippi.  Some few moved voluntarily in response to this treaty.  However, in the end the Cherokee were forced first into concentration camps, then on the horrible Trail of Tears in forced migration to the west.

There can be no objection to this, of course, since the right to live east of the Mississippi, or to live at all, was granted by the government and therefore could be taken away by the government.

In 1838 the then Governor of Missouri issued a proclamation that the new religion of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) were to be treated as enemies of the State and exterminated or driven out.  (This order was not rescinded until 1976).

There can be no objection to this, of course, since the right to live in Missouri, or to live at all, let alone practice ones religion, was granted by the government and therefore could be taken away by the government.

In 1934, among many other things, German law stripped Jews of their German citizenship, forbade them from marrying or having sexual relations with non-Jews. (There was much worse to come, of course, so let this stand in proxy for that.)

There can be no objection to this, of course, since the right to citizenship, to marry, and who one might have sex with, were granted by the government and therefore could be taken away by the government.

If Francis has his way, at some future date he will deprive people of their arms.  There can be no objection to this, of course, since the right to keep and bear arms was granted by government and, therefore, can be taken away by government.

Well, we could go on and on.  If one takes the view that rights are granted by government and follows that through to its conclusion that therefore government can rescind those rights at its pleasure, then there is no atrocity, no matter how heinous, that government can do and one is left with no basis to object.  If your right to life comes from government, then it is equally valid for government to rescind that right and kill you.

No, if rights exist at all, they must exist independent of government.  They might be, as the Founders of the US stated something a person is “endowed by their Creator” or simply something they hold simply as the virtue of being human.  This is the only way that one can say that a government does right or wrong.  If rights come from government then nothing a government does can be wrong.  Only if rights are inherent in being human can say that a government does wrong.

The people who made up the Continental Congress did not think it necessary to go through this reasoning to come to the conclusion.  It was “water to a fish” to them.  Thus: “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 rights are Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness, that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, securing their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Governments do not grant rights, not in the ultimate sense.  We may use the word “right” to refer to some things that are not innate human rights, but are tied to the form of government.  The right to vote is a big one there.  But when it comes to the basic human rights, they are completely independent of government.  Government does not grant them.  Government can not rescind them.  Government can only uphold them or infringe upon them.

And when government infringes upon them, it is government that is wrong.  And it is the right of the people, collectively or individually, to stand against that government and say “no.”

History, of course, is replete with examples of governments trampling on the rights of the people.  Indeed, that seems to be the norm to the point of being universal.  It is only when the people, united in their determination to enforce their basic human rights stand up and force government to recognize their rights, when they are willing to put their all behind the rights not just of themselves but of all men and women within their reach, that “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” becomes an achievable idea.

It happens when to these ends “We Mutually Pledge To Each Other Our Lives, Our Fortunes And Our Sacred Honor.”

7 thoughts on “Rights and Government (A Somewhat Updated and Expanded Blast from the Past as “Rights and Government”).”

  1. People have intrinsic rights. Governments don’t and cannot have rights. Governments are granted enumerated powers.

    Not that these distinctions haven’t been destroyed by the left.

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  2. how can a government that gets to decide what rights one does or does not have possibly violate rights
    But you don’t understand. They think only the gov’t they support decides what rights all gov’ts should grant. That’s why the UN can tell others what to do – because they are the bestest, most progressive gov’t there is!

    unalienable rights
    That word is one we seem to have unfortunately left in the dust – ‘unalienable’. It means they can never be estranged from us, never taken away as an actual right. They cannot be made foreign to us. As you said, an intrinsic part of our creation and existence.

    And all of this is why Adams said our Constitution would only work for a moral and religious people – without that acknowledgement of our Creator and of the sin that divides us from Him (call it “human nature”) you just can’t have a limited gov’t with liberty for the people. Both groups will abuse their positions.

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  3. Pingback: On human rights

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