Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Carts and Horses

While looking back through the archives to catch up on what I missed while on vacation, I discovered a rather animated conversation on the topic of Rights. I kept finding among the comments of some our friends the curious assertion that our rights are somehow given to us by the government.  I’d like to ask those who hold that notion to explain how that could be the case?  

If it were so, where did the government acquire them to give away? Not from the text of the Constitution, as it provides for the organization of the government itself, delineating the roles of the various branches, and enumerating and restricting the powers of each. 

Not from the Bill of Rights, as its purpose was to preclude the government from infringing on the liberties of the people which were, by its very language, already assumed to exist.  “Congress shall make no law…” is not a bequest to the people, but a clear boundary on the reach of the government. In modern parlance: “Don’t even go there!”

The answer to the founders was so ‘self-evident’ that some of them even argued against any need for expressly stating them.

 "We the people of the United States…do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America." Here is a better recognition of popular rights than volumes of those aphorisms which make the principal figure in several of our state bills of rights…”    Alexander Hamilton, Federalist #84

Fortunately for us, Mr. Hamilton’s more wary colleagues prevailed and took no chances on either the memories or good will of their descendants. With the Bill of Rights they specified those areas upon which the government may not trespass, and did so in language that left no doubt regarding their suspicions.

The Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses, should be added: …Preamble to the Bill of Rights

Their caution was not misplaced then, nor is it now, particularly when many among us have been led to believe the cart came before the horse. The government the Founders designed was established to protect our rights not to bestow them. Their origin is still “We the People”.


Constitutional Insurgent said...

Great questions SF.

The politically correct answer on the right is that these rights were bestowed from a creator and codified by man.

Whereas a more accurate interpretation is that these rights were decided by a consensus of men to be a proper governing framework for society, borrowing precedent and example from various people and theories, including Judeo-Christian religion.

Ducky's here said...

Meanwhile, we can hear Hobbes laughing.

Thersites said...

Amendment 9

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment 10

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Anonymous said...

How anyone can argue againsour rights being natural is beyond me. Hpw could government possibly grant the right to life?

One of the interesting arguments against including a Bill of Rights was that it would cause courts to focus on whether an act of Congress abridged those rights rather than focusing on whether the act was within the enumerated powers.

Fredd said...

It's a shame that the Founding Fathers didn't include PENALTIES for people who were caught trying to blatantly bypass the Constitution.

Like heads on pikes, public evisceration, etc.

But, as compared to King George III, we were formed as a kinder, gentler form of government.

Ducky's here said...

See the thing about Fredd is that he's serious.

I marvel that these freaks who wave the Constitution and shout "Liberty" are concerned only with their own and are such raging fascists.

Anonymous said...

I also have a hard time comprehending how some people claim to love liberty and espouse the importance of rights, but then claim that rights are somehow given to us by the government, and therefore can be taken away.

Rights cannot be taken away. They can only be abridged or infringed upon. The founding fathers used those words for a reason. A government cannot take away your right to free speech, but they can certainly try to keep you from exercizing it.

The right itself is inherent to being a sapient being. You are sapient, therefore you have the right. And as the Enlightenment thinkers suggested, if that right is being abridged you have the responsibility to assert and assure your ability to exercize that right.

Logically, if your rights were not inherent, then one could not complain when the government takes those rights away. You would be wrong to take those rights back, because they were not really yours in the first place.

But, we all generally think it is a good thing to take those rights back, because they belong to us. They are ours by virtue of being a sapient species.

Rights were not created by man. Man simply discovered that a sapient species deserves certain things.

You don't have to believe in God to believe in natural rights either. If one day we proved that God doesn't exist, then nothing would change. It is our nature that facilitates the existence of natural rights. They are not bestowed at all. Natural rights simply exist.

viburnum said...

@Steve. I didn't participate in the discussion before, and you didn't respond to the question. If our rights aren't inherent, then where do they come from?

viburnum said...

Well said Jack!!!

Mustang said...

You pose a fundamental question and one, I think, that is the dividing line in America. There are those of us who reject the notion of totalitarianism because we understand that in order to achieve that, we must relinquish our inalienable rights. We largely agree with President Washington: “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant, and a fearful master.” We conservatives largely agree that government may not deny rights granted by the Supreme Being.

The other side of this argument is willing to surrender their freedoms because they do not believe our rights are God-given —as indicated by one comment above. If it is true the government can give us our rights, then it must also be true that government can take them away.

I do not believe we can reconcile these two points of view, and so our society must experience this ideological tennis match. If nothing changes over the next 50 to 100 years, the Progressives must win this argument; while conservatives slept, they have been steadfast and patient in the brainwashing of our children in public schools. We must wonder, is it too late to return to our true American roots?

Thersites said...

A woman's right to make her own health decisions, is as basic as it gets. Yet Republiscums intend to make that choice illegal.

What part of LIFE, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness DON'T you get?

Constitutional Insurgent said...

@Mustang - "The other side of this argument is willing to surrender their freedoms because they do not believe our rights are God-given —as indicated by one comment above."

I'm not sure who the side surrendering is, because both parties in the US have allowed our alleged unalienable rights to be severely curtailed, regulated and taxed.

Whether rights were God-given will always be up for debate, because until a voice appears from the heavens, it's still a group of men who devise and enact our laws. They may say that they come from God, but it's realistically only theoretical.

Ducky's here said...

You know Farmer, it's odd that you self righteous philosophers don't know squat about the Abrahamic religions.

Jewish law permits abortion

Sharia permits abortion

St. Augustine allowed abortion.

Now if the folks who think America is ordained by god want to be consistent then the position held by Ryan and the "if you got pregnant you enjoyed it" moron is inconsistent with religion at the time of the founding.

Just something for you and the pedantic Randoids to think about.
You and the rest of the dim witted American Taliban who tipped their hand with this butt wipe.

Jack Whyte said...

I'm not sure who the side surrendering is, because both parties in the US have allowed our alleged unalienable rights to be severely curtailed, regulated and taxed. I think this is a fair assessment of the past … 150 years. Although it seems to me that at one time, “both parties” (if that is where we are taking this conversation) shared a common belief about God, inalienable rights, limited government, and so forth. This began to change imperceptibly with an ever-widening gap over the past eighty years. Today, the party of Douglas has transformed itself to the party of Marx and Engels, within which there is general preference for more government and less God.

Jersey McJones said...

If you believe that rights come from God, then you must believe that one sectarian moral code or another must be the particular purveyor and decider of rights.

That would make you an idiot.

"Rights" are simply things a society deems we can get away with.


viburnum said...

Steve: "Our law, based on the Constitution certainly can and has made some behavior a right and some behavior a privileged."

Answering the only topical portion of your comment, laws do not engender our rights. Any number of SCOTUS rulings have overturned laws in the interest of preserving rights. If the law were paramount how could that happen?


Almost. Rights are those things society deems we can't live without.

Sam Huntington said...

The argument over the existence of God is inane. I don’t care what other people believe, or even why. I do find it interesting that parts of Hammurabi’s code found its way into the Bible, as did various aspects of Zoroastrianism, which I think tells us that human beings are willing to accept the ideas of other cultures when they make sense, or when they are absorbed over time.

Perhaps this is where we are today in this time worn debate. Some of us believe, some of us don’t believe, and all of us pass this “knowledge” down to our offspring. I have heard people argue atheists don’t need God in order to be good and decent human beings, and I suspect this is true. If it is, then we should conclude people do not require Satan to produce malevolence. We should be willing to acknowledge that man is capable of good and bad without any help form a third party —neither of which suggests the absence of a heavenly being.

Americans have embedded their rights within their founding document. If we look carefully within this marvelous document, we will discover elements from other worthwhile codes; we have cherry picked them and incorporated them into our modern legal systems. Who is to say that even this is not the result of the invisible hand of our creator?

I personally would like to believe there is less interest in taking away our God-given rights among people who believe in God, than among those who think a group of chuckleheads came up with these ideas at happy hour. What a pity this argument is lost the instant we find ourselves confronted by religious zealots who care less about our rights than they do about our souls.

Always On Watch said...

You know what? There are many of us who are GOP-leaning who would like the GOP to shut the hell up about abortion.

Roe v. Wade stands.

State legislatures are within their domain to regulate abortion, particularly because medical doctors are licensed by the state.

As a nation, we have politicized so many things that we lost the plot about rights.

Anyway, that's what I think.

Silverfiddle said...

The objection to God is quibbling. "Natural" can easily be substituted for "God-Given" and the philosophical point is the same.

It is axiomatic that one has a right to one's own life, liberty and property. We all know murder, enslavement and robbery is wrong. It is imprinted on our consciences.


Jewish law permits abortion

Sharia permits abortion

St. Augustine allowed abortion.

I don't give a crap about Sharia, but can you provide authoritative links for the other two assertions?

Thersites said...

St Augustine was afraid of being baptised, less he have tostop screwing hisconcubine. He made a LOT of mistakes... just like women who commit abortions.

Silverfiddle said...

Just to provide a counterpoint to whatever screwed up crap Ducky may link to:



As usual, when a lefty says something, there's always more to the story.

Anonymous said...

If tomorrow society decided that you no longer deserve the right to free speech, then you would not be allowed to justifiably protest by your logic.

If society gives you your rights, then they can take it away. So, if the Republicans ban all abortions, then that's fine because rights are just determined by society.

Leticia said...

We live in the land of the free not the land of the oppressed. Although, I must say with our current president, that's becoming a thing of the past.

Anyhoo, back on topic. The government was not set up to rule the nation as a monarchy or by a dictatorship. Our government was set up to assist and work for the people. Laws were set up to protect not to hinder the people.

Many of the laws were taken and used by example from the Ten Commandments from the Holy Bible.

So much of what our forefather's have built are being systematically dismantled.

I strongly believe that we need to go back and follow the guidelines our forefather's set up for us.

Just sayin....

Jersey McJones said...

viburnum, that's a lovely and noble way of saying exactly what I said.

Silver, you said, ""Natural" can easily be substituted for "God-Given"." It can also be substituted for "obvious." You really don't need "God" there at all. BUt again, what is obvious or God given to one society, may not be for another. You are arguing for cultural relativity, whether you know it, or like it, or not.


You plainly said,

"If tomorrow society decided that you no longer deserve the right to free speech, then you would not be allowed to justifiably protest by your logic.

If society gives you your rights, then they can take it away. So, if the Republicans ban all abortions, then that's fine because rights are just determined by society."

Yes. Exactly. That's why we shouldn't vote for Republicans.


Again, whether you like it or not. That's why we have to be careful to avoid too much religion, an irrational, silly, dangerous thing, imposing on our particular society.


Finntann said...

Amen AOW. There are many of us within the GOP itself who wish they woould just shut the hell up as well, or at least not try and make it the pivotal issue in election after election.

That said, free men have rights, serfs are granted them. So one could argue it is all a matter of perspective.

We can quibble over whether or not rights are natural, god-give, or granted by the state all you want. When it comes down to it, they are and were made unalienable rights as part of our social compact.

Unalienable: adj. Not to be separated, given away, or taken away; inalienable.

You can't cede them for yourself or others, the government can't take them away.

You know--But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. And all that other silliness.

Finntann said...


No Jersey, what part of government shall make no law do you not understand.

Could you repeal the Bill of Rights with a constitutional amendment? Perhaps... but expect armed insurrection as a result.

But keep talking, you're speaking volumes. I'd much rather have Natural vs Government granted rights as a right-left political touchpoint than abortion.

viburnum said...

Sorry Steve, it doesn't work that way. For starters it's 3/4's of the states not a majority of the people. Secondly, I think you may find the action of proposing an amendment that abridged an already secured freedom to be found unconstitutional. Finntann touched on the other likely consequences.

viburnum said...


Here's where we part company. Our rights are inherent, we merely benefit from living in a society that has recognized that fact and made them manifest. That other societies may not does not negate the rights of those living in them, it merely makes there expression difficult, or dangerous. Chinese dissident's, Iranian students, and the denizens of Aleppo have the same rights as you and I. Otherwise you'd be telling Amnesty International to butt out and mind their own business. I just can't see you doing that.

Silverfiddle said...

You're wrong as usual, Jersey. It's not "cultural relativity."

Name me a culture where enslaving, killing and stealing are considered of no great import.

Societies where that goes on go to great lengths to justify it, thereby exposing that the human conscience considers it wrong. It is written on our consciences.

These rights are self-evident.

Kid said...

Endowed by our Creator. Whoever or whatever you perceive that to be, God or Nature, everyone has a right to freedom, individual liberties and the ability to defend/protect self and property.

No idea what is so complicated about that.

Finntann said...


In the immortal words of Warren Zevon...

You're gonna need Lawyers, Guns, and Money.

Well, maybe you won't need the lawyers.


FreeThinke said...

The crux of the problem is this:

Government may have no power to create and grant "rights." but it sure as hell can -- and does -- assume the power to take them away.

When the masses are asses, as ours most certainly are, if one may believe the polls, it's almost inevitable they will choose to give up their freedom bit by bit in exchange for largesse and "protection."

In fact our government has come to resemble more and more the MAFIA. Washington is running a more sophisticated version of the old "Protection" racket.

You remember the scenario -- thugs enter a shop and start smashing the merchandise while threatening the shopkeeper with grievous bodily harm. They then inform him that all he has to do to prevent such attacks in future is hand over a percentage of his gross receipts to the Mafia in exchange for their "protection."

And that is EXACTLY what Uncle Sam has been doing to us for the past hundred years -- at least. It's just been getting worse and worse in latter years particularly.

The question before the court is DO WE HAVE THE WILL TO ALTER OR ABOLISH the EVILS originating in WASHINGTON, DC?

I fear not.

Abraham Lincoln proved conclusively that those who try to oppose The Central Regime, will wind up maimed, blinded, impoverished, or made to suffer a long lingering death after being shot in the gut or sliced open with a bayonet.

We've been living with tyranny of one kind or another ever since. Most of us are just too fat dumb and happy -- and too STUPID -- to realize it.

~ FreeThinke

Ducky's here said...

I don't give a crap about Sharia, but can you provide authoritative links for the other two assertions?

Of course you don't. The last thing the fringe right would want to do is understand sharia.

I am not your librarian and you really shouldn't be running your mouth about abortion if you are this ignorant.

Jewish law requires the mother be saved under all circumstances even if it means aborting the fetus.

Augustine did not believe the fetus had a soul until the second trimester and felt abortion was acceptable if undesirable to that point.

Silverfiddle said...

I understand Sharia, Duck's ass, I just don't give a crap about it.

And I understand Judaism's nuanced position. I also understand Augustine was suffering under a scientific ignorance.

Once again, you bring cartoons to the table when literature is called for. Congratulations.

Z said...

Ducky, not 'giving a crap' and 'not understanding' can be very different things and oftentimes are.

Kid...well said...what's so complicated? Unless your agenda is to take rights AWAY?

jez said...

Silverfiddle: "Name me a culture where enslaving, killing and stealing are considered of no great import."


Silverfiddle said...

Jez: History is rife with violent cultures.

I asked, who thinks killing is OK, no more a matter than flicking a piece of lint off of one's arm.

Human beings, no matter how violent, understand at a basic level that killing is not right.

jez said...

I am not expert enough an anthropologist to confirm or deny your claim, and neither are you as far as I know. You might be right, but it's still wishful thinking.

I believe that some tribes don't consider killing members of a rival tribe to hold any importance beyond the retaliation caused.

FreeThinke said...


All of you persistently "strain out gnats while you swallow camels."

Get back to PRINCIPLES. Stop drowning in myriad specifics. Get to the ROOT. Forget the twigs and branches.

~ FT

Silverfiddle said...

FT: Your lecturing tone can become tiresome at times, and this is one of them.

We are going to the root of why natural rights are considered natural.

Rational Nation USA said...

Simply put our Constitution and the Bill of Rights were specifically designed to protect the rights of the minority over the tyranny of the majority.

I don't know about anyone else but I can't help but notice a glaring hypocrisy that existed in a otherwise completely rational and proper doctrine.

In some forms it continues to exist today.