Update II: It’s Life, Liberty, Property

Classical Liberalism,Constitution,Glenn Beck,Individual Rights,Liberty,Private Property

I like Fox broadcaster Glenn Beck, I really do, if only because he exudes sheer goodness and has a visceral feel for freedom. However, starting a confused revolution, as he has, only adds to the philosophical confusion of a people too lazy to plumb the depths of their founding documents.

I’d like to hear less of the “pursuit of happiness” phrase from the Declaration of Independence,” and more about how no “State” shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

Thomas Jefferson had opted for the inclusiveness of “the pursuit of happiness,” instead of sticking with the Lockean “life, liberty, property.” He meant property plus, but, instead, bequeathed us a vagueness that has undermined property.

The “Virginia Declaration of Rights,” written by George Mason in 1776, brings together “property” and the “pursuit of happiness”:

“That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”

The right to property includes self-ownership. As I’ve written: “The right of ownership is an extension of the right to life. If ownership is not an absolute right but is instead subject to the vagaries of majority vote, then so is the right to life.”

Glenn again: Beck insisted some time back that our rights come from God and that unless you believe in the Almighty, you cannot defend rights. That’s a non sequitur. Rights are rooted in the nature of man. Whether one defers to reason or revelation for their justification–the natural rights of man remain inalienable.

Philosopher Ayn Rand anchored man’s rights in his nature. “Rights are conditions of existence required by man’s nature for his survival,” she wrote in Atlas Shrugged. In order to survive, man must—and it is in his nature to—transform the resources around him by mixing his labor with them and making them his own. Man’s labor and property are extensions of himself. The right of ownership is thus an extension of the right to life.

Glenn also asserted that we merely loan our rights to the government temporarily to protect. I understand he means well, but, but…

No! That’s not so. Rights are never on loan; they cannot be alienated (although our friend Walter Block has made an interesting case for supreme freedom by arguing for one’s right to sell oneself into slavery). Unless of course a man takes the life of an innocent other. Then, by virtue of his actions, he has forfeited his right to life.

Back to Beck: The government is merely entrusted with upholding natural rights. It cannot grant or repeal them. We don’t loan our rights to anyone.

It’s bad form and bad language to suggest so.

Update: With reference to The Judge’s comment: rights are never lost–not even when reason is jettisoned. More often than not, however, rights are violated.

Update II (March 16): If you want to find out about natural rights, you have to be prepared to show some initiative and do a bit of searching and reading on this blog and website, where you’ll find ample material—my own in addition to references. Click the Classical Liberalism post on the right. Also, go to the various searches on the main site, here and here.

The ilanamercer.com mother site, to which BAB is a companion, is set up for your convenience. But if you need spoon feeding, how on earth will you be capable of wielding a pitchfork when the time comes?

So too can BAB’s archives be plumbed for entries and discussions of rights, negative vs. positive (the bogus kind). The search-by-categories on BAB can’t be missed.

6 thoughts on “Update II: It’s Life, Liberty, Property

  1. robert

    Beck insisted some time back that our rights come from God and that unless you believe in the Almighty, you cannot defend rights. That’s a non sequitur. Rights are rooted in the nature of man. Whether one defers to reason or revelation for their justification–the natural rights of man remain inalienable.

    Philosopher Ayn Rand anchored man’s rights in his nature. “she wrote in Atlas Shrugged. In order to survive, man must—and it is in his nature to—transform the resources around him by mixing his labor with them and making them his own. Man’s labor and property are extensions of himself.

    Ilana,
    I really think all authority comes from God but I am not sure about all rights. Rights coming from man are quickly lost when reason is lost –as when terror- hysteria broke out after 9-11– but revelation remains for the next generation when reason returns. In the mean time, such as our own, the debate will continue on” exactly what conditions of existence are required by man’s nature for his survival.” I won’t be surprised if in the long run we rediscover, either through desperate experience or revelation, the merits and necessity of thou shall not kill, steal, covet and all the the rest of our ancient, revealed traditions. Or as you put it quite accurately: “The right of ownership is an extension of the right to life.”

  2. Myron Pauli

    Glenn’s principles 3, 6, and 7 are fine. #’s 1, 4, 5, 8, and 9 are often but not absolutely applicable – and, thank G-d, I disagree with #2. But this is “conservative” Republicans – OK on some items .. BUT making War on Drugs, Afghanistan, etc. and bailing out “society” for votes in between warmongering. // Mason is a good guy – everyone should check Section 4 of the Declaration and tell me where the welfare state (Socialist inSecurity, Medicare…) comes in?? // Jefferson’s comments on Principle # 9 is what, tragically, made him goofy on French Jacobinism. In that sense, an atheist may need to conjure a Supreme Non-Existence who restrains “the authority of the people” – Principle #2 // As for Tax BEAST # 16 – “Conservatives” who demanded a Leviathan Megastate costing $4,000,000,000,000/year have conjured the Beast. There are not enough grocery beggars to pay the Beast – hence we have the Infernal Revenue “Service”
    a.k.a. Beast. Soak the “rich” until they stop promoting the statists who grow the Spending that summons up the Beast. // Ron Paul got the support of the troops in harm’s way while the CEO’s went with Messiah Obama.

    [Hey Mr. Pauli: can you please write in regular sentences and conventional punctuation, sans weird squiggles. Your comments are too valuable to be lost in all this punctuation noise.]

  3. Robert

    Yes, I did not mean to say that all law comes from God, or that natural law is subject to the vagaries of clear minds nor am I attempting to advocate for Theocracy. Authority is consistent with natural law, as is the positive law when it is authoritative. Cultures usually begin with a revelation and their subsequent history is in light of that revelation, either a turning away from it, re-interpretation of it, or a return to it. I meant to say that authority seems always grounded in revelation. I am speaking of the Hindu culture of India, the Buddhist culture of Asia, The Moslem culture of the desert, Greece and Rome and our own Judeo-Christian culture. It is a large subject but I certainly did not mean to denigrate natural law as you properly understand it, as something permanent, necessary to human existence and understood through our reason, experience and reflections upon life.

  4. ~greenhell~

    On the point of “unless you believe in the Almighty you cannot defend rights,” you answered that “rights are rooted in the nature of man.” This is something I agree with but cannot explain to others – or hardly to myself. Do you have any sources you would recommend that I study to get a better grasp on the natural rights of man and natural law in general?

  5. David Smith

    The idea of property – and I mean “property” as in land, earth, tillable dirt – perhaps doesn’t have the same perceived weight as a natural right as it used to. After all, for folks who have no more notion of where their food comes from than the local mega mart or the occasional gardening show on HGTV can’t comprehend that land is where their nourishment quite literally comes from. If the only ones who control the land are those in government and their cronies, then they control the food supply!

  6. John Danforth

    Greenhell —

    In order to really grasp the concept of rights, you need to use strict definitions and careful epistemology.

    The best exposition online can be found here:
    http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/individualrights.html

    I recommend reading the whole page carefully.

    There are so many misconceptions about rights floating about in the intellectual soup that it is just about impossible to get the basic concept across to people who misunderstand most of the language that is required to define them.

    It is crucial to understand, though: Any definition of rights that includes any reference to a supernatural entity contradicts and makes impossible the very concept of a right, replacing reason with an arbitrary proclamation by someone who claims to have superior knowledge of the indefinable (they might change their mind!). My rights are part of me, inseparable. They can be honored or violated, but not granted or taken away. And it is up to me to claim and defend my rights, recognizing no higher authority on the matter than my own reason, even if society is unanimous in disagreement with my principles. Obviously, taking such a stance requires one to have a thoroughly defensible understanding of the origin of rights. Rights are violated with force, threat, or fraud, and this is a good guide to go by when people say, “There ougtta be a law”.

    That doesn’t go over too well at parties, unfortunately.

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