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Friday, November 13, 2015

"Natural Rights" is all Hooey

John Locke was an optimist assuming that humans could live together in a state of reason. Hobbes on the other hand, thought man existed in a state of chaos and that some form of structure is required to bring order to the chaos. Locke is describing what "should" be; Hobbes is describing what "is."

It follows that all notions of  "rights" will be determined by whatever scheme of laws a society will determine for itself, or be forced upon it, i.e., rights are generated by the human rule-book.  Thomas Jefferson can say whatever he wants in the Declaration of Independence, but just because he says them doesn't give them validity and in any case, again, they require government to enforce them. Ironically, even though I consider myself a form of libertarian strongly supporting the concept of individual rights, I understand that a reasonably strong form of government is required to enforce my "self-determined" individual rights

For example: Property rights exist only in the context of government without which the concept of property could not exist since government is required to enforce and codify them. The whole concept of innate or "natural" rights is basically a Lockean concept that appeals to many people, but which has little basis in reality. What rights you have are determined by whatever government you have. Some forms of government are more oriented toward collective rights that benefit society as a whole, the altruistic version, while other forms emphasize individual rights at the expense of collective rights. A classic example is the "individual" right to own slaves. Collectively, as a society, we decided that individual right does not benefit society as a whole (not to mention we decided that non-whites should be entitled to the same individual rights as whites) but, again, that right requires governmental enforcement and approval.

What we "should" do is determined by a constant refinement of ideas (which is why philosophers should get paid more than welders in spite of what Rubio thinks) and compromise.  There is a constant tension between the needs of the collective (traffic rules, if you will) and the wishes of the individual who assumes that because something he desires is attainable it must be good and a natural right. The difficulty arises when the collective determines that coercion is needed in order to protect the collective right. So there is again a constant tension between different perceived rights.  The Constitution is full of these tensions: the individual right to believe whatever you wanted opposed to the collective right not to have government enforce a particular brand of religious belief;  the individual right to a gun in order to promote the collective right through militias to prevent the larger collective from enforcing tyranny; the individual right not to quarter soldiers in the home opposing the needs of the collective in time of crisis; and the individual right of not incriminating oneself versus the collective's right to solve and prevent crime, to name but a few examples. 

Quoting Jonathan Wallace: "The natural rights debate leads us down a false road. The energy spent in arguing which rules exist should better be spent deciding which rules we should make. The "perfect freedom" Locke described "to order their actions and dispose of their possessions and persons as they see fit... without asking leave or depending upon the will of any other man", does not dictate the existence of rights; instead it leaves us perfectly free to legislate them.
I prefer this freedom, which seems to me simple and clear: we are all at a table together, deciding which rules to adopt, free from any vague constraints, half-remembered myths, anonymous patriarchal texts and murky concepts of nature. If I propose something you do not like, tell me why it is not practical, or harms somebody, or is counter to some other useful rule; but don't tell me it offends the universe."
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