Are rights inalienable?

7 Dec

There is a common fallacy that what exists today has always existed. Thomas Jefferson wrote down that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” were inalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence. But he didn’t have to write them down if they were obvious… and they certainly are not.

TJ was a product of his time. The deist ideals that there is and has always been a common morality is very much a modern concept. We often quote the Code of Hammurabi as the first modern law code, but within that script, there are various levels of punishment depending on how well connected you were. Nobles got punished with fines; peasants with dismemberment or death. Only when the Bible created their own law code was the same punishment given to everybody… and they were dealing with a time in which there were no jails and enforcement was limited to the priests and your cousins enacting blood vengeance.

I find it interesting that Jefferson was paraphrasing Montesquieu in the DoI, but in M’s case, it was “life, liberty, and property.” Land has always been one of the great assurances of wealth. Even in the Bible, they ensured that even if you (or your father) sold your birthright, you had the chance every 50 years to get it back. There was a chance to redeem your ability to progress in life. This was a rather unusual concept three thousand years ago; in Egypt, the Pharaoh owned everything. You may have been free, but the land you worked on belonged to the chief.

Even in Medieval Europe, everything was contractual. You worked your land, and in exchange for protection (usually against Vikings) you gave a percentage of everything you grew to the lord. However, over the centuries, your plot of land wasn’t enough to raise a family on or improve your status in life. So there was the commons–a plot of land available to everyone to graze your sheep or goats. Of course, when the lords realized, “Hey, we can make money off these commons if we sell them,” that killed a lot of peasants’ livelihoods and they had to flee to the cities for work. Hence the industrial revolution and all the joys we experience today.

Imagine that only two hundred years ago, over half of all Americans worked for themselves… either as farmers or small business owners. According to the Small Business Administration, only 30 million of all jobs are through a small business–one in ten–and that includes people who work for them. Rights of employees have expanded since then, but we certainly don’t have the same experience or freedoms that comes from controlling your own business. There’s even the term “wage slavery” that we attach to this. Sure, we’d love to leave our job, but the pay is so good, we’re afraid to leave. This is also called the “golden handcuffs.”

So why don’t we risk everything and start our own business? You can–there are opportunities out there. But you have to be willing to risk; that is often too painful for those of us (myself included) that have to provide for our families. So our rights are limited–assured by law, but limited by our circumstances.

So what’s the solution? Some people want the government to take charge of these systems, ensuring our rights as citizens, and making sure that we can afford to raise our families on a “minimum wage.” To quote TJ’s ally, James Madison, “if men were angels, governments would not be necessary.” Governments are made of people, who are always trying to get more than they are allotted, so they will inevitably, they will steal the money that is allotted for someone else.

Which is why I’m a “minarchist,” which is the idea that the least amount of government is the best. Is it perfect? No. But I’m more worried about government overreach than I am about an oppressive corporation. I can change jobs, I can’t change governments as easily. That’s why I love federalism–if you don’t like what Illinois is doing, you can move to Arizona, where the rules are different. If you want that level of government, then you can vote for it. What I fear is that as the rural/urban divide is growing larger, there won’t be anywhere in the US you can escape from the government’s reach. The more regulations, the less rights, and the less justice.

Sorry for getting into political philosophy today, but I wanted to think about some of things that go through my brain. What do you think? Is a higher level of government necessary to defend your right? Why? Let me know in the comments below!

2 Responses to “Are rights inalienable?”

  1. Silk Cords December 8, 2020 at 1:31 pm #

    More people need to politely speak up on things like this IMO. Right now, we only have the fringe elements (on both sides) making any noise about political and social issues. That’s letting them effectively run the show.

    NOW, jumping from the end of the post to the start of it (lol)… Jefferson gets a BAD rap from the FAR left. The reason he changed “property” to “PURSUIT of happiness” is he (and other founders) didn’t want “property” being used as a justification for slavery.

    Rights end where others’ rights begin though, so they can never be absolute.

    Minarchist… or maybe libertarian. 🙂 At any rate, it was a libertarian radio host (Neal Boortz) that made the best case for distrusting government. It has the power to use force to accomplish it’s goals. Private citizens and businesses can’t do that.

    The election results show a huge divide between cities and the rest of the U.S. Enough so to scare me somewhat. Why worry though? Government controlling everything worked out well in Soviet Russia, the former Warsaw Pact, China, Cambodia, Venezuela, etc…

    • albigensia December 9, 2020 at 6:34 am #

      Silk–That’s a good argument. Thanks for letting me know about Jefferson in the DoJ, I didn’t know that.

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