[This was originally posted at my tech blog, before I split off political and philosophical rants here and left the stuff I actually know anything about over there. I'm posting this here now because in thinking about the Global War on Terror and its impact on civil liberty, I wanted to get back to basics. I now see several flaws in my reasoning and perspective, and will address those in an upcoming post. ]
I've been thinking lately about human rights. You know, the kind for which men died at Normandy, at Lexington, and Golgotha.
That kind which stem not from the lifestyle to which you are accustomed, not from your power to secure them, nor from government largesse, but those which you have by virtue of your existence.
Warning: I have made no effort to keep the following suitable for the small-minded in general nor for Hate Crimes Commissioners in particular. Others may read freely on...
...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 are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed....
Those familiar words are the milk on which young American minds are weaned away from innocence and into the stark world of defiant individualism. They tell us that there are universal truths, and that these truths are laid manifestly before the eyes of anyone who looks upon the human condition.
Government, it is revealed, exists to keep men from violating each other's rights.
But what are these rights? The Declaration decries violations sufficient to motivate revolt, and the Constitution, as amended, gives some more examples that are explicitly protected. But the writers of those documents seemed to deny steadfastly the urge to make a complete list. I believe they were wise in that denial, which has compelled each generation thereafter to lay claim to those which were not enumerated and by so doing to revalidate those which were.
Rather than attempt an exhaustive list myself, I will attempt only those which are axiomatic. That is, which rights are the truly fundamental ones, without which the people are enslaved to tyrants?
It seems to me that the Declaration's "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" are categories of rights, rather than particular rights themselves. These categories are merely for convenience. The rights reinforce each other, each standing in the stead of the others when the wall of their protection is breeched. All people everywhere, unless they yield them by due process or temporary emergency, have the right to:
- to stay alive
- to eat and drink
- to breath air, and see the sky
- to parental supply of food, shelter, and love
- to practice their beliefs
- to choose their own medical treatment
- to mate and procreate
- to raise children
- to privacy
- to travel
- to use weapons
- to participate in government
- to due process
- to equal treatment under the law
- to speak and write, and to disseminate the results
- to choose and direct their education, vocation, and avocations
- to own and use property
- to take risks
- to assemble
Clean, breathable air is everyone's right. So is dirtying it with smoke and other pollutants, to a certain extent. I'm not smart enough to say how to balance those.
Assembly can be a powerful tool in the constant battle against overbearing government. Without Assembly, Speech loses much of its salinity and Belief may as well be lost. I still place Assembly under Pursuit of Happiness, because it is not just political, but social and recreational as well.
The right to privacy is the essence of a limited government, for if government can inspect us to any degree it desires then we are in its power to that same degree. We are only as free as we are private.
Similarly, the right to travel is as fundamental as the others. If we are not free to go, then we are not free. Without a right to travel, we can't Assemble, and we can't Pursue Happiness.
I'll conclude with one observation which I hope will serve to illustrate fully the point of the interdependence of the rights. The freedoms of Speech and Press are one side of a coin that has as its opposite face the right to own and use weapons. They are the Pen to its Sword; if government removes one, it will surely pay with the other.
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