This story was written by Jim Allard, Badger Herald
The day after choosing a new president seems like a good time to ponder another choice: What kind of society do you want to live in? Do you want to live in one that respects and protects individual rights or one that doesnt? You may be surprised to hear that these are your only two choices.
Sure, there are an almost unlimited variety of social systems. There are monarchies, democracies, theocracies. There is socialism, communism, fascism and a variety of other mixed systems. But all these systems are variations onone theme: All regard the individual as a serf. Each is based on the idea that individuals must serve some higher cause and should be sacrificed to that cause when and if society or its representatives deem it necessary. This is true regardless of whether the cause is the majority will, a god, the czar, the collective, the race or the nation.
Only the United States was founded with the express purpose of placing individual sovereignty above the state and collective. Only the United States was founded on the principle of individual rights. Thus America stands not as one system among many, but as a repudiation of all other systems. It forms a basic alternative among social systems: the alternative of individual rights vs. serfdom.
Today we have all but lost Americas unique system of rights. We are slowly and steadily moving away from a rights-protecting society toward one that systematically violates rights. The reason is not that Americans want to be moving in this direction, but that they dont understand what rights are and what they require.
Most people think rights come from society that we all get together and decide what rights people should have. But this cannot be true. Rights, by definition, are those actions one cannot take without permission i.e., by right. The source of rights is not society, but the nature of man. A proper society recognizes rights; it does not create them.
A right is a principle recognizing and sanctioning an individuals freedom of action. There is only one fundamental right, the right to ones own life. All other rights, such as the right to property, freedom of speech and of the press are derivatives, or expressions, of the fundamental right to ones life.
Rights require nothing of other people except in the negative sense they require that others refrain from restricting an individuals freedom of action. There is no such thing as a right to the goods of others, such as a right to a job.
Some people take issue with this concept of rights. Barack Obama, for instance, claims health care is a right and lamented that the Supreme Court didnt break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution. What constraint is Obama uncomfortable with? In his words, that the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties. [It] says what the states cant do to you but it doesnt say what governments must do on your behalf. As a consequence, one of the tragedies of the civil rights movement, he concludes, was that they were not able to bring about redistributive change.
But rights are in fact the opposite of wealth redistribution. The ability to act freely and keep ones property is the opposite of having ones property expropriated and redistributed. These two phenomena cannot be packaged under some woozy usage of rights. Obama, like most Americans, wants to have his rights and destroy them, too. But this is impossible.
The principle of individual rights forms a basic alternative underlying all social systems. Either society adopts individual rights as its guiding principle or it drops the principle entirely. Its not possible to protect rights sometimes. To claim an individual has a right to his life but that his earnings may beredistributed as society sees fit, is to repudiate his rights entirely. His ability to pursue his life and retain his earnings is henceforth conditional on other peoples willingness to allow him to do so. He no longer acts by right, but by permission.
Acting by permission is the basis of every oppressive social system throughout history. Whether a king decides to free some peasants or the majority allows Socrates to live, the principle is the same: The individual acts by permission, not by right.
In the coming months, as a new administration quarrels over who to tax, regulate, bailout and subsidize, consider the basic alternative: Should individuals pursue their life, liberty and property as a matter of right, like the Founders intended, or by permission as determined by the king, majority or Obama? This is the basic, unavoidable choice. Pretending the choice does not exist will achieve the usual results: no cake for anyone.