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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Where Do Our Rights Come From?

The Declaration of Independence states the following:

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.

This is the basis of American exceptionalism.  Prior to the establishment of the USA, no other country said that the rights belonged to the people and that the government got its right to rule from the consent of the people.  In the rest of the world, this was not the case.  In Europe, the kings ruled by Divine right -- their claim to power was the result of God giving them this power.  In Asia, kings like the emperor of Japan not only claimed Divine right, but even divinity itself.  Only in America did the people have the power to create and control the government.

These seem like unremarkable facts.  I learned them in elementary school and again in secondary school.  Somehow, these facts are now being called into question.  The most recent impetus for looking at this issue came from a statement that New Jersey governor Chris Christie made at one of his town hall meetings a few days ago.  Christie commented that the liberty that Americans enjoy comes not from the government but rather from God.  In American history, this is about as non-controversial a statement as saying that the sun rises in the east.  Nevertheless, there has been a swirl of commentary about Christie's statement from the liberal establishment.  Christie has been laughed at for mentioning God as the source of liberty.  Christie has been accused of trying to ingratiate himself with the moronic hicks who will be voting in the GOP primaries around the country.  After all, there is no way that Christie could actually believe what he said -- or so think the liberal commentariat.  Just an hour ago, I heard a local radio talk show in New York on which the liberal host played Christie's comment, laughed out loud and asked whether Christie really did not know that rights come from the government.

It's an amazing phenomenon.  Educated Americans who ought to know better display total ignorance about the philosophical underpinnings of the American state.  The issue here is not belief in God.  One need not believe in God to understand the concept that rights belong to the people and they set up the government.  Governments do not create rights; they simply take and use the powers that the people give to the government.

This is not a minor problem.  Think of the consequences.  If the rights belong to the people, then the government cannot take them away.  If the rights belong to the government, then they can be ended at any time.  Let's take a right everyone agrees upon:  the right to life.  If the government actually grants that right, then it could also take that right away.  If Washington decides that some group is a major problem, then it could decide to round them up and have them killed.  That is the logical result of government created rights.  It makes the government all powerful.  Indeed, it is this result of an all-powerful government that is the cause for the liberal belief as to the source of all rights.


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