Futures and Options

Just another town along the road.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

On the existence of natural rights

It is perhaps inevitable that when the subject of universal health care comes up proponents of this scheme bring up the idea that to deny universal health care is to deny, “the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.  On the surface, this seems legitimate.  After all, being sick isn’t very lively or liberating and it doesn’t make people happy.

There is a basic flaw in this reasoning, however.  Not merely the issue of misunderstanding the fact that the phrase refers not to a guarantee of comfort or of fairness, but rather a declaration that, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are facets of existence that a government should never be allowed, through positive action, to infringe upon.  It’s not even the fundamental misunderstanding of just what it means to mandate that one person pay to support another.

Money, any property actually, is nothing more or less than a person’s life.  Every piece of property that we obtain, whether it be monetary or physical, is nothing more or less than a piece of that person’s life.  All property represents the amount of time and effort that was sacrificed to obtain that property.  We voluntarily trade portions of out lives to our employers for our pay; ultimately time and our own efforts are our only capital and all other mediums of exchange are nothing more than proxies that facilitate a more convenient exchange of our time and effort.

Because of this, any non-optional monetary sacrifice (almost universally achieved through taxation) necessarily represents a deprivation of the sacrificer’s life and liberty.  Any sacrifice is by its nature a denial of one’s own rights. If such sacrifice is compulsory, those rights cannot be said to exist in the first place. If the sacrifice of some is _mandated_ (at the point of a gun, as all governmental mandates ultimately are), then it negates the very rights that one claims to seek to protect.

Which leads us to the ultimate misunderstanding; the idea that there so-called unalienable rights exist in the first place.  The phrase as used in the declaration of independence is nothing more than poetry.  When it all comes out in the end, Robert Heinlein is right; “a human being has no natural rights of any nature.”  Heinlein’s character Lt. Col. Jean V. Dubois said as much to his students.  When challenged by a student who asked, “Sir? How about ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?”, Lt. Col. Dubois responded with what may well be the best refutation of the continued misunderstanding of that classic phrase:

Ah, yes, the ‘unalienable rights.’ Each year someone quotes that magnificent poetry. Life? What ‘right to life’ has a man who is drowning in the Pacific? The ocean will not hearken to his cries. What ‘right’ to life has a man who must die if he is to save his children? If he chooses to save his own life, does he do so as a matter of ‘right’? If two men are starving and cannibalism is the only alternative to death, which man’s right is ‘unalienable’? And is it ‘right’? As to liberty, the heroes who signed the great document pledged themselves to buy liberty with their lives. Liberty is never unalienable; it must be redeemed regularly with the blood of patriots or it always vanishes. Of all the so-called natural human rights that have ever been invented, liberty is least likely to be cheap and is never free of cost.

“The third ‘right’? — the ‘pursuit of happiness’? It is indeed unalienable, but it is not a right; it is simply a universal condition which tyrants cannot take away nor patriots restore. Cast me into a dungeon, burn me at the stake, crown me king of kings, I can ‘pursue happiness’ as long as my brain lives — but neither gods nor saints, wise men nor subtle drugs, can insure that I will catch it.

posted by Zenmervolt at 21:53  

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