In Frank Richs’s book, The Greatest Story ever Sold, he offers up a harsh critique of the Bush Administrations war effort. The real gem of the book is in the last chapter, a discussion about the argument for “Inalienable Rights”. It is a false argument written into our Declaration of Independence, and even for those who believe that in those Rights, and believe in the Declaration, it has to be admitted and understood that Rights are not, in anyway, Inalienable. God’s Law, Nature’s Law, Common Sense, these are all great ideas, but in practice, often leads down horrible roads to horrible destinations.
The author posits, brilliantly, if these Rights, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, were actually inalienable and self-evident, why has it taken so many centuries to achieve them? Why do so many still lack these fundamental Rights? Why don’t people rise up everywhere and every time these Rights are taken away?
The answer is that quite the contrary to what Jefferson wrote, these writes are fundamentally not evident. This is not a knock on Jefferson or the Declaration he wrote, in my view, this makes what he wrote more important. You see, none of the Rights we as Americans enjoy are inalienable, none are self-evident. God did not give us these Rights. We took them. We fought for them. We defended them. We’ve spent more than two hundreds years defending these Rights. We continue to fight over exactly what Rights we need and want today.
Jefferson wasn’t writing a list of Rights we’d always had, a simple list that everyone already knew, he was writing a list of Rights that we had chosen for ourselves and were willing to fight, kill and die for. This is what makes the Declaration and the following Constitution so amazing, not that we had finally realized something we should have always known, but that we were willing to go against nature, go against our base instincts, and demand that certain Rights belonged to each other, that Government did not have the right to take those rights away. For the first time we rose above out worst instincts and said, “For me to be, I must let you be also.”
Take, as an easy example, the Right of your neighbor to own something and have it not stolen from him. At the most basic level of instinct, if your neighbor owns something and you have the desire and power to take it, it is obvious that one should take it. Deciding that your neighbor has the Right to keep it, even though you want it and have the power to take it is not self-evident. It is a far greater thing, it is realization that if you can take from those weaker than you, you can lose to those stronger. Giving equal Rights to everyone
is an act of choice, where we actively choose to honor morality over greed, mutual self interest over immediate individual satisfaction. This is an act that is far superior to simply obeying some guys definition of Nature’s Law.
When it comes to civilized behavior and society, there is no “Nature’s law” or unwritten law of god, there are no inalienable rights and nothing is self-evident. Anything we have, even the most basic right to life, must be declared loudly, fought for and championed. Those terms are only useful for political reasons. Declaring an act (such as homosexuality) “against nature’s law” or declaring a right (such as gay marriage) “self-evident”, doesn’t make it so. These are rhetorical weapons used when the laws of the land aren’t clear, and when one wishes to move the opinion of the masses.
So then, I suppose my point is, no Right has any fundamental power. The power of our Rights lie entirely in those who fight for them. There is no Right that can’t be taken away, no Right that can’t be given. So the question to you is, what Rights are you willing to fight, kill and die for? Or at the very least take time off work and stand in line to vote for?