Category: Natural Rights

Exploration of our natural rights: what they are and where they come from.

Our Natural Rights: Unpacked

Our Natural Rights: Unpacked

Humanity has received this great gift: the endowment of our natural rights. But what makes up this gift? What’s in the box so to speak? Although we touched on them in the previous quill entitled “In the Beginning” we now turn to the task of unpacking all three rights and explaining what they mean for us when they are respected. The subsequent paragraphs are aimed at justifying and expanding on our natural rights to life, liberty and property. 

When looking at the right to life, it’s important to note that synonymous with the word “life” are the words “individuality” and “person”. Within the context of this discussion, these terms all refer to the same principle. As we begin, I feel compelled to ask this question: Does the right to life require much explanation? Without some level of assurance that others won’t arbitrarily take our lives or seriously harm us, how can we move towards human flourishing? In the absence of a secured right to life, both our attention and our efforts become solely focused on self-preservation and/or the protection of our loved ones. To illustrate this, let us look at the Huaorani tribe of Ecuador and their long history of revenge killings. Prior to their eventual reception of Christian missionaries in the late 1950s, the Huaorani permitted the killing of one another by way of spearing in order to resolve tribal issues. In a genealogy conducted during the late 1970s which spanned over five generations, data revealed that 64% of the tribe’s deaths came as a direct result of warfare and/or from threats of violence.[1] No surprise, that by the middle of the twentieth century, the tribe’s standard of living was still so primitive. Today, almost all of the Huaorani have chosen to cease their practice of revenge killings and some have found employment opportunities within the forestry and energy sectors which now operate in the area. Economic investments and expansions in the region proved much easier for the companies involved once the Huaorani began demonstrating a general respect for each individual’s right to life. This respect has resulted in longer life expectancy as well as improvements in their living standards. So respect the person but then what?

As we come to expect to live from one day to another, our thoughts can shift to the principle of liberty: also known as faculties. What is meant by the right to liberty? Simply put, “liberty” or “faculties” equates the freedom to use our talents or labour in the best way we see fit. What happens when we are free to exercise choice in our lives? We make decisions based on what brings us the greatest return at the smallest possible cost. The returns we refer to here are not solely financial as sometimes returns are simply a measure of overall happiness. What do I mean by cost? The choices we make in life come at what economists like to call “opportunity costs.” By definition, “Opportunity costs represent the benefits an individual, investor or business misses out on when choosing one alternative over another.”[2] Basically, if I choose option A over option B, what do I give up that only option B would have brought me? Do we notice how often the idea of choice comes up? Many take this freedom of choice for granted. Let us consider what life would be like if a centrally planned economy dictated how, where and when we applied our talents and labour. I’m terrible at tying knots. However, I have a gift for analytical work which involves numbers and forecasting. What if in a completely planned economy, the only employment offered me was as a Deckhand on a sailing vessel? Well, not only would the ship be in constant peril (I’m serious), the labour itself would require far more effort from me in order to fulfill my duties than an analytical desk job. Even if the position was found to be higher paying than the one better suited for my talents, forgoing the satisfaction and peace of mind which would come with the more suited position could present too high a cost for me to view the increased salary as beneficial. In some systems like Communism, this scenario is a reality. I prefer not to be told I’m going to be a Deckhand. Free labour markets coupled with the freedom of movement are key ingredients for respecting the individual’s right to liberty. So how does all of this tie into the right to personal property?

In his book “The Law”, Frédéric Bastiat has this to say about property: “Man can live and satisfy his wants only by ceaseless labor; by the ceaseless application of his faculties to natural resources. This process is the origin of property.”[3] If we have no right to the fruits of our labour and these fruits are free to be plundered, what creates the incentive for us to labour in the first place? Would it not be quicker to plunder the next person’s goods in order to survive? On this, Bastiat adds, “…plunder…stops when it becomes more painful and more dangerous than labor” (5). How do we make labour less painful than plunder? Simple. Leave the fruits (wages/property) to the labourer. The right to property has profound implications on our overall well-being. Take for instance our homes. If anyone passing by were free to take possession of them upon finding them empty, we would have to ensure they were never left vacant. Do we see how this burden would drastically impact our ability to maintain and/or expand our production? The absence of property rights would necessitate that resources in the area of both time and capital be depleted in order to protect our personal property. Imagine having no legal claim to physical capital such as work tools, the very things that enable tradesmen to produce labour and sustain their lives. The tools disappear taking with them the person’s livelihood. Without the right to property, there are no incentives to production beyond that which is required to live a hand to mouth existence to survive. Once the right to property has been secured, humans can then pursue other ambitions and this is where we really start to see humans flourish. 

Before closing and in the event that their relationship to one another is still not yet clear, it should be stated that all three of the aforementioned rights are interdependent upon each other. Liberty comes from life, property comes out of labour, and life is sustained through our ability to keep the fruits of our labour. The interconnected nature of all three when respected is what lifts up human flourishing. We can choose to walk through life never questioning our relationship with the world around us; but in doing so we will also never experience life’s fullness. Let us now close the box back up, and ready ourselves for what comes next: how natural rights intersect with the state.     

Towards liberty,

OA


[1] Beckerman, Stephen, et al. “Life Histories, Blood Revenge, and Reproductive Success among the Waorani of Ecuador.” PNAS, National Academy of Sciences, 19 May 2009, www.pnas.org/content/106/20/8134.

[2] Kenton, Will. “Understanding Opportunity Cost.” Investopedia, Investopedia, 29 Jan. 2020, www.investopedia.com/terms/o/opportunitycost.asp.

[3] Bastiat, Frédéric. The Law. Lehi: Libertas Press, 2017. Print. P.5

In the Beginning

In the Beginning


Labor gives birth to ideas.” – Jim Rohn –


When a newborn first cries out, it knows nothing of the fact its new-found freedom will be routinely challenged. For conversations on the topic of freedom/liberty to be meaningful, it is my opinion one first needs to accept from the point of conception, a human being is endowed with certain natural rights. Those rights encompass one’s individuality, liberty and property which can also be referred to as life, faculty and production[1]. When all three are respected, it allows for the full expansion of human creativity which leads to subsequent human flourishing. Some question the idea of natural rights arguing the individual is merely a small component of a greater social collective. These same individuals often resist the idea of inalienable rights asking “exactly where do these rights come from?” In this short essay, arguments will be presented to show natural rights do indeed exist, and do so regardless of humanity’s origin whether created by God or by way of evolution.

Full disclosure: I’m a Christian. I’m part of the 75% (circa 2011) of Canadians who say they believe in God.[2] Not all of those are Christian but they all hold to a belief that humanity came from a Creator. I will only touch on the biblical creation account as this is where my own experience resides. The reader is encouraged to look into creation accounts from other religions should they feel more examples are required to support the argument. 

The biblical account of human origin begins with: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen:1-26-27)[3] Christians understand that to be made in the image of God means we share certain attributes with God. If our Creator has rights (holds authority) and chooses to both create and impart some of His attributes onto us, we must also possess some of those inalienable rights. More specifically, if our Creator is the giver and sustainer of life, clearly as His created work we have a right to “life” and it should therefore be respected. Let us consider the artist. When they create something, unless they choose to transfer its ownership, the artist alone dictates whether that work is preserved or destroyed. Lastly, the quoted scripture states we have been given dominion over the rest of creation. This is important and supports the idea that in order to exercise this dominion, we are required to use our “faculties” to “produce” commodities which give us the means to support our very lives. This brief excerpt from the biblical creation account lends support to the believer arguing for the existence of their natural rights. 

Subsequent to my earlier disclosure: I wasn’t always a Christian. I mention this to demonstrate that I know very well what it’s like to hold a worldview which doesn’t accept the creation account of life’s origin. For the evolutionist, the question to consider is this: If humanity came by way of evolution and nothing has been imparted to us, how can we claim to have any rights at all? 

To answer this, let us turn to the writer/philosopher Ayn Rand well known in libertarian circles for her best-selling novels, as well as the development of a philosophical system known as Objectivism.[4] Let me be clear: Objectivism rejects the idea of the supernatural which therefore results in the rejection of the idea of God. It holds that rights are based in morality and these rights explain how humans should interact in social contexts.[5] The philosophy continues by stating the primary moral goal of human existence is to achieve happiness; in order to attain this happiness there is a requirement for people to both respect certain facts about human nature, and respect the rights of others. So how do we determine exactly what these rights are? The answer becomes clearer once we realize Objectivists endorse free-market capitalism. Under this economic system, a limited government is charged with protecting the individual’s right to individuality, liberty, and property only using force when required to protect those rights.[6]Simply put, protect one’s freedom to produce their desired goods/services, then safeguard their ability to reap the rewards then you will see humans flourish. In light of these ideas, we see how Rand and countless others have come to argue that humanity does indeed hold both necessary and inalienable rights in order to achieve life’s greatest purpose: human happiness.

Admittedly, the arguments presented on behalf of both worldviews have been anything but lengthy; brevity was intentional. Serious inquirers are encouraged to delve deeper by referencing other resources on the topic. Although brief, both arguments effectively lead us to conclude that regardless of humanity’s “raison d’être”, each and every individual possesses natural rights. When respected, these rights enable individuals to both sustain and enhance their own well-being. As for how those rights intersect with our governing authorities, the great French economist Frédéric Bastiat once wrote “Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.”[7] That idea is something we should all pause to consider. It likely warrants a short essay of its own. In closing, may we draw inspiration from the newly born and boldly assert that from first cry[8] unto final breath, we are all endowed with natural rights. Now that’s something worth fighting for!

Towards liberty,

OA


[1] Bastiat, Frédéric. The Law. Lehi: Libertas Press, 2017. Print. P.1

[2] Statistics Canada. “Two-Thirds of the Population Declare Christian as Their Religion.” Canadian Demographics at a Glance, Second Edition, 19 Feb. 2016, www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/91-003-x/2014001/section03/33-eng.htm.

[3] The Bible. English Standard Version, Crossway, 2001.

[4] “Ayn Rand.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 7 Apr. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayn_Rand.

[5] Thomas, William. “Natural Rights.” The Atlas Society, 28 Sept. 2010, atlassociety.org/commentary/commentary-blog/4079-natural-rights.

[6] Thomas, William. “What Is Objectivism?” The Atlas Society, 14 June 2010, atlassociety.org/objectivism/atlas-university/what-is-objectivism/objectivism-101-blog/3366-what-is-objectivism.

[7] Bastiat, Frédéric. The Law. Lehi: Libertas Press, 2017. Print. P.1

[8] The writer wishes to clarify his position by affirming that the unborn child has the same rights to life as the newborn.