Rights, Authority, and Power
Most of the confusion over the concept of rights comes directly from
the fact that people don’t know what a “right” is. I have a son, in law
school, and was appalled to learn that he is being taught that rights
and privileges are interchangeable things. People confuse guarantees
and contracts with rights. People think that the authority to do
something is the same as having the right to do something. The
situation is similar to the problem we have with the word “love”.
It has too many different meanings.
In order to help organize my own thoughts I have taken the time to
write this explanation. If you are a human being, then you have
rights. If you are not a human being you do not have
rights. Your rights are a gift from God as expressed in the
Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self
evident, that all men are created equal and are endowed by their
creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these
are life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This was
originally written as “life, liberty, and property” but was changed.
You have a right to your life and your liberty. You have a right to
your property because it was created out of your life and liberty.
These are your only rights and they are yours to defend.
In order to secure our rights, governments are instituted, drawing
their just power from the consent of the governed. We created
government in order to do law. Law is the collective organization
of the individual right to defend life, liberty, and property. Laws
that do not protect rights are not laws at all but merely decrees by
legislatures in order to do mischief or create order or public safety
The Bill of Rights is not a bill of rights. It is a bill of
restrictions. It is a list of what the Government must do in
order to interfere with your rights. It out lines procedures that
must be followed, it lists conditions that must be met, it requires a
jury of your peers in order to punish you for a crime, and it confuses
the issue by stating that you have a right to these things. Not
so. You have a contractual guarantee to these procedures.
Now I will grant you that having to say “contractual guarantee” is a
good deal harder than saying “right” but this is too important to
ignore. You see, if everything is a “right” then people and
courts and politicians would have you believe that individual rights
have to be weighed against
the government’s rights, or society’s rights. If this confuses
refer to my second paragraph. If you are not a person then you don’t
Rights can never be limited, balanced against society, or taken away
except by God. The government can refuse to defend your rights or
deny you the free exercise of your rights, but it can no more take them
away than it can create them. When a government thinks that it
can create rights at that moment it becomes God. Which means it
is past time to get a rope.
You may ask, “Don’t groups have rights?” No, groups don’t have rights.
They may organize. They may incorporate and become a legal entity and
enter into contracts with others but they do not have rights.
They may have legal protection that is referred to as rights, but it is
not a real right. “What about minority rights?” “Don’t minorities have
rights? No. It might help you to remember that the smallest minority is
always the individual and
it is the individual that God created and therefore has the rights. It
be that the rights of members of a certain minority have their rights
at a higher rate than other groups but it is the members, not the
that has rights.
“Don’t animals have rights?” No, they have protection. If they
had rights we would not be allowed to eat them. Do you have a right to
be happy? No, but you have a right to choose to pursue what you
believe will make you happy (liberty). Do you have a right to
medical care? If you
own a doctor, yes, but you may have trouble with the fourteenth
amendment. You do not have a right to a single minute of another
person’s life, not a
doctor, a teacher, a janitor, a taxi driver, or a priest. You may
into contracts with these people, you may force these people, you may
you may bribe, but you do not have a right to anything they have or do.
But at last you say, “Surely, government must have rights, or how could
it do all the things that is has to accomplish in the course of a
day.” Wrong again. The rights are yours. You created the
government to protect your rights. It is because you have the
right to protect your rights, that you can therefore assign the
government the authority to protect you rights. This is the most
critical point to understand (pretend that it is going to be on the
test). All lawful authority is derived from the assignment of
If authority is derived from an individual’s rights, then before you
can give someone authority to do something you must first have the
right to do it yourself. If you don’t have the right then you can
not assign the authority to another. Governments have the
authority to use force to protect your life, liberty, and property,
because you have the right to
do so. Governments also have the power to do anything they want
because government is force. We must never confuse rights, power, and
Frederic Bastiat writes that when government does something for you
that you do not have the right to do yourself, then it is acting
illegally. If your government takes money from your neighbor and
gives it to you it is acting as thief, just as you would be a thief if
you took money from your neighbor and kept it. Ayn Rand said it
like this, “If you have what you did not earn, then somewhere there is
someone who has earned something that he no longer has.”
In criminal law defendants are charged with “Crimes against the State.”
This can set up a false impression that the state has rights.
people create a society they have to agree to certain conditions of
in order to live together peacefully. If you choose to live in
society than you have to obey the rules. Being part of society
means that you freely contract with others to follow certain norms of
behavior. When you are charged with a crime you are actually
being prosecuted for breach of contract with your neighbors (the
If your are charged with at crime against the State in which no one’s
life, liberty, or property was taken or threatened, if you did not act
against another thru force or fraud, then in fact you have committed no
crime. You may have broken a law, but it is probably not a crime
that meets the test
of why we have law. It is in fact an illegal law. In
are fortunate that not only the authority to judge the facts is given
jurors, but they are in fact required to judge both the law and the
facts (Georgia Constitution, article 1, Sec. 1, paragraph 11).
Not all states have this guarantee in their constitution.
OK, let’s review.
1. Rights are a gift from God to each one of us.
2. To secure these rights we created government to do
3. Law is the collective organization of individual
4. Because we have rights we give government authority
5. Government is dangerous because government is force
6. Government is limited by the constitution
7. Bill of rights establishes protection from
8. Authority, privileges, contracts, agreements, and
protection are inferior to rights
If these relationships are understood and defended then we will live in
a free republic. If these things continue not to be taught in
government run schools then we will degenerate into just another