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 you, refer to my second paragraph. If you are not a person then you don’t have rights.

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 may be that the rights of members of a certain minority have their rights denied at a higher rate than other groups but it is the members, not the minority 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 enter into contracts with these people, you may force these people, you may coerce, 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 individual rights.

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 authority.

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.  When people create a society they have to agree to certain conditions of behavior 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 State).

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 Georgia we are fortunate that not only the authority to judge the facts is given to 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 law
3.    Law is the collective organization of individual rights
4.    Because we have rights we give government authority
5.    Government is dangerous because government is force
6.    Government is limited by the constitution (enumerated powers)
7.    Bill of rights establishes protection from government
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 lawless democracy.

Pat Bratton