'Human Rights' - core values in a civilised nation.
Last edited - 28 Feb 19
Natural or ‘Human’ Rights. Natural rights or Human rights are terms describing rights and liberties held by individual humans, derived from Egalitarian Universalism. Others described the source of rights as the ‘laws of nature’, based on the assumption that nature was governed by transcendent laws, a presupposition that also led to the development of modern science.
The resulting Enlightenment philosophy resulted in the single most profound advance in human civilisation in history, unsurpassed to the present day, when the idea that the sovereign individual was the essential building block of human civilisation and culture. John Locke wrote that all individuals were equal in the sense that they were born with certain ‘inalienable’ natural rights. ‘Inalienable’ in that they can never be taken away, nor even given away.
Human rights are, by definition, identical for all individuals. They are generally divided into three categories, Human Rights (individual rights), Civil Liberties (political rights) and Economic Liberties (economic rights). These were summed up by John Locke’s (‘The Father of Liberalism’) precis of liberal values, ‘Life, Liberty and Estate (Property)’.
The key point about human rights is that they cannot be surrendered in the ‘social contract’. For example, a law that restricts the exercise of the right to self-defence to government agents (police/military) results in a human rights violation. Likewise, a law that restricts or prevents parental choice in education is also a human rights violation.
That being clarified, let us press on . . .
Life. At the core of modern civilisation, or ‘modernity’ is the right to life. Prior to the widespread acceptance of formal equality, the value of a human life was attached to their legal status, which varied greatly. A brief discussion of alternative legal principles will be covered in a separate article. Along with formal equality came the right to life and the right and duty to protect one’s own life or the life of others.
The ‘Right to Life’ is the most fundamental of fundamental human rights. By extension, the taking of human life is only ethically justified in cases of individual or collective self-defence, where failure to act in self-defence against an assailant(s) could result in the victim(s) losing their life.
Liberty. In modern English, we would use the word ‘freedom’, but liberty is the older and seemingly grander term. It is in this term we find the principle of the sovereign individual. This does not insinuate that society or government has no value, but that the value of society is derived from the value of the individuals within it. By contrast, socialist ideologies believe that the individual is valueless in isolation, and is only attributed value in relation to their contribution to society.
The ‘Right to Liberty’ means that individuals should be free to make choices about the conduct of their lives provided they do not act in conflict with the liberty of others. As Abraham Lincoln opined, when an individual exercised their rights without regard for the rights and liberties of others, the result was anarchy or ‘licentiousness’, a clear degradation of civilisation.
Of course, an extension to the ‘Right to Liberty’ includes the civil liberties that allow citizens to act as fully sovereign and independent citizens in a democratic society. These include freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom to vote for political representation, freedom to lobby their political leaders, freedom from unjust imprisonment, the right to a trial by a jury of one’s peers, the presumption of innocence, the right of parents to direct the education of their children, etc.
Property. Property as a right is an interesting case. It not only implies the right of ownership, but the attached responsibility of ownership. Mere occupation of property does not confer ownership rights, that is reserved for those who accept responsible stewardship for the property. Therefore, collective ownership of property always results in failure. In the military, the phrase, ‘unless it’s somebody’s responsibility, it’s nobody’s responsibility’ sums this principle up well. Ownership and responsible stewardship are indivisible principles, one cannot have one without the other.
The ‘Right to Property’ is an interesting idea. It is meant to encapsulate the right to earn and own property, but also includes ownership of one’s own person and the product of one’s own labour. It is this set of rights that results in the criminalisation of slavery and, I believe, the eventual criminalisation of socialism. The theft of one’s property, one’s labour or one’s personal freedom are the core characteristics of serfdom and/or slavery. They are deeply immoral and must be eradicated from human society, yet these are among the core principles of socialism.
As Alexis de Tocqueville, the French Diplomat and Statesman, stated in 1848, ‘They call, in fact, for the forfeiture, to a greater or less degree, of human liberty, to the point where, were I to attempt to sum up what socialism is, I would say that it was simply a new system of serfdom’ and, ‘Democracy extends the sphere of individual freedom, socialism restricts it. Democracy attaches all possible value to each man; socialism makes each man a mere agent, a mere number. Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word; equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.’
While studying a couple of decades ago, I realised that despite pretensions of working class origins, modern socialism was a middle-class ideology, developed and pushed by entitled middle-class people, predominantly hereditary middle-class people. It was not a movement or ideology from the factory floor, coal mine or blacksmith’s shop, but elitist university lecture halls, tea rooms and comfortable university dorm rooms. Far from freeing the working class, it confined them to a lifetime of servitude and restrained them from social or economic mobility. The beneficiaries of their labour and servitude were the same middle class intelligencia, an emergent political elite and the military. I then realised that this was a basic societal structure identical to medieval feudalism, only the terminology had changed.
I was gratified to discover the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville some years later, discovering in the process that, unless history is taught well at school, humans will be doomed to repeating the mistakes of history over and over again. A year after ‘Communist Manifesto’ was published, Alexis de Tocqueville had arrived at the same conclusion I arrived a century and a half later. The grossest of gross human rights violations has become a popular political movement in the western world.
As Mark Twain opined, ‘History does not repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme’.
Collective Rights (or Group Rights). Collective Rights are often confused with Human Rights and mislabelled as such. Collective Rights are extended to individuals as a direct result of their membership of an arbitrary identity group and, self-evidently, are not available to others not affiliated with that identity group. Collective Rights are the foundation of Social Justice, in contrast to individual human rights being the foundation of Justice.
The confusion regarding group rights stems from the misinterpretation of various phrases in modern language. For example, if one mentions ‘women's rights’ in the context of ensuring that women are extended the identical human rights that everyone else receives, then the phrase refers to the ‘human rights’ of women. First and second wave feminism were fueled by a desire to defend the ‘human rights’ of women.
If, however, the phrase refers to extending ‘special’ privilege to women, in contrast to that extended to others, then this indicates a violation of ‘human rights’ in favour of ‘collective rights’. Third wave feminism is fueled by a desire to extend special privilege to women in violation of the principles of formal equality, the rule of law and equality under the law.
In Canada, we have a significant problem of human rights violations in pursuit of collective or special interest group privilege or licence. We cannot continue to act as a moral influence in the wider world while ignoring the blatant violations of human rights written into our own laws and enforced by our own governments.
In sum, we must enshrine ‘Life, Liberty and Property’ at the pinnacle of our constitutional law and reform or adopt the structures of government to ensure punishment of any and all violations of those principles.
Over 50,000 Canadians have given their lives in military service to defend these basic principles and, should we fail to uphold them, that number will climb.