Thursday, July 26, 2012

Rights aren't inalienable

Even Jefferson didn't really mean it in the Declaration of Independence.

"So Tom, life is an inalienable right?  What if a person murders someone?  Can we take his life in punishment?"

"No, I wasn't talking about that," Tom answers.

"What about in war, can I take someone else's life in war, especially if he's a British soldier about to shoot me?"

"No, I wasn't referring to war," Tom said, looking at me like I was stupid.

I'm not sure where I picked up the idea, but somehow I emerged from high school thinking that the rights of the Constitution were absolute, meaning without exception. Turns out this is not only wrong, it is impossible.

Freedom of religion is not absolute.  If my religion pushes me to kill other people, I can't practice it.

The right to bear arms is not absolute.  There's nothing to keep the government from prohibiting a criminal from having a gun... or from banning assault rifles from the general populace, since their sole existence is to kill lots of people as quickly as possible.

Freedom of speech is not absolute.  I am not free to blog plots against the government or say certain things about the president.

Living in society requires everyone involved to surrender some portion of their individual freedom for the common good.  Then we hire police to enforce the "social contract" we have made.  

No rights are absolute.  We are not living in a jungle or in some primitive culture where justice is administered by rogue individuals. There is no Batman.

Taxes are a given. We do not have the right to drive 100mph within the city limits as part of the contract because that wouldn't be good for other pedestrians who are part of the social contract with me.  The trick is the give and take.

What is the sweet spot between my individual freedom and the common good of society?  There is no right or wrong answer, only ones that benefit more or less people.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

True, Ken.
But, how one understands regulation and liberty is how one dices up making laws.

People find ways around the laws in the black market. And we see regularly politicians getting around the law or investors taking their money elsewhere. This has happened over and over again in different periods of history.

That is not to say there is no value in laws. Otherwise as you say, we live in a jungle where the one with the connections has the power to do whatever they want. Constitutional boundaries around power and fiscal responsibility are important to maintain because we survive as a nation, or not (irregardless of what the humanitarians suggest about the global).

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Regardless, not irregardless :-)!

John C. Gardner said...

The Constitution should be followed both procedurally and for its content(e.g. freedom of religion). We need to declare war when we go into ventures such as fighting as a nation in Afghanistan. Furthermore, one of my professors said that there is a difference between speech and practice. I can protest outside an armory but the moment I lead a mob into the armory to sieze weapons it is no longer protected. We need to use the amendment process to change the constitution rather than seeking court decisions like Roe vs. Wade to change laws. I am a constitutional conservatice on most issues except race where the Supreme Court was right to act(i.e. in Brown certainly not Plessy vs. Ferguson)

Martin LaBar said...

Some of my on-line friends (well, a lot of them) seem to believe that the right to bear arms is an absolute right. Sigh.

John C. Gardner said...

We need some rational gun control(e.g. forbid magazines with 100 rounds used at Aurora). Additionally, we need to stop the concealed carry phenomena. Absolute considerations about gun rights seem to be rooted in a libertarian rights view which is not rooted in the common good of society.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

If it weren't for "libertarians", liberty would be a lost art!!!