This is the fourth part of my series on my “Three letter worldview.” In Part 1, I explained that those three letters are the ones by which God identified Himself to Moses in the opening chapters of Exodus, “I am.” Part 2 expanded on the basic concepts of existence and identity by explaining how humans use relationships to interact, and by asserting that God created us to exercise freedom. Part 3 introduced my view on the concept of rights.
In part 4, I’d like to expand on rights a bit more by discussing how those rights interact with the rights of others.
I wrote in part three that “all the rights in the universe boil down to one. Ultimately, there is a single basic right. The right to exist!”
I believe each of us has that right from the moment of our formation as an individual, human entity. I also believe that no other person can take these rights away from us, and that the only legitimate justification for taking the life – the physical existence – of another, is to protect the life – the existence – of another who is in imminent danger. For this reason, I am pro-life, with the single exception that I believe an abortion is justified if there is an imminent threat to the life of the mother. Also for this reason, I am against the death penalty. There is an argument that says the death penalty acts as a deterrent by preventing repeat offenses . . . but this makes two assumptions. First, it assumes the future guilt on the part of the one being executed . . . assumes that he or she will be a repeat offender. Second, it assumes the view of rights that I explicitly rejected in my last post – that a government . . .Â any government . . . has the legitimate function of deciding when and where the ultimate right of existence can and should be taken away.
If, then, governments do not grant us rights, what exactly is their function? I believe that governments are, by definition, a collection of individuals voluntarily assembled for the purpose of protecting one another’s rights. Those governments who act otherwise – who go beyond the function of protecting individuals from one another into the realm of dictating the choices those individuals must or should make with regard to the exercise of their own rights – have violated their purpose and strayed into the realm of illegitimacy.
And yes, I do believe that our government . . . indeed, every government now existent on this earth . . . has made that leap. It is for this reason that I really don’t believe there is one form of government that is “more legitimate” than another form. A dictator can be more benevolent than a parliament, and a democracyÂ more tyrannical than a king . . . just ask Socrates.
No, the problem with governments is not in their form, but in their function. Our government – indeed, most if not all governments – have developed this notion that they are the ones who grant us rights. Those rights they “choose” to give us, we are free to exercise, within their discretion of course. But should we protest at the lack of those rights they choose to withhold, we are being unreasonable at best, and dangerous at worst.
One might think by this line of logic that I am advocating rebellion against oppressive and illegitimate governments, but in fact I am not . . . because it is not the government’s fault. It is mine. And yours.
You see, in the same way I believe governments do not give us rights, I do not truly believe they take them either. In fact, I do not believe that rights are something that can be taken away from an individual who is operating at his or her full mental and physical capacity.
They cannot be taken, but they can be surrendered.
Ponder that sentence for a moment.
Nobody can take my rights away from me without my consent. How, then, are millions of people enslaved by tyrannical regimes at this very moment??
The answer is choice – the same choice that, as I mentioned in an earlier segment – guides all human interactions.
I live under a government that sometimes acts in ways I believe to be illegitimate . . . because I choose to. I choose not to protest the unjust actions of my government because I believe it does a better job protecting my rights than any of the alternatives, and because – quite frankly – I like it here. It’s not perfect, but on balance I like it.
But this notion of choosing to surrender our rights places the nature of our government – ofÂ any government – in a new light, doesn’t it? In fact, I believe that even in forming a government, some rights are voluntarily surrendered. Absent any government, for example, the decisions that affect me are mine, and mine alone. When I live under a government, even a democratic republic like the United States, I surrender a portion of that decision-making power. Even in a direct democracy, the decisions are not left to each individual alone, but are made by the group as a whole.
As such, no government is going to make decisions that satisfy 100% of their citizenry, 100% of the time. Furthermore, because governments can only deal in “protecting” us against “violations” of our rights, they will be constantly seeking to expand the scope of those violations, in order to aggregate more and more power to themselves. It is simply the way they work, to the point where they will – and do – seek to protect us even from ourselves.
But why is this not a legitimate concern on the part of a government? They are in the business of protecting, are they not? So why should they not protect me from the consequences of my own poor decisions?
This will be the subject of Part 5.