Monday, January 19, 2009

With certain unalienable Rights

I have an etymology calendar on my desk, and today's word is freedom. The author makes a serious mistake in writing, "'Liberty' … also means 'free' but in the sense of rights granted rather than any innate quality."

Liberty carries its natural-rights sense as used by enlightenment thinkers such as Locke and Bastiat, viz., government is the servant of free people and not their master.

For a contemporary example, consider Ron Paul who wrote (with emphasis added), "Democracy represented unlimited rule by an omnipotent majority, while a constitutionally limited republic was seen as the best system to preserve liberty. Inalienable individual liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rights would be threatened by the 'excesses of democracy.'"

In 1943, the U.S. supreme court declared, "One's right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections."

Thomas Jefferson took an even more radical position: "Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law,' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual."

The tenth amendment to the U.S. constitution (so-called these days) makes plain that the federal government is not the source of the people's rights, and this in turn is consistent with the Declaration's connection of government's just powers to "the consent of the governed."

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