- uploaded: Jun 13, 2012
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RIGHTS ARE WON ON THE BATTLEFIELD
In societies that have been sheltered for many generations from war and revolution, it is easy to forget that rights are secured by military power. They may be handed to the next generation as a gift, but they always are obtained on the battlefield. The Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution is a classic example. The men who drafted that document were able to do so only because they represented the thirteen states that defeated the armies of Great Britain. Had they lost the War of Independence, they would have had no opportunity to write a Bill of Rights or anything else except letters of farewell before their execution.
Unfortunately, Mao Zedong was right when he said that political power grows from the barrel of a gun. He could just as well have said rights. A man may declare that he has a right to do such and such derived from law or from a constitution or even from God; but, in the presence of an enemy or a criminal or a tyrant with a gun to his head, he has no power to exercise his proclaimed right. Rights are always based on power. If we lose our ability or willingness to physically defend our rights, we will lose them.
Now we come to the chasm between collectivists and individualists. If rights are won on the battlefield, we may assume they belong to the winners, but who are they? Do states win wars or do people? If states win wars and people merely serve them, then states hold the rights and are entitled to grant or deny them to the people. On the other hand, if people win wars and states merely serve them in this matter, then the people hold rights and are entitled to grant or deny them to states. If our task is to define rights as we think they should be in a free society, we must choose between these two concepts. Individualists choose the concept that rights come from the people and states are the servants. Collectivists choose the concept that rights come from states and people are the servants. Individualists are nervous about that assumption because, if the state has the power to grant rights, it also has the power to take them away, and that concept is incompatible with personal liberty.
The view of individualism was expressed clearly in the United States Declaration of
Independence, which says: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men….
Nothing could be clearer than that. The dictionary tells us that inalienable (spelled differently in colonial times) means “not to be transferred to another.” The assumption is that rights are the innate possession of the people. The purpose of the state is, not to grant rights, but to secure them and protect them.
By contrast, all collectivist political systems embrace the opposite view that rights are granted by the state. That includes Nazis, Fascists, and Communists. It is also a tenet of the United Nations. Article Four of the UN Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights says: The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize that, in the enjoyment of those rights provided by the State … the State may subject such rights only to such limitations as are determined by law.
I repeat: If we accept that the state has the power to grant rights, then we must also agree it has the power to take them away. Notice the wording of the UN Covenant. After proclaiming that rights are provided by the state, it then says that those rights may be subject to limitations “as are determined by law.” In other words, the collectivists at the UN presume to grant us our rights and, when they are ready to take them away, all they have to do is pass a law authorizing it.
Compare that with the Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution. It says Congress shall make no law restricting the rights of freedom of speech, or religion, peaceful assembly, the right to bear arms, and so forth – not except as determined by law, but no law.
The Constitution embodies the ethic of individualism. The UN embodies the ethic of collectivism, and what a difference that makes.