On rights

The conflict between the idea that Man has an intrinsic right to free trade and the observation that virtually no man has ever been able to engage in most of the activities that are necessarily aspects of that supposed right got me thinking about the concept of rights.

Now, there is obviously a significant difference between the “human rights” asserted by the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the supposedly unalienable rights laid out in the US Declaration of Independence. The former are entirely conditional and are subordinate to both national law, (namely, such limitations as are determined by law meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society) as well as the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

The supposedly self-evident rights of the Declaration of Independence are clearly nothing of the sort, in that they are observably wrong. All men are not created equal in any way, genetically, legally, or spiritually, and furthermore, these rights are totally contingent upon the Creator by whom they are endowed. Atheism and a number of theisms necessarily preclude the existence of these rights.

But in either case, it seems obvious to me that neither is a reasonable basis for any rights upon which a case for free trade, or many other human actions can be made. Therefore, I think it is necessary to go back and look at what is the definition of the rights of Man. It’s not my purpose to consider all of the various 18th century theories about this, but rather to begin at the beginning, which is to say that in order to be coherent, consistent and materially relevant, a right must be something that a) applies to an individual, b) supersedes all other claims by all other parties, c) is consistent with observable human action in the real world.

So, for example, a claimed right to breath oxygen would potentially fit all of these categories, whereas the right to vote would not, since no one has ever observed a right to vote regardless of where they live or possess citizenship. A right to shelter cannot exist, since the competing right to property has historically taken precedent.

I propose, then, the following definitional metric. A right of Man is that for which the individual can justly, morally, (and in ideal terms, legally), kill another individual for attempting to deny him.

What are the proposed rights that can fit within this metric? The right to life, clearly. The right to self-defense is equally apparent. The right to think, the right to believe, the right to speak, the right to eat, the right to void, and the right to sensory input are not only self-evident, but inherent to the being of Man. But do any of the other rights that we habitually assume to exist on the mere basis of the fact that they were historically asserted actually hold up from this perspective?