The Endowment of Rights

The Endowment of Rights:

Is there an important distinction between "endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights" and "rights only arise within a space defended by men"? I've been wondering how similar the proposition asserted here is to the one offered by the Founders. For ease of reference:

Somewhat like Hobbes, I'm arguing from the nature of the world -- that it is a fearsome and destructive place -- and the necessity of building a society and a frith that can withstand those natural forces, including other men, well enough to make a space in which freedom and peace can exist.

I argue that "rights" arise from that precise contract, and all rights stand on it.
In the state of nature, you have no rights in any practical sense -- whatever inalienable rights you may hold from the Creator, they have no force on what happens to you in the world. In order to make a space in which those rights can exist practically, we must make the space and defend it.
The Declaration of Independence phrased its version of the origin of rights in this way:
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, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
There is this critical difference: the statement that the Creator endows you with rights means that a government that does not defend those rights is not merely tyrannical, but unholy. If there is a Creator, and if he endows men with rights, then the defense of those rights -- and the nation and system that upholds them -- is not merely a citizen's duty but Making Real God's Will.

Neither I nor the Founders believe that the "inalienable" rights are in fact incapable of being taken away -- they point explicitly to a thing which can take them away, namely, tyrannical government. I point to another, namely, the state of the world. Both of these are critical dangers, two points at which the space for human liberty collapses.

I assume most critics of the government to be patriots rather than antipatriots; my condemnation is reserved for those who really despise the American project, having benefited from it through their lives. Yet there is one case, tyranny, in which a genuine attempt not merely to reform but to destroy the government is justified according to the principles of the Declaration of Independence. I agree with that idea: the point of the enterprise is to create a space for liberty to exist. When the government instead collapses that space, it must be destroyed.

Not, though, destroyed for all time. Destroyed to make way for another attempt to build a space for liberty. Ultimately even this is only a license to reform: to raze everything but the foundation of liberty. Even at that last moment, when the citizen turns his sword against the now-tyrant state, the citizen's heart remains devoted to the original project. That is patriotism; that is loyalty.

It may also be religious, if the Founders' formula is right. A man might ask why, if God loved human liberty, he made a world in which it was not guaranteed. Benjamin Franklin is said to have written that "Wine is sure proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy" -- but where in nature do you find wine? Nowhere; but you find grapes that can be made to produce it. If we are fulfilling God's will by having wine to drink, we do so only by constant effort in every generation.

Whether or not you believe in a Creator, that is the nature of Creation. Nowhere in nature do you find liberty in natural flourish. The rights of men must be made new, always, like the wine.

No comments: