Who knew that telling people they have rights would be so controversial?
In his nationally televised address Wednesday night, Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) reminded Americans that “our rights come from nature and God, not from government.”
MSNBC’s Chris Matthews went apoplectic. “It’s clear that Paul Ryan was talking to people who think about rights as something…produced by Thomas Jefferson, ignoring the people for whom the rights only came in the 1960s.”
Another MSNBC commentator, Touré Neblett, said the line that rights come from God and nature is “so offensive.” For “black people, Hispanic people, and women, our rights do not come from God or nature. . . They come from the government and from legislation that happens in relatively recent history in America.”
But rights don’t come from government. They can merely be protected by governments.
Natural rights are those inalienable rights which directly result from human nature. Humans possess these rights, including the right to one’s own life and the right to liberty, simply by virtue of being human. This is the only secure grounding for rights.
Because people are “endowed by their Creator” with these rights, no government can take them away. Thus, legitimate government must protect these rights. If governments fail to do so, the problem is not with the rights—it’s with those governments. As President Calvin Coolidge explained:
“If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions,”
“If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness,” by claiming that rights for women and minorities were invented recently through a few legislative acts, then “the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people.”
To claim that rights are provided by government is to ignore the meaning of the Declaration.
Those who wish for a society where government grants people rights cannot “lay claim to progress.”
Natural rights were not Thomas Jefferson’s creation. They were not even an American creation. The only thing new about natural rights was this: America was the first nation to be founded on the self-evident truth that all people “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
All people. And that’s final.
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