Moral Government, Pt. 1: Rights are earned, never given

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.
-- The Declaration of Independence, 1776 
"Ah, yes, the 'unalienable rights'. Each year someone quotes that magnificent poetry. Life? What 'right' to life has a man who is drowning in the Pacific? The ocean will not hearken to his cries. What 'right to life has a man who must die if he is to save his children? If he chooses to save his own life, does he do so as a matter of 'right'? If two men are starving and cannibalism is the only alternative to death, which man's right is 'unalienable'? And is it 'right'? As to liberty, the heroes who signed the great document pledged themselves to buy liberty with their lives. Liberty is never unalienable; it must be redeemed regularly with the blood of patriots or it always vanishes. Of all the so-called natural human rights that have ever been invented, liberty is least likely to be cheap and is never free of cost.
"The third 'right'?- the pursuit of happiness'? It is indeed unalienable but it is not a right; it is simply a universal condition which tyrants cannot take away nor patriots restore. Cast me into a dungeon, burn me at the stake, crown me king of kings, I can 'pursue happiness' as long as my brain lives- but neither gods nor saints, wise men nor subtle drugs, can insure that I will catch it."
-- Lt. Col. (Ret.) Jean V. Dubois, excerpted from Starship Troopers 
The Folly of "Given" Rights

There is perhaps no idea quite so pervasive, or quite so destructive, as our modern notion that we have "rights" to certain things simply by virtue of existing, or reaching a certain age, or completing a certain form. We are taught almost from birth that each of us has an inalienable right to vote- to decide the fate of our fellow men- on the basis of simply reaching the age of majority. We are conditioned to believe that there is no great effort required of us to secure this right- no sweat of the body, no toil of the mind, no sacrifice of the spirit. And we are told that any attempt to take away this "right" is a violation so severe that it cannot possibly be countenanced and that he who even suggests such a thing should be burned at the stake, or at the very least in effigy, forthwith. (I exaggerate minutely.)

To which I reply: nonsense and other comments. There is no such thing as an unearned right- and rights come with attendant responsibilities. If you will not uphold those responsibilities, you do not deserve those rights. It is just that simple.

It has taken me years of often painful and difficult study to understand something that our ancestors seemed to understand almost without being told: rights of any kind which give men power over each other MUST be earned.

The Cost of Rights
"Value has no meaning other than in relation to living beings. The value of a thing is always relative to a particular person, is completely personal and different in quantity for each living human..."
"This very personal relationship, 'value', has two factors for a human being: first, what he can do with a thing, its use to him... and second, what he must do to get it, its cost to him. There is an old song which asserts that 'the best things in life are free'. Not true! Utterly false! This was the tragic fallacy which brought on the decadence and collapse of the democracies of the twentieth century; those noble experiments failed because the people had been led to believe that they could simply vote for whatever they wanted... and get it, without toil, without sweat, without tears."
"Nothing of value is free. Even the breath of life is purchased at birth only through gasping effort and pain".
-- Lt. Col. (Ret.) Jean V. Dubois, excerpted from Starship Troopers
Consider something so simple as the right to life, and its perfect and congruent opposite, the right to self-defence. Can you honestly tell me that these rights are simply "given" without cost upon any man at the moment of his birth?

Of course not. They are earned- simply by virtue of that very act of birth. You were born after considerable effort on the part of your parents, in almost every way. Your parents had to expend the energy to have sex in order that you be conceived- and I know enough married couples to wonder at just how enjoyable that duty really is for some of them. (I really must apologise here if I made you spit coffee or throw up- no sane person wants to think of their parents doing... uh... that.) Your mother then had to carry you for 9 months, at considerable cost in terms of time and energy to herself. She then had to give birth, which is (so I am told) a messy and nasty process involving considerable pain and no small amount of misery. You were born into this world in the midst of blood, water, and a lot of screaming. (Again, that's what I'm told.)

Your life, in other words, was bought. It was secured through pain and temperance. It didn't happen by accident- even if you were the product of a one-night stand "whoopsie". (Once you actually do some reading you'll understand just how amazingly complex and non-random the process of conception really is.)

Your right to defend your life is no less costly. No one comes into this world knowing how to handle a gun or carry himself in a fistfight. You have to learn how to defend yourself, and that means learning how to handle a weapon- or how to become one. Doing so involves an opportunity cost- you must pay in time or money, or both, to earn your right to defend yourself.

You can certainly cede that right to others- most people do, by insisting that "someone else" protect them- but even that is not free. If you choose this, you must be willing to pay a price of some kind so that others might put their lives on the line for you- whether through taxation, or sending your sons to become soldiers and policemen and firefighters, there is a price.

You can continue in this vein with any right that you care to name: 
  • The "right" to free speech? You have no such "right" without earning it. Your speech is not protected just so that you can say whatever the hell you want. You have to prove that you have something worth saying in the first place, and that you can say it responsibly- the classic (though blatantly misused and misinterpreted) example of yelling "fire" in a crowded movie theatre when there is no fire comes to mind here. (The Supreme Court sort of forgot about that second part.)
  • The "right" to associate with whoever you want? You have no such right without first proving that you're not a psychopath who would as soon murder a man for setting eyes upon you as shake his hand. This is fortunately an easy hurdle for most people to pass, but as Hispanic and especially black youth slides ever further into barbarism, it will not remain that way.
  • The "right" to practice your faith without interference? Does your faith involve persecuting others for their beliefs? Does it involve destroying the basic dignity, both physical and spiritual, of other men? Does it result in warfare and economic stagnation? Then what possible right could you have to practice such an openly barbaric creed?
  • The "right" to a trial by a jury of your peers? Can you prove that you are not a liar and a cheat, that you will not bear false witness against others, and that you will not perjure yourself before your peers? If you cannot prove these things, then you are not fit to judge others; therefore, you are not fit to be judged by others.
  • The "right" to live as you please? Have you first proven that you are not a danger to yourself and others? If not, you have no such right.
  • The "right" to live in a society of laws? Brother, if you believe that such a society can be secured without cost, you're a drooling imbecile. A society of laws does not come about by accident or wishful thinking. It is built through often terrible, backbreaking, heartbreaking cost. A society of laws endures only as long as its people want it to endure by agreeing to abide by those laws. The moment that compact breaks down, you no longer have civilisation or law; you have barbarism.
No matter what right you care to name, there are equal and offsetting responsibilities that come with these rights. The relationship is as straight and as clear and as clean as any algebraic equation- right paired with duty, action paired with consequence.

Any right that violates this perfect equilibrium is, by definition, not a right. A right without attendant responsibilities is a figment of a particularly deluded imagination.

"Moral" and "Human" Rights
"The basis of all morality is duty, a concept with the same relation to group that self-interest has to individual."
-- Lt. Col. (Ret.) Jean V. Dubois, excerpted from Starship Troopers
Having thus summarily dispensed with the nonsensical notion that rights can be secured absent pain and toil, it is time to turn to the laughable concepts of "moral" and "human" rights as embodied in certain documents that Very Important People with Very Impressive Credentials seem to take Very Very Seriously.

There is perhaps no more ridiculous exemplar of the risible notion of "moral" rights than the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that the United Nations tries (and singularly fails) to promote as one of its greatest achievements. If you read the document, you'll find a lot of supposedly unobjectionable language about how you have "right" to an education; about how you have a "right" to get married, and how spouses have equal rights in that marriage (God's Teeth, what a joke); and perhaps most absurdly, how you have a "right" to security and medical care (and presumably rainbows and dancing bunnies too) in the event of ill health, unemployment, disability, sickness, or widowhood.

One can only presume that the people who authored such pabulum were smoking weapons-grade crack when they wrote this. I know weed-smoking philosophy and art majors in college who can come up with better ideas when they're baked than this nonsense.

Why do I write this? Simple. Go back up a bit and read about how rights cannot come without a price. The UDHR would have you believe that these rights can be secured without cost. Moreover, this document would also have you believe that you have the right to another's labour and profit without lifting so much as a single finger to earn it.

Let us take, for example, the concept of a "right" to medical care- which I think is rather relevant given the almost daily stream of bad news concerning the current Administration's utterly ham-fisted attempts to ram socialised health care down the throats of the people. When you demand a right to free health care, what you are effectively saying- whether you want to or not- is that you have the ability to demand the products of another man's labour, training, sacrifice, and time to satisfy your needs.

And if you were offering something in return for that demand, then there would be exactly zero controversy- but then you wouldn't have a right, you'd just have an economic transaction, exactly identical in spirit to the hundreds of billions of similar transactions carried out by all of the people on Earth.

The moment you start demanding such a thing as a right, without cost or consequence, though, you have completely destroyed the fundamental premise on which rights are based- that you have no right to anything you haven't earned. And since by definition the demand for free health care comes with a price that infringes upon another's earned right to the fruits of his own labours, it cannot, by definition, be a right.

A right to free health care then turns out to be nothing better than a demand to enslave another man. Would you then be surprised when he exercises his right to tell you to (perform an anatomically impossible act), since he is master of his own toil and enterprise?

The exact same logic applies to education. You have no more "right" to education than a bat has right to the concept of sonar. Your education is incumbent upon you, and you alone, to earn. There are many- probably millions- of people in this country alone who do not want to be educated, do not want to learn, and cannot be taught to learn. Do they have a "right" to demand the time, sacrifice, and labour of a teacher in order that they might waste both their time and their teacher's in the pursuit of a futile exercise in learning?

The Basis of Sound Government
Man is what he is, a wild animal with the will to survive, and (so far) the ability, against all competition. Unless one accepts that, anything one says about morals, war, politics- you name it- is nonsense. Correct morals arise fro knowing what Man is- not what do-gooders and well-meaning old Aunt Nellies would like him to be.
-- Lt. Juan "Johnnie" Rico, excerpted from Starship Troopers 
Now that we have seen what rights really are, it is time to ask how one might construct a sound and stable government from those rights. The answers might surprise you, though in the interests of time and brevity (a relative term in my case, I know), I will save the bulk of that exposition for a follow-up post.

Once you accept that rights come with responsibilities, and that those responsibilities are exactly opposite and offsetting, then you quickly realise that the only way to build a just and stable government is to accept that the same principle applies to government. If the Rights of Man must be secured through blood and toil, sweat and sacrifice, then so too must good government.

Let us dispense very quickly with the obvious objection: that a society founded by rational and just individuals would not need a government. There are three simple and unanswerable logical contradictions to this concept. The first is that men are not always and everywhere just and benevolent; therefore, a society founded on the assumption (and it is an assumption) that all men are that way will fail. The second is that even if one weakens the initial assumption that "all men are always rational and just" to the assumption that "most men are usually rational and just", you still have the problem of dealing with those who are not. This naturally leads to the need to form groups within society dedicated to protecting those who are rational and just from those who are not- which is known in simple terms as "government". The third is that even if, against all odds, such a society without government could exist and even prosper, it would be subverted and destroyed by, oh, about next Wednesday by any society that came along and imposed its views with force of arms rather than pure reason and rights balanced by duties. For further reading, I refer you to this.

The basis of all sound government must therefore be the same basis as all sound rights: duty.

Duty involves sacrifice and toil. It requires putting one's own interests below and behind those of the wider society. It involves abandoning the utterly ridiculous myth that Man's character can be perfected, and recognising his character for what it is- flawed, fallible, dangerous, and yet capable of nobility and grace and justice.

A government founded on, run by, or dictated to by any group that does not believe, with every fibre of its being, that actions have consequences and that authority is paired off equally with duty, is a government that must fail.

Such a monstrosity must be destroyed so that its actions do not endanger the earned rights of others.

By logical extension, the fact that authority and duty are paired and equal- just like right and responsibility- means that certain ideas about government simply will not work. They cannot be sustained. This means in practice that:
  • The right to vote is no more "universal" than the presence of blue eyes or black hair. Yet again, the right to vote must be earned. The authority that comes with the vote must be paired off with the duty to exercise that vote responsibly.
  • The "rights" of government are nothing more than contractual obligations with citizens. A government, by itself, has no power whatsoever. It does not exist in a vacuum, it is not created by some Deus ex machina. It is created because people choose to cede authority to that government- and they can, or should be able to, take it away just as easily.
  • Because the authority given to government is of the highest and strongest kind, the duty required to wield that authority must be equally weighty and difficult. This would immediately disqualify almost everyone from wielding that authority. And given that most people do not want to be free, and that most people are in fact idiots, this is both a very good thing and an incontrovertible fact of life.
  • Equality is no more possible in real life than gills on a bat or wings on a pig. Once you accept that most people simply will not pay the price in terms of duty required to exercise the authority that comes with it, you must also by definition reject the idea that all people are equally qualified to wield that authority. Some are better qualified than others. It's just that simple.
  • Ergo, the sovereign franchise must therefore be extended ONLY to those who have proven qualified to wield it.
And with that last point, we come at last to the most controversial and difficult idea in this entire list. We come full circle to the point from which we started. In order to have "good government", we must first have good people. Without them, government descends in very short order into tyranny and stupidity. With them, government is sound and stable.

I will continue on that theme in my next post on the subject. Stick around for that one.


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