In our last installment we tried to make the case that in order to lay out the foundation for a truly liberal society we must first agree that each of us has full and complete ownership of ourselves. Not only do we own ourselves, but no one else may lay claim to our person-hood. Since we live in the complete time continuum of past, present and future represented by property, liberty and life no one may lay claim to these without our consent either.
From this basic premise flows the basis of all of our rights. First among these rights, after life and the free expression of that life in the form of liberty, is property. The mixing of natural resources, time and creative energy is what produces property and value to each individual. This property once justly acquired is ours to keep or dispose of as we see fit. This right to exchange our justly acquired property with others through mutual consent is the basis of contract law and the free enterprise system, and as long as neither party is engaging in force or fraud in this exchange then both parties are morally and legally, in most cases, subject to the contract.
If you have a right to your property then you also have a right to keep that property from the force or fraud of others up to and including deadly force if that is what it takes. From the earliest times societies have recognized that the right to self-defense is a fundamental right. In the Old Testament we find the following, "If the thief is caught while breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there will be no blood guiltiness on his account”, (Ex 22:2, NASB). Cicero the great Roman scholar and writer on natural law put it this way
“There exists a law, not written down anywhere, but inborn in our hearts; a law which comes to us not by training or custom or reading but by derivation and absorption and adoption from nature itself; a law which has come to us not from theory but from practice, not by instruction but by natural intuition. I refer to the law which lays it down that, if our lives are endangered by plots or violence or armed robbers or enemies, any and every method of protecting ourselves is morally right.”
This right to self-defense can extend to groups who choose to band together for the common good to defend themselves against other groups who otherwise would take away their liberty, their property or even their life. You can even transfer this right to a government entity to act on your behalf to defend you and your possessions. The transference of rights will come up later in the discussion of what rights can and cannot be transferred.
You do not have the right, through the use of force or fraud, to acquire other people’s property, liberty, or their lives. To take someone else’s property in this manner is called theft. To take their liberty is called slavery and to take their life is called murder. Since you do not have these rights you may not transfer this behavior to others including the government. If it is morally wrong to kick in your neighbor’s door to plunder his property then it is still wrong to do so even if the plundering is done by government officials on your behalf.
Tyranny exists when governments ignore the natural rights of man and pass laws contrary to these rights. Our founding Fathers knew that government in and of itself was inherently evil and in order to protect the natural rights of man they felt that a government split into three equal parts supplied with checks and balances all overseen by a written Constitution that gives limited power to that government would be the best and safest way to start a new country. James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers 51 the following;
“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”
What Madison is saying here is that we might expect that a government run by virtuous people should be able to control itself, but that the primary control of the government should still come from the people. Unfortunately none of these has ever worked in the past and so to rectify this, our founders tried to come up with an iron clad document that would bind the hands of government and prevent them from passing tyrannical laws that abrogate the natural rights of man. And thus the need for a written constitution.
For many though these three levels of protection were not enough of a guarantee for them against the natural encroachment by the government upon our liberties. These hardy few demanded that with the first Congress ten amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights, be added to ensure that laws could not be passed that would encroach on these basic rights. Now we have four levels of protection from government tyranny, and they have all failed us in less than 150 years. What does this say about the determination of evil men to take and hold power for themselves against the better interests of the people and the country at large?
Next week I plan to look at each of the provisions of the Bill of Rights and show how carefully it reflects the natural rights of man as spelled out by Cicero, and the basic premises of the Philosophy of Liberty. Until then keep this in mind. Any law that requires the government to do something on your behalf, that you by natural law or by the concept of self-ownership are prevented from doing, is morally wrong. It may be legal but is it moral?