"If we do not have a consensus of what 'rights' are, there is little chance our free society will survive." - Ron Paul, 1988.
Today, it seems like nobody understands what rights actually are. Whether on the left, the right, it doesn't matter ... I find a general assumption rights are decided upon and obtained through government. This is troubling.
What inspired me to write about rights today was a post arguing against the legalization of drugs (via The Other McCain). It's not Freeberg's position on drugs I wish to address here, just the following paragraph from his post concerning rights.
Terrace Five Remains:
As I've said before, I see government-sanctioned, or government-sponsored, or government-permitted drug use as on the same level of government-managed lotteries. And the lotteries, in my world, rank high on the list of insidious evils. I blame the state-commissioned lotteries for the acceleration in Steve Allen's Dumbth over the last quarter century.
Note the use of "government-sanctioned," "government-sponsored," and "government-permitted." We'll come back to these at the end of the post.
Without a clear and general understanding of what rights are, a political system designed to protect individual rights cannot exist. The signers of the Declaration of Independence declared that rights are unalienable. In other words, rights are incapable of being lost or surrendered.
Rights are an inherent part of a human being. Rights are yours at birth, given to you by nature or God, and permit you to act in your own self-interest with total control over your own life and property, so long as you do not infringe upon the same rights of others. Rights are not granted by the State. A legitimate government can only guarantee that the rights of all are equally protected.
In a free society, the role of government is limited to settling disputes when voluntary methods fail. Police activity is warranted when personal security breaks down, but only so far as the individual himself has the right to protect himself. Protection of our borders and security from outside threats is a legitimate function of government too. This is because as individuals, we have the natural, God-given right to protect ourselves. You can call them "natural rights" or "God-given" rights, there is no conflict between the two.
Life and liberty are magnificent gifts, certainly these cannot come from a government official, a Constitution, or piece of legislation. A government that does not own you, cannot set you free. In religion, we often talk about being "owned by God," while in politics we talk of "self-ownership." What one does with one's personal life and property is a personal decision that may or may not include God. But again, either way, there is no conflict.
What is important ... is that the State does not have any ownership role of the individual.
In a free society, where individual rights are held as the highest law of the land, there is also the rejection of the initiation of force against the individual, because initiating force is a violation of a persons natural rights. This is true whether the force was initiated by an individual, a group, or the State. The only legitimate use of violence is that which is in self-defense.
Once the principle of unalienable rights has been violated, "we the people," will lose our liberties by the gradual but steady erosion of these natural rights via the State.
So before we can have a reasonable discussion in our free society on the topic of drugs, or anything else for that matter ... we must first agree that rights are NOT "government-sanctioned, or government-sponsored, or government-permitted," but that rights pre-exist government, they are unalienable.
On drugs ... I believe there are a few arguments against that can be made on the basis of individual rights, but as with any other topic in a free society, any argument based on State "sanction," or "permit," must be dismissed.