John Locke

The Perpetual Battle for Natural Rights

With all the scandals today – namely, at the IRS, AP, and NSA – many believe our government’s actions are violating our natural rights: mostly, our freedoms of speech, press, due process, and privacy. These “natural rights” are fundamental basic human rights, not based on man-made positive law. Many of these rights were codified by our founders in the Bill of Rights… but not without tumult.

There are those today - even within the liberty movement - willing to compromise on many issues that would infringe on the natural rights of others, in both domestic and foreign policy. I think they are wrong. In this brief history of how our Bill of Rights came about, I encourage you to look for parallels between today’s struggles and our country’s founding.

A Constitution Without Rights

John Locke, regarded as the Father of Classical Liberalism, grounded the premise for his 1690 Second Treatise of Government on the idea of natural rights. This idea, while revolutionary at the time, provided a template for subsequent political theory. Merging Locke’s idea with the British Bill of Rights of 1689, George Mason, a member of the Virginia delegation, penned the Virginia Declaration of Rights in May of 1776 - preceding both the Virginia State Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. In its Article 1, he penned these words:

Separation Of Church And State: Essential To Religious Liberty

My fellow UL contributor Louis DeBroux makes an argument about the separation of church and state that is fairly common on the right, but it’s one that constitutes both a misstatement of history and a misunderstanding of what religious liberty is all about.

First, on the historical side, Louis makes this contention:

A study of American history shows that the Founding Fathers were heavily influenced by religion. Jefferson, often accused of being an agnostic or atheist, was likely a Deist; but regardless, he was a believer in God and in Jesus Christ. After all, this is the man who penned the Declaration of Independence, who so eloquently opined the concept that all men are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights”. If that were too ambiguous, Jefferson also wrote “And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever.”

Jefferson understood that our liberties come from God, and that if they do not come from God then they are granted by government, and can be taken by government at their pleasure. That philosophy then usurps man of his unalienable rights, and government then grants rights at the whim of the majority, which is nothing more than mob rule.

Our second president, John Adams, rightly noted that “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Ron Swanson Teaches a Little Girl About Government

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George Will: Paging John Locke

No doubt the invasive tactics being used by the Transportation Security Administration have people angry. They feel like they are being abused and treated like criminals by a government that’s supposed to protect them.

In a way that only he can put it, George Will discusses the underlying philosphical problem with what the TSA is doing to Americans:

When TSA personnel began looking for weapons of mass destruction in [John] Tyner’s underpants, he objected to having his groin patted. A TSA functionary, determined to do his duty pitilessly — his duty is to administer the latest (but surely not the last) wrinkle in the government’s ever-intensifying protection of us — said: “If you’re not comfortable with that, we can escort you back out and you don’t have to fly today.”

Tyner: “I don’t understand how a sexual assault can be made a condition of my flying.”

TSA: “This is not considered a sexual assault.”

Tyner: “It would be if you weren’t the government … “

TSA: “Upon buying your ticket you gave up a lot of rights.”

Oh? John Locke, call your office.

The theory — perhaps by now it seems like a quaint anachronism — on which the nation was founded is, or was: Government is instituted to protect pre-existing natural rights essential to the pursuit of happiness. Today, that pursuit often requires flying, which sometimes involves the wanding of 3-year-olds and their equally suspicious Teddy bears.

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