The Origin and Source of Human Rights

Where did our rights come from? Why do we have the rights we have and not others? How did people first get to have legal rights that governments are required to respect?

Historically the concept of people having rights against the power of the State came with the Magna Carta of 1215 AD when the English nobles of the time forced King John to sign an agreement as to the rights of the nobility against those of the king. There may be yet earlier examples such as orders by Muhammad regarding the rights of Muslims, but these were more based upon maintaining order among the various groups of the day. In so far as “western thinking” is concerned, the Magna Carta is the basis for establishment of the idea that the rule of kings was not absolute and that rulers had to abide by written rules. In any case, it is quite evident that rights were “taken”, not “given” by government. Our “Bill of Rights” was a requirement before the Constitution could be ratified in 1789.

Further proof that rights are “taken”, not “given” is the history of the Civil Rights Movement. While “non-violent” actions started to have their effect, it was when the riots and burning of cities by rioters took place that there was no longer any doubts as to what the consequences would be if we didn’t give people the legal rights they were demanding. There was really no choice but to give in here to the demands of those following Martin Luther King or face more of the sort of violent urban terrorism we were already seeing… We have also seen evidence that while non-violent actions have their role, it is really still the threat of armed violence that holds the “aces”. This is obvious when we look back at the history of the 1960’s. Their cry of “No justice, no peace!” leaves no doubts as to this.

We have learned over the ages that governments will always grow oppressive if they are allowed to do so. That if the people do not directly control what laws are passed, that in time the people will find that the government holds increasing power over their lives. This is a problem even in governments that are subject to the vote of the people. Those who seek greater power over the people can usually find or bribe politicians to pass the sort of legislation that they want. With Democrats this appears to now be some sort of a “nanny” state type of political ideology. With the Republicans the practice appears to be more of a “Social Darwinist” direction where one’s status in life is determined by income. Also, if you are a “minority”, racial, sexual, national, the Republicans don’t like you very well and will attempt if possible to keep you from expressing your opinions at the ballot box. Democrats will limit your level of personal freedom to one they see as appropriate. Suggest to a Democrat (as I once did) that repealing prescription laws would be a benefit to many people, and you will ignite a “flame war” as they do not believe that anyone but those with .MD after their names are “competent” to make such decisions for one’s self. An idea no doubt originated by the medical profession whose incomes depend upon it.

In any case, with time it seems as if we are becoming more and more less free to make decisions for ourselves. The size and scope of government (at all levels) is growing with time. Also, the ability of the people to influence the decisions made in their name is now lessened thanks to the Supreme Court decision that effectively removes all limits upon the amount of money that can be donated to political campaigns. If one candidate for office has say $100,000 to use for his or her campaign, while their more conservative opponent has the support of wealth and big business, you can guess the odds against those who support the people, not the wealthy and the big international corporations. This did happen in the past. The period from about 1880 to 1910 or so was a time in fact where the wealthy and big business did rule here in the USA. Where people were in fact killed because they attempted to form a labor union. And the federal government and the state governments were both on the “side” of the big corporations against the rest of us. “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn, while biased, is in fact an accurate accounting of what happened during that time. You should be able to find a copy at your local public library. Remember, this happened here, not somewhere else!

Where this affects people is that starting your own business today is more difficult than ever. There is more and more regulation, more “hoops” that you have to jump through. There are all those government agencies, both state and federal who issue rules that you have to follow. I had my own business from 1983 to 1995, but even then there were signs that things were going to get worse instead of better because of government regulations. Big business doesn’t like small businesses. Mainly now because the small business can sometimes give better service at lower cost. Monopolies are always more “expensive”. But the sort of massive profits possible today has only come through monopolization, along with holding the wages of workers down by “union busting” and relocating the business to a country with lower wages, governments who can be “reasoned with”…

You might wonder what relationship this has to “rights”, but for some being able to go start a business of your own is important to them. Certainly we wouldn’t like living in a society composed of Walmart, Comcast, one where “monopoly” was now the standard. One where everyone was an “employee” and that was now your only choice in life. One where there was a lot of unemployment and your “boss” effectively now ruled your life. The freedom to start your own business, to be self supporting, is still important to many people even today. Those who immigrated here from Europe back in the 19th Century came here often with the hope of someday having their own farm or small business…

There is another issue that I think has historical implications. The freedom to own firearms is a freedom that is more special to Americans than those of other developed countries. There are far too many examples of governments becoming oppressive tyrannies because some group was able to seize power and establish a police state. “Unintended Consequences” by John Ross illustrates this rather well. Unfortunately only the more conservative Republicans support the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. Of course us libertarians do so to an even stronger degree, but we don’t win very many elections either. Hopefully that state of affairs might change in the near future…  We have seen far too much of disarmed people being forced to “go quietly into the night”.

Jerome Bigge, NRA Life Member.




About muskegonlibertarian

77 year old retired owner of a security guard agency. Member of the Libertarian Party.
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