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The Declaration Philosophy: Part III – The protection of rights

By Linda A. Prussen-Razzano
web posted July 28, 2003

Read the first part of Linda's series here and the second here.

A second frightening trend in American culture is the propensity to slap the label of "Right" onto every cause, product, or other trivial circumstance, in an awkward attempt to justify its existence, score selling points, or lend legitimacy to one's claims. The same is true for privileges, necessities, and other constructs of Society.

This trend should be rejected at every possible turn.

Rights, by their very essence, are freedoms inherent to an individual. They are not products, services, or other goods. Political groups, social groups, or manufacturers who promote their causes, products, or services by using the terms "Rights" do a grave disservice to society. Perhaps the most dangerous of these are politicians, who insist that people have the Right to decent medical care, the Right to decent housing, the Right to education, etc.

None of these is true.

What people do have, instead, is the Right to freely pursue decent medical care, decent housing, and a good education. The onus is on the individual to obtain these things through the free exercise of their Rights and within the constructs of society. The onus is not on society to provide them.

There is a distinct, but critical difference.

The purpose of government is to protect the Rights of individuals from infringement by others: be they neighbors, persons in position of authority, or foreign sources. The government is empowered to defend of our Rights and must exercise extreme care in all levels: legislatively, judicially, and through the executive branch. Each time a person's Rights are infringed, the forces of the government are sought to correct that infringement and restore the free exercise of one's Rights.

Each of our Rights comes with responsibilities, but they also come with an interesting socio-political dichotomy: for each Right we exercise, we empower the government to protect it. If we confer upon privileges, necessities, and other constructs of Society the status of "Rights," we empower the government to protect them.

For example: if we claim we have a "Right" to decent medical care and Society does not challenge this claim, we will empower the government to monitor medical care, demand medical care, or provide medical care. This constitutes a power shift from the individual to the government and from the doctors to the government. It also draws assets from one class of individuals to another class of individuals.

Medical care is a service, provided by medical personnel as their means of pursuing happiness, ensuring their ability to live, and offering them a certain level of personal and societal liberty. It, like countless other examples, is not an inherent freedom. While society would be better served if each person were healthy, living in a decent home in a safe neighborhood, and educated to the best of their abilities, claiming these things, and others, as "Rights" only serves to erode the very freedoms so necessary to our humanity.

If we view our current government through this filter, we will recognize how far it has deviated from its original charge, and now powerful it has grown over the last 100 years. Further, we will acknowledge how, on so many different levels, it infringes on our Rights with our blessings.

Hence, we should exercise the greatest possible care in claiming any future "Rights," lest they continue to expand the power of government and diminish the power of the individual.

Linda Prussen-Razzano is frequent contributor to Enter Stage Right and a number of other online magazines.

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