In 1689, John Locke argued that political society exists for the sake of protecting one’s natural right to “life, liberty, and estate.” Thomas Jefferson extended Locke’s thesis, stating in the Declaration that we have unalienable rights to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
With every right comes an obligation. And while rights and obligations are different, they are reciprocal. If I have a right, someone else has an obligation to fulfill that right. What Democratic Socialism defines as rights sit completely outside the realm of the unalienable rights set forth by our Founding Fathers, and therefore the obligations they place on Americans are unlawful.
Our natural rights are unchanging and can be neither created nor destroyed. They are not dependent upon customs, laws, or government. Rather, as Jefferson states, these unalienable rights have been given to us by our Creator, and governments are formed to protect those rights, not to grant those rights.
My right to life means that everyone else has the obligation to not kill me. My right to liberty means everyone else has the obligation to not enslave me. My right to pursue happiness means everyone else has the obligation to not get in my way of doing so.
The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness demands that we each have an obligation to practice the Golden Rule, letting each other exercise his natural rights. “Unalienable” means that these rights are intrinsic to a person’s humanity, and therefore are not given or taken. Ultimately, they should not cost anything at all.
However, once we start arguing for a person’s right to material goods, then we give the government (often by way of a democratic vote) license to prioritize some men’s rights over other’s. A new concept from the academic left titled “Survival Crimes” is being practiced in Seattle, San Francisco, and New York City and rationalizes that it is no longer criminal to steal food or clothes since these are a basic human right, and so stores are obligated to provide them. The reason this is destructive is because it not only obligates store owners to fulfill one “right,” it also strips away their own right to their property or “estate,” as Locke would say. A true unalienable right cannot be the instrument of its own destruction. Walter Williams offers his definition of social justice: “I keep what I earn and you keep what you earn. Do you disagree? Well then tell me how much of what I earn belongs to you — and why?”
Pushing the obligation out to the taxpayer does not fix the problem. In 2019, the average American worked 105 days to pay off government obligations. Americans spent more on taxes this year than on food, clothing, and housing combined. Forcing a man to work a third of his day for some government-dictated notion of societal good rather than for his own material needs is economic slavery. As Thomas Sowell says, “It is amazing that people who think we cannot afford to pay for doctors, hospitals, and medication somehow think that we can afford to pay for doctors, hospitals, medication and a government bureaucracy to administer it.”
Democracy is the biggest weapon wielded against our right to freedom. The tyranny of the majority is just as enslaving as the tyranny of King George III. It has been said that a democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for supper. Freedom comes by recognizing that certain unalienable rights (life, liberty, pursuit of happiness) cannot be taken away even by a 99-percent vote.
I close with another Thomas Sowell quote: “Since this is an era when many people are concerned about ‘fairness’ and ‘social justice,’ what is your ‘fair share’ of what someone else has worked for?”
Dale Courtney served 20 years in nuclear engineering aboard submarines and 15 years as a graduate school instructor. He now spends his spare time chasing his grandchildren around the Palouse.