Natural Rights and Government

Natural rights authorize a man to do whatever he can and wants to do. But when he enters into a society, both he and his neighbor need their rights protected from infringement by the other. That’s what government is for. But here is the rub; there must be a balance between a citizen’s over-use of his rights and the tyranny of an over-active government. We can learn a bit from the cosmos.

A Delicate Balance of Power

The planet Saturn with its ringsA planet has a great deal of power because of its mass and velocity. This gives the planet its right to authoritatively continue its course, which, left to itself, would propel it on a straight path out through space. Such behavior would convert our orderly universe into pure anarchy. However a planet rotates around some heavenly body which authoritatively exercises its rights of gravity to draw the planet closer. When the attractive force of gravity is in balance with the centrifugal force of the planet trying to continue on a straight course, a stable orbit is maintained. This is one of the many balances of nature that brings order out of chaos. It is an example of temporal rights in perfect balance and therefore also of the peace and order produce by balanced rights.

Similarly, a person’s natural rights give him the authority to do whatever he wishes and continue on his way. This authority, however, is constrained by his government’s authority to keep him from abusing the rights of his neighbor. When these authorities are in balance, there is peace and order in both relationships: man to man and man to government. Otherwise, there is more or less chaos.

Walt Whitman’s musings on government provide a nice summary of this:

It would have no man's benefit achieved 
at the expense of his neighbors. It would have no one's rights 
infringed upon and that, after all, is pretty much the sum and 
substance of the prerogatives of government. How beautiful 
and harmonious a system! How it transcends all other codes, 
as the golden rule, in its brevity, transcends the ponderous tones 
[tomes?] of philosophic lore! While mere politicians, in their 
narrow minds, are sweating and fuming with their complicated 
statutes, this one single rule, rationally construed and applied, 
is enough to form the starting point of all that is necessary in 
government: to make no more laws than those useful for pre- 
venting a man or a body of men from infringing on the rights of 
other men. 

The Proper Role of the Citizen

Mascot Owl Right Wing ExtendedWhen citizen’s intentionally refrain from infringing the rights of their neighbors, government can be very simple and unobtrusive. As people become more prone to selfishness, pride, intolerance, and greed, their government must become larger, more aggressive and the volume of legislation grows large in the attempt to keep citizens in their proper orbit. When the majority redefines evil license as justified liberty, they literally fly off on their lifestyle tangents, their civilization regresses back to barbarism and chaos reigns.

The salient truth here is that the highest right of a citizen is his ability to choose. And his highest choice is to love: to love his family, his fellow citizens, and everything in his environment. This attitude and habit builds trusting relationships that minimize conflict. It also protects his situation in the world.

The citizen’s proper role is to control himself, mind his own business, and love everyone and everything. This is where affirmative action succeeds. To be charitable is the best choice the citizen can make. It is the most ennobling choice.

The Proper Role of Government

Since government should exist only to protect the rights of its citizens, its top priority must be deference for, even reverence for the highest right of the citizen: the right to choose. It is his most basic freedom. The citizen’s freedom of choice then, is the center point about which all government action must rotate. Next to his freedom of choice is freedom of action and control of the things he gathers. Such a government builds confidence in the future. The citizen, ensured that his property rights are safe, responds with enthusiastic investment of time and labor. The resulting rise in wealth is the hallmark of free enterprise. This pattern was especially evident in the first years following the adoption of our state and federal constitutions. It made the United States a beacon of freedom and the preferred world destination.

Liberty BellThis governmental deference for the citizen’s right of choice together with the recognition that his highest choice is to love, must be the guiding principle of good government. If there is a justifiable affirmative action government can take, it must be to encourage citizens to be charitable toward one another and everything around them. There is this misguided idea that love is sort of a religious thing, so a secular government must not touch it. Yet every human recognizes the power and joy of human charity, so if it is religious, then every human being belongs to that religion and we should be comfortable with the state nourishing it. Why do we never hear a politician say that we should love one another?

When laws are written, when attorneys and citizens interpret the law, and when courts rule upon the law, their guiding principle must be the protection of freedom of choice, opinion, and action. Anything else is legal noise and distraction that disturbs the balance between the rights of the citizen and the power of his government. The citizen is either sucked into and disabled by his government or he decides to revolt and flies off into space: chaos. Such was the scene of our 1776 revolution but wise men and wise citizen’s created the best secular government in the history of the world.

Freedom and Responsibility

Morality demands that the use of power be guided by responsibility. This must be applied to both citizen and government agent: from the pollster to the President.

Volunteer word map

As citizens and politicians use sophistry to avoid responsibility, they first deceive themselves, then corrupt our language and move headlong back to barbarism while sincerely believing their license is just a “new” liberty. Thus our stable orbits are perturbed and increasingly unstable. The whole world feels it. It is a day for thinking and working and self-control and charity.


Jackson Pemberton
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