Here is a powerful new physical basis for the natural rights claimed in the words “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights”. My intent is not to remove the Creator from our rights, but to show how that endowment works. I will establish a powerful source of human rights in the physical universe.
This will show that our inalienable rights are defensible on a purely secular basis. This secular basis provides a whole new and unprecedented perspective on jurisprudence and levels the playing field for believers and nonbelievers: a major breakthrough for religious freedom.
The Old Paradigm
A collision of rights is the fundamental cause of all conflict, from world wars to childhood spats. So we need a full understanding of the true nature of rights. An insightful rights paradigm will produce a better awareness of what they are and how they operate. It is clear that a right gives some kind of authority, but —
Our semantic traditions, the way we use relevant words, have created a narrow rights paradigm that hides the full essence of rights. It is confining like the old observation that the universe rotates around the earth. Our rights paradigm needs to expand to include all capabilities and powers and the authority (rights) deriving from them. Among other interesting things, this will establish animal and prenatal rights.
The element missing in traditional theories of rights is the source of the authority a right conveys. The major exception, of course, is the divine endowment of that authority. But that basis doesn’t do anything for the nonbeliever except make him skeptical. Let’s take a close look at power and authority.
Power and Authority
Let’s explore the possibility of expanding “authority” into the physical universe. This returns new insights into natural human rights. Watch what happens.
Notice that I am dealing with definitions of words, those symbols of things that are the atoms of thought. I am suggesting that we can attribute authority to inanimate objects – that’s the insight, the nut of this paradigm shift. I am suggesting that we can do this without corrupting or destroying any present understanding of things both legal and physical. Einstein’s theory of relativity did not destroy Newton’s laws, but it did enlarge the comprehension of our universe. Similarly, understanding that physical things have authority expands our understanding of the legal universe.
The Property of a Rock
Let us start by a close examination of the power and possible authority of a very simple object: a stone. The relevant question is: Can we ascribe authority to a rock? And can we do this without destroying anything? So I point to the stone’s power to occupy space and declare that to be its property right, or, that it has authority over that space.
The trick here is to not get lost in semantics. If we focus on the physical realities we can protect our thinking from the distractions of abstractions. Both power and authority are abstract notions that find their antecedents in physical phenomena. To have a clear comprehension of those phenomena, we must get past the symbols and see reality. In this case, we see that the stone has the power to occupy space. So the question is can we also say the rock has authority? Well, what do we mean by “authority”?
Power ≡ Authority ≡ Rights
I turn to the dictionary Apple supplies with their computers and read these:
“the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience …”
“a person or organization having power or control …”
“the power to influence others …”
Each of these first three definitions uses the keyword “power” to describe authority. The Merriam Webster app on my iPhone has this for its second definition: “freedom granted by one in authority: right”.
They appear to be synonyms, yet we feel uncomfortable saying a rock has authority (rights). That’s our traditional rights paradigm complaining. But this new paradigm is clarifying and expanding that one. Improvement requires change.
To complete the connection between power and authority beyond a reasonable doubt we can ask these questions: “Can a stone enforce its property right? Does it have the power to influence?” There are few things in our world with more dogged ability to protect its property than a stone. It excludes everything from its space that it has the power to do. Its authority over its space is invincible right up to the point of its destruction by crushing, abrasion, or dissolution by acid.
That is the essence of inalienability. We either have a stone with power and the rights thus endowed, or we have neither.
True principles can be negated and remain cogent. To deny the rights of a stone, we must deny the connection between powers and rights. It is impossible to imagine a natural human right that does not at least infer some human capability. So why not a stone?
For the sake of the argument, let’s say that the power of gravity gives authority to the heavenly bodies to attract one another. What if we say that means they have rights. Does the earth have the right to keep our moon in orbit? Whether we answer yea or nay, we have changed nothing but the paradigm of our understanding. And that is the whole point.
Nothing is changed by the new paradigm except our comprehension of the fundamental nature of natural rights.
To be clear, a person weaponized with legal authority from his government may thereby have a legal right to infringe rights of citizens but not a natural right.
Now some will say “This just doesn’t make sense. Inanimate objects can’t have authority or rights. At least not in the usual sense of those words!” And I answer “Exactly! You are almost there. You have figured it out. This is about the meaning of words. Our traditional use of these words has hidden the reality of what’s going on all around us. I’m trying to help the world understand that we can learn a lot by laying aside the usual, restricted purview of these words and focusing on what is happening in the realities we observe. Expanding our recognition of the operation of rights in everything in our universe can help us fully comprehend natural and human rights. This ties our rights to the hard, physical things that compose our world, our inventing, changing, organizing, economic and all other activities.
Political philosophers have searched for this kind of basis for natural rights and because we are surrounded and completely immersed in objects with power and the authority to change things, objects with rights, they have not found one. Like the fish that doesn’t realize he is wet the hard rock basis was in and through everything we can observe.
One way to see this new perspective is to say that it is a legal theory that justifies and empowers natural rights by identifying their authority as originating in the powers of all objects, including us humans. This is not a change of viewpoint so much as an opening of the eyes, like “… then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods …” (Genesis 3:5, KJV)
I’m calling these “temporal rights” because they are the primordial rights that were intrinsic from the beginning of time, the most vital attribute of the operations of all change in the universe.
The Expanded Rights Paradigm
Given this inclusion of physical things within the realm of authority holders, we find a whole universe of new comprehension. Perhaps the most important one is that the property right of a stone is inherent and inalienable. As mentioned earlier, you either have a stone with property rights or you have neither one.
We see the same inalienability in human rights. I either have freedom of choice, or I am not fully human. The same is true of every human capability, there being a direct, intimate, and inseparable connection between our powers and our rights to use them. A right is the recognition of the authority of a thing to exercise its powers.
This is a purely secular basis for the inalienable rights demanded in our Declaration of Independence, and for the believer, an explanation of how the Creator placed power in the endowed rights.
The New Definition of Rights
Right: the authority a person has to use his powers and the possessions he acquires by the use of those powers.
This is a description of natural rights; but a new, unprecedented one. At least I have not found a well-known political philosopher who articulated this inherent connection between power, authority, and natural rights.
There are several unique features of this breakthrough paradigm. Because it is 100% secular, it puts the religionist and the secularist on equal footing. Now they can discuss rights issues without the distraction of who has the correct perspective on those rights. The elephant in the public square has vanished.
It identifies the highest human right as freedom of choice and the highest choice which shows the proper role of government.
There are many more advantages some of which I have treated here.