Libertarianism 101: Rights & Bills About Them

What is a right? What should classify as something to consider adding to our Bill of Rights?

Upon establishing the United States of America, the Founding Fathers disagreed on the manner in which to limit a government’s ability to infringe on what were referred to as unalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence.

They chose to pass a Constitution, instructing how the federal government was to operate, and then to amend that constitution with further instruction as to how the government was to interact with its citizens.

Among those amendments are definitions of certain unalienable rights, but there is debate today as to what is or isn’t a right.

Most libertarian leaders believe in a strict, black and white adherence to the law of the land, particularly as it relates to the Constitution and Bill of Rights. We do not believe the right to bear arms gives leeway to define certain types of arms or certain types of citizens except perhaps in cases of a violent criminal past.

It is safe to say that we take these documents particularly seriously, and consider them to be far more modern in thought than comparable documents from other countries.

Confusion can be traced most rationally to the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt and his four freedoms speech. In that speech, the “four freedoms,” as they have been coined, are as follows:

  • Freedom of Speech & Expression
  • Freedom to worship God in one’s own way
  • Freedom from want
  • Freedom from fear

Two of those freedoms are guaranteed in the United States by the first amendment, which defends the right of a person to believe what they would like to believe and preach what they believe independent of government intervention.

(I should note here that there are certain limitations on all freedoms. For example, the freedom of speech does not grant the freedom to threaten another individual or to slander another individual. The right to bear arms does not guarantee the right to offensively kill another human. We all have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness)

The two remaining freedoms draw contention from many, libertarians included. Want and fear are emotions, developed over time as a means of survival for the human race. It is want that drives us to act, and fear which drives us to avoid danger.

Simply put, they are often beyond the control of an individual.

What defines a right then?

As I see it, a libertarian will most commonly define a right as something available to all and without cost to another. Put more plainly, we each have the right to make choices so long as those choices don’t harm the rights others to life, liberty and their personal pursuit of happiness.

You have a choice to enter into a contract, whether that contract has a positive or negative effect on you. If you are unaware of the negative ramifications of a contract, or were misled in your agreement, that would be considered a fraud, which is not protected by free speech.

Similarly, you have a right to purchase and consume as you please, so long as your actions do not harm others. A libertarian does not support, at the federal level anyway, the banishment of certain products such as guns, soda or prostitution. We would not; however, support forced consumption of any of those products or companies which push faulty products onto the market.

Simply put, you have a right to believe what you want to believe and a right to procure what you would like to procure so long as you respect the rights of others to make independent choices of their own.

Where we draw the line — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Today we are entranced into debates of a person’s right to health care, to nourishment and to an education, but unlike the right to believe what one would like to believe, to say what one would want to say, and to resist political abuse from their government from doing so (due process, right to bear arms, 10th amendment’s reiteration of federalism), those cannot be universally applied and are not infinite.

To suggest one has a right to health care is to suggest that they have a right to demand the labor of a doctor, nurse or medical drug/equipment producer.

To suggest one has a right to nourishment suggests that they have a right to demand the labor of a farmer or supplier.

To suggest one has a right to education suggests that they have a right to demand the labor of an educator.

Children are not all born into the same climate, they are not born with a standard set of medical conditions, or with a standard set of caloric requirements, or with parents equally able to instruct them through childhood.

To put it simply, claiming the product of another human as a right is a form of slavery.

Many associate slavery specifically to African slaves in the Americas and the harsh conditions most faced both in their transfer to the Americas and in their treatment.

Still, many make the argument that even though some slaves in America were not treated poorly, even though some were paid and some lived in a home with a master, that it was lack of opportunity for that human to make their own choices in terms of life, liberty and their pursuit of happiness, that made them a slave.

Paying a doctor for a service he or she has no choice but to provide does not diminish the fact that they are not in control of how or when to provide a service.

Paying a teach to educate a student or group of students does not diminish the fact that they are not in control of how to educate.

As was exhibited by slavery in the United States, we often under pay and under support those from whom we demand labor, and it should not go unnoticed that being a doctor is far less enticing in socialized countries when compared to America.

In Closing

A right is freely available and infinite. A right revolves around the choices one makes, not opportunities granted to that person by fate or luck.

To claim what requires the labor of another as a right has yet to be ingrained into the U.S. Constitution as it has in many older and European countries because our concept of rights is unique to that of Europe.

Recall that for much of history, religion was government. The decision to “separate church and state” was to ensure that each individual in America had the right to march to the beat of their own drummer within the limits of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” granted to that person and everyone else.

From that key concept stems the remaining rights; each right enshrined into our Bill of Rights protects the first amendment and all subsequent amendments. The right to bear arms, to due process, to security in one’s belongings are all designed to prevent a government from abusing citizens with different politics (essentially a synonym for religion at the time) than those elected or appointed to power.

The government does not have the ability to deny a person health coverage, or to select which citizens receive nourishment, or which citizens to educate, and that’s precisely why demanding these activities of government is regressive, not progressive.

Giving a government the right to provide those services under the impression that they are civil liberties gives it too the power to withhold it or discriminate its disbursement in the case that times become tough.

When it comes to rights, simply ask: am I requiring someone else to work to lay claim to this as my own?

The 2nd Amendment doesn’t provide every American with arms, it simply banishes the government from preventing Americans’ ownership of arms.

The 1st Amendment doesn’t ensure that every American will be accepted by their peers, but it ensures that, regardless of belief, they cannot be targeted by those elected or appointed to power.

It’s a delicate balance, but to libertarians it is black and white.