Rights Come With Responsibilities? Nonsense!
By Steve Gillman
It is often said that rights come with responsibilities. Naturally,
the person claiming this has an idea about what your responsibilities
are, and thinks you should agree and comply. In fact, while many
people who believe this simply don't understand the concept of
individual rights, many others really just want to tell you what
to do. It is a matter of power and control.
Governments are the first to say that your political rights
come with responsibilities. When this propaganda becomes a part
of our societal myths, it is much easier to control the population
and influence what they do. Specifically, it is much easier to
get the people to agree to unjust laws, and to "sacrifice"
and "serve the public interest" in general. Again,
it is a matter of power and control.
What Are Rights?
Since the United States has the most ideas, myths and talk
about freedom and individual rights, let's look at what the founders
of this country thought about rights. Interestingly, they usually
referred to them as "natural rights," or "inherent
rights," or "unalienable Rights." And where do
these rights come from?
The Declaration of Independence, when proposing that people
can break with old governments, refers to "the separate
and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's
God entitle them." Notice that it says, "Laws of Nature
and of Nature's God." Incidentally, if you read the writings
of the founders, you'll discover that their religious beliefs
were very naturalistic and nothing like the those of the Christian
Right today, who seem to think they meant to create a "Christian"
Then the Declaration says, "We hold these truths to be
self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed
by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among
these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Again and again we come across the idea that individual rights
are inherent in all humans, that they come from the laws of nature
or God, and that they are unalienable. In other words, they do
not need to be "paid for" with public service. They
are not a "gift" of government or society. We have
rights whether they are recognized or not, although their idea
of how to protect them is clear: "to secure these rights,
Governments are instituted among Men."
There is no claim that you have responsibilities (to whom,
anyhow?), and that if you are a good boy or girl and do what
you are supposed to do, then you will be "granted"
your rights. The only "duty" suggested by this view
of rights is not a responsibility in a positive sense of having
to do something. It is simply the requirement that you leave
other people alone - that you do not violate their rights.
Individuals Rights - Not "Citizen Rights"
Rights are certainly not limited to "citizens,"
either. When this concept of "natural and inherent rights"
is extended into the political realm, it is clearly meant to
be applied to all people. Read the first amendment to the Constitution
(the first article of the "Bill of Rights."):
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment
of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging
the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people
peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress
Notice the phrase, "the people." It is used again
and again in the Bill of Rights. The word "citizen"
is not used. Never is it hinted that if you are not a citizen
you have no rights. In fact, Amendment One says, "In all
criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a
speedy and public trial..." and lays out the right to an
attorney, etc. Notice that in this case, it says, "the accused,"
and not "the accused citizen." It never suggests that
if you are not a citizen you shouldn't get a fair trial.
Rights Are Not Invented
Amendment Nine says clearly, "The enumeration in the
Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny
or disparage others retained by the people." In other words,
it is saying that there may be other rights derived from our
nature as humans. If not included in the Bill of Rights, it doesn't
mean they don't exist or should be ignored. We may recognize
more rights or derivative rights as our knowledge grows. Individual
rights may be interpreted and protected by governments, but they
are not invented by them.
Rights Do Not Equal Responsibilities
The idea that rights come with responsibilities comes in part
from this general misunderstanding that they are "bestowed"
by governments. With that premise it makes sense that governments
require "payment" for them, and require that we accept
certain responsibilities. But what a terrible and power-hungry
thought, that some men (all government is just some men and women
- regardless of how they get their power) should decide who is
to have rights and who can't have them.
Suppose a man lives peacefully and never violates the rights
of others. He is a good man, but he does not believe that he
has any responsibility to do the bidding of others. He has never
hurt anyone in his life, but he refuses to accept the supposed
"responsibilities" that come with rights. Should he
lose his right to liberty? Should he be thrown in jail forever
without a trial? Should he be limited in what he can say? If
you answer no to these questions, then you are coming to understand
that true individual rights have to be "unalienable rights."
Rights have to be protected, of course, and to do this requires
some action, some cost. This is why we have governments. Their
job is simply to protect the rights of those who hired them.
To the extent that they protect our rights, forced taxation may
be justified, if only because the practice of our freedom may
not be possible without some protection. Beyond that, the choice
of when and how to defend your rights is yours.
To force people to fight in wars, for example, is actually
slavery by any normal definition of the word. It's a clear violation
of one's right to liberty. People argue otherwise primarily out
of fear that their country will not be defended voluntarily (or
that they'll have to fight in place of those they would enslave).
I happen to think that any country which respects individual
rights will have all the individuals it needs for true defense,
although perhaps not enough for wars that are not truly necessary.
You see, the idea that rights require responsibilities is
based on the premise that rights are given to us by some earthly
authority. Nonsense! Assuming you leave me alone, I have to leave
you alone as well. You do not owe me some "responsibilities"
before I have to respect your human rights. And if you owe nothing
to me, why would you owe something to a bunch of us that gang
up and call ourselves "society" or "government?"