Founding Philosophy on a Friday

From Matthew Continetti’s review of The Founders’ Key: The Divine and Natural Connection Between the Declaration and the Constitution and What We Risk by Losing It, by Larry P. Arnn:

An observer of contemporary American politics would assume that we have rights to just about everything—not only to those freedoms mentioned specifically in the Declaration, but also to an abortion, to marry a member of the same sex, and to food, housing, health insurance, transportation, and all the other accoutrements of a full and “equal” life. When most Americans talk about rights today, they are following the lead of our 32nd president, who told the Commonwealth Club in September 1932, “The task of statesmanship has always been the redefinition of these rights in terms of a changing and growing social order.”
For the men who wrote the Declaration and Constitution, however, the rights we possess are antecedent to society. Our right to property begins with our bodily selves. We exist, and therefore have a right to life. We speak, and therefore have a right to speech. We think, and therefore have a right to conscience. We have hands that can work, and therefore have a right to the fruit of that labor.
Government does not redefine rights as history runs its course. The teaching of the Declaration and the Constitution is that human beings institute government to protect the rights they already possess by virtue of being. We do not have rights to goods that exist only in society, such as health insurance, college loans, and pensions, since the provision and redistribution of these material benefits can take place only after government is established, and would require the government to infringe on our natural, pre-social, corporal rights.

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helen
helen
9 years ago

“Our right to property begins with our
bodily selves.”
Marc,oh,I love you as a fellow American. This article is so great,so compact yet speaks volumes. Fantastic!
The only conflict I would have with you is that people do have a right to food,housing and the other necessities of life. By that I don’t mean in general paid for by other people.
Some people are not capable of obtaining the necessities and they are the ones who need charitable help.
I don’t include things like cell phones,child care and college degrees in the necessities of life.
Your article does bring forth the question of what part do laws and government policies play in some of the extreme economic difficulties people face today.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
9 years ago

Posted by Helen: “The only conflict I would have with you is that people do have a right to food,housing and the other necessities of life. By that I don’t mean in general paid for by other people. Some people are not capable of obtaining the necessities and they are the ones who need charitable help.” I am sure your motives are honorable, so I don’t wish to seem too critical. But, most of the “rights” you suggest are provided for in our society. Much is told by the problem of obesity among the poor. However, we cannot be responsible for poor choices by many people. It is somehow assumed that they one had middle class values and descended, in truth, they have been part of a “welfare class” for so long they are almost feral. I have no problem with providing the “rights” you mention to the incapable, but I think they are benefice, not rights. As many surveys have shown, a large number of the “homeless” would have been institutionalized a few years ago. Much of the homeless problem was created by the “least restrictive alternative” theory of mental health. This freed many people who would have been institutionalized. Perhaps that is as it should be. The problem is not new. When I was a kid there were 4-5 men in my town who lived, squatted, in shacks built on other people’s property. They were tolerated and not pursued by social workers. One I particularly recall dressed as a rag-a-muffin English Squire. He also stood under a railroad arch and “hooted” for the echo. He lived on the border of our property. I would visit him from time to time (who would allow a 9 year old to do that today). I am sure he was the object… Read more »

Sammy in Arizona
Sammy in Arizona
9 years ago

“”Government does not redefine rights as history runs its course”” ?? ?
………………………………….
Women’s right to vote…redefined by government
Slave owners right to own slaves…redefined by government
Black folks right to vote, own property, marry outside their race, attend segregated colleges, be served at white only restaurants, sit in the front of the bus, and much more all redefined by government.
Gay folks right to marry who they want, redefined by many states governments
Be well all, and thank you again, for letting me coment here..Sammy

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
9 years ago

Sammy,
Except for the slavery issue, I think you adopt a rather broad view of human rights. For instance, the right to vote is not a “human right” it is a right for subjects of a democratic government.

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