Column by Jim Davies.

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They mark limits on government power. If you or I have some right or other, it means government is excluded. If we own some property by right, its agents may enter only by permission – or else by force, violating the right. If we have the right to remain silent, its agents may not rightly oblige us to speak.

Government really, really doesn't like limits, and in fact if government exists, it allows none in its domain; it may pretend there are a few, but that's only to keep folk from becoming alarmed. That's the nature of government: it governs. Individual rights are incompatible with government. The primary (sole?) business of government is to prevent individual rights being enjoyed in practice. If you want rights in practice, you have to terminate government.

So when a distinguished politician once wrote “All men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”, he was either hopelessly naïve (unlikely) or deeply hypocritical – as suggested by the phrase which followed, about government existing to “secure” our rights. Correct: Jefferson actually said that history's primary rights-violator is supposed to secure rights. It is astonishing that anyone can repeat those words and not gag on them. Jefferson was smart and well-read; it's not credible to me that he didn't know what nonsense he wrote.

Similarly, when anyone says that “rights” don't exist, or that individuals don't have any, such as the right to privacy, which the Feds are currently violating so massively, or (worse yet, though surprisingly common) that we have only such rights as the government is graciously pleased to grant, either he doesn't know which way is up or else he's a government disinformation agent. One or the other, take your pick. Prominent pols would not say such things openly, for doing so might lose votes, so it's understandable that they get others to convey the news, preferably a little at a time like water dripping on a stone. Hence, government schools.

However, having used the word for four paragraphs, I ought to define it – for it is admittedly a slightly difficult subject. Let's dispose first of a few things it doesn't mean.

The word “right” is being used here as a noun, not an adjective. “I am right” about this and all my adversaries are wrong – yes – but that's not a noun. Nor do I refer to being “right” morally, while others are sunk in iniquity--even if they were. So those uses are not in consideration.

The noun “right” can itself have two shades of meaning. By contract, if I hire a car, I may have the “right” to drive it from sea to shining sea before I hand it back with a large check, but that too is not what is meant. Or if I'm a strict parent and give my teenager the “right” to stay out until 10 pm, that isn't it either. Those kinds of rights are transitory, not permanent or ingrained or “inalienable.” Government may delight in allowing its subjects to have that kind of right from time to time – the “right to vote”, for example, because voting is harmless to them; it makes no difference. It's good PR, and helps keep the sheeple content . . . for a while.

No, the right under discussion is something not subject to being granted and/or taken away; it is in-built, ingrained, integral to each human being as part of his or her nature. One neat way to define it is as “an action for which no permission is required.” It is a word we use to express absolute self ownership. We each have the right to own, operate and control our own lives because we are members of the human race; man is a self-owning, reasoning animal. It's what we are. It's a form of short-hand; instead of saying “since I am a self-owning human being and have a mouth, I can speak or not speak without limits”, we say we have the “right to free speech.” It means the same, it's just quicker. It's a handy word.

Perhaps that makes it a bit clearer why individual rights are so repugnant to rulers. If the ruled have rights, the ruler's rights are reduced. Indeed, when we get to think about rights, we might ask by what right rulers rule; and that's a very tough question for them to answer. For a very long time, they asserted that God had given them that right. This was okay when nearly everyone believed that a supreme (but invisible, inaudible and untouchable) being existed, but it came unstuck about the time when that proposition was given the critical scrutiny it deserved. So they got to re-think the reply and came up, cleverly, with the equally fictitious source: the people! “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Ha!

Doubly deceptive, that: Firstly if one is governed, one cannot consent to it--the two are not compatible--and secondly the rights (or powers) assumed by governments greatly exceed the rights possessed by the governed, and therefore cannot possibly be derived from them. You have the right to rule yourself, but zero right to rule me, hence nobody you may appoint has the right to rule me, either. And a hundred million votes times zero is still zero.

Both of those alleged sources of the rights of rulers are therefore 100% bogus, and freedom will result when everyone grasps that simple truth. The reality was admitted by Mao: “Power [the right to rule in practice] comes from the barrel of a gun.” Nowhere else.

So whereas government toadies are understandably eager for us all to suppose that independent, inalienable rights do not exist, or that we have none, the fact is that we have all there are and that they have none. Rulers are totally fake; usurpers and pretenders. They are thugs with guns, policemen, courts and prisons; nothing else.

Lastly, let's repeat that the absolute self-ownership we each properly enjoy can be well expressed by this handy word “right”, but it's not something separate from the owner, as if it or they were a backpack of goodies we carry around. “Rights” can usefully be thought of as plural – the right to speak (or not), to property acquired without theft, to be left in peace, and so on, but all of them spring from the central one which is integral to our nature; if we live, we have the right to life, and to use it as we wish.

Only death can remove them, and only government can spoil their enjoyment.

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Jim Davies's picture
Columns on STR: 243

Jim Davies is a retired businessman in New Hampshire who led the development of an on-line school of liberty in 2006, and who wrote A Vision of Liberty" , "Transition to Liberty" and, in 2010, "Denial of Liberty" and "To FREEDOM from Fascism, America!" He started The Zero Government Blog in the same year.
In 2012 Jim launched http://TinyURL.com/QuitGov , to help lead government workers to an honest life.
In 2013 he wrote his fifth book, a concise and rational introduction to the Christian religion called "Which Church (if any)?" and in 2016, an unraveling of the great paradox of "income tax law" with "How Government Silenced Irwin Schiff."


Thunderbolt's picture

It is hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head. Sally Kempton.
Public schools are their most powerful weapon against us.
Indoctrination for twelve or more years is a foundation of their control. Tack on to that the incessant force of television, especially the evening news.

0point's picture

Amen, T-bolt -- Twelve years of formal indoctrination, both preceded and accompanied by physical abuse and emotional manipulation of children by their parents and other caretakers, most notably spanking and indoctrination in irrationalities like religion and statism.

Glock27's picture

Thunderbolt: If this is not the truth then I certainly have no idea what would be. Pithy response. One of which I take to heart, for sometimes it is far easier to keep a simple concept in mind that a plethora of verbal out pouring.

Samarami's picture

Interesting essay, Jim.

I've refrained from using the term "rights" for some time -- certainly in the sense of lament. It may be to distance myself from the overriding attitudes I've detected among 95% plus-or-minus of my friends and neighbors, who interpret "rights" as something granted by psychopathic "forefathers" and their documents: "declaration" of this or "bill" of that; issued by those predators and parasites organized into what we define as "government".

And backed by violence -- monopoly violence. Empowered by those same multitudes who wail and gnash their teeth on the one hand, but appear to savor and admire the brutality of the beast.

"Rights" in the sense of "permission" is how I sense most folks define it. That's why I side-step the use of the term entirely.

    "...One neat way to define it ("right") is as “an action for which no permission is required.”

Like the "right" to poop, I suppose. (I never did understand what business it was to the sisters in the 1930's and 40's, who dictated "...one finger raised to pee, two fingers to poop"). Or your "right" not to be mowed down by me if in driving I chance to encounter you walking down the road -- forget for this discussion my fear of consequences from the white man.

For years I've declared myself a "sovereign state". "Libertarians", for the most part, move by my declaration (and me) cautiously with little in the way of comment. That's because, I surmise, so many of them are so preoccupied inadvertently granting legitimacy to those lunatics operating under all the white and gold domes of "power" through their whining and moaning over the egregiousness of human rulership.

My sovereignty is simply my acknowledgement that I am free; or, in your words, my expression of absolute self ownership. To use the late Delmar England's phraseology, I strive to be an "is" individual rather than an "ought" individual -- an independent self rather than a servitude self.

That takes much redefining of my former mindset(s) and reevaluation of language and definitions. Because it is incumbent upon me to not only survive and enjoy my sovereignty in the belly of the beast, but to endeavor to pass what I've received along to those I love -- with care and empathy.

You and your many, many excellent essays over the years have been more instrumental than you can imagine in assisting me to create these self-reassessments.

The beast will indeed die. But our fight must be to not only survive, but to bring as many of those we care about out of the belly unscathed.



Jim Davies's picture

Couple of suggestions, Sam.
Yes, statists have distorted all manner of words. So we have to take them back. Liberal, for example. And, I suggest, Rights. If you think this article has it about - er - right, why not start the process of re-education by passing it around?
Then further, I'm not at all sure the beast will just die. Not unless it's given a lot of help. All failed states have been replaced by other states... so far. So let's help it expire, and stay dead.

Glock27's picture

Sam--Thank you for your insight to this. How you crystalize things is remarkable. You have changed my perspective of several things of which I appreciate. Again, thanks.

0point's picture

Thank you Jim for this excellent article, and your many others too. I am moved to comment on this one because it helped coalesce in my conscious mind a question which had for some time been floating about the edges.

That question is, "Is Jefferson truly a hero of lovers of liberty as he is so often portrayed, or is he more correctly seen as simply the most deceptively devious of a long line of devils, responsible for convincing more people than ever before to falsely believe they are free?"

Jim Davies's picture

Thank you, Opoint, and that's a really tough question. I'm really not sure. Jefferson clearly had a great number of good libertarian insights, but in the end he went along to get along.
As President he stopped the slide into tyranny that began with the Alien & Sedition Acts, but he used stolen money to buy land from the French. And of course by even being President, he was endorsing the idea that government is a valid, worthwhile institution.
I think his biggest error (or deception) had to do with the Marbury case. He deplored the prospect of SCOTUS becoming the de-facto source of law in the land, but as President did nothing to stop it. Might he have? What action could he have taken?
At best, he was a good man in a rotten system. It tells us the system is not reformable; not to work in it.

Glock27's picture

J.D. What really infuriates me about articles of this nature is that it speaks to an isolated audience. Ideas of this nature require a vast audience, a National audience, an audience which so desperately needs to be educated about. This is my greatest aggravation. I haven't the slightest idea how to accomplish national exposure to materials of this nature, but I have no doubt that if it were achievable this nation would change once the people were able to recognize the dastardliness the political animal perpetrates.

Suverans2's picture

If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough. ~ Attributed to Albert Einstein

Plain and simple, if one has a "right" to property[1] it means that they have a "just claim[2]" to it, they have met the qualifications that give them title to it, and it recognizes the "just claim" to the authority to protect and defend it. It matters not which kind of rights we are talking about, natural[3] or legal[4], it still holds true.
[1] "That which is peculiar or proper to any person; that which belongs to one'...[t]he word is also commonly used to denote EVERYTHING WHICH IS THE SUBJECT OF OWNERSHIP, corporeal, incorporeal, tangible, intangible, visible or invisible, real or personal." ~ Black's Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition (c.1990), page 1324
"The Philosophy of Liberty is based on Self-OWNERSHIP."
[2] See Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language definitions #'s 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 & 10 for the noun "RIGHT".
[3] "...natural rights are those not contingent upon the laws, customs, or beliefs of any particular culture or government, and therefore universal and inalienable."
[4] "...legal rights are those bestowed onto a person by a given [man-made] legal system."