web analytics
≡ Menu

To secure rights, not wrongs

[This exchange begins with my interlocutor’s response to the answer I gave in the previous post.]

The Comment

You mistake some simple things. One, we have a “right” to our liberty, as shown in the Declaration of Independence. So, even if we only have the “freedom” to worship as we please, or to speak as we please, that means that we also have the right to do it when the Declaration is taken into account. As you are a self-described “Declarationist” I would have thought you would have recognized this. Even the author of this document that you hold in such high esteem agrees that govts ought only deal with things that “pick the pocket” or “break the leg” of others… When this is brought into account the rest of your objections to my definition of the term (as used by the Founders) falls apart.

Let us assume that the purpose of govt is to protect our “rights” (as you understand them). Then why would they put into law protection for our “freedoms”? Does that mean that they can legitimately take them away if they choose to do so? If they passed a law making worship of several gods illegal, would you say it is just? I hope not. Why does this matter? Because what do we mean by “right” (in this case) other than that which no man or group can take away legitimately?

I would love to see where the Founders said that our “rights” only come from correct action… In fact, I have much evidence to the contrary…

However, you are correct in saying that there is a difference between base “power” God gave us and moral/right action. However, you fail to see that there is a necessary line that falls between these two where govt must act. For if govt were to let all men do as they please it would have no purpose. Yet, if it were to make EVERYONE do as God told us, then it would do EVERYTHING and would be (quite literally) Theocratic. I can imagine no worse govt that this.

This whole discussion of rights actually refers to what govt (men) make legitimately do. Men cannot make us moral for morality’s sake… that didn’t work when the Pharisees tried it and missed the whole point (as Christ said). It is, more or less, to make us “play nice” and not hurt each other. The reason that there is a 4th amendment is that some things are simply not within the govt’s jurisdiction EVEN IF they are immoral.

The other big thing you mistake is that this country doesn’t just have Christians in it. While we MAY use “force” of a certain kind to make Christians moral (or threaten “exile” from the Church), we do NOT have the authority to make pagans moral for morality’s sake. Any law made applies to the believer and unbeliever and Christians must treat the two groups differently. Isaiah 64:6 and 1 Corinthians 5:9-13. Therefore, just because WE must do right, we cannot make unbelievers do “right”, just that we can defend the innocent from them (and that happens to be a moral action).

My Reply

Again you equate in meaning different words (freedom and liberty) by which the founders referred to two different manifestations of human choice. We are free to do what we have the power to do, but power does not constitute right. When we abuse our freedom by choosing to use our power to do wrong, it is called licentiousness, injustice and tyranny (depending on the scope and effect of the wrongdoing) not liberty. Liberty, as an unalienable right, refers only to freedom rightly employed. The key to the claim of right is not our freedom (free will and power) to act, but the fact that our authorization to act as we do comes from the sovereign of all, i.e., the Creator.

The fact that Christian ideas are fundamental to the possibility and success of America’s liberty does not mean that only Christians can live in America. However, it does mean that if, in practice, the America people discards the Christian understanding of right, we will be unable to sustain the character required to sustain liberty. Having ceased to be “a moral and a religious people” (as Adams said) we will be unfit to sustain the institutions of self-government ordained and established in the Constitution. This current events are already proving to be true.

Making people who reject right behave as if they respect it is the whole purpose of just law and government. Madison alluded to this fact when he said (Federalist 51) that if men were angels, government would not be necessary. “To secure these rights governments are instituted among men deriving their just power from the consent of the governed.” That’s what the Declaration says. Some people may want securely (i.e., safely, and without fear of punishment) to do wrong. They may even establish unjust governments aimed at achieving this goal (the Mafia for example). But the just powers of government exist to stop (arrest) such wrongdoers. As Paul says, (Romans 13:4) the magistrate “does not bear the sword in vain (for nothing).” Whatever wrongdoers believe, and however organized and successful they are, the just powers of government exist to see that they behave properly (do right), or else to arrest (stop), confine, or even deprive them of life, so that they are not in a position to continue the depredation of right.

Also, you mistake the Scripture if you believe that God’s law does not apply to believers and unbelievers unlike. The “laws of nature” apply to all human beings. And it is these natural laws, provisioned by God, which are, the primary object of just government’s enforcement powers. To be sure, the individual’s disposition to do right is the source of the unity that constitutes civil society. It is supposed to be especially characteristic of Christians, since they have accepted to be governed by the heart, mind and will of Christ. However, there are others, acknowledged in the Scripture,(Romans 2:15, Hebrews 8:10, 10:16) who are disposed to follow the laws God has written on their hearts, and as long as their actions manifest this disposition, they too form part of the civil society in which people of good will unite to form and empower just government.

Thus you are right when you say that, according to the American creed, it is not the aim of government is to make people moral. That requires, as you have said, an agency more capable of perfection than any merely human institution. But government IS the instrument through which people disposed, on the whole, to do right join together to implement their common disposition, and to defend themselves and their community from the harmful actions of those who do not share it.

Just government is instituted to organize and use the common power of these righteously inclined people to police the harmful actions of the licentious, unjust, or tyrannical people actively determined to wrong them and others like them. It aims humanly to secure the activities of people willing to accept the provisions of God’s benevolent will as they walk along His way toward fulfilling the higher than political good that was and still, in Christ, remains His first intention for our nature.

Share
{ 10 comments }
{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Richard Chiu June 14, 2013, 6:50 am

    To simply and concisely reiterate the essential distinction which I believe must inform any useful discussion of rights, what they are and how they may be secured, may well be beyond my command of human language. But I will make the attempt.

    In short, “rights” are what it is wrong to inhibit or restrict. Now, lest everything that exists (and even that which does not exist) be said to inhibit or restrict anything by simple inaction in relationship to it, I will require that the inhibition or restriction be active, the result of something done rather than anything not done.

    To establish whether or not it would be wrong to interfere with something, I refer primarily to whether God ordained it, and has made evident that it is an objective rather than a mere consequence. For example, I will regard both the capacity of human invention and the human reproductive instincts as being ordained of God, but the use of the internet for the distribution of pornography as being a consequence rather than ordained. In this, I am guided both by the evident causal relations and by revealed scripture on the subject. Which is to say that internet porn did not create intellect or sexuality, but rather could not have come to exist without them (and is not a necessary consequence of either or both). It is also clear in scripture that God does command the relationship between men and women, and commend the devotion of mental faculties, but internet porn would appear to categorically belong to the list of things God condemns.

    Now, it is certainly true that humans should, in every circumstance, have a “right” to be righteous and to act as God has commanded them (for obedience to God’s commandments is ordained of God for His purposes, and thus it would clearly be wrong to interfere with such obedience). But this is not the particular meaning of rights which informed the Declaration of Rights and the Constitution, although it must be included as one of them.

    The Founding Fathers were concerned with a more general category of rights, which derived from the individual freedom to decide personal actions and be held morally (and legally, once the laws had been established) accountable for those self-chosen actions and their consequences rather than for other circumstances. In this they pursued an ultimate question about the purpose of human existence as such, the riddle of creation centered on the ability of humans to act CONTRARY to God’s commands.

    The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were informed deeply by the belief that God had given humans free will for a reason, and that it would be contrary to the purposes of God to interfere with it. They further recognized that individual freedom and personal responsibility were not contrary to each other, but rather essential to one another. Everything about the laws they attempted to frame was founded on the theory that the very essence of justice was for people to be personally subject to the consequences of their individual actions.

    We live in an era where the desire to evade personal responsibility is the more notable departure from the wisdom on which America was founded, but there can be no justice in applying personal responsibility without respect for individual freedom of action. Indeed, the banner of individual freedom is the rallying point for resistance to the tyranny that comes from overturning the operation of fixed law, and the call for personal responsibility must follow that banner just as all consequences follow actions.

    In other words, if we are going to effectively defend the right to do what God commands, we must defend the right to be subject to the natural consequences of following God’s law. To do that, we must champion the essential prerequisite in justice to being subject to such consequences, which is authorship of the actions which lead to them.

    Of course, I come at it from the other direction. God gave man the capacity for self-direction, therefore men are justly subject to the consequences of their own actions. And this means that even their earnest but otherwise pitiable efforts to obey the laws of life and salvation which He has published for their redemption earns them respite from death itself, which they could never have accomplished without such aid. But the logic holds true in both directions.

    ChunLing.

    • alkeyes June 14, 2013, 10:31 pm

      You write as if government is all about free will and not at all about how it is used or abused. The Declaration says that the aim of government is to secure rights. You wish to alter that, so that it is the aim of government to oppose wrongs. But if freedom is the same as right, whatever people have the power (freedom) to do they have the right to do. This transmogrifies the distinction between right and wrong into a distinction between more powerful and less powerful. Some people may be foolish enough to accept this justification for tyranny as the preservation of freedom, but only until they experience its effects in practice.

      In this regard Madison’s word’s in Federalist 51 encapsulate the practical difficulty to which your negative doctrine of rights gives rise:

      “…[W]hat is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” (Federalist #51)

      If we conflate freedom and right, on what basis do we justify constraining the right of the people in charge of the government’s power to act with all the freedom that power makes possible? If you say that is is wrong for them to use their freedom to interfere with the freedom of others, how do you justify the notion that, in framing a government, you first enable it to control the governed. This priority naturally begs the question: What is the standard of right by which you identify the actions that need to be controlled?

      Assuming that you accept the notion that this standard has something to do with the laws of nature and nature’s God (as the Declaration says), there still remains a practical challenge. If people in power in government are not committed to being governed by those laws, why would they make them the standard for the control they exert over the people?

      Assume they are committed, and the further question arises- since they are elected to represent the people, how do they come to be in the government unless the people who elected them are also committed to respecting the standard of the natural (God endowed) law? Think it through, and its clear that to get a rights respecting government based on representation, you must begin with a people who are, by and large committed to respecting God endowed right (so that a majority exists to elect people who represent this commitment.)

      Pretend if you like that unrighteous people will use their freedom in a way that takes care of this. You are free to have your opinion. But it was obviously not the opinion of the American founders when they defined the task of government as securing rights- for one aspect of that security would have to be securing the election of people to government who support implementing society’s commitment to that aim. Tocqueville is famous for the observation that men first make the laws, and then the laws make them. Laws made on the basis that government can secure freedom without regard to right can only form men who show the same indifference. Do you really mean to suggest that the founders were foolish enough to believe that such indifference to the moral substance of the laws would produce a people willing to insist that rights must be respected even when power allows them freely to violate them? Perhaps the memory of my enslaved ancestors prevents me from believing this will be so. Or perhaps it is the spectacle of people today who are willing to tolerate Obama’s tyrannical abuses so long as they have the freedom to sacrifice their posterity on the altar of their selfish hedonism.

      BTW, there is no contradiction whatsoever between acknowledging that the claim of right is rooted in freely accepting the natural law obligation to do what is right, and the ability to hold people responsible for wrongdoing. As I make clear when discussing the natural family as the paradigm of government by consent, people exercise their freedom when they choose to do right. Do you deny this? Or are you saying that the mere existence of a standard for choice (in God’s endowment of right by natural law) interferes with choice? If it does, why are so many people able to choose wrongdoing?

      • Richard Chiu June 16, 2013, 12:41 am

        I would rather say that human existence itself is all about free will, and government is about free will insofar as it is about preserving and protecting human existence. But of course government is simply about limiting behavior, and the behavior that is limited may be what is conducive to human existence as easily (indeed, much more easily) than that which is destructive to it.

        I make an essential point about freedom (as opposed to mere liberty) which is drawn from the differing etymological origins of the two terms. Liberty simply means the absence of some restriction (usually bonds or enslavement). Freedom, on the other hand, is related to “kingdom”, it stands to a free man as does a kingdom to a king. In the original sense, it denoted not mere absence of restrictions but the presence of responsibility for oneself (and one’s personal property).

        In this sense, the power to act and have the consequences borne by others is not freedom, it is mere liberty. To bear consequences imposed by the actions of others is not necessarily to suffer loss of liberty, if the acts of those others are of such a nature as to impose felicitous consequences, but freedom (in the original sense of being more than a mere synonym for liberty) requires that one be subject to the natural consequences of one’s OWN actions, for good or ill.

        In this sense, the idea that one can have an increase in freedom by imposing the consequences of one’s on actions on others and enjoying the consequences of their actions instead (as is the case with a master over slaves, i.e. tyrannical government) is simple nonsense. The domain of a freeman, the old “freedom”, prospered or suffered from the actions of the freeman himself, and he himself reaped the results.

        Indeed, respect for the connection between actions and their natural consequences, and a proper understanding of what constitutes the natural consequences of an act and therefore what consequences would have to be imposed artificially by displacing the natural consequences onto another party and exchanging a different set of consequences produced by different actions, is essential to a functional understanding of justice.

        Every crime (as opposed to sins) is characterized by forcing someone else to bear the natural consequences of one’s own actions or of usurping the natural consequences of another’s actions. Fraud, theft, vandalism, murder…the essential component that makes each of them unjust is that the natural consequences of some action is displaced from the actor to another party.

        Let us suppose that we had a government that forced all its subjects to do according to God’s laws of life, but then took from them the natural consequences of obedience to that law and exchanged it with the natural consequences of the actions of the rulers (this hardly requires much supposition, history is rich in examples).

        Would this be just? Would this be a good government? Would we say that the rights of the people were protected by such a government, because it ensured that its subjects were obedient to the laws of God (one may include the law of respect for justice, if we suppose that the government demanded that people show respect for justice but still denied it to them)?

        In the long run, continual displacement of the effects of obedience to God’s law from the faithful to the disobedient will effectively eliminate the ability to obey. In practice no system of human organization can survive unless those who obey the laws of life are allowed to retain enough of the blessings of their obedience to make continued obedience possible. But while total injustice leads to rapid destruction, many societies have suffered for centuries or millennia under government that was far from just.

        And in a society where the use of government is limited to assisting the ready and effective course of natural justice, obedience to God’s laws of life will be promoted while disobedience is diminished as it reaps the consequences. There is no need to even know in advance which doctrinaire exposition of God’s law is most correct (or least wrong), those who choose to obey God’s laws of life will receive the natural consequences…life, even without having known that they were obeying God’s laws (although the nature of man is such that they do NOT obey very much of God’s laws of life without being explicitly instructed, which makes the last bit somewhat hypothetical).

        This is the defect of liberty as a concept, it only considers the existence or absence of restrictions on a person’s chosen actions, without regard to whether those restrictions were unjustly imposed from without by the choices of others or whether those restrictions arose from the natural consequences of previously chosen actions. The idea of freedom, the domain of a free man, the condition of which is the result of the free choices of that man and the fruit of which is freely enjoyed by that man, is necessary to a correct understanding of the concept of justice.

        It is something that the Founding Father’s knew as a cultural inheritance. They generally used the term “liberty” as a synonym of freedom, while today it is the concept of freedom that languages with its term being used as a synonym for mere liberty.

        • alkeyes June 16, 2013, 1:54 am

          Your analysis of the difference between freedom and liberty has nothing to do with the understanding implemented by the American founders. They followed Locke, who saw natural liberty (liberty in the state of nature) as subject to the natural law, and to “reason, which is that law”, as Locke says. The notion of liberty as unhindered action is from Hobbes, and it leads to an understanding of human nature that rationally forbids free government. For Locke and the founders, natural liberty was subject to the kingdom of God, and required obedience to His will. As Locke says in the 2nd Treatise of government, human beings are “all the work of one omnipotent and infinitely wise Maker- all the servants of one sovereign master, put into the world by his order and about his business.”

          This is the liberty identified as an unalienable right in the Declaration.

          In your discussion you speak of liberty without reference to its subjection to that natural law, which may be your view but it is not the view on which America’s republic was founded.

          Rather than vaguely considering the “cultural inheritance” of the founders, one is better advised to read and ponder the thinkers who greatly influenced their understanding of nature according to reason, and of God according to the Scriptures. In the latter you would encounter the idea of the “liberty wherewith Christ has made us free”, which is the perfect freedom that arises from doing the will of God. Though they properly distinguished the aspects of this freedom that are known to us by nature from those which are shown to us by God, they did not rely upon the purely negative understanding of freedom (acting without interference) that you insist upon. Freedom is rooted in the authorization of the Creator, as derived from the rules whereby His will governs our nature.

          Your assertion that liberty imposes restrictions without regard to justice makes no sense, since liberty is the exercise of freedom according to the laws of nature and of nature’s God, which is justice. That’s why law enforcement in America’s Constitutional Republic rests on the presumption of innocence, so that enforcement comes into play only after right has been violated.
          The positive commitment to follow the natural law is required, however, because people without that commitment will oppose those who interfere with their freedom, and impose themselves upon others when necessary to assure their freedom of action. This is the very definition of tyranny.
          America’s constitutional self-government has avoided such tyranny because it is based on the consent of those committed to respecting the laws of nature and of nature’s God, and respecting the rights exercised by those who follow them. This provides a standard of choosing representatives and determining the justice or injustice of the laws they make and the actions they take in pursuit of their duties. Nothing in your analysis provides a consistent standard for such judgments, even though you recognize the need for them. (Respect for the freedom cannot, by itself, be such a standard, since freedom is the capacity to choose, and involves no standard for making the choice. As understood by America founders the unalienable right of Liberty relies on the natural law, and so gives rise to a concept of right that raises and respects such a standard.

          • Richard Chiu June 17, 2013, 6:47 am

            You persist in making the claim that I assert that freedom is unrestricted lattitude of action not subject to natural consequences, and now add to it a simply incomprehensible claim about my views on liberty.

            Such refusal to honestly engage an idea with which you may not be fully familiar is not better than simply declining to answer it at all.

  • Jared June 4, 2013, 9:48 pm

    Government does not in itself have any positive benefit to impart- it regulates by punishment. Any attempt to obfuscate the fact that government exists only to punish according to law is a lie that can lead to injustice and tyranny.
    In other words, governments cannot supply any benefit, except by taking it by force from someone.
    I thought it was an important distinction Dr. Keyes made between the ‘freedoms’ set forth in the Bill of Rights, and those that were denoted simply as a ‘right’ (such as the right to peaceably assemble).
    But however much I disagree with some of the current usages of the word ‘rights’ (which could often be characterized as people claiming they have a right to do wrong), I prefer a slightly different characterization of what are our ‘rights’ under the Constitution than either Keyes (or the interlocutor) had.
    The rights spoken of in the Bill of Rights refer not simply to our right to do that which is right, though certainly a government is a failure if it does not allow us to do what is right. Government should not, it cannot determine what is best in human nature- it is a necessary evil, hopefully as small as possible, which expresses in its laws what is worst in human nature, and those things that are serious enough to be seriously punished.
    I want to add here that the reward of the righteous needs to not be taken from them- in assisting that from not happening, I suppose an optimal government is important in allowing the good to grow without being impeded by the wicked.

    • alkeyes June 5, 2013, 4:27 pm

      I agree, but I think it’s important to clarify the fact that “the good” and those who do what is right are not necessarily the same. For example, someone who seeks to be good according to the example of Christ, not only does right, but does it for God’s sake, out of love for God. In fact, the latter condition of the heart is critically important. It should go without saying that goodness in this sense is outside the purview of government compulsion. So long as people remain within the bounds of fundamental right, and they respect the activities of others who do so, the government has no business interfering with them.
      So government exists to make sure people do not deny or disparage right doing (to constrain wrongdoers), and to make sure people determined to do right are secure in their activity. It cannot and does not seek to “make” them good, for this lies beyond the scope of merely human governmental power.

    • Alan Lee Keyes June 14, 2013, 10:20 pm

      You write as if government is all about free will and not at all about how it is used or abused. The Declaration says that the aim of government is to secure rights. You wish to alter that, so that it is the aim of government to oppose wrongs. But if freedom is the same as right, whatever people have the power (freedom) to do they have the right to do. This transmogrifies the distinction between right and wrong into a distinction between more powerful and less powerful. Some people may be foolish enough to accept this justification for tyranny as the preservation of freedom, but only until they experience its effects in practice.

      In this regard Madison’s word’s in Federalist 51 encapsulate the practical difficulty to which your negative doctrine of rights gives rise:

      “…[W]hat is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” (Federalist #51)

      If we conflate freedom and right, on what basis do we justify constraining the right of the people in charge of the government’s power to act with all the freedom that power makes possible? If you say that is is wrong for them to use their freedom to interfere with the freedom of others, how do you justify the notion that, in framing a government, you first enable it to control the governed. This priority naturally begs the question: What is the standard of right by which you identify the actions that need to be controlled?

      Assuming that you accept the notion that this standard has something to do with the laws of nature and nature’s God (as the Declaration says), there still remains a practical challenge. If people in power in government are not committed to being governed by those laws, why would they make them the standard for the control they exert over the people?

      Assume they are committed, and the further question arises- since they are elected to represent the people, how do they come to be in the government unless the people who elected them are also committed to respecting the standard of the natural (God endowed) law? Think it through, and its clear that to get a rights respecting government based on representation, you must begin with a people who are, by and large committed to respecting God endowed right (so that a majority exists to elect people who represent this commitment.)

      Pretend if you like that unrighteous people will use their freedom in a way that takes care of this. You are free to have your opinion. But it was obviously not the opinion of the American founders when they defined the task of government as securing rights- for one aspect of that security would have to be securing the election of people to government who support implementing society’s commitment to that aim. Tocqueville is famous for the observation that men first make the laws, and then the laws make them. Laws made on the basis that government can secure freedom without regard to right can only form men who show the same indifference. Do you really mean to suggest that the founders were foolish enough to believe that such indifference to the moral substance of the laws would produce a people willing to insist that rights must be respected even when power allows them freely to violate them? Perhaps the memory of my enslaved ancestors prevents me from believing this will be so. Or perhaps it is the spectacle of people today who are willing to tolerate Obama’s tyrannical abuses so long as they have the freedom to sacrifice their posterity on the altar of their selfish hedonism.

  • Spenserr June 2, 2013, 11:15 am

    Mr. Keyes, your interlocutor needs to read the preamble to the bill of rights.

    From the Preamble to the Bill of Rights:

    “The conventions of a number of the states, having at the time of their
    adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its [federal gov’t’] powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.”

    http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charter/bill_of_rights_transcript.html

  • 68truthseeker June 2, 2013, 10:52 am

    DOJ Whistleblower: Every Employee Must Praise Homosexuality

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNKDXxCRUZk

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Copyright Regulations

All original material on Loyal To Liberty is copyrighted and you will need to observe these regulations when you plan to distribute or use content from this blog. Copyright Regulations for Content on Loyal To Liberty You are free to share, distribute or transmit any work on this blog under the following conditions: * Attribution: You must attribute any content you use to Loyal To Liberty by including a link back to the specific content page. You must not suggest that Loyal To Liberty endorses you or your use of the content on this blog. Even with attribution, you do not have permission to republish the entire blog post on a website. Only excerpts of less than 500 words from each blog post may be published on other websites. A link back to the specific blog post must be included. * Noncommercial Usage: You may not use this work for commercial purposes unless authorized to do so by Alan Keyes. * Derivative Works:Within the limits heretofore specified, you may build upon the contents of Loyal To Liberty as long as proper attribution (see above) is made. If you want to syndicate or distribute the full blog post on your website, permission must be obtained before you do so. For permission, please email alan@loyaltoliberty.com.
%d bloggers like this:
\"Google