This is the third and last portion of a three-part series. What are the previous two posts?
Originally, Part 2 was suppose to be only one post, but the problem of explaining our divisions as a nation grew more involved than is appropriate for one blog post.
What is the focus of these last two posts? The following question.
What Is The Origin Our Rights?
Why was Part 2 of this series necessary? Why a post on Who Or What Is God? This question arises because we disagree about the purpose of government because we disagree about the nature of God. Conservatives believe government exists to protect our rights, and modern Liberals think government exists to give us our rights.
Note: We use the expression “modern Liberals” to distinguish today’s Liberals from Classical Liberals like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
The Difference Between God-given And Government-given Rights
Consider. Do all Americans still believe this is true?
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.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,From The Declaration of Independence (archives.gov)
Instead of believing what The Declaration of Independence says, many Americans, apparently about half the country, now believes that government, not God, gives us our rights. For example, almost everyone will agree that we have a right to life, but we vehemently disagree over who should pay for our healthcare. Modern Liberals think we have a “right” to healthcare, that government should pay for everyone’s healthcare. Whereas Conservatives think we already have a right to healthcare, that that guy we each see in the mirror just has to pay for it.
What is the argument for government-given rights? Pragmatism (britannica.com). Pragmatists trust in their own ability to discern what works. So, if something seems to work, we ought to do it because it works.
Consider, for example, the basic argument for government-run healthcare. The idea anyone should die because they cannot pay for their own healthcare seems unsupportable, that anything is justifiable to keep someone alive. If someone is going to die, doesn’t the end justifies the means needed to keep that person alive? Where does such an observation — such logic or pragmatism — lead us?
So and so needs (or perhaps just wants) a medical procedure. So and so has a right to life, but so and so cannot pay for the medical procedure he needs (or wants). Government has money. If government pays for so and so’s medical procedure, so and so gets the medical procedure he needs (or wants). Therefore, government should pay for so and so’s medical procedure. In fact, to be “fair” to everyone, government should pay for everyone’s entire healthcare bill.
What is the problem with this argument? What is wrong with government-given “rights”?
- Conservatives argue that government cannot give us any rights. Government can only protect rights we have already been given been by God. Because government gives them to us, government-given rights, like “rights” to health care, food, clothing, shelter, a job, retirement, and so forth, are supposed to be positive (The Perils of Positive Rights – Foundation for Economic Education (fee.org), but these so-called rights are actually privileges. Government cannot give us anything that it doesn’t take from someone else, thus depriving that someone else of their “rights.” This is also why government-given rights are unconstitutional. All in some way violate the Bill of Rights (archives.gov).
- We have other, practical, alternatives to government-run healthcare and other so-called positive rights. We just have to pay for these “rights” ourselves, or we have to find someone else willing to cover the bill. Because we don’t have a right to other people’s property, many of us still call socialized medicine government-run charity.
- Socialism leads to government-run monopolies and the concentration of power into a few hands. Because people are not innately good and abuse power, Socialism eventually leads to far more trouble than good.
Nevertheless, you may still say that none of the above demonstrates our rights are God-given. You may also ask, “who would deny us our rights?” Isn’t everyone basically good? No. Look around the world. We are obviously not basically good. Most people are poor because we constantly strive against each other. Given the opportunity, the strong among us will systematically deny the weak among us their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The Bible tells us only God is good. Therefore, we need a government to make us behave, and we need to obey the government because the role of government is to protect us from each other’s bad behavior.
Romans 13:1-7 New American Standard Bible
13 Every [a]person is to be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except [b]from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore [c]whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for [d]good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4 for it is a servant of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a servant of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; [e]respect to whom [f]respect; honor to whom honor.
Because of their experiences during the American Revolution and the teachings of the Bible, the founders understood we have a propensity to sin against each other. Hence, because they were fearful of government power, our Constitution is full of checks and balances. In addition, the Constitution is only a charter. One of the reasons the men who wrote the Constitution thought a Bill of Rights unnecessary is that the Constitution is a charter. This charter, the Constitution, only gives the Federal Government certain powers. That is, the Constitution says both what the Federal Government is supposed to do and authorized to do. The Federal Government is not supposed to do anything that is not spelled out in the Constitution. Nevertheless, some of the founders were wary of the craftiness of powerful men. So, they insisted upon a Bill of Rights, and these men have been proven right, unfortunately. Even with the Bill of Rights, powerful people have undermined the limits on the powerful set by our Constitution.
How did the founders make use of the teachings of the Bible? The Bible recognizes our propensity to sin. The Bible prohibits murder, robbery, bearing false witness, and cheating on our spouses. The Bible commands us to love each other as we love ourselves. The Bible says we are to serve each other, not tyrannize each other.
Our Bill of Rights approaches the issue of rights the largely the same way as the Bible. Like the Bible, the Bill of Rights explicitly condemns certain sins, and, like the Bible, the Bill of Rights reminds us that government exists to serve the people, not tyrannize the people.
Like the Bible, the Bill of Rights attacks the problem of restraining government power from two directions. Most of the 10 amendments in the Bill of Rights list rights that the government cannot violate. The 9th Amendment even lists unspecified rights. The 10th Amendment breaks the pattern; it explicitly states that the Federal Government is only empowered to do what the Constitution says it can do.
Are these observations too subtle to take seriously? Look again at our national debate. Look again at the overall objectives of each side.
- Modern Liberals insist upon a society ruled by “experts,” a nation where supposedly no one will be held responsible for making his or her own decisions and accepting the consequences because the “experts” will get it right. An exaggeration? Consider the response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Consider the sweeping ramifications of the Green New Deal.
- Conservatives insist upon a society where government power is limited, where each of us must accept responsibility for making his or her own decisions and accepting the consequences. Are Conservatives really so pure? Is there not a danger Conservatives would impose their beliefs upon others? Yes, but the point of limited government is to avoid that problem.
Which path is correct? Conservatism or Modern Liberalism? Undoubtedly, some will think this portrayal of Modern Liberalism unfair. However, much of the news media did all it could to make the election about a highly negative portrayal, the demonization of President Donald Trump. Hence, based upon what we saw in the Democratic Party’s Presidential Primary Elections, we can only guess at Joe Biden’s agenda. What will he do if becomes president? That remains to be seen.
In addition, the venomous, uncompromising anger Democrats have displayed over the last four years has done nothing to comfort those who supported President Trump. Given the efforts of the administration of President Barack Obama to transform America — as he put it — many are unapologetically anxious about the possible continuance of this transformation.
They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. — Benjamin Franklin (from here)