Born On The Fourth Of July: America’s 235 Anniversary

On this day in 1776, America’s thirteen colonies broke away from Britain to forge a new nation free to govern itself. The guiding principle behind this new nation is stated very clearly in America’s foundation document — the Declaration of Independence — which says that all human beings by nature possess the unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that governments are instituted among humans to protect these rights.

I emphasize the word protect in this context because it was (and in many ways still is) a revolutionary idea: for in most lands, including America today, government is looked upon as a sovereign ruler of the people. But this was not America’s original intent.

The word unalienable means “that which cannot be transferred, revoked, or made alien” — and everything that has made America great is merely an elaboration upon this foundational principle.

The Declaration of Independence is not a treatise on political theory but a statement to the world of what the founders of America believed to be a self-evident truth: namely, that we each own ourselves and our property in full.

The language used in the Declaration of Independence owes much to John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, which states that the major function of government is to protect the life, liberty, and property of each person.

The framers of the Constitution indeed believed the legitimate functions of government to be merely protective, and not paternal. As Thomas Jefferson said, “The legitimate functions of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others.”

In fact, politically speaking, those two things are at root the only possible alternatives: protective government or paternal government. (Even anarchy devolves eventually into a de facto government of one or the other of these two.)

America is for this reason a nation of laws: laws which specifically protect “against the instigation of aggression,” for it is ultimately only through aggression, or its threat, that the right to life and property can be infringed or abrogated.

The right to life, which is the fundamental right, is what makes America politically free.

The right to property, which is the only manifestation of the right to life, is what makes America economically capitalistic.

Capitalism is the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness applied to economics.

Capitalism is the freedom to produce and to trade property.

It is of inestimable significance that of the many grievances listed in the Declaration of Independence, a number of those grievances are economic.

Money is property, and private property is the crux of freedom.
Property is subsumed under the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness: obviously, you cannot possess the right to life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness if you do not first possess the right to produce, keep, and dispose of those things which maintain your life and make you happy.

In this sense, America is correctly known as a country of negative rights.

What that term refers to is the fact that your freedom imposes no burdens and no responsibilities upon any other person except responsibilities of a negative type: you must refrain from violating the same rights in others.

Your rights, my rights, everyone’s rights stop where another’s begin.

Rights are in this way compossible – which means: they can’t conflict since everyone possesses the exact same rights: specifically, the right to one’s own life and property – and only one’s own life and property.

Negative rights are the only possible way for each and every individual, regardless of race, sex, sexual orientation, color, class, or creed, to live freely.

Negative rights do not guarantee a set income. They do not guarantee healthcare. They do not guarantee a level playing field or a level training field. They do not even guarantee success or happiness.

They guarantee only that you are free to pursue success and happiness, and that if you achieve these things, they are yours unalienably. Which is to say, these things cannot be revoked or transferred.

That is the premise America was founded upon.

In other words, negative rights guarantee you the one thing most important to human life: the freedom to pursue your values. In America as she was originally intended, you are free to make of yourself whatever you can, provided you do not infringe upon the same rights in others.

The long war upon the principle of negative rights, which began before the ink was finished drying on the Declaration of Independence, is waged almost exclusively by those who, in one form or another, seek to replace negative rights with so-called positive rights.

Positive rights do not actually exist.

In fact, they’re a complete negation of rights and a contradiction in terms, since by definition positive rights are not compossible – which is to say that in order to be carried out, positive rights require the infringement of the rights of others. So that if, for example, whether or not you work, you possess (which in reality you do not) the positive right to a certain fixed income, it will necessarily require that someone (i.e. the government) takes money from someone else and gives that money to you, in order to provide you with your fixed income. The most obvious problem with this is that no one has the right to take money from any other person; for if someone did possess such a right, from whom would it derive?

Money and all other property may be lawfully taken only by permission.

Permissions are not rights.

Such is the nature of positive rights, whose fatal flaw is built into the very idea of positive rights.

This 4th of July, then, let us celebrate the principle that birthed the greatest civilization in world history: the principle of negative rights.

Happy 4th.


9 Comments

  • Micky

    July 4, 2011

    Ladies and Gentlemen, enjoy today what independence we’ve got left.
    In the not too distant future we may be dependent on our own growing failing government only to end up dependent on the Chinese. God knows maybe even the Saudis.
    So soak it up, enjoy it, relish in it, waddle and ooze your butts around in it while waving Old Glory.
    So burn some flesh and make some noise and get drunk with the boys.
    Make every single 4th as important as the last.
    For all we know, at this rate, with this shmuck, hope for change will become a serious issue and not some slogan.
    Further in debt, regulated, taxed, robbed and herded to a point of no return.
    Once the cancer has spread so far your only choices are to hang in desperation, fly on morphine til you croak, or blow your brains out.

    Happy 4th guys/gals
    Enjoy it for everything its worth

  • Redomondo

    July 4, 2011

    Happy birthday to ME!

  • Micky

    July 5, 2011

    Right backatcha Redomondo, I guess.
    I guess escaping the womb can be a pretty good analogy for ‘Independence Day’

    :-)

  • Ray

    July 5, 2011

    Happy Birthday, Redmondo!

    And, while we’re at it, happy birthday to my brother Frank, who I think lurks around these parts occasionally.

  • Ray

    July 5, 2011

    P.S. Thanks for the video clip, Redmondo, and the note that Judge Nap had been reading my blog:

    http://youtu.be/m74oJALilaI

    http://rayharvey.org/index.php/2010/05/francis-bellamy-and-the-united-states-pledge-of-allegiance-2/

  • Dale

    July 5, 2011

    Great post, Ray.
    What a contrast to our vaunted leaders:
    – We have “a moral obligation to provide health care to all”
    – Oil companies make too much, so we must single them out and punish them with the tax code
    – People who fly in private jets can afford to pay more taxes
    – Have not produced a budget that can be scored by CBO in almost two years
    – Expand EPA by 125%, fault on the debt as a first act if no debt ceiling hike

    You speak of our personal liberty and property, and self responsibility.
    They engender prejudice among the population, use that as a basis to discriminate; always more government, always more taxes.
    Damn, they suck.

  • Micky

    July 6, 2011

    “Oil companies make too much, so we must single them out and punish them with the tax code”

    If it werent for sheer volume they wouldnt make much at all.
    I think their profit margin is between 10-15%
    But, they deal in so much quantity the public is easily deceived into picturing one fat guy on a private jet, smokin a stogie,pocketing it all

  • Redomondo

    July 6, 2011

    @Micky

    Actually, I was born on the fourth of July, 1975.

    that is why I posted that comment.
    _
    BTW, it looks like Canadians appreciate Ray’s writings as well. Who’da thunkit?

    Judge Nap – “the right to be left alone” – best quote.

  • Dale

    July 6, 2011

    Micky, according to Mark Perry at Seeking Alpha, “the Integrated Oil and Gas industry made an average profit of 6.2 cents per dollar of sales, which ranks #114 out of 215 industries by profit margin, and puts oil companies right in the middle of industries by profitability.”
    Those rascals! Let’s GET THEM!!
    Evil profit! And, they are way down the list.
    Let’s get them all! Why discriminate so far down the list?
    Let’s punish all of them, those nasty capitalist evil profiteers.
    We need to get them to protect the 125% increase in the EPA budget, so they can prevent oil drilling anywhere in U.S. territories.
    And, we need to protect the billions we give to Brazil so Soros can profit selling us oil.

    Scene from “The Mummy”, the mesmerized hoard, like zombies, chant “Obama Obama Obama”
    Oh wait, they were saying something else, never mind.

    Help! My brain’s melting! Melting!

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