November 08, 2006

Wrongs and Rights

A little snippet of interesting conversation caught my eye on Harry's Place appeared on a thread relating mainly to the degeneration of much of the left into an alliance of authoritarians, it is about the basis of human rights. It begins with commenter Byzer:
Rights are not created and destroyed by governments or kings. They exist independently from the law of the land.
to which Chris Bertram replies:
Byzer, you are _confused_ . Some rights might plausibly exist independently of the law, the right not to be tortured being one of them. But other rights -- e.g. the right to vote at a particular age -- clearly depend on there being laws in place.
It is Chris Bertram that is confused, because things such as the right to vote at a particular age are not rights, they are simply laws. That some people have decided to call them rights makes no difference to that. That is simply calling a rose by another name and expecting it to loose it's thorns.

Universal human rights are the gift of our basic human nature, not the state. They will always exist, the state can only try and suppress them. If any supposed 'right' is the gift of the state then it cannot be universal as different states can decide different limits (as in voting ages) or even whether to allow them at all. No state is required by nature to do anything for it's people, as demonstrated by North Korea, but the people can do things for themselves on account of being people with arms, legs, voices, and minds capable of planning and forethought.

But Chris Bertram continues to confuse laws and rights
Law does not determine what is right or wrong. [quoting Byzer]

Well it sometimes does, actually, by determining which out of a series of possible conventions gets selected for a given society. Unless you think it makes no moral difference which side of the road you drive on
It does make no moral difference which side of the road you drive on. That on the continent people drive on the other side of the road to the UK does not make them moral degenerates. This is not a matter of morality, just practicality. The laws of a state are the expression of the (sometimes moral) opinion of those that framed them on whatever matters they pertain to. Laws confer neither rights nor morality. To argue that they do is, ironically for somebody of the left, a position of extreme conservatism. Under this philosophy the sufferagettes should never campaigned for the vote, not having been given it by the law they had no moral right to it. Or the black majority of South Africa should have accepted their lot as subhuman under apartheit since they had no moral right to equality it not having been givern by the state. In fact this idea that morality and rights are the gift of the state makes every single movement against oppression illegitimate.


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