Today, collectivists around the world celebrate May 1 for the particular mob with which they identify themselves (actually for the convenience of some, May Day is observed on the first Monday of May), but the most common are the observances of the “accomplishments” of the so-called labor movement. Marxists, socialists, anarchists and other similar “-ists” in particular rally around the central theme of the workers’ place in society. In May of 1886 labor strikes organized by their ideological ancestors in the US led to such events as the murder of a dozen people and injuries to over a hundred in Chicago’s Haymarket district by an anarchist’s bomb blast.
Today’s labor organizers in the US use much more sophisticated techniques to acquire the exploitive economic privileges they call “rights”. They lobby politicians and work with special interest groups to “fine tune” regulations affecting those they either oppose or ostensibly represent. The most recent efforts of significance by Big Labor relate to the Employee Free Choice Act commonly referred to as the Card Check bill. Whatever its provisions the objective is to increase union membership, which has been declining for many years. Whenever special interest groups of any stripe collude to gain privilege they do so at the expense of violating the actual rights of those they oppose. If legal force must be used to gain an advantage it necessarily violates someone’s rights. When 50 percent of workers in a shop vote to be represented by a union and a “closed shop” results, the other 50 percent have had their rights destroyed.
Rights have been eroded for so long in the history of the US, the first country to codify their significance as an organizing principle, that only a scant few individuals can even identify a right without some sort of modifier. Thus, they speak of human rights, animal rights, god-given rights, rights to work, rights to affordable housing, and other such undefined and flexible terms. Some, correctly if redundantly, may identify with individual rights. So, fundamentally, what are these things called “rights”?
Rights are principles that had to be discovered by man. They are not dispensed by some superconscious being in the sky nor by governments or other institutions. They arise out of the nature of man and his free will. (The other animals therefore cannot possess rights, though I would argue this does not justify cruelty directed at them.) By virtue of possessing life and volition, man has both the right and compulsion to make choices if he wants to survive. Some of the rascals among us will choose what they may think is the easy way to survival: using force to compel others to provide for them. This is what gives you the right of self-defense to protect your life and property from incursion by those rascals who would thereby infringe on your pursuit of happiness.
The founders of the United States recognized that men possessed rights by their nature (or as they put it in the context of the times, “endowed by their creator”) and concluded that governments are instituted among men to protect those rights. That’s right. Governments are not instituted among free men to impose conscription or other forms of service to the state. Not to set economic policy. Not to grant privileges to some by taking forcibly from others. Not to provide “affordable” housing, universal education or health care, speed limits for drivers, minimum wages or any other price controls and not, properly, to create or manage the supply of money. Money was not invented by government by the way, it was stolen from the people.
There is a very long list of the things governments ought not to be doing, and it is derived largely from the things governments have been doing for centuries and continue to do today. This is old stuff. That is why the US founders invoked such a revolutionary concept when they recognized the relationship between rights and government. It did not take long in historical terms for their work to be dismissed. As I stated, most people don’t have any view fundamentally about rights and their association only with the individual. Rights are universally possessed by all living men and their enforcement permits that the rights of no others are violated in the process of that enforcement.
Rights are in distress. They are nearly lost in the world again. Wherever they are still recognized, even dimly, they should serve as a beacon for those who wish to discover how to live properly with others.
Copyright 2009 Edward Podritske