One of the central defects among leftists (that is, “liberals,” progressives, socialists, or interventionists) is their wrong-headed view of the nature of people’s rights. Their belief on this issue is one of the distinguishing characteristics between leftists and libertarians.
Leftists believe that people’s rights come from the government or from the Constitution. As such, they view rights not so much as rights but rather more as government-granted privileges.
Libertarians, on the other hand, believe that people’s rights are endowed in them by nature and God and, therefore, that people’s rights preexist government and the Constitution. We hold that the main purpose of government is to serve as our servant whose job is to protect the exercise of our natural, God-given rights.
A good example of this leftist mindset was recently expressed in a fundraising letter I received from a leftist group called the Daily Kos. The letter stated that freedom of speech is “one of those rights granted to us in Bill of Rights.” It went on to refer to “our First Amendment rights.”
Not even the crafters of the Bill of Rights believed that. A careful reading of the First Amendment reveals that it doesn’t purport to give any rights to anyone. Instead, the wording states that Congress (and implicitly the rest of the federal government) is prohibited from infringing on people’s right of free speech.
In other words, unlike American leftists today, our American ancestors didn’t believe that people’s rights come from the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, or from the government. They believed in what the Declaration of Independence stated — that man’s rights come from nature and God and that it is the responsibility of government to protect, not destroy, the exercise of such rights.
We are not just talking about a semantical difference here. The difference between how leftists and libertarians view the nature of rights has profound consequences.
Given that leftists believe that their rights come from the government, they necessarily put themselves in a position of pleading, or perhaps even begging, that government go easy on them — that is, that government officials give them more latitude in exercising their “rights.”
Thus, leftists view freedom as living on a leash — they just want the government to let them have a longer leash. What happens when the government begins reining in the leash? Leftists have no principled argument to make against what the government is doing. Since people’s rights come from government, leftists believe, then government can legitimately rein in the leash whenever it wants.
Not so with libertarians. Unlike leftists, we are not relegated to pleading with or begging the government to treat us nicely. That’s because for us our rights don’t come from government. They preexist government. Government officials are nothing more than our servants whose job is to protect our rights. If they fail or refuse to do so — or if they use their power to destroy or infringe our rights — we have the right to alter or even abolish government and restore its rightful responsibility — the responsibility to behave as our servants whose job is to protect the exercise of our preexisting natural, God-given rights.
Thus when the government enacts a law or adopts a measure that infringes on freedom of speech, leftists are relegated to saying, “We understand that you have given us this important privilege but please be nice and don’t infringe on it.” Libertarians, on the other hand, say, “You have no legitimate authority to do that and so stop it immediately or else we will alter you or abolish you!”
The leftist view of the nature of rights is one reason why you can never count on leftists to protect our rights and liberties. Anyone who wants a genuine defense of our rights and liberties needs to join up with us libertarians.