Re: PHIL: The flaw in "rights"

Michael S. Lorrey (
Thu, 29 Apr 1999 09:54:25 -0400

"Eliezer S. Yudkowsky" wrote:

> The UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has
> a right to food, clothing, and education. "Rights" apply only between
> person and person, not between person and Nature. I can have a "right"
> for you not to punch me in the nose; I can't have a "right" to eat a
> meal. Maybe I have the "right" to take your meal away from you and eat
> it, but if that's what they meant, they should have said so.
> I don't know if anyone has phrased it that way before, but it strikes me
> as being a clean logical-plane counter to an unfortunate way of
> thinking, so I thought I'd share it.

There are two schools of thought on the source of 'rights'. There is the Natural Law doctrine, that originated in Aristotle, was used to justify the divine right of kings, and found its flowering in the classical liberal movement during the enlightenment that resulted in the establishment of the US Constitution that recognised that rights naturally originate in individuals (not kings) as was granted by the creator of humanity (whether you call it Nature, Evolution, or God is irrelevant, to each his own).

Then there is the Force Doctrine, which holds that whatever rights you as an individual or a government have are only the result of you standing up and forcing others to accept your declaration. The flaw in the Force doctrine is that it is really a subset of Natural Law that attempts to disown and disavow its origins because it seeks to eliminate any restraints on its ability to exand to any level of use of force for whatever reason the weilder sees fit.

Political documents which do not explicitly state that right naturally originate in the individual are either poorly written Natural Rights documents, or are Force Doctrine documents (and the first can be used for Force Doctrine purposes). Of all of the written Constitutions, the only National ones which recognise that human rights naturally originate in the individual are the US and French Constitutions (while a number of US State Constitutions do the same).

The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights states the following right from the start:

> Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

The word 'inherent' implies the Natural origins of rights. Then Article 1 states that these inherent rights are naturally established upon birth equally to all:

> Article 1.
> All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Thus this negates the idea of Force Doctrine. Since every person is naturally endowed with equal rights, you can only use Force to take away the rights of others, or to limit the expression of rights of individuals that are not expressly enumerated. This is a serious weakness, especially in that nowhere does it recognise the individual's right to defend themselves, their families, or their property. It states that the courts are the equal arbiters of rights, so you only can defend yourself if your local courts recognise that right.

I personally do not care about the UNUDHC, as it was written under the influence of 2/3 of the world being controlled by totalitarians. It is only expected that it would seek to strip the individual of the right to defend oneself, since such governments are the primary killer of humanity. We see in the current case of Spain v. Pinochet that such murderers will seek any means of evading responsibility for their actions, and of limiting opposition to their rule. Hopefully this case is a sign that governments are losing their power to limit our rights, and that the next round of the Human Rights Commission will recognise the natural right of the individual to self defense.

The situation in Kosovo is a case in point of the result of a systematic disarmament of a civilian population.

Mike Lorrey