A lot of discussion about economic and social justice brings up such esoteric concepts as “rights,” “subsidiarity,” and “charity.” The problem is that a lot of people who use the terms don’t really seem to be using the classic definitions of these concepts, but appear to be tailoring them to fit their current wants and needs.
|The "Mortall God" of the State.|
Hence this posting. We thought we’d run over a few concepts to see how they fit into a discussion of the Just Third Way. These (as you might have guessed from the title of this posting) are the source of rights (God or the State), the meaning of “subsidiarity,” and the role of charity.
Let’s first look at rights and where they come from.
Given that everything except the uncreated Creator must be created by something (there is no effect without a cause except the First Cause), rights must come from somewhere. This “somewhere” can only be from the creator of that which has rights. If a human being has rights, those rights came from whatever or whoever created that human being. If a human creation such as the abstraction of the collective or the State has rights, those rights came from human beings.
|The Creation Connection: the Ultimate Source of Rights|
(There’s a long, complicated argument about why a Perfect and Omniscient Being would be less than Perfect and Omniscient if He, She, or It dealt directly with any kind of abstraction, such as the collective or the State, but we don’t need to go into it, except to note that “abstraction” or generalizing from the data is an intellectual crutch that imperfect humanity needs because we cannot grasp truth the same way or to the same degree as an Omniscient and Perfect Being. And, since “He, She, or It” sounds kind of stupid as well as faintly insulting, we’ll just say “God” and “He” in the rest of this posting for convenience.)
So, what is the source of rights? God or the State? Well . . . God, but not in the way most people seem to think.
Yes, rights come from God. Everything does. That does not mean, however, that whatever has rights got them directly from God. No, God built rights into human nature; having rights is hard-wired into humanity, it’s why a human being is automatically a human person — having rights as well as the analogously complete capacity to acquire and develop virtue are what defines what it means to be human.
|Analogy of Being, next week (maybe). Today: rights.|
(Sorry about that. There’s another long, complicated argument about “the analogously complete capacity to acquire and develop virtue” that we won’t get into. We’ll just take it for granted today that all men — meaning every human being — are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, property, and the capacity to acquire and develop virtue, that is, “pursue happiness.”)
To clarify, rights are not a gift from God after creation, but a part of the gift of existence itself — the “blueprint” of humanity. With respect to both religious and civil society, then, rights are inalienable, inherent in the human person.
The upshot is that not even God can take rights away. By doing so, He would be contradicting Himself, thereby becoming a perfect Being who is imperfect, which is utter nonsense. “Becoming” is a meaningless word in reference to a Perfect and Omniscient Being, anyway — unchanging perfection cannot change or it wouldn’t be perfection, now, would it?
Given that the only place the State or any other organized political entity can get rights is the people who create the State, it is contradictory to maintain that the State grants rights to people. No, the people grant rights to the State.
|"We, the People," not, "I, the State."|
Nor is it correct to say that God grants rights to the State or to the collective. These are human creations, abstractions, not creations of God, and they have no rights until and unless actual human beings grant them those rights.
As far as the State is concerned, then, every human being has rights by nature itself, mere existence, and nothing — absolutely nothing — can take away rights that are part of human nature (defining the exercise of rights is a different thing, as we’ve said a few gazillion times on this blog). The State’s job is to protect those rights, not decide who has them, or (re)define them out of existence.
Tomorrow we’ll look at subsidiarity.