Thursday, January 8, 2009

Pacem in Terris V - Natural Rights, not Constitutional Ones

We may have some rights that belong to us as citizens of a particular city, state or province, or nation. The right to cast a vote comes to mind, or the right of free access to a local library. But other rights, and more important ones, are not ours because a government grants them to us, but because we are human beings. Consequently such rights do not derive from any other human source, either.
We must, however, reject the view that the will of the individual or the group is the primary and only source of a citizen's rights and duties...[PT 78]
Something similar is likewise true with regard to the State:
We must, however, reject the view that the will of the individual or the group is the primary and only source ... of the binding force of political constitutions and the government's authority [ibid.].
Governments are legitimate not just because of the consent of the governed, or because of a majority vote, or because of military power, but because they are ordained by God. Just as we rightly insist that we hold certain rights (and are bound by certain duties) by virtue of the fact that we are men, so too the State has certain rights and duties that it holds by virtue of being an institution ordained by God. We can't demand the one while denying the other, since both come from the same source. To deny the legitimacy of the one is to deny the legitimacy of the other (and vice versa).

It sounds somewhat silly to speak of something impersonal - like the State - as having rights. But perhaps it will seem less impersonal if we enumerate a few of them. If we have the duty to pay taxes, the State has the right to collect them. If we have the duty to honor the king, the king has the right to be honored. If we have a right to be protected by the State, the State must have the right to recruit those who will provide the defense: it's crazy to expect to be defended without providing a means for the defense.

These are examples of rights that, it seems to me, belong to the State regardless of the constitution by which it is structured. If we don't base our understanding of rights and duties on natural law, we're going to find ourselves with an inadequate basis for them at all, and then we may find that our rights are not recognized at all. It seems to me that this goes for the rights of the State no less than of the individual.


Thankful Paul said...

It was a happy day for him when he gave us our new lives, through the truth of his Word, and we became, as it were, the first children in his new family. JAMES 1:18 LB

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hi Paul,

I'm afraid I don't see the connection of your remarks to the post. Can you clarify? Thanks.