The Conundrum of Rights

The implication of rights are that they are absolute; while the inference is really that they are not the unrestricted freedoms that many interpret them to be.

Without such functional parameters, I submit that they cease to become freedoms and instead become instruments of tyranny. A person can be grievously harmed by slander and libel, for instance, to the ruin of his or her career and livelihood.

The use of “free speech” in the First Amendment is meant from that perspective, and is therefore defined in the context of the opportunity to speak one’s mind without doing another unjust or grievous harm.

Note that the writers of the pre-Bill of Rights Constitution kept an arm’s distance away from boldly using the word “right”, probably because of the then-and-now misinterpretations that all rights are absolute. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, the only right mentioned explicitly as such in the original, pre-amendment Constitution is the Copyright Clause: “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” No other “rights” by name, anyways, are mentioned as far as I know, until Madison penned the “the right of the people peaceably to assemble” in the First Amendment. Now that right was at the top of his list!

People also seldom hear that the Bill of Rights is really the finalized list that Madison came up with. He asked for a list of suggested rights and amendments to the Constitution and was given well over one hundred to work through, which he narrowed down to ten. Hence he purposely was vague in his syntax on some of the more controversial amendments, such as the wording of the Second Amendment. Yes, the intent of the Second Amendment was as vague then as it is today. It was a politician’s way of getting the amendment passed.

Hence my temptation to laugh when I hear people insist that the Constitution is a divine document that’s up there with the Bible. It’s a form of idolatry to insist as such. It’s a special, special document, for sure, one certainly worth swearing fealty towards. But a sacred document brought down from the Mountain like the Ten Commandments?

I don’t think so.

Reference:  http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rights/

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About zghortaman
Attempting to navigate the modern day with every tool available

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