Rights

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Rights are entitlements or permissions, usually of a legal or moral nature. Rights are of vital importance in the fields of law and ethics, especially theories of justice and deontology.

Natural Rights[edit]

Natural rights are inherent choices found by some philosophers to exist logically for each individual, whether they are protected, or infringed, by society, government, or other social interaction.

  • People are usually surprised to discover that I hate the phrase "constitutional rights." I hate the phrase because it is terribly misleading. Most of the people who say it or hear it have the impression that the Constitution "grants" them their rights. Nothing could be further from the truth. Strictly speaking it is the Bill of Rights that enumerates our rights, but none of our founding documents bestow anything on you at all [...] The government can burn the Constitution and shred the Bill of Rights, but those actions wouldn't have the slightest effect on the rights you've always had.
  • The absolute rights of man, considered as a free agent, endowed with discernment to know good from evil, and with power of choosing those measures which appear to him to be most desirable, are usually summed up in one general appellation, and denominated the natural liberty of mankind. This natural liberty consists properly in a power of acting as one thinks fit, without any restraint or control, unless by the law of nature: being a right inherent in us by birth, and one of the gifts of God to man at his creation, when he endowed him with the faculty of freewill. But every man, when he enters into society, gives up a part of his natural liberty, as the price of so valuable a purchase; and, in consideration of receiving the advantages of mutual commerce, obliges himself to conform to those laws, which the community has thought proper to establish.
  • The public good is in nothing more essentially interested, than in the protection of every individual's private rights.
    • Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (1783, reprinted 1978), 9th ed., book 1, chapter 1, section 3, p. 139.
  • A right, in the abstract, is a fact; it is not a thing to be given, established, or conferred; it is. Of the exercise of a right power may deprive me; of the right itself, never.
  • Your life brings you into a multiplicity of relationships with other people. Some of them love justice and righteousness; others do not seem to want to practice them-they do you a wrong. Your soul is not hardened to the suffering they inflict upon you in this way, but you search and examine yourself; you convince yourself that you are in the right, and you rest call and strong in this conviction. However much they outrage me they still will not be able to deprive me of this peace-that I know I am in the right and that I suffer wrong. In this view there is a satisfaction, a joy, that presumably every one of us has tasted, and when you continue to suffer wrong, you are built up by the thought that you are in the right. This point of view is so natural, so understandable, so frequently tested in life, and yet it is not with this that we want to calm doubt and to heal care but by deliberating upon the upbuilding that lies in the thought that we are always in the wrong. Can the opposite point of view have the same effect?
  • The fundamental source of all your errors, sophisms, and false reasonings, is a total ignorance of the natural rights of mankind. Were you once to become acquainted with these, you could never entertain a thought, that all men are not, by nature, entitled to a parity of privileges. You would be convinced, that natural liberty is a gift of the beneficent Creator, to the whole human race; and that civil liberty is founded in that; and cannot be wrested from any people, without the most manifest violation of justice. Civil liberty is only natural liberty, modified and secured by the sanctions of civil society. It is not a thing, in its own nature, precarious and dependent on human will and caprice; but it is conformable to the constitution of man, as well as necessary to the well-being of society.
  • The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.
  • In recent years it has been suggested that the Second Amendment protects the "collective" right of states to maintain militias, while it does not protect the right of "the people" to keep and bear arms...The phrase "the people" meant the same thing in the Second Amendment as it did in the First, Fourth, Ninth and Tenth Amendments — that is, each and every free person.

    A select militia defined as only the privileged class entitled to keep and bear arms was considered an anathema to a free society, in the same way that Americans denounced select spokesmen approved by the government as the only class entitled to the freedom of the press.

    If anyone entertained this notion in the period during which the Constitution and Bill of Rights were debated and ratified, it remains one of the most closely guarded secrets of the 18th century, for no known writing surviving from the period between 1787 and 1791 states such a thesis.
    • Stephen P. Holbrook, That Every Man Be Armed: The Evolution of a Constitutional Right.
  • We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable Rights; that among these, are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness; that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
  • That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.
  • [On completely popular government:] Its superiority in reference to present well-being rests upon two principles, of as universal truth and applicability as any general propositions which can be laid down respecting human affairs. The first is, that the rights and interests of every or any person are only secure from being disregarded, when the person interested is himself able, and habitually disposed, to stand up for them. The second is, that the general prosperity attains a greater height, and is more widely diffused, in proportion to the amount and variety of the personal energies enlisted in promoting it.
    • John Stuart Mill, Considerations on Representative Government (1861), chapter 3, p. 55.
  • You Own Your Own Life...
    To lose your Life is to lose your Future, to lose your Liberty is to lose your Present
    …and to lose the product of your Life and Liberty is to lose that portion of your Past that produced it
    A product of you Life and Liberty is your Property
    • Ken Schoolland, The Philosophy of Liberty[1]

against[edit]

  • 'That which has no existence cannot be destroyed — that which cannot be destroyed cannot require anything to preserve it from destruction. Natural rights is simple nonsense: natural and imprescriptible rights, rhetorical nonsense — nonsense upon stilts. But this rhetorical nonsense ends in the old strain of mischievous nonsense for immediately a list of these pretended natural rights is given, and those are so expressed as to present to view legal rights. And of these rights, whatever they are, there is not, it seems, any one of which any government can, upon any occasion whatever, abrogate the smallest particle.
  • One can conclude that certain essential, or fundamental, rights should exist in any just society. It does not follow that each of those essential rights is one that we as judges can enforce under the written Constitution. The Due Process Clause is not a guarantee of every right that should inhere in an ideal system. Many argue that a just society grants a right to engage in homosexual conduct. If that view is accepted, the Bowers decision in effect says the State of Georgia has the right to make a wrong decision—wrong in the sense that it violates some people's views of rights in a just society. We can extend that slightly to say that Georgia's right to be wrong in matters not specifically controlled by the Constitution is a necessary component of its own political processes. Its citizens have the political liberty to direct the governmental process to make decisions that might be wrong in the ideal sense, subject to correction in the ordinary political process.
  • In recent years it has been suggested that the Second Amendment protects the "collective" right of states to maintain militias, while it does not protect the right of "the people" to keep and bear arms...The phrase "the people" meant the same thing in the Second Amendment as it did in the First, Fourth, Ninth and Tenth Amendments — that is, each and every free person.

    A select militia defined as only the privileged class entitled to keep and bear arms was considered an anathema to a free society, in the same way that Americans denounced select spokesmen approved by the government as the only class entitled to the freedom of the press.

    If anyone entertained this notion in the period during which the Constitution and Bill of Rights were debated and ratified, it remains one of the most closely guarded secrets of the 18th century, for no known writing surviving from the period between 1787 and 1791 states such a thesis.

    • Stephen P. Holbrook, That Every Man Be Armed: The Evolution of a Constitutional Right.

Civil Rights[edit]

Civil rights are a class of rights that ensure one's ability to participate in the civil and political life of the state without discrimination or repression.

  • Since the narrower or wider community of the peoples of the earth has developed so far that a violation of rights in one place is felt throughout the world, the idea of a cosmopolitan right is not fantastical, high-flown or exaggerated notion. It is a complement to the unwritten code of the civil and international law, necessary for the public rights of mankind in general and thus for the realization of perpetual peace.
  • "Every segment of our population, and every individual, has a right to expect from his government a fair deal."
  • At the foundation of our civil liberties lies the principle that denies to government officials an exceptional position before the law and which subjects them to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen.
  • Civil Rights opened the windows. When you open the windows, it does not mean that everybody will get through. We must create our own opportunities.
    • Mary Frances Berry [2]

against[edit]

  • It is a perversion of terms to say that a charter gives rights. It operates by a contrary effect — that of taking rights away. Rights are inherently in all the inhabitants; but charters, by annulling those rights, in the majority, leave the right, by exclusion, in the hands of a few. … They...consequently are instruments of injustice. The fact therefore must be that the individuals themselves, each in his own personal and sovereign right, entered into a contract with each other to produce a government: and this is the only mode in which governments have a right to arise, and the only principle on which they have a right to exist.
  • Be assured that if this new provision [the 14th Amendment] be engrafted in the Constitution, it will, in time, change the entire structure and texture of our government, and sweep away all the guarantees of safety devised and provided by our patriotic Sires of the Revolution.
  • Thomas Jefferson was right in declaring that all human beings are created (or, or if you will, are by nature) equal. They are also, in terms of their individual differences, unequal in the varying degrees to which they possess the species-specific potentialities common to all. These individual inequalities, when they are recognized as subordinate to the basic equality of all human beings in their common humanity or specific nature, do not generate difficulties that must be overcome or eradicated in order to increase social justice.
    • Mortimer J Adler, Ten Philosophical Mistakes, p. 165 (1985).

General[edit]

Rights may be universal, but their enforcement must be local. ~ Murray Rothbard
  • Qui jure suo utitur neminem tedit.
    • Translated: He who exercises his own right injures no one.
    • Legal maxim, reported in Henry Louis Mencken, A new dictionary of quotations on historical principles from ancient and modern sources (1946), p. 1044.
  • Rights are lost by disuse.
    • Legal maxim, reported in Henry Louis Mencken, A new dictionary of quotations on historical principles from ancient and modern sources (1946), p. 1044.
  • All existing right is - foreign law; someone makes me out to be in the right, “does right by me". But should I therefore be in the right if all the world made me out so? And yet what else is the right that I obtain in the State, in society, but a right of those foreign to me? …If you let yourself be made out in the right by another, you must no less let yourself be made out in the wrong by him; if justification and reward come to you from him, expect also his arraignment and punishment. Alongside right goes wrong, alongside legality crime.
  • The law helps the vigilant, before those who sleep on their rights.
    • Legal maxim, reported in Oscar B. Parkinson, Outlines of Commercial Law: A Text Book for Schools and Colleges (1912), p. 234. Sometimes reported as "equity" rather than "the law".
  • Away with private wrongs! We'll not go forth
    To fight for these — but for the rights of men.
    • Sarah Josepha Hale, reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 524.
  • One of the grandest things in having rights is that, being your rights, you may give them up.
    • George MacDonald, reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 524.
  • To name a thing is easy: the difficulty is to discern it before its appearance. In giving expression to the last stage of an idea, — an idea which permeates all minds, which to-morrow will be proclaimed by another if I fail to announce it to-day, — I can claim no merit save that of priority of utterance. Do we eulogize the man who first perceives the dawn?

    Yes: all men believe and repeat that equality of conditions is identical with equality of rights; that property and robbery are synonymous terms; that every social advantage accorded, or rather usurped, in the name of superior talent or service, is iniquity and extortion. All men in their hearts, I say, bear witness to these truths; they need only to be made to understand it.

    • Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, What is Property? (1840), Ch. I: "Method Pursued in this Work. The Idea of a Revolution".
  • Rights are grand things, divine things, in this world of God; but the way in which we expound those rights, alas! seems to me to be the very incarnation of selfishness. I see nothing very noble in a man who is forever going about calling for his own rights. Alas! alas! for the man who feels nothing more grand in this wondrous, divine world than his own rights!
  • If you say to someone who has ears to hear: “What you are doing to me is not just,” you may touch and awaken at its source the spirit of attention and love. But it is not the same with words like, “I have the right...” or “you have no right to...” They evoke a latent war and awaken the spirit of contention.

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922)[edit]

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 674-75.
  • Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: First a right to life, secondly to liberty, thirdly to property; together with the right to defend them in the best manner they can.
    • Samuel Adams, Statement of the Rights of the Colonists, etc. (1772).
  • Right as a trivet.
  • They made and recorded a sort of institute and digest of anarchy, called the rights of man.
  • Sir, I would rather be right than be President.
    • Henry Clay, speech (1850), referring to the compromise measure.
  • He will hew to the line of right, let the chips fly where they may.
    • Roscoe Conkling, speech at the National Convention, Chicago, 1880, when General Grant was nominated for a third term.
  • But 'twas a maxim he had often tried,
    That right was right, and there he would abide.
  • The rule of the road is a parodox quite,
    If you drive with a whip or a thong;
    If you go to the left you are sure to be right,
    If you go to the right you are wrong.
  • For right is right, since God is God,
    And right the day must win;
    To doubt would be disloyalty,
    To falter would be sin.
  • Wherever there is a human being, I see God-given rights inherent in that being, whatever may be the sex or complexion.
  • The equal right of all men to the use of land is as clear as their equal right to breathe the air—it is a right proclaimed by the fact of their existence. For we cannot suppose that some men have a right to be in this world, and others no right.
  • And wanting the right rule they take chalke for cheese, as the saying is.
    • Nicholas Grimald, preface to his translation of Marcus Tullius Cicero. Three Bookes of Duties to Marcus his Sonne. Same expression in Gower, Confessio Amantis.
  • For the ultimate notion of right is that which tends to the universal good; and when one's acting in a certain manner has this tendency he has a right thus to act.
    • Francis Hutcheson, A System of Moral Philosophy, The General Notions of Rights and Laws Explained, Book II, Chapter III.
  • We hold these truths to be self-evident,—that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
  • Let us have faith that Right makes Might, and in that faith let us to the end dare to do our duty as we understand it.
    • Abraham Lincoln, address in New York City (Feb. 21, 1859). See Henry J. Raymond's Life and Public Services of Lincoln, Chapter III.
  • With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right.
  • Mensuraque juris
    Vis erat.
    • Might was the measure of right.
    • Marcus Annaeus Lucanus, Pharsalia, I. 175. Found in Thucydides, IV. 86. Plautus—Truncul, IV. 3. 30. Lucan. I. 175. Seneca the Younger, Hercules Furens. 291. Schiller, Wallenstein's Camp, VI. 144.
  • All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights.
    • Constitution of Massachusetts.
  • Every man has by the law of nature a right to such a waste portion of the earth as is necessary for his subsistence.
  • Reparation for our rights at home, and security against the like future violations.
  • All Nature is but art unknown to thee;
    All chance direction, which thou canst not see;
    All discord, harmony not understood;
    All partial evil, universal good;
    And spite of pride, in erring reason's spite,
    One truth is clear, Whatever is is right.

The Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904)[edit]

Quotes reported in James William Norton-Kyshe, The Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904), p. 221.
  • Old rights must remain: it would be very unreasonable if it should be otherwise.
    • Yates, J., Mayor, &c. of Colchester v. Seaber (1765), 3 Burr. Part IV. 1872.
  • A pretensed right is no right at all.
    • Powell, J., Reg. v. Mackarty (1705), 2 Raym. 1183.
  • It shall not be in the power of any man, by his election, to vary the rights of two other contending parties.
  • By the laws of England, there can be no special right, no particular interest or privilege whatever, of perpetual duration, but such as have respect to some kind of inheritance.
    • Yates, J., Millar v. Taylor (1769), 4 Burr. Part IV. 2385.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

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