Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Natural Rights and American Exceptionalism

The doctrine of "natural rights" may more be more critical than any other to the notion of American exceptionalism, and yet most Americans would be hard pressed to describe either concept.

The two concepts are inextricably linked, and the fact is, they are both under assault.

What does it mean, when we say we are "exceptional?" Barack Obama was once asked this. He said, sure, he thought America was exceptional but other countries like Greece probably thought they were exceptional too. 

He completely, utterly, misunderstands the concept. Exceptional doesn't mean that we think we're just awesome, it means that in the long course of human history, a history littered with the misery of state tyranny, we are a glorious exception. We were the first country to constitutionally limit the power of government to control our lives.  

Central to this is our embrace of natural rights. Natural rights are simply the acknowledgement that as human beings we are born with certain rights that cannot be taken away from us. But rights, by their very definition, must be conferred from somewhere. Our founders decreed that they are conferred by a higher power, God. The reason this is critically important is because it means they can't be taken away by anyone, i.e. the state. 

Our forefathers came here to escape the tyranny of states. They knew from experience that if rights are not conferred by God, all that's left is the state, and if states can confer rights, they can take them away just as easily.  Throughout history, states have been far more comfortable with the "taking away" part.

Were you taught any of this in school? I know I wasn't, and today our kids' curricula are far more concerned with sustainability or Native American repression than they are with constitutional history.

Which brings us to why natural rights are under assault. Leftist ideologies have always hated religion. In communist countries, it has always been banned outright. Why? Because otherwise citizens might get the idea that they had rights the state couldn't control. Such notions don't sit well with the commissars. The state can be the only religion.

It is no coincidence that the word God has appeared less and less in every Democrat platform, until this year disappearing altogether. It is simply another quiet step on the road to statism.


  1. Authoritarians stamp out religion because it tends to produce radicals. Radicals get the idea in their heads that they should fight against authority. When people gets these ideas in their head, they begin to think they should be able to drink what they want, smoke what they want, marry who they choose, refuse to fight in a just war when instructed to do so and generally do as they please. This is not an idea that is acceptable under dictatorships or democracies, particularly ones dominated by religion.

    Freedom is fine so long as it is approved of by the proper authorities. As soon as God gives you freedoms, he begins taking them away.

  2. A few thoughts ...

    Unusual; not typical.
    Unusually good; outstanding.

    Not sure Obama was off the mark.

    Wells Fargo Must Die, there are plenty of authoritarian countries that use religion to control the masses.

    Good for you if you want to believe in God, but I don't. I guess that means I can't be a Republican? OK with me. That party seems to have more than its fair share of self-serving nut jobs.

  3. @Anonymous

    Obama was off the mark because when people refer to American exceptionalism, they are specifically using the first definition, not the second, as I suggested.

    Also, you don't have to believe in God to believe in Natural Rights, you only must believe there are rights we have as humans that cannot be denied by other human, i.e. the state.

    Lastly, while there are certainly countries that use religion to control the masses - Iran, say - they most definitely don't subscribe to Natural Rights. Rather, they are yet more examples of states deciding what rights you should and shouldn't have, generally opting to not give you many.

  4. @Anonymous - One more thought. It is entirely your prerogative to not believe in God or, by extension, Natural Rights. Bear in mind, though, that our country was founded with Natural Rights as a critical part of its foundation. If you don't believe in them, you are embracing an entirely different vision of America.

  5. Scott, 100% on board with natural rights, not on board with God giving them too us. I don't hate religion, to each his own, but I do believe it causes more harm than good, and think it best to keep God out of politics.