In a previous post, I wrote about the principle of self-control and liberty in law; I did not realize the turmoil caused by not understanding the difference between a right, liberty, freedom, where responsibility enters, and how these principles work together. My apologies; I learned these differences as a child and never considered that others might not be able to detail, define, describe, and delineate between these fundamental principles. My plan originally with this article was not to provide a definitive declaration; then, I researched some of the claptrap online being passed off as learned scholarly discussion and was disgusted! Thus, my aims and intents changed; I would see this article be referenced and used to aid in clearing up the confusion generated by word plasticity and modular language tyranny.
Along the way, I will include both links and resources for further study for your ability to grow and feel confident in defending rights, liberties, freedoms with responsibility and dedication. Only through learning can we, the owners of representative governments, begin to change government direction and regain our liberties and freedoms!
The founding fathers of America understood rights and called them inalienable. There is a reason for this; rights cannot be taken away. An individual can give rights away, but because a right is inalienable, it means a power greater than the government has distributed these rights, and all are equal in their possession of these rights. Inalienable specifically refers to rights that cannot be surrendered, transferred, or removed permanently from a person.
How does a person give away an inalienable right; they refuse to accept that a right is inalienable. Consider the US Bill of Rights, a document full of those inalienable rights or rights that cannot be surrendered, transferred, or removed permanently from an individual. Consider one of the first inalienable rights discussed in the US Bill of Rights, religion. What you believe is your choice; nobody can, or should, have the power to tell you what you believe. Belief transcends thought into a unique place inside your brain; some would call it a soul. Depending upon your flavor of religion, a soul could or could not exist. I am not writing a definitive declaration about religion, I am writing about rights, and your personal belief where religion is concerned is fundamental to you expressing yourself.
Is the distinction clear? A right cannot be stripped from you by anyone, ever unless you choose to deny your inalienable rights to that particular right. For example, the US Bill of Rights declares your ability to defend yourself is an inalienable right. You choose how to protect yourself, e.g., guns, fists, sticks, knives, alarms, police, etc. How you choose to defend yourself is your inalienable right, and you deserve to be protected in your rights to self-defense. If a person attacks you, you have the inalienable right to self-protection. This is established through case laws. How many women have been physically, sexually, and mentally abused by a spouse or partner, who then took action to defend themselves and were acquitted at trial; too many to mention in a declaration on rights. Just know, you have a right to self-defense, and this right can never be stripped from you by anyone but you.
Liberties are a little more complicated to define and detail. Some applications of the word liberty include freedom from confinement, servitude, or forced labor. Whereas liberty is also a power to act as one chooses, even if that action breaks a society’s accepted standards, i.e., laws. Liberties can also include unwarranted risks, deviations from facts (lies), departing from compliance to the accepted and proper methods of prudence.
In most societies, you can purchase and legally become the owner of an item due to the purchase. Thus, liberty allows you to become free to use that purchase however you desire. Until the use of that purchase interferes with someone else’s inalienable rights. For example purchase of a baseball bat is legal, mostly around the world. Use that baseball bat for its intended purposes, i.e., to play baseball or softball, and the government does not infringe upon your liberties. Use that baseball bat outside its intended purposes, to break windows, cause injuries or property damage, and you can lose your liberty and your property.
Imperative to understanding, liberty can be taken by force through the law, government action, and or improper use of liberty. Perform an imprudent act, and someone is going to take your liberty away. For example, in Hong Kong, China has ruled that freedom of speech has been curtailed. While freedom of speech is an inalienable right, China refuses to honor free speech as an inalienable right, and Hong Kong peoples suffer. The people of China and Hong Kong can still speak their minds exercising their inalienable rights, but taking these liberties to exercise their rights, has been strictly and violently enforced by a government refusing to believe people have inalienable rights.
Thus the confusion and complication in defining and detailing liberties. Liberties can be taken and refused; liberties can be eliminated by government force and social changes. Liberties are not inalienable rights or even a right. You do not have a right to liberty. You may pursue happiness, but achieving happiness is not a right, freedom, or liberty.
Consider the purpose of government as detailed in the US Constitution’s preamble:
“… In order to form a more perfect Union (Government), establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
Consider also the purpose for the US Bill of Rights, as the first amendments to a brand new constitution:
“… Prevent misconstruction or abuse of its (US Government) powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added, and as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.”
The government creates liberties, calls these rights, and then attempts to confuse the problem. For example, welfare benefits as currently understood (2021) are significantly different from welfare benefits understood in (1920) America. Today, people on welfare benefits consider their government-provided support a right when in actuality, it is barely a liberty. Most importantly, those welfare benefits can be restricted, removed, curtailed, curbed, and denied based upon the whims of government. This is why welfare is not a right and barely a liberty. Welfare benefits are barely a liberty because someone else has to pay for the privilege of supporting another person through forced taxation (legalized theft).
Freedoms are even more complicated, and freedoms have been made more challenging to understand purposefully by political design as a means to steal liberties and rights from individuals, under a myriad of different names, i.e., social justice, equality, freedom, and civil liberty, etc. Let’s start with civil liberties, which are neither a right or a liberty, regardless of the politician pushing the name.
Civil liberties are freedoms you pay the government to enjoy. For example, driving a car requires a license. By issuing licenses, the government can control the population, even though driving is considered a privilege, a right, and is often confused with “freedom of the open road,” which is two lies for the price one. Another example is marriage. Marriage throughout human history has been a tug-of-war between religion and government. As a point of reference, marriage ceremonies are unique in the human condition anthropologically speaking. But, as a civil liberty, the government can restrict you from marrying your pets, marrying objects and can grant and deny marriage privileges as it deems appropriate to the political situation.
The state does not recognize some religious ceremonies for marriage, which means that marriage is null and void under the state’s control. Yet, under that religious belief, that marriage is binding. Consider China again; China refuses to honor Christian marriage ceremonies as valid under the law and several other religions and religious traditions. Thus, civil liberties are at best an approved and licensed government action, not freedoms, liberties, and rights. As the saying goes, “The government giveth and the government taketh.”
Freedoms are often defined as political independence, which is fine insofar as civil liberties are concerned. Freedoms entail several other qualities that the government cannot give, take, invent, or delete. True freedoms do not need legal support from case law to be enjoyed. True freedoms include living without restraints, acting without control or interference, and not being bound by conventions, rules, and authorities. It cannot be stressed enough, even though liberties and freedoms share some components, they are merely similar, not identical. In trying to push liberty and freedom as equivalent, the tyranny of language is discovered to sunshine disinfectant. A right, especially those inalienable rights, are not freedoms or liberties to be granted and removed at the power of authority, and the distinction should be clear.
Privileges are easy to understand; privileges are permission granted at the request of an authority to grant limited power, responsibility, or situational control over something. What is a driver’s license, the privilege to drive, which can be revoked at the whims of the government issuing the privilege (license). Civil liberties are a privilege granted by an authority; ownership is not conveyed, legal responsibility extends only for the controlled use under strict supervision by the authority. For example, while a state employee, I was granted the privilege of operating a state-owned vehicle, provided I followed all the rules set forth by the state issuing that privilege. Ending state employment ended the privilege of operating that government vehicle. Easy enough to understand, a privilege is not a liberty, freedom, right, or inalienable right.
A privilege also contains immunity from commonly imposed laws, standards, and social constraints. Think of the police officer who makes a right turn across multiple lanes of traffic. To conduct their job and fulfill their duties, police officers sometimes have to break laws to enforce a greater law or protect the safety of others and are immune from breaking those traffic laws that the rest of us must follow. However, even in this instance, a privilege is not freedom, a right, or liberty, simply authority granted immunity when on the job to act in a manner that supports public safety and enforces the state’s authority over driving privileges.
The Role of Responsibility
Responsibility is a word that gets thrown around too often where the definition is muddied, and the intent is to harm and control someone else. Responsibility is nothing more or less than the condition of being required to account for one’s actions, behaviors, and the consequences of the same. For example, a defendant in a courtroom can be required to account for and make restitution for behaviors, actions, and consequences that were out of compliance with societal norms; we call this type of responsibility justice.
On a less extreme example, a child is out throwing rocks, the rock thrown breaks a window, who is responsible, the child or the parent? The child should be held responsible and taught accountability; however, society is moving more and more towards holding that parent responsible. Except, does this hurt or help the child stop throwing rocks? Now, I have heard parents proclaim that throwing rocks is a right of passage for children, and the child should not be responsible for the consequences. Therein lay the problem with freedoms, liberties, privileges, and rights, the role of responsibility.
It has been said that my freedom of speech ends where your nose begins. Thus, I cannot exercise my freedom of speech through physical violence, or I lose my right to speak and, more likely, some freedom and property as well. Thus, the role of responsibility begins with knowing the extent of and limitations formed around rights, freedoms, liberties, and privileges, for ignorance of the law is not an excuse. Our responsibility of living in society is to know the rules that form the laws and the social constraints of that society.
For example, the people of Germany have worked hard to make their country beautiful, and the principle of living in a Germanic society is In Ordnung. If something is out of order, for example, litter, the person creating that situation outside of order is publicly shamed. In America, the societal norms have been beaten and hindered, so that a person coming into America illegally has the rights, as granted by the government, not to learn the language, learn the culture, or even assimilate. Whereas those coming legally into America are required to learn, adapt, and assimilate into America. Thus, the role of responsibility can be used selectively to provide civil liberties to one group while withholding those same rights from others based upon political conditions.
Rights, especially inalienable rights, are yours as provided by a higher power than the government. Liberties are the power to act without constraint, provided your exercise of liberty does not infringe upon the inalienable rights of another. Freedoms rest upon political independence, something feared by every bureaucrat and power-mad politician in history. Privileges are permissions granted by a higher authority to conduct business or fulfill a purpose. Civil liberties are not liberties, but privileges can be taken away by authorities and social changes. Regardless, the role of responsibility is inseparably connected to rights, liberties, freedoms, and privileges. One day, accountability will be demanded for the responsibilities connected to how a person used their liberties, freedoms, rights, and privileges.
Leadbeater, C. W. (1913). The hidden side of things. Wheaton, IL: The Theosophical Publishing House.
Lieberman, M. D. (2013). Social: Why our brains are wired to connect. NY: Oxford University Press, USA.
Poerksen, U. (2010). Plastic words: The tyranny of a modular language. NY: Penn State Press.
Paine, T. (2008). Rights of man, common sense, and other political writings. NY: Oxford University Press.
Tucker, W. (2014). Marriage and civilization: How monogamy made us human. NY: Simon & Schuster.
© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
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