Monday, March 13, 2006

Rights and wrongs

BreakPoint Give Me Liberty and Give Me Death

Here is a link to a good article on the so called right to die. One of the many reasons we need evangelical Christian law schools is because, not only people in general, but even Christians, have an improper understanding of the whole notion of rights.

There are, in human law, subjective and objective rights. The subjective rights are opportunities, entitlements, abilities, or protected areas created by the government, through positive human law, for the benefit of the common good. One example would be the right to assert the statute of limitations as a defense to a lawsuit filed after the time limit allowed by law. Subjective rights are artificial. They can be changed, added to, or destroyed according to the will of the people expressed through their elected representatives. They should be limited to enactments that are for the common good and that reward good or punish evil. They should not be allowed to reward evil, punish good, or promote purely private gain at the expense of the public and the state. The same things could also be said about state created duties.

Objective rights are the kind most people think of when they mention rights. The Declaration of Independence mentions rights from our creator: those are objective rights. Objective rights come from God. They relate to the kind of thing something is within God's design and order for creation. Because human beings are made in the image of God, and are all the same kind of thing, all sorts of objective rights follow, including, but not limited to, the right not to be murdered, the right not to be injured unnecessarily or unreasonably, the right to worship God, the right to be unrestrained in choosing among goods, and the right to engage in virtuous conduct. Objective rights are predispositions of justice flowing from the divine nature. They reflect things about how God designed humans to function and relate to one another and to the world around them.

Radical autonomy, the basis of the rights claimed by libertarians, is not part of God's order or plan for human beings. While it is true that no human has the authority to order others around and create subjective rights and duties apart from what God defines as a proper human government, God does have a right to govern us. And human laws based on God's laws are binding even when they limit radical personal autonomy.

Community, the basis upon which the left seeks to create endless duties, is also limited by the divine order, and bound to recognize real objective rights and bound to refrain from creating fake subjective rights to do evil.

Under the divine order there can be no right to murder a human being made in the image of God, even if that human being is either yourself or your baby.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

These are good comments distinguishing subjective and objective rights. An interesting question arises concerning action by the legislature to create subjective rights which are in conflict with objective rights. The contemporary obcession with "rights talk" (to borrow from Mary Ann Glendon)creates the impression that any restraint on subjective rights is a reduction in overall societal well being.

However, this view confuses utility with well being. What a majority wants at any given point in time may be an expansion of subjective rights, but it also may impinge on objective rights and reduce societal well being. In other words, utility is expanded at the expense of well being.

An example comes to mind. The so-called "Jim Crow" laws of the South reflected a majority position at the time and maximized the utility of segratationist voters and legislators. However, these laws constituted a violation of the objective sense of the law. Since skin color has not bearing on the "content of ones character" such legislation was not objectively rooted in anything. It was for that reason in opposing racial discrimination that Martin Luther King appealed to the objective law in his Letter From a Birmingham jail to assail what he deemed to be no law at all.

Consequently, the desire to divorce subjective law from objective law runs the risk of illegitimacy.

Anonymous said...

These are good comments distinguishing subjective and objective rights. An interesting question arises concerning action by the legislature to create subjective rights which are in conflict with objective rights. The contemporary obcession with "rights talk" (to borrow from Mary Ann Glendon)creates the impression that any restraint on subjective rights is a reduction in overall societal well being.

However, this view confuses utility with well being. What a majority wants at any given point in time may be an expansion of subjective rights, but it also may impinge on objective rights and reduce societal well being. In other words, utility is expanded at the expense of well being.

An example comes to mind. The so-called "Jim Crow" laws of the South reflected a majority position at the time and maximized the utility of segratationist voters and legislators. However, these laws constituted a violation of the objective sense of the law. Since skin color has not bearing on the "content of ones character" such legislation was not objectively rooted in anything. It was for that reason in opposing racial discrimination that Martin Luther King appealed to the objective law in his Letter From a Birmingham jail to assail what he deemed to be no law at all.

Consequently, the desire to divorce subjective law from objective law runs the risk of illegitimacy.

Anonymous said...

These are good comments distinguishing subjective and objective rights. An interesting question arises concerning action by the legislature to create subjective rights which are in conflict with objective rights. The contemporary obcession with "rights talk" (to borrow from Mary Ann Glendon)creates the impression that any restraint on subjective rights is a reduction in overall societal well being.

However, this view confuses utility with well being. What a majority wants at any given point in time may be an expansion of subjective rights, but it also may impinge on objective rights and reduce societal well being. In other words, utility is expanded at the expense of well being.

An example comes to mind. The so-called "Jim Crow" laws of the South reflected a majority position at the time and maximized the utility of segratationist voters and legislators. However, these laws constituted a violation of the objective sense of the law. Since skin color has not bearing on the "content of ones character" such legislation was not objectively rooted in anything. It was for that reason in opposing racial discrimination that Martin Luther King appealed to the objective law in his Letter From a Birmingham jail to assail what he deemed to be no law at all.

Consequently, the desire to divorce subjective law from objective law runs the risk of illegitimacy.

Dean McConnell said...

Good comment Anonymous. I really agree.