Each person has Five Rights – to life, liberty, property, the pursuit of happiness, and equality before the law. All other [valid] rights are specific applications of these five.
The right to life is founded on two human traits – reciprocity and empathy. Our drive to reciprocate produces our sense of justice. Our tendency to empathize motivates us to treat others as we’d like to be treated, generating our notions of objective right and wrong.
Our regard for justice and morality led us to a fundamental construct: no one may intentionally harm anyone. This construct renders each person protected by a right to life, which is the source of the other four rights.
The right to life protects a person from bodily injury, restraint, or compulsion. It requires that coercion be banned among individuals and used sparingly by government. The right to life generates laws against murder, assault,rape, harassment, arson, blackmail, and harassment.
The right to life implies the right to liberty because when you let people be (honor their right to life), they do as they please (exercise liberty). Liberty is unfettered choice of thought or action. It’s the absence of man-made impediments, allowing the individual to pick from a menu untrimmed by authority, permitting him to pursue his aims, making each individual an end in himself.
The right to liberty includes freedom of opinion and speech, and freedom of association and assembly. It includes the freedom to travel, to choose a mate or an occupation (by mutual consent), and to plan and shape one’s life according to his priorities. Liberty allows the individual to criticize government, to publish unpopular opinions, or to make films that offend.
For the right to liberty to be meaningful, the individual must have a place to exercise it where his personal actions can’t be overruled by government in the name of the general welfare. Private property is that place.
The right to property includes the right to set boundaries, establishing a protected sphere within which the property owner’s rights take precedence. The property line separates public from private, majority rule from owner’s choice. It affords privacy and allows the owner to shape his surroundings to himself.
Possession of a thing means the ability to manage, alter, or sell it. Property rights include the right to earn, inherit, or allocate money, and to make contracts and hold parties to their agreements. An owner of physical property has the right to use it as he sees fit within preexisting general rules, to exclude others, and to keep any income derived from the property.
The right to property also lets the individual earn and spend money, transforming liberty from a concept into real options. Liberty is freedom of choice of present action; property permits freedom of choice regarding the fruits of past actions – savings. Without the right to allocate his earnings, the individual can be forced to serve interests other than his own.
Liberty’s upside is the right to pursue happiness. It permits fun and foolishness. It permits the individual to risk his health or safety if he chooses. The right to pursue happiness includes the right to do “wrong” things – to eat the wrong foods, drink, smoke, take drugs, have the wrong interests or relationships, or to espouse the wrong political views. The pursuit of happiness is personal. A choice may be unwise, but to force individuals to act “rightly” is a greater evil than allowing them to act self-destructively, however damaging the pursuit might be for some.
The right to equality before the law requires that all individuals are subject to the same rules. Laws cannot favor or penalize any group. Laws must be general and abstract, referring to unknown future cases involving unknown parties. Disputes must be resolved impartially, and being equal before the law, individuals convicted of the same crime should receive the same punishment.
The Five Rights – to life, liberty, property, the pursuit of happiness, and equality before the law – are not separate entities, but facets of the right to life. The Five Rights are supreme. Put the individual first and no individual can be sacrificed. Put something else first like “society” or “national security” and individuals can be sacrificed to that word or phrase. Government can impose restrictions, rescind options, and assign duties as it sees fit, practices that are incompatible with the Five Rights.