Friday, November 21, 2008

The Subtle Destruction of Rights - Hadley Arkes

"People of ordinary sensibility will feel sheepish before claiming a right to take the life of an innocent human being for their own self-interest. It is far easier to talk oneself into the notion that the small being in the womb is not really, or not yet, human, not human as you and I are. After all, it doesn’t yet look like a child, or have what looks like human form: it may be genetically homo sapiens, but is it fully human? It requires no elaborate theory to bring off that maneuver in rationalizing. People with college degrees, and pricey educations, have been doing it with ease now for over 25 years. But what is harder to recognize is that, as people talk themselves into that rationale, they are subtly, but decisively altering what James Wilson and the founders understood as the very ground of their natural rights – and the ground of our entire law. If we can arbitrarily alter the definition of a “man” as it suits our convenience, if nature provides no definition of a human being that we are obliged to respect, then – as we shall see – we remove the distinct ground of our claim to “natural rights.” But if we do that, if we remove “natural rights,” we would convert all rights into “positive law.” With that subtle shift, we would have removed, in effect, the very logic and substance of rights. For what we call “rights” then are simply the things declared to be right by the opinion that is dominant in any place. In that event, the “rights” enacted into law are merely the rights that a majority is willing to confer. But what the majority may confer, the majority may also remove when it no longer strikes the majority as right or convenient."

Hadley Arkes – Natural Rights and the Right to choose (p.31)

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