Natural Rights Philosophy has a long history. As the first pillar of Libertarianism, and the founding philosophy of the United States, it is important to understand what it is, how it developed, and why it is valid still today.
What Is Natural Rights Philosophy?
Natural Rights Philosophy is the doctrine which states that every man, woman, and child has certain inalienable rights to life, liberty, and property. This doctrine states either that your Rights comes from God(theist) or that they come from your inherent Nature as a man(atheist). Because of this they can’t be taken away only violated or lost.
Where do Natural Rights Originate from?
Most people will sight the Enlightenment. I want to go back a bit further to the execution of Michael Servetus. Michael Servetus was a Christian Theologian who denied the Trinity and believed in Jesus’ Name baptism. For these beliefs he was burnt at the stake by John Calvin on October 27, 1553. Michael Servetus is a personal hero of mine but his theological positions are irrelevant here. Even his martyrdom is irrelevant here. What we are concerned about is the philosophical fallout of his execution. Immediately following his execution many intellects of the time began condemning the execution as barbarism. From these intellectual dissenters arose a doctrine called The Freedom of Conscience. This doctrine stated that everyone should have the freedom to live according to the dictates of their conscience without fear of persecution.
Now let’s pause that thought for a moment and move further back to Thomas Aquinas. Thomas Aquinas developed and held to a philosophy known as Natural Law philosophy. Natural Law is a philosophy which states simply that God’s laws are inherent in Nature. That is to say that people natural know and understand God’s laws and are thus blameless for breaking them. Pause this thought and move forward all the way to the enlightenment.
The Enlightenment was an era in which these two thoughts were fused together by a series of philosophers including John Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Voltaire, Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Thomas Pain, and Benjamin Franklin. The result was a philosophy known as Natural Rights Philosophy and a political philosophy known as Classical Liberalism which today is called Libertarianism. This philosophy was enshrined in both the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. It is America’s founding philosophy.
Why It Is Still Relevant
Natural Rights is still relevant for the following reasons:
- It is America’s founding philosophy. America will only remain free only to the degree that it holds to this philosophy.
- It is still the most rationally defendable theory of rights in existence. Even Atheists have been known to hold to a variation of it.
- It prevents any notion that rights come from the government and makes government accountable.
- Libertarians who don’t believe this are, in practice, not very libertarian.