Ralph at politX makes an interesting point, rather colorfully:

The sort-of-elected US President blithely tells us how “lucky” we are to live in a society that “permits” marches and protests. Our own Lady Bliar simpers along like a whispering wet fart with similar messages, that we are “fortunate” to have “the freedom” to voice our dissent against that which we object to in the arena of politics. Tories–pro-Bush (not all of them by any means) and anti-Bliar, carp on along the same lines, as do New Labour Clones who remain pro-Bush and pro-Bliar. The same old tired song. How Lucky We Are to live in a society which ‘permits’ dissenting voices. Tra-la-la-la-lee.

Morons. With the possible exception of the right to trial by jury (also under threat, thank you Lady Bliar) there is not a single ‘right’ which UK subjects (tentatively) possess which was gained without a bitterly fought, sustained and sometimes bloody conflict being waged against those in positions of power who have ultimately ceded ‘rights’ only when their own powers and ruling structures have been under real and imminent threat. Politicians and rulers have never given ‘rights’ to their subjects until they realised they literally had no other choice. And with the notable exceptions of a few Quakers and philanthropic business men, no considerations for employee conditions have ever been granted willingly or with good grace by employers. All these things have come about only as a result of enormous pressures from voices of dissent.

This is certainly true. But we should remember that we had rather little influence in choosing in which country–indeed, which era–to be born. It is indeed a matter of luck to be born into a society where one’s ancestors stood up to their governments and secured priviledges which have, by virtue of their eventual normalcy, transmogrified into “rights.”

Certainly, the struggle continues. But the “right” to government-financed prescription drugs or the “right” to marry one’s homosexual lover, however worthwhile those goals may be, pales in comparison with the right to trial by jury, the right to vote, and the right to express one’s views freely.

FILED UNDER: Political Theory,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. JC says:

    I’m sure Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi would like to get their “right to trial”.

  2. lefty skeptic says:

    Seems to me that the founding fathers had all those rights on pretty equal standing – “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. You’ve mentioned 3 that fall under “liberty” that you see as more important than one that falls under “life” and one under “pursuit of happiness”.

    I wonder if, in a hypothetical African country with freedom of speech but so poor that prescription drugs are not available at all, the inhabitants would agree with your ranking.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Poverty creates a slew of problems which have little to do with “rights” as understood by the Founders. The right to life is a negative right–freedom from government taking that life away absent due process–rather than a positive right to free medicine.

  4. I take a jawndice view of anything that begins with a phrase akin to “The sort-of-elected US President;” everyone agrees, including the NY Times (and not in a piece written by Jayson Blair) that George Bush did win Florida and thus the election. Granted, the overall popular vote nationwide may have gone to VP Al Gore, but ours is a country that decides it’s President on Electoral votes, not the popular vote (I am reminded that President Clinton failed to get a majority of the popular vote twice, but still earned the Electoral vote).

    That much said… those that have fought the “bitter, sustained and sometimes bloody conflict” Ralph speaks of did so because they knew what their leaders either did not know or refuse to acknowledge: that rights do not come from the Government, but are endowed by the Creator.

  5. James Joyner says:


    I agree as to the intro to the piece. I figured that spoke for itself.

    I disagree with you on the Creator business. If rights came from an invisible benefactor, they would presumably be available to those in the approximately 2/3 of the world that seems not to have been so chosen. Indeed, even within Christendom, the rights were secured by the blood of patriots, not divine beneficence.

  6. I am on my way out the door, but consider this: if Rights are not endowed by the Creator, then the basis of the Constitution is flawed.

    And as since said Creator gives free will, we’d all be in Eden, and would not need a Constitution, nor have the necessitity to fight and die for rights.

  7. James Joyner says:

    That doesn’t make much sense, I’m afraid.

    The Constitution says that WE THE PEOPLE established government to secure various blessings. You may be thinking of the Declaration of Independence, which uses the throwaway Deist religious homage of the Enlightenment to assert that we had rights “endowed by a Creator,” while we were in the midst of a war for independence fighting for same.

  8. ralph says:

    James, apologies for terseness of my response to your comment on politX. I thought you were coming at what I’d written from a very different angle to that from which I now believe you were. a) I failed to note your ‘link’ until after I’d posted my response, and b) when I did click into your link, I realised I’d jumped the wrong horse and ridden off in the wrong direction. Apolgies once again, and glad to have discovered a new political link to read.

  9. Alexander Crawford says:


    The US Constitution ends with…

    “DONE in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth In witness whereof We have hereunto subscribed our Names,

    Attest William Jackson Secretary
    Go: Washington—Presidt… (&etc).”

    Furthermore. The (um) “deist” Enlightenment thingamabob is quite well stated in Locke’s second Treatise on Government, here:

    I wouldn’t know about an African Country. From a American “Native” perspective there’s no need to guess… (Deism? Luck? Read it all, decide youself)

    Constitution of the Iroquois Nations:
    1. I am Dekanawidah [Great Spirit avatar/Lawgiver for the “Great Creator”] and with the Five Nations’ Confederate Chiefs I plant the Tree of Great Peace. (&etc)”

    “Rights of Foreign Nations…
    “73. The soil of the earth from one end of the land to the other is the property of the people who inhabit it. By birthright the Ongwehonweh (Original beings) are the owners of the soil which they own and occupy and none other may hold it. The same law has been held from the oldest times.

    “The Great Creator has made us of the one blood and of the same soil he made us and as only different tongues constitute different nations he established different hunting grounds and territories and made boundary lines between them.”
    (The Iroquois Constitution reads strikingly similar to how the US bahaves at times)

  10. “Bliar”?

    Rights are endowed by the Creator, but “ratified” through risk and sacrifice by patriots. In our particular case, rich white guys who had little to gain but everything to lose by rebellion against tyranny.

  11. In my haste to depart yesterday I did not proof read my entry, and thus made an incorrect reference to the Constitution instead of the Declaration. So be it. I apologize for my mistake.

    As another has correctly pointed out, religion plays a heavy role in the formation of the government. That does not mean a state religion — far from it — but the acknowledgement of a higher being. That’s where the tie to the so-called “throwaway Deist religious homage of the Enlightenment” occurs.

  12. Dan says:

    I admit I don’t know much about the US constitution/ declaration, but isn’t that the one that said all men are created equal etc. but just assumed black people (eg. slaves) weren’t included in the definition of ‘men’?

    The document in itself is still a wonderful doctrine (I wish we had one in the UK), but aren’t you quoting this out of it’s historical perspective.

    Please tell me I’m mistaken…

  13. Dan says:

    Sorry, I meant ‘…historical context.’

    – should have previewed –