As I’ve stated before, I am opposed to the concept of Human Rights as a basis for our legal code.
Now, we hear so much about human rights these days, we take it for granted so much that we have these rights, that my statement at first seems rather ludicrous, even fascist and totalitarian. (I’m not generally fascist or totalitarian, except on the first Monday of each month, at the regional meetings of the Grupen….er…ahem… nah, shhhh! forget I said that). So I feel the need to explain what I mean.
I think there is a huge difference between the current, widely accepted definition of a Right, and my own definition. The key to this difference lies in the question “Who is the final authority?” To me, a right means “a certain freedom or privilege, granted to you by a higher authority, earned in reward for your performance of a duty, or granted freely in recognition of some service that you have voluntarily performed”. In centuries past, we used to hear that such-and-such a person was “granted the freedom of the City of London”, whatever that meant in practise I don’t know. But the point is, the person didn’t just possess that freedom, that right, by the mere fact of his own existence; he couldn’t simply proclaim the right for himself, but rather, it had to be granted to him by the authorities. And it wasn’t granted for nothing, either.
But why, you may ask, do we need any “authority” to “grant” us rights? Surely “human rights” are self-evident, by their very nature?
To many people these days, due to the over-liberal interpretation of the word by the courts, a right simply means “a freedom or expectation of freedom that I possess, simply because I exist. It’s just there, by its very nature, because…well, it just is. Because I say so. I alone am the final judge of my rights, and everyone else must naturally agree that this right is there”. And here we see the problem: What if I don’t happen to agree that your rights are paramount over mine? Or that your rights and my rights can coexist without any conflict?
I might want to rule my life by the maxim “My right to happiness comes first, and where anything or anyone comes into conflict with that right, my right shall prevail”. Fine so far, and let’s say that my idea of ultimate happiness is a good night’s sleep. But my insanely annoying neighbour, whose idea of ultimate happiness is to play rap music at 120dB all night long, might also be ruling his life by the very same maxim.
By acting out his “right”, my neighbour is denying me MY right, as I define it. But if I take action to stop him, then I am infringing HIS right, as he defines it. So – who is the authority here? Who has the ultimate moral authority to differentiate between my right and his right? You may simply say “well, the law of the land, of course”. But in so saying, you would be getting the fundamentals of this argument completely the wrong way round, putting the cart before the horse, so to speak. Remember, we’re talking about principles here, not laws. In this scenario, in this hypothetical definition of “human rights”, I am perfectly entitled to proclaim the absolute moral authority of my “right”, and so is the other chap entitled to proclaim and act upon his “right”. Those “rights” are supposed to be, in themselves, the very authority upon which the laws are based, in the first place! In this definition of rights, it is the moral authority of the “rights” themselves which give rise to the laws, rather than a case of the laws setting out the “rights”. So the essential paradox stands.
So you see (or at least, I hope I have shown) that we can’t simply assert our “rights” off our own backs and set ourselves up as our own moral judges. The principle of fully self-evident human rights, without any higher authority, is essentially anarchistic, totally at odds with the very concept of any legal system. We need a higher arbitrator, one who has the authority and power to decide who is in the right and who is in the wrong.
Of course, in our societies, we achieve this balance realistically, by the process of democracy, i.e., majority consensus. It works fairly well, but when you get right down to basics, all it really means in practise is that the minority must agree to concede the absolute “self-evidence” of their rights to the majority. Therefore in practise, in the absence of any higher moral authority, such as “God”, there is no real all-embracing “self-evidence” of human rights, nor any absolute definition of those rights, but merely a consensus which the minority must begrudgingly accept. Hence, those who proclaim the full moral authority of “human rights” as a basis for law, find themselves in the moral conundrum of having to forge a path which simultaneously upholds the rights of Muslims to preach their full beliefs, and also the rights of homosexual people to not suffer from any discriminatory language by the former group! In the words of Joy Division, “Something Must Break!”, or if you prefer Dire Straits, “Two men say they’re Jesus – One of them must be wrong!” I defy anyone to find an all-embracing solution to the conflict of interests in the above example, which does not end up effectively saying "this group’s rights trump the other group’s rights, to some extent or other". Because if your solution DOES end up saying that, then you have effectively become the "higher authority", the "moral arbitrator", and so you will have denounced the principle of "human rights" by setting your authority above it.
Anyway, I hope I’ve made my line of thinking as clear as it can be. I’m interested to hear what people’s opinions are, on this whole thing. I have more thoughts to blab on this subject, but that’s enough for one post!