“Natural Rights and the ‘Common Good’” American Sentinel 13, 16, pp. 243, 244.

THERE is no more fallacious theory extant than that which is embodied in the common idea that natural rights must be limited by law in order to promote the “common good.”

Natural rights are the rights given to man by the Creator. They are neither more nor less than what the Creator made them. To say that they need to be clipped and pruned down to meet the requirements of a successful life, is to reflect upon the wisdom of the Creator.

Rights were given to the individual for his good. Among man’s “inalienable rights” the Declaration of Independence enumerates “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The more of these things an individual has, the better off he is, and the more of prosperity does he enjoy. And the more individuals there are of this kind in the community, the more prosperity and happiness is there in the community.

What, on the other hand, is the “common good”? It is a very indefinite term. Each person defines it to suit himself. Government define it to suit themselves. Over in Russia it is declared to be for the “common good” that the little children of heretical parents should be taken from their homes and sent away to be brought up in the orthodox “faith.” In Peru, until recently, it was considered to be for the common good that no Protestant marriage ceremonies should be recognized as valid by the state. In Spain it was for the common good that Protestants should not be allowed to worship in church buildings. The list of instances in which personal rights have been invaded under the plea of the “common good,” might be extended indefinitely.

How are these things decided to be for the common good? Oh, it is by the decision of the majority, at least of those in power. And this is the way the question is always decided; this is the way it is proposed to decide the question to day, and the only way in which civil government can consider it, in this country at least. A natural right, therefore, as limited by the “common good,” is simply such a privilege as the majority may see fit to grant. And this would take the matter out of the hands of the Creator entirely. It would leave no force to the term “natural” right at all. For what a person is allowed to have by the majority, cannot be his by nature—by birth.

And for what purpose is this limitation sought to be put upon natural rights? A quotation from the recent hearing on the Sunday bills before the Massachusetts legislature will explain. A speaker in behalf of the bills said:—

“When we speak of natural rights it must be with limitations. Natural rights of the individual in the community are subordinate to the common good. Sabbath laws have been proved to be for the common good.”

Natural rights are sought to be curtailed in the interests of Sunday laws. Sunday laws are a denial of natural rights, and this is instinctively recognized by the [244] advocates of such laws in the pleas made for their enactment. It is in behalf of religious legislation that natural rights are most commonly curtailed, in all countries. The two are antagonistic; and when one prevails, the other must give way.

This is not saying that the common good does not require that limitations should be set to individual freedom of action. It is not saying that an individual has liberty to do as he pleases. But we are not speaking of what an individual may please to do, but of what he has a natural right to do. He has no natural right to do anything that would conflict with the rights of his neighbor. Rights do not conflict. Any individual in the world may freely exercise the natural rights with which the Creator has endowed him, without interfering with the like exercise on the part of any other person.

Natural rights lie at the foundation of all proper legislation and government. Neither individuals now governments may rightfully invade them. They no more justify wrong doing under the plea of “conscience,” than under the plea that might makes right. Test all governmental measures by the touchstone of natural rights, and let it be remembered that natural rights are always individual rights. In this way secure the good of all individuals, and the common good will take care of itself.

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