What are the differences between Fundamental Rights/Duties and Civil “Rights”/Duties?

Thomas Paine stated the simple truth that "Man did not enter into society to become worse than he was before, nor to have fewer rights than he had before, but to have those rights better secured."

Thomas Paine stated the simple truth that “Man did not enter into society to become worse than he was before, nor to have fewer rights than he had before, but to have those rights better secured.”

A Fundamental Natural Right is only a right which everyone can simultaneously claim and/or exercise without forcing another to serve their needs, goals or purposes. Inseparable from fundamental rights is the concept of fundamental duties. With every fundamental right, there is a corresponding fundamental duty. Rights and Duties are as inseparable themselves as those very rights and duties are inseparable and unalienable from humanity itself. There can be no possible separation of the two. And that would have to include any attempt at representation and exercise via the medium of government!

For example, along with someone’s right to life naturally comes the duty to respect everyone else’s life, and likewise, everyone else has a duty to respect theirs. Along with someone’s right to pursue happiness comes the duty to not infringe on anyone else’s right to do so, just as everyone else has the same exact duty in relation to them. And therefore, a fundamental natural duty is only a duty which one owes everyone else simultaneously because no one else owes them a service towards their own needs, goals, or purposes.

Now, with this in mind, it would be very useful to realize that nobody, therefore, can have a fundamental right to a government, outside of  their own self-government. Self-government, being government of one, by one, and for one, would not force others to cater to their own needs and desires. Along these same lines, nobody can possibly have a  right to a representative in government, outside of themselves. No one can have a fundamental right to even vote, outside of their own self government. No one can possibly even have a fundamental right to society itself. Every one of these scenarios would force others to cater to one’s own desires, and purposes, would they not?

Yet, how many think that, for example, they have a “fundamental” right to vote? Due Process? Representation? Jury Trial? Any other public services?

Are any of these still valid in a natural rights/duties paradigm?

Well, it can be. But we must first understand the difference between a fundamental right, unalienable to every person, and a civil “right,” which is more accurately considered a privilege.

A fundamental right is unalienable and is given by God, and, thus, comes as a result of humanity itself. A civil “right” is inalienable, and is based on a social compact between the individuals that make up society itself. Please take notice that the difference in source also changes the ability of one to deny and/or transfer the right. There is no possible way of stripping unalienable fundamental rights from a person. Yet, with one’s consent, there are ways to “strip one’s self,” so to speak, of a civil right.

Remember the difference between unalienable and inalienable??

Inalienable is defined “as incapable of being surrendered or transferred; at least without one’s consent.” (Morrison v. State, Mo. App., 252 S.W.2d, 101, author’s emphasis)

Unalienable means “incapable of being alienated, that is, sold and transferred.” (Black’s Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition, pg. 1523, author’s emphasis)

Now, in this sense, the term “natural right”  is kind of a misnomer. The term can and would have to include the privileges that make up the benefits associated with forming society in the first place. It is not as if the same natural men and woman that have “natural” rights in a state of nature, aren’t the same natural men and woman living amongst a society. If society itself is unnatural, why do so many seem to desire to live in one? Therefore, Civil privileges, when based on fundamental rights, are actually natural, and, in fact, can be extremely beneficial tools in securing and exercising those rights which God gave each and every one of us.

Civil privileges can properly be termed as “rights,” since a “right” is merely defined as a “just claim,” as found in the 1828 Noah Webster Dictionary. But, for the purpose of semantical precision, we must understand the differences in source between that of fundamental rights, and that of acquired civil rights. Society itself is based on an implied social compact that surrounds the unalienable fundamental rights and duties of the individuals that make it up. None of those individuals’ respective rights are of any more value than anyone else’s, and therefore, even those inalienable privileges that come as a result of the social compact, must be equal to all for it to maintain harmony with natural law. [Yet, in a sense, it should be pointed out, that some may logically consider fundamental rights a inalienable, not in relation to other mortal men on this planet, but in relation to the God that they view as their Creator.]

Therefore, in regards to our civic duty to our fellowman in general, we must be able to identify which rights and duties can legitimately come as a result of social compact, while always keeping in mind the correct understanding of fundamental rights and duties. We must be able to identify when a civil privilege is legitimate and in harmony with fundamental rights,  always remembering that those rights should be recognized as superseding any privilege and benefit that can be legitimately associated with any government. In other words, when is a civil right in harmony with the natural rights/duties paradigm that government’s sole purpose it is to help secure?

As was explained by The Father of the American Republic, the great revolutionary patriot and author, Thomas Paine:

Man did not enter into society to become worse than he was before, nor to have fewer rights than he had before, but to have those rights better secured. His natural rights are the foundation of all his civil rights… 

Natural rights are those which appertain to man in right of his existence. Of this kind are all the intellectual rights, or rights of the mind, and also all those rights of acting as an individual for his own comfort and happiness, which are not injurious to the natural rights of others. Civil rights are those which appertain to man in right of his being a member of society. Every civil right has for its foundation some natural right pre-existing in the individual, but to the enjoyment of which his individual power is not, in all cases, sufficiently competent...” (The Rights of Man)

You will notice that this principle is even the basis of the entire existence of society itself, and of representative government in the first place. We do not have a fundamental natural right to someone else’s service, but we can legitimately hire someone, if you will, in aiding us to be better secure in our rights. Please notice that the associated privilege that comes as a result will also come with an associated duty. You will notice many examples, even in the Bill of Rights, of these civil privileges being so intricately tied towards an efficient exercise of fundamental rights.

For example…Can anyone have an unalienable right to an impartial third party? To a trial by jury? Would not that be forcing someone to cater to one’s own needs and desires?

Every person has the unalienable right to legal fairness. This is not as a result of any civil compact, but a natural result and endowment from God. But, we have historically have had a hard time finding efficiency amongst ourselves for the exercising of that right. So, we have come up, by social compact, with inalienable civil privileges that are mere extensions of fundamental rights, to help better secure them in a way that cannot be found merely in a state of nature. Due Process is an example of a legitimate “civil right” due to its intricate tie to a pre-existing fundamental right to legal fairness.

Thus, a civil right, although it can also be considered truly “natural,” cannot be considered unalienable and truly fundamental. Yet, as Thomas Paine noted, we do not enter society to be worse off than before! This is part of the reason we have come together as a society! To enjoy the security that can come with the existence of legitimate civil privileges due to the efficiency it creates for the exercise of the fundamental rights had by all men!

But it must needs be remembered that even civil rights have corresponding civil duties! Absent the fulfilling of civil duties comes the criminal behavior that is justifiably punished due to the palpable harm it has on other members of society! With the collective extension of society’s individual rights of self defense comes the duty to help support that defense. With the civil right of due process, and a jury trial comes the duty to help out in that process when the situation calls for that support. Whether that is by tax money, or by even being on a jury yourself, the right is still inseparably connected with a duty.

Yet, nobody, even those in government, can enforce a duty that does not legitimately rest on any particular person. No one can claim a “civil right” that cannot be based on a fundamental right! For example, although everyone has a legal duty to not harm another’s property, nobody can possibly have a legal duty to impart of the fruit of his labors to any other person! For government officials, the standard is no different! To enforce a non-existent “duty” on other people is just as criminal as those people not fulfilling actual duties that do indeed exist! One has a right to be secure in his property, and along with it, the duty to respect that right in other people…but no one can possibly have a right to another person’s service or time, and thus, no one can possibly use, legitimately, government to enforce an imaginary legal “duty” towards the same end! Society itself, even for something as vague as “the public good,” cannot have any sort of collective right or duty outside of the individuals’ own rights and duties!

As the french economist Frederic Bastiat succinctly stated:

“Nature, or rather God, has bestowed upon every one of us the right to defend his person, his liberty, and his property, since these are the three constituent or preserving elements of life; elements, each of which is rendered complete by the others, and that cannot be understood without them. For what are our faculties, but the extension of our personality? and what is property, but an extension of our faculties? 

If every man has the right of defending, even by force, his person, his liberty, and his property, a number of men have the right to combine together to extend, to organize a common force to provide regularly for this defense.

Collective right, then, has its principle, its reason for existing, its lawfulness, in individual right; and the common force cannot rationally have any other end, or any other mission, than that of the isolated forces for which it is substituted. Thus, as the force of an individual cannot lawfully touch the person, the liberty, or the property of another individual – for the same reason, the common force cannot lawfully be used to destroy the person, the liberty, or the property of individuals or of classes.

For this perversion of force would be, in one case as in the other, in contradiction to our premises. For who will dare say that force has been given to us, not to defend our rights, but to annihilate the equal rights of our brethren? And if this be not true of every individual force, acting independently, how can it be true of the collective force, which is only the organized union of isolated forces?

Nothing, therefore, can be more evident than this: The law is the organization of the natural right of lawful defense; it is the substitution of collective for individual forces, for the purpose of acting in the sphere in which they have a right to act, of doing what they have a right to do, to secure persons, liberties, and properties, and to maintain each in its right, so as to cause justice to reign over all.” (The Law, pp. 2-3)

How can one logically come to any other conclusion?? But, ultimately, whether we understand and act on the logic of the only true and consistent conclusion for government’s purpose, is entirely up to us.


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