The Myth of a Hierarchy of Importance between Rights and Duties


Thomas Jefferson stated in his Notes on the State of Virginia that: “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others.”

Thomas Jefferson stated that “rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will, within the limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.”

Recently, there has been a trend among many to emphasize merely one side of the symbolic “coin” of human freedom – namely rights and/or duties. Yet, hopefully the readers of this blog will have realized that this is not a case of “milk before meat” – but of, at best, confusion – and in the extreme, poison.

Rights and Duties truly are two sides of that coin, and certainly there is no possible way to spend only one side of a coin.

Rights do not exist as a result of the existence of duties, or responsibilities. Duties do not exist as a result of the existence of “just claims”, or Rights. They are merely two angles of emphasis, one dealing primarily with one’s self and the other dealing with other people. The rights side of the coin deals with the personal use of freedom, with the other side deals with how those rights lawfully interact with other people.

Thomas Jefferson explained this general concept in a letter to Isaac H. Tiffany when he stated that: “rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will, within the limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.” (emphasis added) Notice the emphasis on one’s self – and then the necessary implication of what that means in relation to others?

Both Rights and Duties have as their foundation the moral absolutes surrounding individual sovereignty, and the individual’s just claim to the preservation of life, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness. They both have their existence within the individual, and not as a result of any label that could possibly come afterword – such as gender, citizenship, sexual orientation, sports team, etc.

As John Adams wisely stated in A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law:

I say RIGHTS, for such they have, undoubtedly, antecedent to all earthly government, — Rights, that cannot be repealed…by human laws — Rights [which are] derived from the great Legislator of the universe.

And certainly if our Rights “undoubtedly” are “derived from the great Legislator of the universe” – then the conclusion as to source must hold true in relation to those rights’ corresponding duties.

One side of the coin does not have its existence in moral absolutes, with the other having its existence in “legal principles” – regardless of who makes such a statement. If one side of the coin has its origin in moral absolutes, both necessarily do! They are as unalienable from each other as those Rights/Duties are unalienable to Man! This is even clear in the inverse relationship between their semantically precise definitions:

Fundamental Rights are only those rights which everyone can simultaneously claim and/or exercise without forcing another to serve their needs, goals or purposes.

Fundamental Duties are only those responsibilities which one owes everyone else simultaneously because no one else owes them a service towards their own needs, goals, or purposes.

Even in the realm of civil rights and acquired rights via contracts, there is no right without a duty, and there will not be a duty without a right. So, to “separate” the two is, at best, spreading confusion on the issue. And although there may even be religious figures today who feel to downplay rights and emphasize “responsibility”, the question arises: how can one truly understand their responsibilities if they do not understand their rights?

John Adams stated that the Rights of Man are "derived from the great Legislator of the universe."

John Adams stated that the Rights of Man are “derived from the great Legislator of the universe.”

And in fact, to diminish the “rights” side of the coin is to distort what responsibilities we truly have – which, as is hopefully obvious, is a huge problem in society today. As my brother once stated: Would not a “responsibility” given without a corresponding right simply be a task given from a master to a slave? And, unlike the alleged diagnosis found in many modern statements from many respected people in society, people not asserting their rights is not only not the problem in society, but the opposite is true! In fact, people not understanding and asserting their rights in society is a huge part of their not fulfilling their responsibilities to themselves and to others in society in the battle for freedom.

So, please do not let yourself be caught up in this web of deceit and confusion. If one starts wrong, one will likely end wrong – and it is about time we, the people, started to understand those rights and duties that are inherent to our being, and to begin applying those principles in our lives!

Because, ultimately, it is entirely up to us.

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