Every time I see an argument purporting to prove the validity of “natural rights,” I look for “the kicker.” “The kicker” is the implicit assumption of a universally valid morality, a “natural” morality, from which one can logically derive “natural” rights. The kicker in your argument is the assumption that all men share a common definition of what constitutes a "just claim."
They do not.
"Justice" is a moral concept about which different people have many different ideas. Every idea of “justice” derives from one’s belief in the moral rightness of compensating others for the value one has taken from them. Is that belief universal and unquestionable? It is not.
Every thief believes that he has a "just claim" to whatever he wants to steal -- if he bothers to name the principles guiding his conduct at all. (Such men commonly disdain principles beyond “anything I can take belongs to me.”) Every government employee believes that he has a "just claim" to his paycheck -- even if the funds are all "taxes" extorted from unwilling victims. Every woman who has an abortion believes that she has a "just claim" to her own body, never mind what happens to her unborn child when she has her uterus scraped. Every politician who votes for a tax or a "regulation" believes that he, as an "elected representative," has a "just claim" to the lives and property of the people he supposedly represents. Every socialist believes that one person's need is a "just claim" on the property of others.
"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." (Hamlet)
As long as each individual has the ability (and the need) to choose the moral principles by which he will guide his own conduct, there will never, and CAN never be any universal morality. No universal ideal of justice. No universal agreement on what is "right." And no universal agreement on what "rights" people have.
Whence, then, comes this idea of "liberty," if not from "natural rights?"
It would be very comforting to believe that liberty is some kind of natural law, or a characteristic of man's nature, or a gift from all-powerful God. The plain truth is otherwise: liberty is an ideal that some men value and/or choose to pursue for themselves and/or for others -- and some men don't. ("May their chains rest lightly upon them. . .")
Each person is born with free will, and a body controlled by his own mind. We are not remote-controlled drones, or hive-minds. We are individuals each with the power and the need to judge right and wrong, to guide the choices on which our lives and our happiness depend. This much freedom is a part of our human nature: our minds are beyond the reach of tyrants. (So far. I'm sure that Obama, the CIA, and their ilk all jerk off to fantasies of true thought control.)
Since men DO have free will, and since they must rely on the judgment of their individual minds to cope with the objective realties around them, the standard by which they guide their actions is of central importance to their life and happiness. Stupid, dangerous, conflict-producing moral standards produce unhappy and often fatal results for the people who rely on them for guidance. That doesn’t stop people from adopting them anyway. Free will sucks sometimes.
And sometimes it doesn’t. Our free will is what allows us – if we so choose – to select, pursue and win our own values. Of which liberty is one.
But enough with this “natural” rights crap. Don’t pretend that OUR morality of self-ownership and self-responsibility is universally accepted. Men can and do choose other moral systems. Freedom has REAL enemies, who hold it to be a positive evil. Our last four Presidents, for instance. I guarantee you, they do not think of themselves as “evil men.” They think they are doing what is "right" – by very different moral standards than those used by libertarians or voluntaryists. Statism IS a religion, a moral code which guides many people in making their life choices. Statism holds that the life and property of every person belongs to his/her government. I’d call that universal slavery – statists call it “patriotism.” I call it a sin; they name it a virtue. What we have here is (at least) two different moral systems which are fundamentally incompatible with one another. Both are real, and could equally claim to be “natural.”
To claim that only our vision of “right” is “natural” is to discard reality from our arsenal, pretending that our real enemy does not exist. By so doing we surrender our one REAL advantage over statism/authoritarianism: understanding the fundamental nature of the choice we all face: we can CHOOSE to be free. Or we can CHOOSE to be enslaved (“governed.”) When you put that choice out in plain sight, choosing NOT to be free is a shameful thing. We should not allow our enemies to keep that choice hidden from our understanding. Rights are never “natural.” They have to be understood, chosen, and fought for – if they are ever to be won.
Recommended reading: The Most Dangerous Superstition, http://www.amazon.com/Most-Dangerous-Superstition-Larken-Ros...
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