I recently had a Facebook encounter with someone who objected to the use of the terms right to life and right to property because he felt these terms confused people into thinking that they had a right to life in the sense that if they couldn’t manage it, someone else had to support it for them.
I objected to this at first because to me you most certainly do have a right to LIFE and PROPERTY. But then after some thought, I understood what he meant. I still object, but now I understand where he’s wrong. The problem is not with WHAT you have a right to – it’s a misunderstanding of the meaning of the world RIGHT.
A RIGHT never obligates anyone else. By definition it can’t. That’s because rights are really just restated responsibilities. Since I understood that, this Facebook commenter’s views at first made no sense to me. My understanding of the term right is now completely automatic. I don’t have to think about it. Instead I had to think to undo this understanding so I could understand his problem.
There is really no way to state it that people can’t bend and twist it if they want to. This is the bane of language. It’s alive. For that reason, people seeking power can change the meanings of words so that all that’s left is the feeling left over from the old meaning. Think liberal for example. This word has now come to signify its opposite. So it should be no surprise that the term right now signifies its opposite.
So, if you keep the term right but remove the terms life and property because some people are ignorant or obtuse, you will just have other problems. For example, if we say you have a right to defend yourself – well, what are you defending if not your life and property? If we leave out property for sure some people will use that to defend socialism – i.e., the John Lennons of this world that think a world without property (imagine no possessions/I wonder if you can – yes, I can John, it’s called death) is somehow a good thing.
The truth is no matter how you state it if people are hell bent on being obtuse they’ll figure out how to do it.
Nevertheless, if we must reword it for the dummies out there how about this:
We the people recognize that each person has a responsibility to support his/her own life – that is in part to supply it (property) and defend it (life) – and we the people will make no law in contradiction with this responsibility or any of its corollaries.
This basically means the same thing. But if we should do this, I wouldn’t be surprised if after a few years one starts to notice a change in the general understanding of the meaning of the world responsibility.
P.S. To David who says we really only need the term property since our lives/bodies are our property – I agree with you. The mind/body problem is another can of worms, though, so it’s just easier to include both life and property here understanding that it’s a bit of a redundancy. We could just use life as well, since one implies the other.