Saturday, March 04, 2023

Belgica papers 1, The responsibility of life, liberty and property

I am reposting this two-parts column by Atty. Jeremiah Belgica, good reviewer why government was invented, its purpose and limitations. Thanks Atty Miah for these good papers.

The responsibility of life, liberty and property
By Jeremiah Belgica. February 23, 2023

... The idea of the existence of the natural or inalienable rights to life, liberty and property has greatly shaped the way the world perceives the relationship between a person and the government, in essence defining the limits and purpose of government as dictated by the need to protect the individual rights of its constituents.

The concept of inalienable rights, however, was not originally articulated by Jefferson because there were other noble minds who were ahead in this topic. Foremost of whom was the renowned English philosopher and thinker John Locke, also known as the "Father of Modern Liberalism."

Locke is one of the three notable figures in history who advanced the concept of a social contract as the basis for establishing a government. Rather than just perceiving the king and the crown as having taken their right to rule over the people by "divine right," the principle of a social contract proposes that the people are governed through their consent. It implies that the ruler or government receives their authority from the voluntary consent of the people who recognize the necessity of the government for their protection and benefit.

But unlike other social contract theorists who believed in the absolute surrender of a person's rights over to governmental powers, Locke introduced the concept of individual and natural rights to life, liberty and property as both the origin and natural limitation of governmental authority. He argued, through his acclaimed two "treatises of government," that "being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions." He articulated that each of us has a God-given responsibility or "a property in" our own persons which right is by nature "inalienable," thus may not be removed, transferred, or taken away by anyone. For this reason, Locke believed that power over the life, liberty and property of individuals cannot be totally abrogated either voluntarily or involuntarily in favor of government, as previous thinkers had argued, as this would violate the inalienability of such rights. This is akin to man's moral responsibility over one's act which may not likewise be alienated and separated from each other.

Thus, the very existence of governments under the social contract principle is for the primary purpose of protecting the individual's natural and inalienable right to life, liberty and property. As Jefferson eloquently stated in the Declaration of Independence when explaining inalienable rights, "to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." Governments then did not create the inalienable rights but, on the contrary, governments owe its existence to them.

These concepts of inalienable rights are also said to be the origin of what we now believe to be "human rights." Of course, since Locke, Jefferson and the other liberal thinkers have long been gone, the world has taken these concepts to different dimensions and applied them to various issues affecting us.

Since 1935, all Philippine Constitutions have featured in its Bill of Rights the protection of these inalienable rights. Section 1, Article 3 of the 1987 Constitution states that, "No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, and property without due process of law..." thereby setting forth the utmost protection against possible abuse upon these rights. Thus, any limitation on life, liberty and property may only be done if there is a law authorizing it and if the said limitation has been enforced after observance of substantial and procedural due process. This should be true comprehensively across the entire expanse of society so long as the laws of the Republic are made applicable....

The responsibility of life, liberty and property
By Jeremiah Belgica. March 2, 2023

...That is why Christian philosopher John Locke's formulation of the social contract theory based on man's individual, natural and inalienable rights of life, liberty, and property has struck an important and fundamental chord with libertarians throughout history.

One of my personal thought heroes is the 19th century French economist and champion of liberty, Fredric Bastiat, who wrote the classic The Law. He beautifully articulated and explained the Lockean ideas on the purpose and limitations of the law and governmental powers. He warned that men in power have the tendency to use the law to destroy individual rights and commit legal plunder. He said: "It is impossible to introduce into society a greater change and a greater evil than this: the conversion of the law into an instrument of plunder."

In explaining examples of legal plunder, a translation of his book quoted him as saying: "Now, legal plunder can be committed in an infinite number of ways. Thus, we have an infinite number of plans for organizing it: tariffs, protection, benefits, subsidies, encouragements, progressive taxation, public schools, guaranteed jobs, guaranteed profits, minimum wages, a right to relief, a right to the tools of labor, free credit, and so on and so on."

According to Bastiat, one of the main reasons and motivations of legalized plunder is the desire for "false philanthropy" where the government seeks to give something to someone at the expense of another.

The more government seeks to do something that we should and could be doing for ourselves and our family, an immediate trade-off happens — what the government will give to one, it will first take away from another. The greater the dole-outs, freebies and social welfare activities, the higher the taxes and the fiercer the taking of properties and freedoms from others. Redistribution of wealth is great until it is your hard-earned and honest wealth that starts to be taken unceremoniously by people in power to give to others for political gain, not to mention bureaucratic losses and losses due to kickbacks and corruption.

I personally subscribe to Locke's belief that the sacredness of God's gift of life necessitates the belief that all life also has meaning and divine call. What is life without liberty? All life must be free to find its calling and meaning. The free pursuit of life and its meaning results in a productive intermingling of a person's faculties, ingenuity and labor with the world and resources around him which ultimately bears fruit and produce for his sustenance, upkeep and satisfaction, otherwise called his property. Property, then, is the expression and result of a life using his liberty to apply his God-given faculties and abilities to take care and enrich the world and resources around them. In the Christian and biblical context, the right to property is taken and understood in the greater concept of man's "stewardship" of God's resources entrusted to him. Being a mere steward of these resources, he is called and expected not just to create "wasted surpluses," but to apply these resources to make lives — his and everyone else's — more sustainable and meaningful for the glory of his principal, God his Creator.

In this context, we can now conclude that man was not only given the "right" but instead the "responsibility" of life, liberty and property, simply because everyone has been given these gifts to cherish, explore and cultivate. This, likewise, gives everyone an optimistic foundational paradigm of society because this puts in perspective that everyone's life has meaning and has the capacity to sustain itself, and more than that, has the calling to be a productive part of a society. Government's role is not to run the lives of the people with the messianic desire to provide all their needs because it is only God who can do that. Instead, the government's role is to protect the individual's right to life, liberty and property so that they can freely pursue and exercise their responsibility to freely live their lives productively.

As Congress once again considers deliberating whether to amend the Constitution, it is my hope that we not only retain Section 1, Article 3 of the present Constitution that protects our inalienable right to life, liberty and property but also codify everyone's "inalienable responsibility" to live one's life in pursuit of one's divine call to cultivate and replenish their own world.

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