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VOL. 2, ART. NO. 42 (2010)

The American Founders’ Central Contention THE MOST IMPORTANT AND REVOLUTIONARY PASSAGE in the Declaration of Independence penned by the American Founders reads as follows:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they areendowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

In this discussion I want very briefly to reflect upon that remark. I will sketch an argument in support of still holding that human beings do indeed have these rights, contrary to what many intellectuals argue in our time. (One of these is Professor Cass Sunstein of theHarvard Law School who heads the federal government’s regulatory team. He holds that our rights are grants from the government!) I need to note, as a start, that the Founders were very precise—they wrote that they “hold these truths to be self-evident” (my emphasis). They did not claim them to be self-evident most likely because they clearly are not. Many, many people see no reason to believe in theexistence of these rights, nor in their unalienability, and not simply because they are blind. The reason is that those truths are complicated abstractions that need to be shown to be true via a complex chain of reasoning that rests on numerous controversial assumptions.
*Tibor R. Machan (; holds the R. C. Hoiles Chair in Business Ethics and FreeEnterprise at the Argyros School of Business & Economics, Chapman University, Orange, CA. He is Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

CITE THIS ARTICLE AS: Tibor R. Machan, “Backing the Founders: The Case for Unalienable Individual Rights,” Libertarian Papers 2, 42 (2010). ONLINE AT: THIS ARTICLE IS subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0License (




I will proceed by sketching the case for the central political or public policy tenet of the Declaration, namely, that human individual liberty is indeed the sole public good and that so as “to secure these rights, governments are instituted among” us. (Here I merely summarize the case I make in my much longertreatment of the natural rights case for the free society which may be found in my two books, Human Rights and Human Liberties, A Radical Reconsideration of the American Political Tradition, 2nd Edition [Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2011; first edition published in 1975], and Individuals and Their Rights [LaSalle, IL: Open Court Publishing Co., Inc., 1989]. It is in these works that thefull details of the position I sketch here are presented. The present discussion is meant to be a reminder to champions of the free society that the defense advanced originally by John Locke is still a viable and important one, maybe superior to others advance by utilitarians and positivists such as Ludwig von Mises and Milton Friedman.) Freedom at Issue The basic human individual right toliberty—in the sense that each adult person is a sovereign citizen and no one has justified control of others’ actions without their permission—is still, objectively speaking, the highest political value, despite the relentless and often sophisticated and subtle contentions to the contrary. Mostly today it is communitarianism that stands against this position, as defended by the likes of Michael Sandelof Harvard University’s Department of Government and the host of the PBS-TV program “Justice.” With the demise of Soviet socialism, many who have favored some version of collectivist human community organization are highly critical of what they call liberalism but what must be qualified as “classical” liberalism. This system, with which the United States of American has always been closely...
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