Au Natural

Finally got into Harvard!

That is to say, I'm taking the time of an evening to watch a segment or two of Justice with Michael Sandel.

I've finished the first four episodes, and am left wondering why no one raised what I regard as the most cogent argument against the Lockean premise of natural rights.

I should backtrack?

In brief. John Locke thought that there existed a time in which people (he said man, but we are more advanced than that now) lived in a state of nature. In this state, people had natural rights. Rights given to them by the very fact of their existence. I think a concept of God comes in here. In this state of nature, "man" lived in absolute freedom. In this state, there was no government, no hierarchies, no "society." "He" was free to do any damn thing he pleased.

Unfortunately, so was everybody else, so somebody else was also free to bop him on the head and take what he had. To prevent this, "man" entered, of "his" own free will, into a state of society. In doing this, "he" invented government.

I won't bore you with a definition of the state of society. I'm sure we all have a clue about what it means. But Locke insisted that, even in society, a person's original "natural rights" from his state of nature must be preserved. Because somehow those rights are innate. Given. By God or By Nature.

We can argue all we want about natural rights - Jefferson borrowed the concept directly from Locke, who also referred to those rights as unalienable. "Endowed by the Creator," TJ wrote. Sandel's class did so - trying to reconcile natural rights with the needs of society, i.e., government. Taxes and conscription were mentioned.

Here's the problem.

Locke's premise of natural rights is innately flawed. I think there is enough archaeological, anthropological, and social history available now to realize that Locke's state of nature, that state of absolute freedom, has never existed.

Primates live in societies. Chimpanzees have leaders and hierarchies and social rules and limits. There is no reason to believe that some original Homo sapiens stood up one day, slung a club over his shoulder, and took off into the wide world to seek his fortune all alone. He (and she) were born into and died out of a society. A society that had existed all along.

The rights in which we believe are rights with which we have endowed ourselves.

We can argue the merits of taxation and conscription all we want. But I don't think we can argue that either one goes against any kind of natural law.