Are Rights Absolute?
The concept of a “right” pertains only to action—specifically, to freedom of action. It means freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference by other men.
A blog commenter named Enrico Navea asked me the following question: “Are rights absolute? Can the government regulate those rights? If rights is absolute and if the government cannot regulate the rights of individuals, then the Constitution of the Philippines is inconsistent and has a lot of conflicting provisions.”
The Objectivist definition of rights, which is essentially a Republican definition, is the following:
“A “right” is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context. There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man’s right to his own life. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action; the right to life means the right to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated action—which means: the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life. (Such is the meaning of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.)
“The concept of a “right” pertains only to action—specifically, to freedom of action. It means freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference by other men.
“Thus, for every individual, a right is the moral sanction of a positive—of his freedom to act on his own judgment, for his own goals, by his own voluntary, uncoerced choice. As to his neighbors, his rights impose no obligations on them except of a negative kind: to abstain from violating his rights.”
A right is absolute in the sense that you are entitled to such right as a human being and as an individual in a free society. No one has the right to deprive you of your rights, not even the government. But what kind of right is absolute? These are the rights enumerated under Article I (bill of rights) of our 1987 constitution. Article III, Section 1 is the paramount of all rights, to wit: “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.”
This right must be and ought to be absolute and cannot be abridged or limited by any political edict, directive or law. However, the government must step in and intervene if there’s violation of individual rights. This is the only instance wherein the government must use its power to protect our rights, otherwise our country would be gradually reduced to anarchy or mob rule.
Article III, Section 2 is also absolute, as it states, to wit: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures of whatever nature and for any purpose shall be inviolable, and no search warrant or warrant of arrest shall issue except upon probable cause to be determined personally by the judge after examination under oath or affirmation of the complainant and the witnesses he may produce, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.” The bill of rights, which enumerates the rights of every individual, must be and ought to be absolute and cannot be violated by the government.
Ayn Rand, a novelist-philosopher who built her philosophy of Objectivism, wrote:
There is no such thing as “a right to a job”—there is only the right of free trade, that is: a man’s right to take a job if another man chooses to hire him. There is no “right to a home,” only the right of free trade: the right to build a home or to buy it. There are no “rights to a ‘fair’ wage or a ‘fair’ price” if no one chooses to pay it, to hire a man or to buy his product. There are no “rights of consumers” to milk, shoes, movies or champagne if no producers choose to manufacture such items (there is only the right to manufacture them oneself). There are no “rights” of special groups, there are no “rights of farmers, of workers, of businessmen, of employees, of employers, of the old, of the young, of the unborn.” There are only the Rights of Man—rights possessed by every individual man and by all men as individuals.
Yes, I must agree with you that the Constitution is full of inconsistencies, philosophical contradictions, and absurd provisions, but the bill of rights which we borrowed from the Americans is the most important part of our charter. In my previous blog entitled “The Moral Base of the Filipino Nation and Philippine’s Intellectual Bankruptcy“, I stated that “contains a number of socialist and populist provisions. My observation of the current charter is this—it is a mixture of individualist and socialist premises bordering on dictatorship.”
But since the focus of your question is about the absolute nature of rights, I must say that it is absolute and the government has no right at all to limit it for any arbitrary and non-objective reason. If you violated the right of your neighbor, you cannot be penalized or imprisoned without a day in court and that you have the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. But then you said, “If rights is absolute and if the government cannot regulate the rights of individuals, then the Constitution of the Philippines is inconsistent and has a lot of conflicting provisions.”
Rights are absolute in the sense that they must be consistent with your nature and rights as a human being. If your right to your life were limited or denied by the government, then all other rights are also limited, not possible or cannot be exercised. But I know where you’re coming from. Do you mean to say we can do whatever we want since I stated here that right is absolute? You have the right to your own life, but you don’t have the right to take the life of your neighbor. However, we have adopted the noble doctrine of self-defense, which holds that you must hold your ground when in the right. That when somebody wants to kill you, you cannot simply retreat to the ground. You have to defend your life against your aggressor because it would be immoral if you let your killer take your life for no reason at all without defending your self.
You have the right to your property, but you don’t have the right to take away the property of others. That’s why in a Republican or a free society, we have a system that protects individual rights. We have a legal system to protects us against thieves, murderers, and anyone who attempts to commit any form of infraction or crime against our person or honor. We have the Court to settle disputes, or breach of contract, among others. We have the police force to protect the defenseless against those who initiate the use of force. We have the military to protect us against rebellion or invasion. Essentially it is the only role of the government to protect individual rights and not limit or destroy them. Is right absolute? Absolutely yes, but you don’t have the absolute right to invade or breach the “absolute” rights of your neighbor, otherwise you have to face the full force of the law.
The commenter made a follow up comment: “I believe that freedom of speech and freedom of the press are not absolute. The Supreme Court, in a number of cases, has allowed the regulation of the exercise of these freedom concerning election-related laws.”
Here’s my answer:
All rights are absolute. What you said is a relativist point of view of rights. The relativist point of view means nothing is absolute. That rights are not absolute. A right must be absolute, otherwise it can be subjected to compromise, modification or limitation. When I said that a right, say, right to free speech, is absolute, this same right cannot be breached by the government arbitrarily without any valid ground.
What I am doing right now- which is blogging- is absolute. It means that I am absolutely exercising my right to free speech. Right is and must be absolute, otherwise it is incomplete. But that doesn’t mean that you have the right to breach or violate the rights of others, otherwise you must face the full force of the law. What I’m saying is premised on the fundamental law of logic: The Law of Identity and the Law of Causality. Law of Identity means “you cannot eat your cake and have it too.” The Law of Causality means “you must bear the consequences of your act.” If you kill somebody because you misunderstood my point that “right is absolute” so you assumed that you have the absolute right to kill your neighbor, then you must face the ultimate consequence of your idiocy.
The commenter also stated the following: “I have seen Willie Revillame using his own TV program to promote Villar’s candidacy. This is unfair to all candidates.”
Here’s my reply:
Yes, he (Revillame) is promoting Villar, but that doesn’t mean that the government can now intervene to regulate Willie Revillame’s right by threatening him to “go on leave.” But what is clear is that the government cannot regulate the minds of Willie’s viewers. That’s why I said, this bill presumes that Filipino voters are stupid that they must be guarded against “celebrity influence.” If it is influence that the government seeks to regulate, then what about the high priest of Iglesia ni Cristo who’s imposing on his members a block vote policy? How about other religions and groups? How about the king-makers who are more influential than celebrities. If this is the case, why not regulate all influence peddlers and not simply single out the celebrities?
No, Enrico, the government cannot control your mind. When you watched Willie endorsing Manny Villar, were you influenced by him? If not, then that means you are NOT STUPID! See? The purpose of this law is to guard people against their purported STUPIDITY. Yes, this law was authored by political idiots who thought the Filipino people are not capable of making personal decisions and valid choices.