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Commentary

A hierarchy of ‘rights’

Mon, May 07, 2007   |   Author: Ron Gray   |   | Share: Facebook | Twitter   

One of the moral and legal crises of our time is resolving the conflict between competing 'rights'. Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, like the Diefenbaker Bill of Rights which preceded it, and like American Bill of Rights, is an attempt to resolve those conflicts.

But there is a simpler code-one that goes all the way back to Aristotle-that can guide us in resolving competing rights.

The ancient logician gave us a hierarchy of happiness, ranging from satisfaction of physical desires, up through ego satisfaction, into contributing to society and culminating in serving the spiritual good.

An even simpler code, and one capable of resolving our 'rights' dilemmas, is to visualize human 'rights' as a house: the right to life is the foundation; the right to liberty is the main structure; the rights to personal property and freedom of expression are the two sides of the roof.

The right to own and use property, and the right to freedom of expression, are important to human happiness and to social peace and prosperity; they matter. But those rights mean nothing if the right to individual liberty is not protected. It doesn't matter that you have the right to own and control property (or ideas) if I can own you. For then I control everything you own.

Thus slavery-or any form of subordination of the individual to the will and/or benefit of another-is intolerable in a free society.

But the right to liberty is not absolute, either. For the right to individual liberty means nothing if you are dead. The right to life thus supersedes the right to individual liberty, freedom of choice, freedom to own property, freedom of expression-the whole gamut of freedoms.

The right to life, the right without which all other rights are meaningless, is the very foundation of the hierarchy of rights.

We urgently need to recover this ineluctable truth.



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