Monday, January 23, 2012

Liberty, Part III

“In the first place, Right is frequently taken for a personal quality, for a power of acting or faculty. It is thus we say, that every man has a right to attend to his own preservation; that a parent has a right to bring up his children; that a sovereign has a right to levy troops for the defence of the state, &c. In this sense we must define Right, a power that man hath to make use of his liberty and a natural strength in a particular manner, either in regard to himself, or in respect to other men, so far as this exercise of his strength and liberty is approved by reason. Thus, when we say that a father has a right to bring up his children, all that is meant hereby is, that reason allows a father to make use of his liberty and natural force in a manner suitable to the preservation of his children, and proper to cultivate their understandings, and to train them up in the principles of virtue. In like manner, as reason gives its approbation to the sovereign in whatever is necessary for the preservation and welfare of the state, it particularly authorises him to raise troops and bring armies into the field, in order to oppose an enemy; and in consequence hereof we say he has a right to do it. But, on the contrary, we affirm, that a prince has no right, without a particular necessity, to drag the peasant from the plough, or to force poor tradesmen from their families; that a father has no right to expose his children, or to put them to death, &c, because these things, far from being approved, are expressly condemned by reason.”


“We must not therefore confound a simple power with right. A simple power is a physical quality; it is a power of acting in the full extent of our natural strength and liberty: but the idea of right is more confined. This includes a relation of agreeableness to a rule which modifies the physical power, and directs its operations in a manner proper to conduct man to a certain end.”


“The main point is to distinguish here between physical and moral; and it seems that the word right, as Puffendorf himself insinuates, is fitter of itself than power, to express the moral idea. In short, the use of our faculties becomes a right, only so far as it is approved by reason, and is found agreeable to this primitive rule of human actions. And whatever a man can reasonably perform, becomes in regard to him a right, because reason is the only means that can conduct him in a short and sure manner to the end he proposes. There is nothing therefore arbitrary in these ideas; they are borrowed from the very nature of things, and if we compare them to the foregoing principles, we shall find they flow from thence as necessary consequences.”


“[W]e are to observe, that when reason allows a man to make a particular use of his strength and liberty, or, which is the same thing, when it acknowledges he has a particular right; it is requisite, by a very natural consequence, that in order to ensure this right to man, he should acknowledge at the same time, that other people ought not to employ their strength and liberty in resisting him in this point; but on the contrary, that they should respect his right, and assist him in the exercise of it, rather than do him any prejudice. From thence the idea of obligation naturally arises, which is nothing more than a restriction of natural liberty produced by reason; inasmuch as reason does not permit an opposition to be made to those who use their right, but on the contrary it obliges every body to favour and abet such as do nothing but what it authorises, rather than oppose or traverse them in the execution of their lawful designs.”


“[R]ights are perfect, or imperfect. Perfect rights are those which may be asserted in rigour, even by employing force to obtain the execution, or to secure the exercise thereof in opposition to all those who should attempt to resist or disturb us. Thus reason would impower us to use force against anyone that would make an unjust attack upon our lives, our goods, or our liberty. But when reason does not allow us to use forcible methods, in order to secure the enjoyment of the rights it grants us, then these rights are called imperfect. Thus, notwithstanding reason authorises those, who of themselves are destitute of means of living, to apply for succour to other men; yet they cannot, in case of refusal, insist upon it by force, or procure it by open violence. It is obvious, without our having any occasion to mention it here, that obligation answers exactly to right, and is more or less strong, perfect, or imperfect, according as right itself is perfect or imperfect.”

-Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui

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