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Sunday, December 19, 2010

"The Natural Right of Acquisition-NOT Provision."

"In a city, such for instance as Bath [England], which contains between twenty and thirty thousand inhabitants, the right of electing representatives to the Parliament is monopolized by about thirty-one persons.  And within these monopolies are still others.  A man even of the same town, whose parents were not in circumstances to give him an occupation, is debarred, in many cases, from the natural right of acquiring one, be his genius or industry what it may."

-Thomas Paine, "Rights of Man." (pg. 53)



Thomas Paine, in his 1791 piece the "Rights of Man," explicitly defines a natural right and a civil right, and the distinctions and connections between the two.  Mr. Paine, having failed at almost everything he did in life, except writing, and who, even though he hung around with Gentleman, was himself, no Gentleman.  In fact, when he first came to America in 1774, he was arranged by Benjamin Franklin, then in England, to be some kind of clerk or assistant surveyor.   In England, he had been a corset maker, owned a tobacco shop, and had twice been an excise collector.  While an excise collector,  he wrote a pamphlet titled "The Case of the Officers of Excise,",in which Paine "joined excise officers asking Parliament for better pay and working conditions," published in 1772, according to his Wikipedia page, as well as his biographer, John Keane, in his book, "Tom Paine, A Political Life."  Paine was no rich man nor was he a noble.  He had to sell off most of his possessions in England in order to buy passage to America and begin a new life there in 1774.  Paine was of the working class of society, a commoner, somewhere in the ranks of what could be called a "middle class."  And he fought for the rights of the commoner throughout his life too.  Indeed, according to Gordon S. Wood, in his book "Revolutionary Characters, What Made the Founders Different," Englishman John Keane, Paine's "most thorough and recent biographer," writes the following concerning Paine:

"'Paine made more noise in the world and excited more attenetion than such well-known European contemporaries as Adam Smith, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, Immanuel Kant, Madame de Stael, Edmund Burke, and Pietro Verri.'  "Paine's Common SenseThe Rights of Man, and The Age of Reason 'became the three most widely read political tracts of the eighteenth century.'  His vision of a decent and happy life for ordinary people in this world is still 'alive and universally relevant...undoubtedly more relevant than that of Marx, the figure most commonly identified with the  ninteenth- and twentieth-century political project of bringing dignity and power to the wretched of the earth.  [N]ot only is Paine's bold rejection of tyranny and injustice as far-reaching as that of his ninteenth-century successor, but his practical proposals...are actualy more radical than Marx's, mainly because they managed to combine breathtaking vision, a humble respect for the ordinary folk, and a sober recognition of the complexity of human affairs'."  (Wood, 207)

Indeed, Wood writes, "[u]nlike liberals of the twenty-first century, Paine and other liberal-minded thinkers of the eighteenth century tended to see society beneficent and government as malevolent.  Social honors, social distinctions, prerequisites of office, busniness contracts, legal priviledges and monopolies, even excessive property and wealth of various sorts-indeed all social inequities and deprivations-seemed to flow from connections to government, in the end from connections to monarchical government."  (Wood, pg. 210.)

And to throw a bone to those modern day "liberals" of this day in age, or rather, those socialist leaning, Marxism-loving politicians and Democrats who label themselves "liberal," and who abhor war for whatever reason they may, Wood writes, 

"But Paine and other liberals went further in their radicalism.  In that new and better world that Paine and some other revolutionaries envisioned, war itself might be abolished.  Just as enlightened liberal Americans sought a new kind of republican domestic politics that would end tyranny, so too did many of them seek a new kind of international republican politics that would promote peace among nations.  Paine very much shared this enlightened vision," (Wood, pg. 210).  Indeed, In theRights of Man Paine rampages on war as merely a means of despotic governments to raise taxes on the citizens of a country.

However, now that we have establish this reputation of Paine as a radical, liberal thinker, one who was not among the top tiers of American and British society, who fought for the the end of tryanny and for the rights of the common man, and one in which all Americans and all men and women in the world would be inspired to read and learn from,  let us return to the quotation introducing this note.

Paine writes that all men (and women) have the natural right of acquiring an occupation.  The keyword here is "acquire."  There are many today who feel that all humans, or at least Americans, are entitled, or have the natural right of being provided a job.  Indeed, FDR's  "Second Bill of Rights," which thankfully never become law (and never could become law, which is a debate for another time), said the following:

"It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.
This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.
As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.
We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.”[2] People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.
Among these are:
The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
The right of every family to a decent home;
The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
The right to a good education.
All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.
Americas own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for all our citizens.
For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world."

FDR and Democrats during the Great Depression era took money, economic security, and material possessions to be the salvation of mankind, the key to being "free."  He thought that all men and women were entitled to these things, to be provided these things by someone somhow, most prefferably the government.  He and others like him thought that all men and women had the "right to an occupation, a house, a good education, the "right of adequate protection from economic fears of old age, unemployment," the right to adequate medical care, etc.  FDR and others, then, and still today, feel it is the government's responsibility to PROVIDE these things for the citizens of America, and they seek to do so by taxation.  

Now, let us compare the above "Second Bill of Rights" to the quotation by one of America's most important founding fathers, Thomas Paine, the quotation used to introduce this note.

"In a city, such for instance as Bath [England], which contains between twenty and thirty thousand inhabitants, the right of electing representatives to the Parliament is monopolized by about thirty-one persons.  And within these monopolies are still others.  A man even of the same town, whose parents were not in circumstances to give him an occupation, is debarred, in many cases, from the natural right of acquiring one, be his genius or industry what it may."

What is the difference between what Paine is saying here, and what FDR was saying in his "Second Bill of Rights?"  The difference is the presence of one word in the former, and lack of the same word in the latter.  That would is ACQUIRE.  Paine said that all men have the natural right to ACQUIRE an occupation; to acquire and collect private property; to acquire a decent home; to acquire adequate medical care; to acquire "adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;" to acquire economic security; to acquire a good education; TO ACQUIRE, NOT BE PROVIDED by any agency, be it the government or some other organization.  When one acquires, he/she earns and exchanges something for something; they are not provided something for nothing.  They earn it by their "genius or industry."  

Paine, in his "Rights of Man," established a natural right as "those which appertain to man in right of his existence. Of this kind are all the intellectual rights, or rights of the mind, and also all those rights of acting as an individual for his own comfort and happiness, which are not injurious to the natural rights of others." He then established a civil right as "those which appertain to man in right of his being a member of society. Every civil right has for its foundation some natural right pre-existing in the individual, but to the enjoyment of which his individual power is not in all cases, sufficiently competent. Of this kind are all those which relate to security and protection."  But, if the right to acquire things, materials things, like property, an occupation, money, medical care, education, etc. is a natural right, then it has not yet been deposited into that common stock of rights that the society enjoys, and has not yet been established as a civil right.  This is because it is effective for all men/women to acquire these things of themselves, of their own "genius or industry."  Thus it is neither a natural right, nor a civil right, to be PROVIDED with anything, even financial security.  Rather, what Paine is speaking of when he says "security and protection," is the security and protection of not only our natural and civil rights, but security and protection of our persons.  National security; security against invasion of our borders, our lands, our towns, and our rights and liberty by enemies or tyrants foreign or domestic.  It does not mean, however, that financial security, in the way of provision of finances by the government, like social security, is included in our civil or natural rights.  

Paine was for the rights and improvement of the plight of the common man, he being one himself.  But he also expected that all common men and women, indeed all men and women, would use their own genius and industry to acquire their own material possessions, finances, occupations, etc, and that the government would merely protect the rights of the common man to acquire and maintain those things.  In his view, it was tyrannical to tax one portion of the society in order to give and provide for another part of society, even if they were the poorest of the poor.  In Paine's world, it was the government that was the creator of all societal problems, not the answer to all of society's problems.  Why is it that we don't take a page from Paine's book, and start thinking this way again?  Margaret Thatcher said it best, when she said, "[t]he problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money [to spend]."  No one can guarantee anyone any material thing; eventually, it will all run out if all expect to have and be provided by government with what others have;  eventually, the source of plenty from whom we can take and provide to others will be picked bone dry.  But, what we can expect, is to be protected in our natural right to acquire material possessions, and in our civil right to have these private, acquired, material possessions protected by the government from arbitrary seizure by anyone, including the government.


Sources:

1.) "The Rights of Man." - Thomas Paine

2.) "Revolutionary Characters, What Made the Founders Different." - Gordon S. Wood




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