Thursday, April 8, 2010

In Defense of "Rights Abdicated"

In his partial rebuttal to "Rights Abdicated", David Cooney presented the following arguments with respect to my demonstration of the abdication of rights based on a logical analysis of the second amendment:
  1. That there may exist other reasons besides the reason cited in the second amendment for the right to bear arms, therefore this right is maintained even if the reason given by the founding fathers is falsified. David's argument claims that "Rights Abdicated" denies there can be any other reasons. It is further claimed that the argument does not consider the full context of the wording of the second amendment.
  2. That Hobbes' contract theory fails utterly and that rights are in fact simultaneously delegated and retained. Support for this is taken from the fact that, in the case of military or police, a delegation of the right to bear arms cannot successfully fulfill needs in all cases, leaving individuals with the right to bear arms in those cases where the military or police fail to provide protection. Although people have authorized military and police, they still have the right to individual protection.
First, I want to point out that my claim about the abdication of rights is not limited to the second amendment. The second amendment simply provides a good way of demonstrating the idea because it is written in argument form and may therefore be subjected to logical analysis.

Secondly, I want to reiterate that formal logical analysis is not subject to "intuitive" notions of logic. It may be the case that I have mistranslated the conditional or misunderstood a nuance of the formal system and thus arrived at my conclusion in error, however the conclusion itself is quite beyond opinion if the conditional is interpreted correctly. Appeals to anecdotes that outwardly appear unjust or unfair under the required conclusion nevertheless do not change the truth value of the proposition. Nor do historical vagaries change the truth value of a proposition; they merely serve to illustrate the erroneous ways that men are inclined to adopt.

Finally, I wish to note that parts of David's rebuttal are presented as if they are in conflict with what I have written when in fact they are in perfect agreement with my argument. In this regard, the rebuttal actually provides good examples of precisely what I am not claiming in my argument on the abdication of rights.

Social Contract

The first argument I wish to address is the second argument stating that Thomas Hobbes' claim that rights cannot be simultaneously delegated and retained is somehow warped or illogical. Taken as a whole, Hobbes' philosophy may be 'warped', but it is not without reason. The founders of the American republic did not construct a wholly new philosophy in plain view of the burning wreckage of Hobbes' system. Rather, the social contract is fundamental to the Western style of government. It is not a wrong or abandoned  idea; on the contrary, the social contract is a First Principle of liberal government and an axiom of our founders' political philosophy.(1) To discredit it is to cast our theory of government into the fire.

Under the social contract, the author of any action does indeed relinquish his personal claim to the act in lieu of the delegate. When we say that our government is obligated in some way to perform a duty, the only way we can rightfully reclaim that obligation is by unauthorizing the government's claim. The people and the government cannot both act in the same capacity at the same time. That is the social contract which is fundamental to the existence of government.

The social contract works because not all of our rights are inalienable.  An inalienable right is one that a person cannot physically give up to some other entity. For example, how can one transfer one's life to another? According to John Locke's philosophy, property is created by the act of labor and therefore can't be changed into the property of another since labor is a defining attribute of property (e.g. it is still "Rembrandt's painting" or "Stradivari's violin" in spite of who "possesses" the property). According to Adam Smith, one cannot consciously work toward a goal of unhappiness or against one's own interests. According Hobbes, one could not willingly submit to imprisonment or torture. All of these ideas influenced the founding fathers.

I consider the right to protection to be an inalienable right. However, this is not the same right as the right to bear arms, which would only provide a means of protection. There are other ways to secure protection besides bearing arms personally. If a person has a right to something, but not the means to secure the right, it is not necessarily the fault of the social contract or of some other externally imposed injustice.

We can authorize another to protect us, to feed us, to raise our children, to keep us healthy, to build us shelter, to make us clothes, and to fulfill many of our personal obligations. We may contract with another to perform many things that we would otherwise have the right (if not the power) to do for ourselves. Part of this important freedom of transferring the alienable rights to means forms the basis of associations and of community, and as I have mentioned already, of liberal government.

Bad Faith

In order to refute my argument, the rebuttal would need to address footnote #12 in which I claim that delegation itself implies that a right delegated is an atomic entity and that whenever the right is delegated and simultaneously retained, this can only be an act of "no confidence" against the delegate; a type of injustice or contradiction. A falsehood.

The no-confidence rule essentially states that, although I authorize you to act in my name, I know that you won't be able to fulfill the obligation under the contract and therefore I retain the right for myself also. This equates to delegation made in bad faith.

It is a fact that David's rebuttal is in complete agreement on this point since it specifically uses the language of bad faith:
...no one with any use of reason can argue that the police are meant to be everywhere at all times.
...they typically arrive after the fact.
...they are responding to crime, not preventing it.
..the police cannot always be there to provide it.
In other words, we have authorized an organization to act in our name that can't provide us with the protection we claim a right to. Hence, it comes as no surprise that police officers and military personnel might hold the opinion that civilians ought to protect themselves whenever possible. We claim the right to protection, but no longer have faith in the power to secure it when we delegate it to other people.

In such a state of bad faith, those who suspect that the delegation of powers will not fulfill the contractual obligation of protection might take up arms for their own protection. This would not be entirely unjust if the delegate were actually in breach of contract, although the proper course of action is to remedy the situation by first retracting or reducing the authorized powers through modification of the social contract. This is the rule of law.

A more likely scenario for the so-called "retention" of rights is that--realizing, a priori,  the weakness and limitations of those whom we authorize to act in our behalf--we only transfer a portion of the powers authorized by our right to the third party, retaining only reduced powers that become justly regulated.

In other words, there arise ways in which we may not bear arms and we must also procure special government permission in order to conceal and carry them. With regards to our rights, we become casuists, subdividing rights and applying them to specific cases. When this happens, it is not an infringement of the rights when we must refrain from acting as police or soldiers, but rather a voluntary abdication of rights under the social contract. This is the regulation of rights.

In a separate vein of thought, it matters less to the subject that they have a right to something if they do not have the effective power to satisfy the right. Also, if the power of a right can only be achieved through a delegation of that right to a corporate entity, then it is still nonsense to say that the author retains the power that he otherwise would not have in the first place. Here I am making a distinction between rights and powers.

The material point of all this is that the individual and the government may not justly act simultaneously in the same capacity. Therefore, rights must be delegated and not retained under the rule of law. Rights also become subject to regulation when sub-divided and delegated. This is not contrary to the American theory, but essential to it.

Sound Logic

The first argument in the rebuttal states that my logical analysis is deficient. In fact, if we look closely at the argument, we see that the rebuttal actually agrees with what I originally claimed, therefore it cannot succeed to show deficiency. By my argument I do not deny that there can be other reasons for the right to bear arms and in fact I made this very point:
The power to bear arms may still not be infringed even if the antecedent is false...
I am quite aware of the logical outcomes of an implication, which is the form that I presumed that the second amendment naturally takes. If the second amendment really is a simple implication, then we must suppose that there could possibly be any number of other reasons for the right to bear arms.

What I did claim is that an implication, where the antecedent is shown to be false, is unsound by reason of modus ponens. In other words, I am saying exactly what the rebuttal claims I am not: that the right, if it remains, remains only because of some other unexplained reason and not by virtue of the nature of the right as explained by the founding fathers. Therefore, the second amendment is unsound not by opinion but by the laws of logic--a fact sufficient to demonstrate that this right to bear arms itself is susceptible to social contract because the natural reason (protection from tyranny) is superseded by some other arrangement that precludes us from enjoying the right according to the original intent. The rebuttal did not address modus ponens.

My logical analysis may be deficient in another way. It has been pointed out to me that the second amendment is most likely a definition and not an implication. I am persuaded by this assertion because legal documents do not typically deal in implications, only in the definite. Therefore, the fact that the founding fathers chose to qualify the conditions of the right to bear arms requires us to presume that the right (which is a natural right that requires a reason) remains intact if and only if the antecedent remains true.

If the second amendment is a definition, then it is a biconditional proposition and it is absolutely true beyond question that there exist no other reasons to suppose we have a right to keep and bear arms other than to secure the State against the tyranny of federalism. If we aren't maintaining our arms to that end, then we hold them against our own right or only under regulation. This result is guaranteed by the laws of logic in spite of whatever personal feelings we may hold. It is very significant that the founding fathers qualified the right to bear arms by bringing into view the natural basis for the right itself.

This biconditional interpretation is very plausible. The Bill of Rights is clear in stating that there are other rights not enumerated. It states no such thing about reasons.

Some Rights Are Obligations

The notion that all of our unclaimed rights are inalienable is incorrect. The Bill of Rights does not require us to take up our rights, nor does it prohibit us from assigning them to another entity under the social contract. The logical analysis of the second amendment is a clear proof of this: We are not required to retain the right to bear arms because we are not maintaining well-regulated militias in order to protect State interests from federal power. Instead, we continue to grant federal power for a professional specialized military force against which the State cannot be secured by militia. The right to bear arms is clearly abdicated for this reason. What we retain is a regulated privilege to bear arms.

Some rights, such as the right to bear arms in order to preserve the security of the State, demand individual and community attention.  The militia was once understood to be a civic duty, or an obligation.

Freedom is sometimes found in the transfer of obligations. If, rather than a personal obligation for the security of the State, or for the education of children, or the maintenance of health, or the production of goods etc., we elect to pay (probably a tax or a wage) for someone else to do the job for us, then we can be theoretically "freed" from the obligation. One meaning of freedom is not having obligations to distract us from the other pursuits we feel are necessary to our happiness.

How curious is it that we often give up rights in order to become free and that freedom has come to signify dependence on others rather than independence? I alluded to this more than once in my original argument.

Ever since the mid-nineteenth century in America, the pursuit of happiness apparently coincides with the pursuit of financial gain, of power and influence, and of material goods. In order to get gain and have "the greatest good", we must not hold too many personal obligations that would disturb us from the singular pursuit of more than we need. This is a monumental tragedy indeed, but I maintain that my original argument is basically sound and that the basis of this tragedy is not to be found in the unjust infringement of rights by a corrupted government, but in the freedom held by a corrupted and forgetful people. Liberal democracy ensures, as George Bernard Shaw once observed, that we shall be governed no better than we deserve.



1. It has been suggested that the central principle of liberal self-government--the social contract--is incompatible with Catholic social teaching (see, for example, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_contract#Criticisms_of_natural_rights ). The social contract presumes a somewhat different genesis of rights than does Christian and specifically Catholic teaching. Because of this, social contract theory would allow a people to pursue interests that are contrary to Christian principles, which I believe is adequately demonstrated in the state of American democracy today. I know that David Cooney is quite sympathetic to the ideals of Catholic social teaching, as am I. While I admit that social contract facilitates the pursuit of greed and excess, I also believe that it can be equally useful toward the ends of Christian democracy. I believe that we have used the social contract to drift ever further from the original intent of the founding fathers. This perspective may help to clarify my purpose in writing the original essay on "Rights Abdicated".

2 comments:

The Untergeek said...

You said,

How curious is it that we often give up rights in order to become free and that freedom has come to signify dependence on others rather than independence? I alluded to this more than once in my original argument.

I was immediately reminde of the curiously prophetic words of George Orwell, War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. Hopefully we can all get past ignorance and learn how to govern ourselves properly. Ignorance most assuredly is not strength.

Peter McCombs said...

Thanks for the comment! I've been thinking lately about how complex "freedom" really is. I've considered exploring the idea in another essay to see if I can solidify some of my thoughts on the matter.