Kopp Column: Right Vs. Rights


Gun rights.

Abortion rights.

Right to free speech.

We’re flooded with political messages about rights. Mr. Obama made many mentions of “rights” in his second inaugural speech, especially gay rights. What is missing from today’s debate over laws, issues and standards is not the subject of rights, but the subject of rightness, in other words, what is right? Mr. Obama likes to receive adulation for his support of gay rights, but he avoids the issue of right and wrong. He and others like him believe two men may have the right to practice sodomy, but they refuse to address whether sodomy is right.

The two concepts of exercising your rights and being right are only sometimes identical, only incidentally. They are not the same thing and come from different sources. Rights are established by society and culture and enforced by that culture’s governing authority. Right (and wrong) are established by a higher order or natural law and enforced by culture. Sometimes the governing authority also enforces what is right. Modern America is consumed with rights but tries hard to avoid the issue of rightness. Modern Americans prefer to deal with man-conceived “rights” rather than the source of what may or may not be “right.”

The government is not a standard of what is right and is at best, a week arbiter of rights. Rights as established by a government can change with as little as the stroke of a pen such as when Congress and Abraham Lincoln abolished the “right” to own another human as a slave. They agreed to remove this right because they felt it was not right.

Rights can also be changed by a vote of the electorate (those who have the “right” to vote). Rights also shift with judicial decision. For example a pre-born child no longer has the right to be born alive, but the pre-born child’s mother has the right to terminate the child’s life. Is it right?

The question of right versus rights starkly divides political beliefs. Simply put, liberals believe rights granted by government support what they believe to be right standards. Liberals also abhor the concept of moral absolutes, natural law and a higher order. Liberals such as Jeremy Bentham believe something is right if it promotes the greatest amount of happiness and the greatest absence of pain. Though Bentham is credited with defining this concept of “right” nearly 200 years ago, his ideals are the powerhouse in today’s America.

On the other hand, conservatives believe the standard of right (and wrong) is superior to government-declared rights. Conservatives believe political man is also subject to a transcendent (over-arching, overall) moral order to which society shall submit in order to achieve both order and longevity. Conservatives do not look to government to perform this function. Lasting order and longevity will never happen by government edict alone. At best order may be a goal, to be hoped for in both society and in government.

What happens when natural law rightness and government ordained rights are in conflict? Will dis-order rule the moment? It is on this point that faux-conservatives will abdicate their assent to a higher moral order and will submit to situational rights just to maintain order. Some people call them “Republicans in Name Only” or RINOs, falsely assuming that only true Republicans are true conservative. RINOs or faux-conservatives become Bentham liberals or progressives, achieving peace and avoiding pain.

Is that the right thing to do?

Mike Kopp has exercised his political muscle as a media director to two statewide campaigns, a television political reporter, a lobbyist, and staff assistant to the Senate Majority Leader. He is currently a communications contractor working from his home in Wilton, ND.

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  • Yogibare

    Well said !
    It seems to me that people have the desire to make a “right” out of something that is in common practice such as a right to any partner we desire for marriage, or for a job that pays us the amount of wages we think we should have for working, etc.
    One can look at the FDR monuments / memorial in Washington DC and read FDR’s list of “rights”. How convenient for him—they fit right into his big government agenda, and they got him elected and re-elected till he was “president for life”.
    Americans are trading government handouts for freedom. As was said long ago: We trade security for freedom; hence we we will have neither.

  • sbark

    Our inherint weakness as a system—-Our Founding Fathers created this 5000 year leap in Govt, a once in human history system for a Moral and principled group of citizens.
    Everything the Left has embarked on over the last 50 yrs is an effort to slowly undermine that need. The Welfare state and all its degredation to society, Removal of anything Christian from Schools, Courthouses, public displays at Christmas, the distortion of their claim to Separation of Govt and religion–of which there is no such thing in the Constitution or the Dec of Independence. Add in abortion and its attack on life itself, the lefts drug culture, hollywood sex culture and its neverending violence culture.
    The Lefts injection of moral decay into our system is like pouring water into a cars gas tank and expecting it to perform correctly.

    • two_amber_lamps

      Well said.

  • Roy_Bean

    They try to deprive us of our “right to work” while they guarantee every one a right to a place to live, food to eat and a cell phone to text on.

  • Thresherman

    I quite disagree with Kopp on this, not so much on what he is saying as what he is basing it on. Right and wrong are moral concepts and some people can believe that they are the product of their particular religion while others can believe that they are the product of society, while others can ascribe them to a combination of both. But what is “right” is an evolving thing. Prior to the Civil War some people believed that owning another human being as property was right and even found biblical backing for their position. The same is true of women;s sufferage and ability to hold and own property, it too was once deemed right and biblically correct that they not be able to do so. Most people today would not take those positions although they were once commonly held.

    But is his position on rights that I most disagree with. Our founders stated that certain rights are inalienable or that they are not alienable or able to be subject to be taken away by government decree. Governments may try to do so, but that is the dividing line between a free system of government and a totalitarian one.

    Now there are things that governments declare as rights but really are no such thing. The government may say that you have the right to be free from want or fear and a man adrift alone in the middle of the ocean may claim them but he will not get them and so they are not rights at all.

    When Kopp says, “On the other hand, conservatives believe the standard of right (and wrong) is superior to government-declared rights.” he is treading on dangerous ground. When we begin to believe that our inalienable rights are “government declared” we have surrendered to the concept that a government that can declare them can also un-declare them. A point that I doubt conservatives, especially this conservative, will concede for it undermines the fundamental concept that a people who believe they are endowed with inalienable rights can have as a government one that derives is powers from the consent of those same people.

    Conservatives certainly operate from a moral basis but to lump our inalienable rights in with pseudo-rights and then claim that our morality trumps them is not something I can agree with.

    • Neiman

      “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, . . .”

      “Endowed (a gift) by our Creator (Nature’s God).” Thus, those rights are a result of the moral laws of God, they are based on those moral laws and absent those moral laws and the God that created them, they do not exist at all. Jefferson and our Founding Fathers simply recognized the source of those moral rights and asserted that He was the sole Guarantor of those Rights.

      That is NOT a conservative position – it is the position of our Founding Fathers.

      • http://realitybasedbob.sayanythingblog.com/ realitybasedbob

        Except for the homos, right Old Pal?

        • Neiman

          I am still waiting to hear how your god saves you without your having faith in Christ and your being born again. Why do you waste time with other issues and fail to answer this simple question?

          I am not you pal, therefore you are a damned liar.

          I notice you love crawling out of your lair in hell every Sunday to spread your anti-Christ filth. Oh, that is the day you set aside to serve Satan, right?

          Gays have now and always have had equal rights – there is NO right to marriage in the Constitution and no right therein to willingly engage in deviant, wicked, perverse, unnatural sexual conduct . What you want, your being gay too, is special rights for yourself above heterosexuals and that is unconstitutional.

        • $8194357

          You still have freedom of speech grasshopper..

      • Thresherman

        So because the founders held that position, conservatives can not? When judged on their acts and deeds, conservatives consistently are more in line with the thoughts and views of the founders than those on the left who constantly refer to them as “a bunch of dead white guys” and it is conservatives who hold to the ideal that the Constitution should be interpreted according to the intents and designs of the Founders and not by those of the left who want to impose the views of themselves and use the laws of other nations in interpreting our own.

        When I hear a liberal say that the “right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” and mean it and when they agree that the 1st Amendment guarantees the freedom of speech, the press AND religion, then perhaps I will concede that their beliefs are in line with the Founders. But as long as they aver that portions of the Bill of Rights are inviolate and others are not, I will continue to view them as a threat to freedom and and not true believers of liberty.

        • Neiman

          I think it is a conservative position and I agree conservatives are generally more in harmony with our Founding Fathers in such matters. I agree that holding out the lie of the Constitution being a living document, in their definition, open to arbitrary redefinition, they are a threat to liberty. I take the Bill of Rights literally and that they can only be amended by the people and ANY restriction of the right to keep and bear arms outside the amendment process, ANY kind, are unconstitutional.

    • Mike

      And so we had 10’s of thousands of white men die because they did not agree that it was right for another human to be owned. They did it because they felt it was right. Thus, the overarching belief in a moral authority prevailed over the “rights” of slave ownership — and white men died for the right of those people of color to be free.

      • http://realitybasedbob.sayanythingblog.com/ realitybasedbob

        the overarching belief in a moral authority

        • Mike

          I’m sorry, but your point escapes me.

          • two_amber_lamps

            Your first mistake was assuming Booby’sWorld had a point to begin with.

          • http://realitybasedbob.sayanythingblog.com/ realitybasedbob

            Really, Mike? Does it really?

        • donwalk

          No, the overarching belief in where the “entitlement authority” resides is what you meant to display.

    • Mike

      Dangerous ground? No danger at all. There is no danger in determining right versus wrong. Liberals prefer to avoid that issue, to avoid the possibility of a higher moral authority, preferring (often with rabid and scurrilous attacks) to believe that humans are the final arbiter of what is right and wrong.

  • Neiman

    It is an act of misdirection to say Lincoln abolished the right to own another human being by a stroke of the pen; that was NEVER a right in this country – it was never a Constitutionally permissible act; our Declaration of Independence declared all men to be equal and free, it was a perversion of those rights that the Southern Democrats used to justify their racism and slavery and Lincoln only insisted those rights be enforced.

    I am a virtual purist of the Bill of Rights, it starts with an absolute prohibition against Congress passing any laws whatsoever to infringe on any of these enumerated rights. If it does not exist in the Bill of Rights, absent the Amendment process, it is unconstitutional to insert it – period. Examples: Crying fire in a crowded theater is not prohibited nor is the Ten Commandments in any public building or prayer in schools. To add these things, absent the Amendment Process is an unconstitutional infringement.

    If you think gun registration, as even many Republicans say, is a good idea, a reasonable regulation, if that is the way to change the Bill of Rights, because it just seems reasonable, then why is it unreasonable if any interest group, gaining power in Congress, simply declare changes in the Bill of Rights arbitrarily, because such changes seem reasonable and not a burden to them? Absent the Amendment process, you have nor rights at all, as they can change from day to day based on the whims of the party in power.

    • Guest

      Are you on some type of mission to prove how much of an arrogant idiot you are? Yes having a right to slaves was in the Constitution. Ever heard of the 3-5ths compromise, Commerce and Slave Trade Compromise, and in article four where it talks about fugitive slaves being required to be sent back to their masters? And that Democratic Party you are talking about was the party of Madison and Jefferson.

      • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

        Neiman is, indeed, an arrogant idiot, but you might want to research the history of the 3/5’s compromise a bit before you make assumptions about it.

        • Stan

          You may disagree with Neiman, but he’s no idiot and neither are you. Lowbrow insults are beneath you.

          • $8194357

            Alls fair for athiests attacking folks of faith,
            even if they hide under a “conservitive” label…
            Athiests conservitives are like RINO Republicans, IMO…

        • Guest

          I don’t know what you are trying to get at whether it was pushed by northerners or many anti slave people like it because it took representation from the South? The thing I would get at is that when they are referring to all other persons we know who it was about and what it did was give a legal recognition to slavery. And after all if as Neiman said they were regarded as equals under the Constitution there would be no need to recognize slaves as only 3-5ths of a person.

          • Neiman

            It is impossible to rationally engage someone like you that suffers from a raging ego and an inability to focus their attention on the facts.

            Despite this expansive wording, the Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states that had seceded from the Union, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states. It also expressly exempted parts of the Confederacy that had already come under Northern control. Most important, the freedom it promised depended upon Union military victory.

            From the first days of the Civil War, slaves had acted to secure their
            own liberty. The Emancipation Proclamation confirmed their insistence
            that the war for the Union must become a war for freedom. It added moral force to the Union cause and strengthened the Union both militarily and politically. As a milestone along the road to slavery’s final
            destruction, the Emancipation Proclamation has assumed a place among the great documents of human freedom.

            With the Emancipation Proclamation, the aim of the war changed to include the freeing of slaves in addition to preserving the Union. Although the Proclamation initially freed only the slaves in the
            rebellious states, by the end of the war the Proclamation had influenced and prepared citizens to advocate and accept abolition for all slaves in both the North and South. The 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in the United States, was passed on December 6th, 1865.

            So, could you say that the Emancipation Proclamation amended the Constitution or was it amended later by the 13th Amendment? Could you say that since it only applied to states having seceded from the Union, it meant that it only applied to them and not all of the United States, thus not having the effect of amending the Constitution; but ONLY recognized that slavery was not in conformity with the idea of equal rights under law, as I originally proposed and you, seeking desperately to find any issue to try and defeat me over, proved yourself to be a bit of a hate filled fool?

          • Guest

            What does this have to do with the comment I made? I was simply asking a question about the 3-5ths Compromise to Rob above; nothing about the Emancipation Proclamation. I would say the Emancipation Proclamation was a temporary wartime measure; the 13th Amendment was an Amendment to the Constitution. If what you are attempting to say is true they would have never had to amend the Constitution, unfortunately the Constitution recognized the legality of slavery. Quit the nonsense, quack.

          • Neiman

            You desperately need to grow up, you are a child without any understanding or ability to debate any issue intelligently.

          • http://realitybasedbob.sayanythingblog.com/ realitybasedbob

            Do you think you’re smarter than Guest, Old Pal?

      • Neiman

        Like our Moderator, you seem to be handicapped in your reading comprehension. Like him, being an atheist too.

        If you would care to read it again and very slowly, in yours and Rob’s case, getting help from your intellectual superior, like a 5-year-old; you will find I spoke of the Declaration of Independence, our National Charter, which set forth our national goals/ideals, later being made into law in our Constitution. Thus, the framers were, in allowing for slavery, acting contrary to our charter, which declared equal rights for every citizen: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,
        that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,
        that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

        In selfish pursuits, our framers erred most seriously, violating the Declaration of Independence in ever allowing and as you suggest, many participating in slavery. So, Lincoln did not by a stroke of the pen amend the Constitution, he merely corrected an obvious error.

        If you and our Moderator would set aside your name calling and read my words more carefully, you might thereby avoid looking so foolish.

        • Guest

          What does a) atheism have to do with anything in my post b) what in my post would give you any impression of me as an atheist?

          Our Declaration states very few policy specifics, it states natural rights and the theory of social contract, and most of the document is example os the King of Britain being a tyrant. With all men created equal Jefferson himself was a slaveholder and believed that black people were inferior in mind and body. Jefferson himself didn’t approve of the Constitution when it was being ratified as he thought we should only revise the Articles if anything. Drawing those together as one in the same is no exact parallel.

          It is all nonsense. Jefferson’s actions with African Americans only two things can be arrived at either when he wrote the document he wasn’t thinking of African Americans or he was being a hypocrite. Beyond that the Declaration isn’t a Constitution it is reasons for declaring indepence. The Declaration does not have the force of law the Constitution does. In the Constituion, which is our Founding docement, it gave legal recognition to the right to own slaves. This is the bulk of my argument and this is simply the facts. Geez look at what happened in the Dred Scott Case; read the Declarations of Southern states when they say that the Union was violating Article 4 of the Constitution by not actually delivering back their slaves when they escaped to the North. The Constitution at the least allowed slavery and at the worst set a system that would enable slavery to continue. Honestly Neiman….give me a break…

          • Neiman

            The Declaration of Independence was our National Charter, like a corporate charter; they establish the goals the Constitution and by-laws of either are meant to fulfill. While it does not have the force of law, it sets forth what those laws should achieve and when the laws fail to achieve those goals, the laws must be changed or the Charter is meaningless.

            My main point in all of this is that slavery was always against the spirit of the Declaration and thus Lincoln did not amend the Constitution by a stroke of the pen, he recognized that slavery and the Declaration of our rights were incompatible with slavery.

            The balance of my statements remain unaffected and remain true. If you do not like my opinion, fine, I really don’t care.

          • Guest

            Of course Lincoln amended the Constitution, that’s why it is is called the 13th Amendment and that is why they 3-5ths Compromise and Fugitive Slave Clause are no longer a part of the Constitution we have today. What they did was reverse close to eighty years of Constitutional law. The balance of your statement above saying that slavery was never a Constitutionally permissable act is absolutely false. To say anything else is historic revisionism or simply rewritting history to what you wish it was to fit your narrative 150 years later..

    • Thresherman

      A purist on the Bill of Rights, as you claim you are, would know that it was never intended as a list of all the rights the people are entitled to, but rather was a document written to assure the people that the Founders created a system of government that agreed that rights were not bestowed by the government but held by the people and predated the government.

      • Neiman

        These rights came from Nature’s God and yes they predated the government, and further, I insist they were not bestowed by government, but that our Founding Fathers only recognized those rights to exist and insisted they be honored in all cases; and that represented the will of our people, mostly a Christian people. They very rights we recognized were honored by people of faith, because they knew in Europe what it was like to not have those rights and that to their peril.

      • Matthew Hawkins

        You are correct, in fact some people actually argued against the Bill of Rights stating if we just codified some rights future generations would interpret those as the only rights we have.

    • Thresherman

      Since I was the one who first interjected the issue of slavery into the conversation, I would point out that I quite clearly did not say that there was a right to own slaves but rather those that did so felt that they were morally right in doing so.

      • Neiman

        True! You did mention it first and yes, those doing so did indeed feel they were morally justified or did they? Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence and therein proclaimed everyone equal and having equal rights and yet owned slaves, not, if I recall correctly, ever setting them free until after his own death and no longer having a use for them. It is thus with almost all slave owners, if not all, that, they knew in their hearts it was wrong, but deceived themselves into finding it moral in their own eyes. I mean, in one breath declaring the equality of man and his/her endowment with certain unalienable rights and in the next breath treating them unequally by owning them and denying them full citizenship. I think with rare exception they knew they were wrong, but fearing the economic impact of treating them equally, convinced themselves they were okay before God.

      • Mike

        And there was a great mass who did not believe there was a right to own slaves…and they died because they believed not in a government-bestowed or government-endorsed “right” but because the rightness of the value of a human being, free and treated humanely was supreme and superior to that of a government-bestowed or government-endorsed right.

        • Matthew Hawkins

          Or a bunch of poor young men actually went to fight the wars of rich old men and really didn’t care about the issues, as it as always been throughout history.

  • Guest

    I don’t know what you are trying to get at whether it was pushed by northerners or many anti slave people like it because it took representation from the South? The thing I would get at is that when they are referring to all other persons we know who it was about and what it did was give a legal recognition to slavery. And after all if as Neiman said they were regarded as equals under the Constitution there would be no need to recognize slaves as only 3-5ths of a person.

  • Mike

    Wow. Just read some of the posted comments. Some insecure people can sure get downright nasty in their comments and discussion about a topic.

  • mickey_moussaoui

    “You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.

    “You cannot strengthen
    the weak by weakening the strong. ”

    “You cannot bring about prosperity by
    discouraging thrift. ”

    “You cannot lift the wage earner up by pulling the
    wage payer down. ”

    “You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting
    class hatred.”

    “You cannot build character and courage by taking away
    men’s initiative and independence.”

    “You cannot help men permanently by
    doing for them what they could and should do for themselves”.

    —Abraham Lincoln—

    (NOT the wannabe Kenyan Abraham Lincoln either)

    • Matthew Hawkins

      I got a bridge in Brooklyn if you want it.


      • two_amber_lamps

        Go ahead, impeach the source… the message still stands.

        • Matthew Hawkins

          The whole point of the quotes is to add the legitimacy of the source. Without that they are just a bunch of bromides.

          • two_amber_lamps

            Like most of what falls out of your mouth… good leftist… good boy!

          • Matthew Hawkins

            If you think that fortune cookie wisdom is interesting, than good for you.

          • donwalk

            Not near as interesting as you claiming that Abraham Lincoln needed to create additional legitimacy for himself.

          • donwalk

            So your claim is “Abraham Lincoln” is lacking in legitimacy if he had not made those statements?
            Please post your explanation as to why he would need to create legitimacy for himself.

  • $8194357

    “Legal immigrant” skools “gun violence” anti 2nd Amendment group hearing..


  • Eric Wittliff

    Jeremy Bentham was the founder of Utilitarianism “the needs of the many out way the need of the one”. He was the opposite of a “Libertarian” at the time.

    John Locke was forming ideas about individual rights at the time, but made major flaws till your founding fathers made the huge jump. Then civil war time and the 14th amendment. To bad it was not till the 1950 and 60s did we really address how we are going to enforce equal protection.

  • silverstreak

    To say that Lincoln was any more idealist than the Founders may be a bit of a stretch,
    Since this discussion has morphed into a discussion about slavery.
    I would like to offer a few little known facts.
    History is written by the winners and often taught to students,the way it should have happened. Not the way it really happened.

    The Emancipation Proclamation really didn’t free any slaves at all.
    The key words are “in rebellion against The United Stated”
    It was merely a political move to keep The Confederacy from receiving foreign aid from Europe and to allow blacks to serve in the Union Army
    Even Lincoln’s Secretary of State,William Seward made this statement.

    “We show our symapthy with slavery by emancipating slaves where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them free.”


    Be sure and read the exceptions,if someone was a slave in states,such as Delaware and Maryland,they were still slaves!

    Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United
    States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-In-Chief
    of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed
    rebellion against the authority and government of the United States,
    and as a fit and necessary war measure for supressing said
    rebellion, do, on this 1st day of January, A.D. 1863, and in
    accordance with my purpose so to do, publicly proclaimed for the
    full period of one hundred days from the first day above mentioned,
    order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the
    people thereof, respectively, are this day in rebellion against
    the United States the following, to wit:

    Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana (except the parishes of St. Bernard,
    Palquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James, Ascension,
    Assumption, Terrebone, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans,
    including the city of New Orleans), Mississippi, Alabama, Florida,
    Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia (except the
    forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the
    counties of Berkeley, Accomac, Morthhampton, Elizabeth City, York,
    Princess Anne, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and
    Portsmouth), and which excepted parts are for the present left
    precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.

    Slavery was an issue in the Civil War but it was not the only factor and probably not the largest. Economics was probably a larger factor. 87% of the tariffs that the federal government received at that time came from the South. Considering that 90% of the Confederate soldiers never owned slaves,why would hundreds of thousands men die to support something that they had no part in?
    Even Lincoln said that he could not let the South go in peace because “Who would pay for the government”


    This is where the lines between right and wrong or good or bad become even more blurred.

    Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson didn’t own slaves but Union Generals Sherman and Grant did. As a matter of fact,Grant did not release his slaves until he was forced to do so by the 13th Amendment.


    It is also a little known fact that some freed slaves did actually own slaves themselves and about 65K blacks served in The Confederate army with about 13K seeing action.


    One of the things that I have learned over the years is that things are never as they appear.

    I hope that some of you find these facts interesting.

    • yy4u2

      Interesting. I’ve always thought of it as the feds squashing state’s rights. Now don’t get me wrong, I do not agree with slavery and would have had no hand in it, but it is state’s rights. With the advent of more modern ways to farm cotton, this probably would have taken care of itself without all the loss of life.

  • awfulorv

    Usually these Marxist, Leninist, Communist, movements begin through outside agitation. We just happen to be the only country which has allowed this cancerous form of government to evolve through the ballot box, twice. Tells ya how smart we are doesn’t it?