Kopp Column: Right Vs. Rights

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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?

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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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