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Notes from Chapter 2 – Section 5

Where do Rights come from?

Radicals introduced “natural rights” and Paine’s Rights of Man furthered the notion – man has embraced these vague notions and rights are often confused with desires

– UN put our lengthy list of “rights” but they are just mere aspirations

Rights are composed of two elements:

  1. Capacity of the individual to exercise it
  2. Corresponding duty

“If rights are confused thus with desires, the mass of men must feel always that some vast, intangible conspiracy thwarts their attainment of what they are told is their inalienable birthright.” (48)

Notes and Quotes from Edmund Burke

– Laws of Man are distortions or ratification of laws of God – natural rights are only those found in human nature

– Actual rights of man should be sacred things that are protected by charter and easily known to people that they may protect them too

“Man’s rights exist only when man obeys God’s law, for right is the child of law.” (49)

“Burke…says that natural right is human custom conforming to divine intent.” (50)

– Who are we to define down divine intent of “rights” and limit them? Our collective experience helps to understand divine intent and law.

– Folly to think that man can lie in a state of natural freedom (Rosseau) – Natural Law comes from human learning and our limited understanding of God’s law. Our laws are poor attempts at reflecting His eternal order of justice.

– God is our guide to understanding justice – not the other way around

– Human nature is defined by the civilized man rather than the “natural” man

– “Natural” man’s rights are varied and refracted and can’t be applied to a society’s or state’s political process

Purpose of Civil Society

“The purpose of civil society is ‘a conservation and secure enjoyment of our natural rights’; and to abolish or suspend these true natural rights, in order to conform to some fanatic scheme for establishing fancied rights of man, or on the pretext of protecting them more securely, ‘is a procedure as preposterous and cruel in argument as it is oppressive and cruel in its effect.’” (52)

Notes and Quotes from Edmund Burke

– He fought against the egalitarian’s foolish attempt to destroy artificial and natural aristocracies

– Civil society naturally generates an order that man is reasonable enough to comply with – we’re never in a natural states because we have reason. We’re not immature and infantile which is anarchy

Burke strongly opposed defining natural rights because it was an impossible task

“Men have no right to what is not reasonable, and to what is not for their benefit.” (52)

– When a natural right conflicts with justice, it ceases to be a right

– Man gave up the natural right to self-imposed justice when he framed societies. It defines the man version of justice

– Society is based on trust between people that they respect each other and their arbiter of justice. Individuals cannot dish out justice themselves.

“But a surrender in trust, one notes; although a man cannot enjoy civil society, he receives in its place a guarantee of justice. Violation of that trust can justify resistance, but nothing else can. Not only the dictates of justice bind men to mutual dependence, but the dictates of general morality also. Neither the savage nor the civilized man can help elbowing his neighbors; and whenever he does, in some degree his “natural” freedom must be restrained, for it endangers the prerogatives of others.” (53)

– Man cannot have “absolute liberty” because there is never a time when his actions don’t effect another or abdicate him of responsibility

– Providence is the natural guide of rights

“If civil society be made for the advantage of man, all the advantages for which it is made become his right. It is an institution of beneficence; and law itself is only beneficence acting by rule. Men have a right to live by that rule; they have a right to do justice, as between their fellows, whether their fellows are in public function or in ordinary occupation. They have a right to the fruits of their industry, and to the means of making their industry fruitful. They have a right to the acquisitions of their parents; to the nourishment and improvement of their offspring; to the instruction in life, and to consolation in death. Whatever each man can separately do, without trespassing upon others, he has a right to do for himself; and he has a right to all which society, with all its combinations of skill and force, can do in his favour. In this partnership all men have equal rights; but not equal things.”(54)

Purpose of Government

– In society, man has a right to equal justice, but not equal outcomes. Nature has no role for man to share equally without consideration of benefits for his production.

– Government is established to ensure justice and maintain order to the society that structured it

“Government is intended to provide for our wants and enforce our duties. It is not a toy to manipulate according to our vanities and ambitions.” (55)

Notes and Quotes from Edmund Burke

What are Natural Rights?

– Pure, natural rights only lead to anarchy for republics impinge on the natural state of man

– Natural Rights require personal representation in matters of state which make governing impossible

– Rosseau advocated for pure democracy so man would have no need for a parliamentary system

– The claim is man can act fairly within direct democracy or communism. Burke says no because each man has a different need, so he’ll see that need as a “right” to fulfill his nature. That is not beneficial to ever man so it ends up in anarchy.

“The true natural rights of men, then, are equal justice, security of labor and property, the amenities of civilized institutions, and the benefits of orderly society.” (56)

Notes and Quotes from Edmund Burke

– Man cannot exist in a state of “natural” right or equality. Such a state leads to the dissolution of society and order

– The natural principle of society is: obedience to natural order or “divine design.” Reason, utility, and material satisfaction of the masses to not fit the needs of society

“By proper regard, for prescription and prejudice, we discover the means of dutiful obedience. The collective wisdom of the species, the filtered experience of mankind, can save us from the anarchy of ‘the rights of man’ and the presumption of ‘reason.’” (57)

– Man only seeks a fraction of the eternal “Nature” so we have no right to tinker with the “heritage of humanity” for momentary satisfaction

– Nations are formed not for the moment but for the continuity of circumstances and events around a people.

– Government is formed our of providence to protect and continuation of the nation against the sometimes unwise man

– Social equality and political equality are not real rights but man naturally follows “hierarchy and aristocracy”.

  • Kirk, Russell. The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot – Seventh Revised Edition. Washington DC: Regnery Publishing Inc., 2001

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