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THE CONCEPT OF "RIGHTS"

W. J. Sidis

ca. 1940

[Two-page MS, possibly not complete, found in Helena Sidis's files, 1977.]

The fundamental idea presented here is that of "rights." It


is rights-consciousness, more than anything else, that is being
appealed to. It is believed that Americans particularly think in
terms of their rights, and are more ready to fight for the rights of
the community than over any issues expressed in other terms.
A "right" is not necessarily one that is actually
obtainable under existing conditions. In fact, the very idea of
fighting to get rights implies that, at least in some important
respect, the rights people are entitled to cannot actually be had,
and a change must be attempted so that they may be able to
actually enforce and enjoy their rights.
By the American conception of "rights," they are not
mere privileges granted by permission of a government (which
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is the only way so-called European democracies can conceive
rights) and which that government can therefore take away at its
pleasure. On the contrary, a right is something
inherent―whether given by a supposed creator (as the
Declaration of Independence expresses it) or merely a direct
result of one's physical presence in the Western Hemisphere, or
whether it merely "grows," is unimportant; a government,
according to the Declaration of Independence, and still more so
according to the view of rights presented here, is totally
subsidiary to the rights of the people. Thus, a suspension of
citizens' rights during war for the defense of the government, is
part of the caricature of "democracy" as found elsewhere; in
America, though such a thing has been gotten away with
several times, it has always encountered extreme popular
opposition, and, according to the view of rights presented here,
forfeits the government's claim to existence and constitutes a
call on the people for a revolution. Anyone showing the slightest
support towards a government which has shown any tendency to
suspend the people's rights in its own defense, is a traitor to the
liberties of the people, and without any qualification or
exception being possible.
A right, then, is something to which every individual in
the community is morally entitled, and for which that
community is entitled to disregard or forcibly remove anything
that stands in the way of even a single individual getting it.
Rights belong to individuals, and no organisation has any rights
not directly derived from those of its members as individuals;
and, just as an individual's rights cannot extend to where they
will trespass on another individual's rights, similarly the rights
of any organisation whatever must yield to those of a single

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individual, whether inside or outside the organisation. And more
than ever is this true of a government (which includes any form
of organisation claiming power to control people or their
means of living); for this form of organisation exists exclusively
to protect the rights of everyone, and has no rights unless it
actually does so. Rights―to sum up―primarily belong to
individuals.
A few rights are considered fundamental―these are
enumerated in the Declaration of Independence as life, liberty,
and the pursuit of happiness; this definition, however, is vague,
and we attempt here to define further just what is meant. All
other rights are derivative, some being direct consequences of
the fundamental rights, and therefore inherent in everybody,
whether recognised by the community or not; others are simply
matters of policy, and fall rather in the class of privileges
specially granted by authority, and which can be taken away by
the same authority, and which must yield to any individual's
"personal" rights (those proceeding from the fundamental
rights). Freedom of speech, self-defense, and the right of
revolution (as proclaimed by the Declaration of Independence)
fall in the former class; the whole gamut of property rights fall
in the latter class, only having claim to existence on sufferance,
as long as nobody's rights are personally affected.
When an individual's rights are violated by a system of
government, or when the consent of the governed ceases to exist
or cannot be freely discussed, the government forfeits its rights
to existence, and the whole question of authority reverts to the
people, to abolish the existing authority by any means available
and set up whatever new form of organisation will actually

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guarantee the rights of everyone and hold the consent of the
governed. It is the rights of every individual, not those of a
majority only, that must be guaranteed; the bare principle of
"majority rule" is emphatically rejected by the view of rights
presented here. The principle is rather, as John Boyle O'Reilly*
has expressed it:
"That the health of a nation is perilled if one man be oppressed."
Discrimination due to accidents of birth, or to political
or religious opinions, forms a very important class of violations
of the right (or principle) of equality. Though such things exist
under the present system, they cannot be reconciled with the
principles of the Declaration of Independence or the views
presented here.
Part of such discrimination that is important for our
purpose is the matter of "frame-ups" whereby people often,
under the present set-up, have to take punishment or
responsibility for what someone else has done, and without
proper impartial efforts to ascertain the truth of the
matter―often with a deliberate attempt on the part of someone
to prevent a fair hearing from being had. This not merely
violates the victim's equal rights; it also violates the rights of
everyone in the community to protection against the offense
committed (assuming that such offense is actually a violation of
rights), by actually affirmatively protecting the actual offender
and giving such offender assurance of immunity. Such
"railroading" in effect makes all persons participating in it
accessories to the original offense.

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It is also important to remember that the whole group of
alleged rights known as property rights are not mentioned in the
Declaration of Independence's Preamble at all, and constitute no
part of the basic schedule of human rights. At best, they are a
device by which a community may deem it advisable to reward
services rendered, and cannot be extended to conflict with
personal rights, which are much more fundamental. Questions
such as wages, returns on investments, currency, taxation, etc.,
all belong to this class, and do not involve fundamental rights in
any way whatever. "Property rights" bulk larger than personal
rights in the activities of any government existing under the
present economic system, and displace everything else in the
estimation of such economic organisations as industries, unions,
etc.; but, from the point of view presented here, they merely
constitute interference with the issue, which is exclusively the
question of personal rights.
Organisations have no more rights than their members.
In particular, governments (including every organisation or
group claiming any sort of authority over others) have no rights
not directly derived from their duty to protect the fundamental
rights of the individual, and become offenders the moment they
attempt to overstep these limitations; if they actually violate the
fundamental rights of some individual, they forfeit their right to
existence, and therefore to such derivative rights as self-defense.
A government that, for instance, has imposed some form of
censorship on the expression of hostile opinions, is committing
an additional offense against the entire community if it attempts
to defend itself. The concept of rights given here presents this
point as extremely important.

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AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE SOCIETY

___________

* "John Boyle O'Reilly (1844-1890)―His death was mourned as the passing of a journalist, orator, patriot,
publisher and poet. John Boyle O'Reilly authored many works including four volumes of poems; a novel,
'Moondyne', based on his Australian experiences, and collaborated in another novel, "The King's Men".
O'Reilly was one of the most prominent journalists of his day promoting the rights of Jews, American
Indians and Blacks." Wikipedia

See also poem by O'Reilly in America's Search for Liberty in Song and Poem.

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THE EXTENT OF RIGHTS
W. J. Sidis
ca. 1940

[MS, 1p, unpublished, found in Helena Sidis's files, 1977.]

Although it is impossible to give a short account of the


exact extent to which individual rights apply, a little idea of the
general principles can be given.
The basic rights of "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness"
are necessarily vague on the basis of nothing more than this bare
statement. Equality is, not so much a basic right in itself, as a
principle by which these rights are to be interpreted. One must
definitely reject any notion that equality can carry any meaning
justifying a forced levelling by an authority above
everybody―this is a most flagrant violation of equality. It rather
means, in view of the fact that the subject of the declaration is
human rights and not rewards, social position, or anything else,
that no one can be by any interpretation accorded rights in a
community that cannot automatically be accorded to everyone
else at the same time. So that all rights must stop at the point
where there would be inference with the rights of another.
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"Pursuit of happiness" is likewise not to be considered as
meaning that everyone is entitled to do anything he pleased or to
demand of others anything he pleases. The same principle of
equality dictates that it must stop where the rights of others are
interfered with. It means, rather, freedom from restrictive
regulations in all things not interfering with the rights of others.
"Pursuit of happiness" means a very stringent restriction
limitation on rights of any authority whatever, and absolves
everyone from obeying any dictates of authority violating these
limitations.
The "equality" principle does not make any statements
regarding the capabilities of humans, and arguing the point on
that basis is a mere shifting of ground. It means equality of
rights, equality of opportunity, and has been expressed "Grant to
others all rights you would have others grant to you." Personal
guardianship, bossism, etc., common enough under the present
social system, really constitute a definite violation of the
principle of equality. Likewise, certain rights declared on a class
basis by some groups (such as the alleged right of private
enterprise on one side, or the alleged rights of unionising or
picketing on the other side) are, by this principle, inadmissible
as rights under the conceptions as advanced by the Declaration
of Independence.
Free expression of opinion, while not specifically
mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, is an essential
part of the "pursuit of happiness." It gains further importance
from the "consent of the governed" principle, whereby censored
opinions do not constitute real consent, and therefore undermine
the basis of existence of any authority whatsoever. The alleged

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"freedom of press" should be merely interpreted as part of this
particular derivative right, not as a special privilege on the part
of a particular industry to interfere with any individual's rights.
Similarly "freedom of religion" should be taken as part of the
free expression of opinion, not as special privilege for churches.
The right to do useful work for the community is life itself
for most people in a community, and should be so for all in the
community where equality is truly respected, any person or
group claiming the authority to deny this right to others is
morally no different from a deliberate murderer. From this
principle is deduced the type of new society advocated.
The "right of revolution" is also an important right in the
schedule of the Declaration of Independence, indeed basic with
that document. It is derived from the basis on which the right of
governments to exist rests―the consent of the governed. When
anyone's rights are violated by a system of government, or when
the consent of the governed ceases to exist or cannot be freely
discussed, the government forfeits its rights to existence, and the
whole question of authority reverts to the people, to abolishing
existing authority by any means available and set up whatever
new form of organisation will actually the guarantee the rights
of everyone and hold the consent of the governed. It is the rights
of every individual, not those of a majority only, that must be
guaranteed; the bare principle of "majority rule" is emphatically
rejected. The principle is rather, as John Boyle O'Reilly* has
expressed it:
"That the health of a nation is perilled if one man be oppressed."

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AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE SOCIETY

___________

* "John Boyle O'Reilly (1844-1890)―"His death was mourned as the passing of a


journalist, orator, patriot, publisher and poet. John Boyle O'Reilly authored many works
including four volumes of poems; a novel, "Moondyne", based on his Australian
experiences, and collaborated in another novel, "The King's Men". O'Reilly was one of
the most prominent journalists of his day promoting the rights of Jews, American Indians
and Blacks." Wikipedia

See also poem by O'Reilly in America's Search for Liberty in Song and Poem.

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