The problem of rights inflation

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Inflation is such that even rights are affected: when everything asked by anyone is considered a right does that then make “rights,” as a word or concept, of minimal, little, or no value?

What are we to make of a desire? Or a demand? Or even a need? If a man wishes to be called a woman, is that a right that should be respected and made the subject of legislation? Should everyone acquiesce therefore and call that man, no matter how hulking or brutish, as “ma’am”?

What if that man desires instead — or perhaps not merely desires but needs a new heart or kidney, would that be considered a right entitling him to take such away from another?

What makes a right a right rather than a mere want or privilege?

A good starting point is the axiom: we have rights because we have responsibilities.

That is a paraphrase of Cardinal John Henry Newman’s letter to William Gladstone. He was actually talking about “rights of conscience” but it serves our purpose: we have rights because corollary to those right are duties. They go together.

“A” has the right to live peacefully because A also has the simultaneous duty to live to fulfill his humanity, his “human flourishing.” Speech, beliefs, faith, travel, association, and other so-called inherent rights are the same. They are all geared to capacitate A to fulfill that purpose.

“B” on the other hand has the obligation to leave A alone. Which makes another characteristic of a true right: it does not require anything else of B except to allow A to do his thing. A true right will not require B to do, give, or say anything just to fulfill A’s duty and right.

Our constitutional system is founded on those lines, of natural law and natural rights, from a long line of thinkers, from Aristotle to Aquinas, to the Enlightenment, making their way to our 1935 Constitution which, though containing traces of the Malolos Constitution, amongst others, saw the US Constitution (coming off the American Declaration of Independence’s natural law thinking: “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”) having the most influence.

Thus, Jorge Coquia: “It is understood that the civil and political rights now provided for in the 1973 constitution, as they were in the original constitution, are based on natural law.”

There is also international law, which the Philippines considers part of its legal system (though subservient to the Constitution) and has natural law as basis. Worth pointing out are the contributions of one man to The United Nations Declaration of Universal Human Rights: natural law thinker Jacques Maritain.

However, due to politics that influenced the development of international human rights law, as well as the highly confused woke dogmas regarding intersectionality (unfortunately now being taught in our local law schools), rights have become so inflated as to be absurdly meaningless and incoherent.

Take for example that concept important to rights talk: “marginalized communities.” Set aside for the moment that rights are for all and to be equally applied, what is a marginalized community? The voiceless? The powerless?

But if your community (which only constitutes around 1-5% of the population) dominates the national discussion, makes the country hold a day or even entire month celebrating you, is able to make corporations structure their marketing and business campaigns around you, have Congress legislate in your favor, see the Supreme Court set a month in recognition of your community, have government units hold parades in your honor, make universities adjust their academic policies to accommodate your will, demand churches cower and not teach doctrines that you disagree with would that still qualify as marginalized?

And perhaps because they know their advocacies are unacceptable in many countries, human rights activists picked on the tactic of preaching that international human rights laws are “sui generis.” But sui generis according to whom? Their fellow human rights activists?

Thus, Eric Posner (“The Case Against Human Rights,” The Guardian, Dec. 4, 2014): “The central problem with human rights law is that it is hopelessly ambiguous. The ambiguity, which allows governments to rationalize almost anything they do, is not a result of sloppy draftsmanship but of the deliberate choice to overload the treaties with hundreds of poorly defined obligations.”

Speaking of which, one malignant consequence of rights inflation is government inflation: an increasingly larger bureaucracy needing more and more taxes to feed it just to enforce every new privilege (disguised as “rights”) that come along.

This is why ultimately, we need a clearer, proper, and more accurate view of rights, to ensure that our citizens, particularly students (and definitely law students) do not have their minds confused and poisoned with ridiculous progressive ideologies disguised as “social justice” and “inclusivity.”

Jemy Gatdula is a senior fellow of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and a Philippine Judicial Academy law lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence


Twitter @jemygatdula