Superphysics Superphysics
Chapter 2

The Extent of the Natural Right of Man?

by François Quesnay Icon
4 minutes  • 716 words

The conventional right of man is his right depending on human laws.

The natural right of man differs from his conventional right in the sense that the natural right is based on the light of reason from its internal evidence. This evidence is independent of all other constraint.

Conventional right is limited by a positive law. It is obligatory by reason of the penalty attached to its transgression, by the sanction of this law, and can be known only by its being announced in the law itself.

From these different conditions, one sees the whole extent of natural right, and what distinguishes it from conventional.

Very often conventional right restrains the natural, because human laws are not so perfect as those of the author of nature, and because human laws are sometimes obtained by surprise, from motives, of which enlightened reason cannot always recognise the justice, which is the cause why legislatures often wisely abrogate laws which they themselves have made.

The multitude of absurd and contradictory laws successively established among nations, proves manifestly that positive laws often deviate from the immutable rules of justice, and the natural order most beneficial to the society.

Some philosophers, absorbed in the abstract idea of the natural right of man, which gives to each a right to every thing, have limited this natural right to a state of pure independence of men upon one another, and to a state of war among them, each struggling to obtain his unlimited right.

Thus, these philosophers pretend, that when a man is deprived by convention, or legitimate authority, of any portion of the natural right which he has to whatever is proper for his enjoyment, his general right is destroyed, and the individual becomes dependent on another by his contract, of by a coercive authority. He is no longer in a state of simple nature; or of entire independence; he is no longer the sole judge of his right; he is subject to the judgment of another; he is, therefore, say they, no longer in a state of pure nature, nor consequently in the sphere of natural right.

But if we attend to the futility of this abstract position, the natural right of all to all, we must, in conformity to the natural order itself, reduce this natural right of man to things of Which he can obtain the enjoyment - and this pretended general right will in fact be very limited.

In this point of view it will be perceived, that the reasoning which I am exposing, is but a frivolous sophism, or trilling of the mind, very much out of place in discussing so important a question-and we shall be well convinced, that the natural right of every man, reduces itself in reality, to that portion which he can obtain by his labour-for his right to all, is like that of a swallow to all the gnats which float in the atmosphere, which in truth is limited to those only, which it can catch by its labour prompted by hunger.

In a state of pure nature, things proper for the enjoyment of man, are reduced to what nature spontaneously produces, and over which each man can exercise his natural, indeterminate right, in procuring a certain portion by his labour - that is by his exertions. Whence it follows:

  1. That his right to all is but ideal
  2. That the portion which he enjoys in a state of pure nature, is, what he obtains by his labour
  3. That his right to things proper for his enjoyment, ’nestle considered in the order of nature, and in the order of justice; for in the order of nature it is undetermined, as long as it is of secured by actual possession; and in the order of justice, it is determined by an effective possession, acquired by labour, without usurpation on the right of possession of another.
  4. That in a state of pore nature, men, compelled to satisfy their wants by their own exertions, will not lose their time in mutual contentions and battles, which would only oppose [12] obstacles to their occupations, necessary for providing means of subsistence.
  5. That a natural right, consisting in the order of nature, and of justice, extends to all states in which men exist, in whatever relation to one another.

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