Nature confers no rights on man, only life and a world in which to live it. Nature does not even confer the right to live, as might be deduced by considering what would likely happen if an unarmed man met a hungry tiger face to face in the primitive forest. Society’s prime gift to man is security.
Gradually society asserted its rights and, at the present time, they are:
1. Assurance of food supply.
2. Military defense—security through preparedness.
3. Internal peace preservation—prevention of personal violence and social disorder.
4. Sex control—marriage, the family institution.
5. Property—the right to own.
6. Fostering of individual and group competition.
7. Provision for educating and training youth.
8. Promotion of trade and commerce—industrial development.
9. Improvement of labor conditions and rewards.
10. The guarantee of the freedom of religious practices to the end that all of these other social activities may be exalted by becoming spiritually motivated.
When rights are old beyond knowledge of origin, they are often called natural rights. But human rights are not really natural; they are entirely social. They are relative and ever changing, being no more than the rules of the game—recognized adjustments of relations governing the ever-changing phenomena of human competition.
What may be regarded as right in one age may not be so regarded in another. The survival of large numbers of defectives and degenerates is not because they have any natural right thus to encumber twentieth-century civilization, but simply because the society of the age, the mores, thus decrees.
Few human rights were recognized in the European Middle Ages; then every man belonged to someone else, and rights were only privileges or favors granted by state or church. And the revolt from this error was equally erroneous in that it led to the belief that all men are born equal.
The weak and the inferior have always contended for equal rights; they have always insisted that the state compel the strong and superior to supply their wants and otherwise make good those deficiencies which all too often are the natural result of their own indifference and indolence.
But this equality ideal is the child of civilization; it is not found in nature. Even culture itself demonstrates conclusively the inherent inequality of men by their very unequal capacity therefor. The sudden and nonevolutionary realization of supposed natural equality would quickly throw civilized man back to the crude usages of primitive ages. Society cannot offer equal rights to all, but it can promise to administer the varying rights of each with fairness and equity. It is the business and duty of society to provide the child of nature with a fair and peaceful opportunity to pursue self-maintenance, participate in self-perpetuation, while at the same time enjoying some measure of self-gratification, the sum of all three constituting human happiness.