Do you agree with Hobbes's assertion that human rights are limited to the legally defined rights of a country or Locke's idea of human rights as innate and unalienable?

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John Locke's view on the rights of man as natural or God-given was a prominent theme of the Enlightenment, one that gained increasing acceptance over the course of the 18th century. Prior to the revolution, American leaders argued that Parliament's actions toward the Massachusetts colony—closing Boston Harbor, suspending the colonial charter and quartering troops in private homes—were a violation of natural rights. Nowhere was it written in British law, however, that Americans enjoyed the same rights of Englishmen in the mother country or were entitled to representation in Parliament. Parliament, King George III, and even the common people of the United Kingdom didn't subscribe to the colonists assertion of their rights. The Proclamation of Rebellion in 1775, in which King George III demanded the colonies disarm, drop their demands and submit to Parliament's authority or face annihilation, was a potent statement of this rejection.

In crafting the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson prominently featured Locke's ideas of natural rights as the premise on which his entire argument for independence rested. Jefferson states explicitly that certain rights come only from God (or nature) and can be neither granted nor rescinded by government. He then asserts that the primary role of government is to protect these rights. He claims, t0o, that people have a right to rebel when their government fails to respect these innate rights. After citing a laundry list of abuses by the Parliament, Jefferson concludes that Americans have just cause to renounce their allegiance to Great Britain.

Once the Continental Army made American independence a fact, the Declaration of Independence became the most enduring statement of American views on rights and liberty. These ideals went on to inform the drafting of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. These documents not only affirm natural rights but also refute Hobbes's notion of expressed rights granted by government. The Constitution constrains the rights and powers of government far more than those of individuals. The 10th Amendment, in particular, gives priority to the people and the states in matters where the Constitution does not explicitly empower the federal government.

Inspired by the American example, countries ever since have been crafting constitutional governments respectful of human rights. Before taking a bloody turn, the French Revolution was inspired by its American predecessor. Thomas Paine would defend the French Revolution using the American argument in his 1791 book, Rights of Man. A year later, Mary Wollstonecraft published A Vindication of the Rights of Women, in which she makes the same argument for women. The Enlightenment ideal of natural rights has formed the bedrock of classical liberalism in much of the world ever since.

During the mid-twentieth century the objectivist writer, Ayn Rand, formulated one of the most persuasive secular cases for natural rights--that all human beings are entitled to the biological, economic and legal freedom necessary for beings of intelligence and sensitivity to thrive. Our rights, therefore are natural consequences of human nature itself.

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