“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, “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.” Today, these rights, so esteemed by the Founders that they risked their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to defend them, are routinely evaded and trampled by the very institution that should protect them—the government.
Fundamentally, these rights recognize that your life belongs to you, that you should have the freedom to act as you judge best in the pursuit of the values that will bring you satisfaction, joy, and happiness.
Throughout history, men have been taught that they must live for others, whether the pharaoh, the king, the tribe, or the community. The Founders rejected this premise, declaring that the individual has a right to live for himself. Politically, the Declaration announced America’s independence from Britain. Morally, it announced the individual’s independence from the king, the clan, or the community.
Whether it is drinking raw milk or starting a business, whether it is drilling for oil or taking a life-saving medicine, there is little that you can do without the government’s approval and sanction. If you wish to build a house, in most jurisdictions you must abide by zoning laws and building codes. If want to enter a particular profession, chances are one in three that you must first secure a license from the government. No matter your desires or values, you are frequently forced to act contrary to your own judgment.
These violations of individual rights are usually justified by citing the “common good” or “general welfare.” Each of us, we are told, must put aside our self-interest in order to promote the “public interest.” We are forced to sacrifice our personal values, interests, and happiness for the alleged welfare, interests, and happiness of others.
This is not what the Founders envisioned, nor is it proper, just, or moral.