Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Rights or Duties?

It has been over a year since I last updated this blog. Nevertheless, a matter has been weighing heavily on my heart for some time, and I can longer keep silent. It is a very sensitive issue, and I shall do my best to keep a level head as I write this. But if, in my zeal, I should become carried away, I ask humbly for your forgiveness, O Reader.

Crown Prince Alois von und zu Liechtenstein
The issue of which I must speak is one that has the power to divide friendships, families, and even countries. Indeed, right now, it is an issue that is at the heart of the tensions that are plaguing the tiny, yet unforgettably significant nation of Liechtenstein. You see, the Liechtensteiner Parliament recently considered a referendum to legalize abortion. But praise be to God, His Serene Highness Alois, the Hereditary Prince of Liechtenstein, told them not even to consider the idea. If such a referendum passed, he would use his Constitutional right of Veto to end the matter permanently. Understandably, the motion failed. And now, disgruntled Pro-Choicers are attempting to pass a referendum which would remove the Hereditary Prince’s power of Veto. In response to this, Alois has threatened to step down entirely if such a referendum should pass.

History will not look kindly on this era in world history. Mankind has always been self-centred. But ever since the “Enlightenment” and especially in the 20th and 21st centuries, we’ve taken this to new extremes never before imagined by our forefathers. And abortion is the latest in a very long line of such issues. The leading argument I hear from Pro-Choicers is “A woman’s right to her body.” They say that it is her body, and her right to choose what she wants to do with that body, including the expulsion of an unwanted fetus. Pro-Lifers often take the opposite stance, championing “A child’s right to life.” They will concede that a woman has rights to her body, but they will insist that the child’s right to life supersedes her rights to her body. Neither side gets anywhere, because they are all screaming about rights like a bunch of spoilt children. And this leads me to the crux of the matter.

Ever since the “Enlightenment,” mankind has had an increasing awareness of, and an ever more voracious appetite for, rights. At first, the battles were about very basic rights: the rights of royals, aristocrats, and businessmen to have power of their underlings vs the fundamental rights of said underlings not to be abused. But it very quickly became more heated. Who has the right to make decisions in government? Who has the right to decide their own destiny? Who has the right to choose their own mate? Do we have the right to own slaves? Do we have the right to terminate unwanted pregnancies? The list goes on and on. Rights. Rights. Rights. Me. Me. Me.

And therein lies the problem, dear Reader. Everyone these days is infected with a madness, an all-consuming insanity and obsession over rights. My rights. My will be done. People wonder why the world is such a messed up place these days. The answer is simple. It is our selfish, rights-obsessed attitude. Now, I know at least some of you will be tempted to say, “Hang on just a minute. I know you’re a hyper-conservative, reactionary, ultra-religious, pro-monarchy wingnut. You’re just taking a stab at liberals and the democratic ideal.” Let me assure you, Reader, I am not here to vilify all Republicanism and to sanctify all Monarchism. Nor am I here to do the same to the liberal vs conservative debate. I will be the first to admit that people on my side of the fence have been just as pig-headed. In the abortion debate, I have already admitted that Pro-Lifers are making the same mistake as Pro-Choicers: insisting upon rights. And in the government debate the same thing stands. Take as a famous example the debate during the prelude to the American Revolution. Thomas Paine wrote his famous essay, “Common Sense” defending basic rights and principles, and upholding the Colonies’ rights to be independent. Less famous is the counter-argument. Shortly after the publication of “Common Sense” a loyalist by the name of Lt. Col. James Chalmers wrote and published an essay of his own, choosing for the sake of irony to call it, “Plain Truth.” In it, he defends the British Constitution as the greatest defense of human rights known to man, and explains how the colonists’ rights would be better defended as British subjects than as citizens of their own new country. He closes with the emphatic statement, “Independence and slavery are synonymous terms.” While Lt. Col. Chalmers makes many convincing arguments in his essay (I highly recommend reading it), he ultimately makes the same fatal flaw as Thomas Paine: he argues simply from a perspective of rights. When we look to rights as the ultimate source of what is good and just, we reduce justice to a system of Me vs You. Whose rights are more important? My rights or your rights?

This, O Reader, is simply tragic. My Christian readers should recognize immediately that this is not the attitude Christ taught us to have. We are taught to look to others, not ourselves. In his epistle to the Church at Philippi, St. Paul exhorts us, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:3-7) Christ Himself teaches us that “Blessed are the meek.” Jesus Christ, God Himself, washed the disciples’ feet. He took on the role of a servant. The perfect and sinless God died on the cross to save corrupt and imperfect humans. How much better is it to take our cue from Him, to act in selfless love and Christian duty?

O Reader, if the Word of God does not motivate you, I urge you to listen to secular philosophers who also exhort duty and sacrifice over rights. Immanuel Kant once wrote, “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” Do not arbitrarily decide things that are right for you and you alone. If it is right, it should be right for all. And if you cannot will that it should be applied to all, perhaps it should not be done. More importantly, Kant also wrote, “Always treat people as ends in themselves, never as means to an end.” In the case of abortion, this means that the unborn child, every bit as much as the mother, should be treated as the end, not the means. We have a duty to that child, as well as a duty to the mother. Our duty is to do good to them. Kant further writes, “Beneficence is a duty. He who often practices this, and sees his beneficent purpose succeed, comes at last really to love him whom he has benefited. When, therefore, it is said, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself," this does not mean, "Thou shalt first of all love, and by means of love (in the next place) do him good"; but: "Do good to thy neighbour, and this beneficence will produce in thee the love of men (as a settled habit of inclination to beneficence).”

In matters of government, I believe King James I (VI) understood things best in his famous treatise. It is best known by its first title, “The True Law of Free Monarchies,” but it has a second, lesser known title, that more fittingly describes in brief the entire purpose of the work, “The Reciprock and Mutual Duty Betwixt a Free King and His Natural Subjects.” The key words in that phrase are “mutual duty.” When King James wrote on the subject of government, he focused on neither the rights of his subjects nor the rights of the crown (though these are legitimate issues) but he focused on their duties to one another. Although it is true that this document does set forth the teaching known as the “Divine Right of Kings” its focus is far more heavy on the duty of both sides than it is on rights.

And that, Dear Reader, is the point I am trying to make today. Duty, not rights, should be our focus. Love, not self, should be our prime motivator. When faced with questions of government policy, abortion, or any other issue, our response should not be, “What will best protect my rights or the rights of X?” Rather, our response should be, “How can I best carry out my duty to do good to all?” In the case of abortion, the matter should not be between the rights of the mother and the rights of the child, but the matter should be duty. We have a duty to all human life, including the unborn. Let us seek to protect them whenever we can. And as regards government, in the specific issue at hand here, those Liechtensteiners who favour this referendum to remove the Prince’s Veto ought to think more on their duty to their Prince, a most honourable member of a royal line that has for centuries protected and persevered Liechtenstein, and they should think less on their own rights. Let the people do their duty and homage to their lord, and let the Prince concern himself with his duty to protect his subjects.

I realize that my views are not popular. And I may take some flak for what I have here written. But I must speak out. And so I have. May God be with His Serene Highness, Prince Alois. May Liechtenstein continue to be a nation that respects the hallowed tradition of monarchy and the sacred blessing that is human life. Amen.