We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.There are two important ideas contained in these words:
- That we have rights that are inherent to our nature as human beings, the most important being the rights to live, to be free, and to pursue our own interests
- That governments do not create our rights, but rather that we create governments and their only proper purpose is to protect our rights.
These ideas are at odds with the role and functions of governments as they exist in most countries today. Governments like to bestow all sorts of new rights on us - the rights to food and a roof over our heads, the rights to a job, education and healthcare, the rights not to be discriminated against or even to be offended, etc. But these rights aren't what the Founding Fathers meant when they talked about rights. For a start, if rights are granted by governments, they can be taken away - they aren't inherent to our nature. Secondly, they fail the 'equality' test that is contained in the first line above - the right to receive something, bestowed by the government, cannot be equally endowed because that which is given by a government must be taken from someone else. And finally, they are increasingly given as alternatives to real rights - they are baubles to distract us from the fact that governments are denying us our real rights.
The authors of the Declaration were smart enough to realise that real rights aren't a zero-sum game. I don't need you to die in order that I can live. I don't need you to be a slave in order that I can be free. And I don't need you to sacrifice your happiness in order that I can be happy. That is perhaps the greatest revelation of that great revolutionary document.