Persons and their Property by Charles Ficner

One core principle that is agreed to by every person who is not a rabid partisan of the right or the left is that each and every person really matters.

In the heritage of the civilized West, that’s where it all starts, and that’s where it all ends. Individual persons matter more than any group or any corporation or any collective. They matter more than any private or public institution. They matter more than the wishes of any government.

Government’s primary job is not to command, but to protect each and every citizen. It must ensure that no person, no corporation, no institution and no official undermines the inalienable rights of any person. When those who hold public offices use the government’s power in any way that harms any citizen’s rights, their acts and commands have no legitimacy at all.

Persons Matter!

A heritage of Five Thousand Years

The Core Principle that persons matter above everything else is at the root of Western Civilization. It has been confirmed, reconfirmed and firmly established as the foundation of our system of government and law. Whenever it was set aside it became impossible for persons to live together in a civil and civilized way.

It was articulated and refined in Ancient Babylon, Greece and Rome and it was further clarified across Europe through the Middle Ages. It has been restated and repeatedly confirmed in England since the invasion of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes.

It was built into King Alfred’s articulation of the LAW and into the laws of Edward the Confessor. It underpinned the discussions that led to the Magna Carta and those that followed from it. It forms the basis of the Petition of Right.

It was persistently reasserted against repeated assaults from those who were determined to undermine it – including William the Conqueror, King John, the Tudors, the Stuarts and a whole host of other kings and officials who were intent on abusing the powers of government so as to impose their personal will.

In the late Middle Ages Glanville and Bracton confirmed it as the guiding principle that underpins English Law. By the Age of Enlightenment it was firmly entrenched in Blackstone’s “Commentaries on the Laws of England” as the most essential pillar upon which courts must operate and by which lawful governments are bound.

We inherited that Core Principle when Canada was transferred from France to Britain in 1763 and when the BNA Act was enacted in 1867. Canada’s institutions of government and all of our LAWS maintain legitimacy only by adherence to that principle.

Principles, Rights and Government

The Principle that every single person matters has profound implications for what persons may do and may not do. It identifies, confirms and protects our rights.

It also defines the boundaries of legitimate government action by assigning to government the primary duty of ensuring that those rights are never subordinated to the interests of any other person, or group of persons – or even of the government itself.

That raises questions about the difference between rights and interests and about what rights an individual person actually has.

A person’s rights are things that belong exclusively to that person and that no one has any right to take away from that person.

A person’s interests include all things which a person might want to influence, possess or control. While a person’s interests are far larger than a person’s rights, a person has an absolute claim only to his rights.

For millennia a person’s rights were seen to be those things that were understood to have been given by God to that particular person – his mind and body and his free will to use that mind and body – as well as the things that that person had justly acquired by means that did not violate the equal rights of any other person.

In the Age of Enlightenment Locke referred to a person’s rights as his property – and that consisted of a person’s “life, liberty and estate”.

Government, Locke confirmed, was created by persons:

“…for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties and estates, which I call by the general name — property … to which in the state of Nature there are many things wanting.”

Blackstone’s 18th Century “Commentaries” corroborated those three fundamental rights as the foundation of the British system of government and law:

“…the right of personal security [Locke’s ‘life’], the right of personal liberty [Locke’s ‘liberty’], and the right of private property [Locke’s ‘estate’]”.

He elaborated on each:

Personal security: “… personal security consists in a person’s legal and uninterrupted enjoyment of his life, his limbs, his body, his health, and his reputation.”

Liberty: “… all of us have it in our choice to do everything that a good man would desire to do; and are restrained from nothing but what would be pernicious either to ourselves or our fellow-citizens.”

Estate: “So great is the regard of the law for private property, that [law] will not authorize the least violation of it; no, not even for the general good of the whole community.”

Persons matter! Persons have inalienable rights and freedoms! Government and courts exist to protect them.

Governments can not give privileges to anyone or diminish the rights of any single person. They can not command. They can not impose the will of any government official. Governments are bound by everlasting LAWS that protect the life, the liberty and the property of each and every person.

Those enduring principles match up well with what we all feel in our gut – we have inherent rights as individual human beings, and it is the duty of government to protect those rights …

… and yet we often see politicians, partisans, bureaucrats, lobbyists and back-room opportunists abusing the powers of government to give privileges to some persons or groups of persons – at the expense of the rights of some other individual. Such actions have become so common that they are almost routine.

We feel the violation when our own rights are taken away to satisfy the interests of someone else and when governments force us to do things that we do not want to do.

Yet, we have been taught that that is how government works and we are regularly enticed to accept that that is the way things must be by promises of being given some privilege – at the expense of someone else’s rights.

And so we are here: – subject to, and complicit in, a system of government that routinely and arbitrarily undermines the Core Principle that all persons, equally, have inalienable rights as persons – and with officials and institutions that we can not respect because they do not perform their primary duty of consistently protecting those rights for every single person.

If we are to avoid the fate that befell earlier societies where such circumstance arose, we must reassert the Core Principle that has stood the test of time as the essential foundation of societies that are civil, civilized and enduring.

More than that, we must find a way to restore the institutions of government to their essential role – of protecting the lives, the freedoms and the property of each and every person.