Natural Rights Vs Legal Rights
As citizens of our country, we enjoy legal rights which are conveyed by the statutes or enacted laws our legislature. These legal rights are otherwise called civil rights or statutory rights. Thus legal rights exist in the legal system of our country. Rights arising out of customs and conventions also form part of these legal rights.
Natural Rights are Unalienable
Natural rights, on the contrary, are not arising out of the statutes or customs or conventions of our society or country. Natural rights are also called moral rights or unalienable rights. These rights are unalienable in nature. They cannot be alienated from the individual. They are not created or conferred by any government or statute or custom or convention of any political system. They are moral rights which are universally applicable. Natural rights do not have any territorial or jurisdictional limits. Naturally rights are morally universal. On the other hand, legal rights are subject to the political and cultural system of the territory in which the individual is domicile.
Natural Rights Fundamental to Legal Systems and Human Rights Movement
The concept of natural rights has been criticized by many thinkers. According to them the only rights that exist are the legal rights. However, the advocates of natural rights uphold the importance of natural rights in the light of documents such as the United States Declaration of Independence and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Natural rights are rooted in natural law. The theory of natural law has challenged the authority of divine right of kings during the Age of Enlightenment. It has been instrumental in the evolution of a social contract, positive law, and government and hence legal rights. On the other hand, some anarchists use the concept of natural rights to challenge the legitimacy of all such establishments.
The concept of human rights is intimately related to natural right. This is because natural rights like human rights are beyond the authority of any government or international body. In international soft law, natural law finds its place through important documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Many thinkers hold that animals also have natural rights. In that aspect natural rights differ from human rights.
Controversy over the Concept of Natural Rights through the Ages
So far as legal rights are concerned, there has been little controversy as to their existence. In contrast, the existence of natural rights has always been controversial. This controversy over the existence of natural rights dates back to the Stoics of late Antiquity and Catholic law of the early Middle Ages. Then it passed through the Protestant Reformation and the Age of Enlightenment to today. Thus the controversy over the existence of natural rights has not subsided.
The concept of natural rights has passed through successive eras and schools of thoughts. Stoics held that the “inner part cannot be delivered into bondage”. Cicero categorically maintains in his De Legibus that "we are born for Justice, and that right is based, not upon opinions, but upon Nature." The same doctrine of Stoics that the “inner part cannot be delivered into bondage” comes from Martin Luther through the Reformation Doctrine of Liberty of Conscience. Later in the 17th-century, John Locke identified natural rights as "life, liberty, and estate (property)". He was of the view that these are fundamental rights. John Locke held that natural rights could not be surrendered in the social contract.
(1) Wallace, Jonathan (2000-04). "Natural Rights Don't Exist". The Ethical Spectacle. http://www.spectacle.org/0400/natural.html.
(3) Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation, T. H. Green, 1883, p.114.
(5) Reid, John Phillip (1987). Constitutional History of the American Revolution: The Authority To Tax. Madison, Wis.. pp. 135–36.
(6) "Man and Society". The Market for Liberty. pp. 11