In the case just stated, we have an instance of this. The eighteenth-century notion of "natural rights," or of the "rights of man," was a revolt against the notion that a man had nothing and was entitled to nothing until some other men had given him some rights here. The rights of man meant that a man, as a man, entered human society, not under servitude and constraint to other men, or to social traditions, but under a presumption of non-servitude and non-obligation to other men, or to social organization. Natural rights, as opposed to chartered rights, meant that the fundamental presumption must be changed, and that every man must, in the view of social order and obligation, be regarded as free and independent, until some necessity had been established for restraining him, instead of being held to be in complete subjection to social bonds, until he could prove that some established authority had emancipated him.
When so regarded, it is evident that the notion of natural rights is one of great value and importance. In the abuse of it, however, it has come to pass that this notion has become a doctrine which affords the most ample space for arbitrary dogmatism, and empty declamation. It has become one of the favorite methods of modern schemers, when they find it difficult to provide means by which men may get what they need in order to enjoy earthly comfort, to put all those necessary things among "natural rights." It then stands established, by easy deduction, that every man has a natural right to succeed in the struggle for existence, or to be happy. It is the duty of the state to secure natural rights. Therefore, if there is anything which a man wants, he is entitled to have it so long as there is any of it.