The first line of The Declaration of Independence contains an appeal to the “Laws of Nature and of Nature's God”. For those who accept a religious philosophy the assumption that “god* made it this way” is perfectly normal and acceptable. The utilitarian nature of the appeal is not dependent on the belief in a particular god. The phrase “self evident” indicates that the truth of the matter is available for all to see, regardless of religious belief, because the very nature of the material universe requires that it be so.
I have often heard it repeated that that the first draft of the Declaration of Independence was worded “life, liberty and property”. I can find no original source data to confirm this. I believe the idea originates with Locke; the phrase itself is notable in the Fifth Amendment to the constitution.
It does not matter if you believe man is a free moral agent capable of choice because a god created him so. Man posses certain characteristics and qualities by virtue of his existence, regardless of how he came into existence. As a prerequisite for man to exist his access to those naturally occurring qualities is absolute. The name for these qualities is “rights”.
Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.
Why the insistence that property rights are the primary right upon which the others are dependent? If we state that, “life is a right unto it’s self”, or “liberty is a right” or “the pursuit of happiness is a right”, what do we mean? To whom does the “right” belong? Presumably to it’s owner, but ownership requires the preexistence of an asset as well as the one to whom it belongs.
If you are willing to accept that life is an asset then, you must determine to whom that asset belongs. Mankind has historically answered this question in many different ways. The doctrine of divine rights of kings held that the king possessed the ability to dispose of everything within his realm, including the lives of his subjects. The institution of slavery upheld the belief that the master controlled the life of the slave and could end it at his pleasure. Communism holds that the collectivist state owns the lives of the people and manages them for the benefit of all. Some religions believe that a god owns man’s life and requires his service.
The Humanist/Objectivist/Libertarian/Constitutionalist, and some Christian philosophies hold that the individual man owns his own life. Human life, in this view, is an asset or property that belongs to the one to that possesses it. Likewise, the other basic rights belong to the individual, by virtue of being, not as a quality or asset granted by men or an institution, but as a prerequisite of human existence.
The reason I object to infringement on basic rights is because the infringement is a form of stealing something that belongs to another. If we kill another person we have stolen their life. If we lock someone up we have stolen their liberty and wasted their life. If we take the product of a man’s hands, we have stolen his material wealth. If we take his ideas we have stolen the product of his mind. If we take is money we have stolen his median of exchange. In each case the offense is against the man’s assets or property.
Property rights are the foundation of all other rights because the concept of ownership is key in determining the morality of human interaction. For the Humanist the reason is that man cannot exist any other way. For the Deist the reason is that god made it so as a law of creation.
*the use of a small “g” indicates the concept of god, not God as a Being in the Bible