Saudi Rights

by Jonah Goldberg

I have a more basic complaint. All of these headlines and news stories say the Saudi king “gave” women the right to vote. Now, I understand that voting may not be a natural or fundamental right, the way the right to property or self-defense is, but in every day parlance that’s how we all treat it.

Again, this can descend into pretty deep political theory quite quickly. But there’s just something offensive to me about Americans blithely accepting this formulation that King Abdullah “gave” women — or anybody — “rights.” How can he give what never belonged to him in the first place? Our rights do not come from government and they certainly don’t come from potentates. The founders said that we are endowed by our creator with rights. I’d bet even most American atheists wouldn’t disagree with the proposition that we’re born with our rights.

How about saying King Abdullah (may have) “recognized” women’s right to vote? Would that be too hard to say?

Update: All right, I guess I’ll buy this, from a reader:


Jonah, I’m appalled by most things Saudi, but that there are rights that we are ‘given’ through legislation is not only accurate, I think, but is also one of the central premises of originalist constitutional theory.  There is no natural right to an abortion or even to vote, but legislatures can provide you with both.

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