But there are significant problems with his column, mostly in the realm of what he doesn't say. Machan gets agonizingly close to doing it right and he does have some good things to say, so I have a hard time fully criticizing him for it... but though he hints at the problems associated with denying the metaphysical foundation of individual rights, he does a poor job of clearly putting forth the answer I know he knows.
On top of that, he never enumerates the key individual rights to life, liberty, and property, even though he mentions Locke. He never even calls them individual rights, but shies away from such straightforward language in favor of the oddly redundant, "individual (human) rights."
And his bit at the end about Chinese dissidents having a better grasp on the issue than Americans is certainly pithy, but misguided.
And, ironically, it is now in countries across the globe that have had and still have governments that violate rights all over the place that the American Founders' and John Locke's views are dominant. For example, the Chinese Charter 08 group, under the leadership of Liu Xiaoba and 302 dissidents, has written as follows:Where are these ideas dominant? I admit that my knowledge of the Chinese dissident intelligentsia is less than it could be, but I'd be shocked if "life, liberty, and property," was a more widespread rallying cry in China than it is here in the US. Granted, it is vital that it gains greater acceptance here, and on the fundamental level which the study of Ayn Rand's ideas can give, but asserting that such ideas are dominant in China seems to need much more evidence behind it than Machan provides.
"Human rights are not bestowed by a state. Every person is born with inherent rights to dignity and freedom. The government exists for the protection of the human rights of its citizens. The exercise of state power must be authorized by the people. The succession of political disasters in China's recent history is a direct consequence of the ruling regime's disregard for human rights." [bold added]
Also concerning is that the dissidents parrot the vague, undefinable language of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. More power to them as they fight a tyrannical regime, but they shouldn't use the UN as a source for political philosophy and arguments for individual rights and liberty. And I dare anyone to define "dignity" in this context as a "human right." Even Kantian philosophers have identified this problem.
As I have said before, "human rights" is an anti-concept that serves to demean and destroy the valid concept of individual rights, and "dignity" is purposefully vague so as to admit any definition -- especially those that assert "positive rights."
I'm surprised and disappointed at what Machan omitted -- a more thorough description of what individual rights are, where they come from, and why they're so crucial in a political context, as well as a specific reference to Ayn Rand and her key ideas which would have made all his points for him -- so much so that it seems to be an elephant in the room. Why dance around the points that would make his argument, and the thinkers to whom those ideas should be attributed? Assuming he was writing for a lay audience, such clarity would have helped to get his ideas across much more effectively.
It is always good to see a defense of individual rights because it's crucial to promote such ideas , but this particular op-ed was, on the whole, a missed opportunity.