Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines unalienable as “not alienable; that cannot be alienated; that may not be transferred; as in unalienable rights” and inalienable as “cannot be legally or justly alienated or transferred to another.” The Declaration of Independence reads:
“That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…”
This means that human beings are imbued with unalienable rights which cannot be altered by law whereas inalienable rights are subject to remaking or revocation in accordance with man-made law. Inalienable rights are subject to changes in the law such as when property rights are given a back seat to emerging environmental law or free speech rights give way to political correctness. In these situations no violation has occurred by way of the application of inalienable rights — a mere change in the law changes the nature of the right. Whereas under the original doctrine of unalienable rights the right to the use and enjoyment of private property cannot be abridged (other than under the doctrine of “nuisance” including pollution of the public water or air or property of another). The policies behind Sustainable Development work to obliterate the recognition of unalienable rights. For instance, Article 29 subsection 3 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights applies the “inalienable rights” concept of human rights:
“Rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to purposes and principles of the United Nations.”
Many call for a “Civil Society” which argues for a statutory framework that does not give recognition of the imbued nature of unalienable rights.
Modern dictionaries blur the difference, as does modern intellectual thought. The modern definition of unalienable is the same as the historical definition of inalienable. The contemporary blurring of the meaning of unalienable and inalienable is evidence of the process of dictionary evolution that Orwell forecasted in “1984.”
Understanding Unalienable Rights by Michael Shaw
Michael Shaw is President of FreedomAdvocates.org