Inalienable rights are rights that a person is considered to have, which he or she cannot surrender or give away and which cannot legally be taken from him or her. These rights are often considered the same as natural rights that a person is born with, and these terms have often been associated in modern usage. Various rights are often seen as inalienable, and many different countries have constitutions or other legal documents that indicate the nature of such rights for the people of that country. Inalienable rights in modern usage often stem from European and American political philosophies dealing with human rights and the American Revolution.
Also called unalienable rights, inalienable rights are often indicated through a tripartite motto or a phrase that consists of three terms that are interrelated and describe a unifying concept. Perhaps the most famous example, certainly within the US, of this concept is the description of such rights in the US Declaration of Independence as the rights of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Other countries have adopted similar mottos that consist of similar concepts such as the French Republic motto of “liberté, égalité, fraternité” or “liberty, equality, fraternity.” The American view of inalienable rights stems from the Declaration of Independence, which was written by Thomas Jefferson.
Jefferson’s usage of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” was likely influenced by the work of John Locke and his view of the natural rights, similar to inalienable rights, of life, liberty and property. In writing the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson chose to avoid the importance that Locke placed on property, and instead was influenced by other political commentators who viewed the “pursuit of happiness” as a more worthy goal. Many early American political philosophers viewed the ownership of property as a right afforded by the state, and not granted on birth. The importance of these inalienable rights in the US and many other countries lies in the fact that such rights cannot be taken away without due process of law.
Inalienable rights are typically established by the laws of a country, though on a purely philosophical level they are considered the rights of all people. This often leads to conflicts between countries with different political systems, as the citizens of one nation may view certain rights as inalienable while the legal system of another country does not. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights establishes inalienable rights for all mankind as “life, liberty and security of person.” Of course, it is up to individual nations to agree upon which rights are inalienable and protect them accordingly.