If inalienable rights are, as many people seem to believe, rights which the government cannot take away, does it follow that government can then take away rights that are alienable?
As James Rogers explains, it is no less wrong for the government to take away an “alienable” right than it is for the government to take away an “inalienable” right. The difference between the two isn’t that one can be taken away while the other cannot but that an inalienable right cannot be given away by the person who has it:
The Declaration borrows the word from property law. An “alienable” right over property means that the property can be sold or given away by the owner. Property that is “inalienable” cannot be transferred by the owner. The dramatic backdrop in several of Jane Austen’s novels, notably including Pride and Prejudice, comes from property that is inalienable. The estate in the story has been “entailed” to the first-born male of each generation. While Mr. Bennett has use of the property during his lifetime, because he has no son, the property will go automatically to Mr. Collins on his death. Mr. Bennett cannot sell the land permanently (although he can rent the land out during his lifetime), and he cannot give it away to his wife, daughters, or to anyone else. Ownership of the estate in inalienable; this inalienability limits what Mr. Bennett can do with the estate.
Rogers goes on to make the important point that there are certain rights that individuals aren’t free to give away because, according to Jesus and John Locke, we are owned by God and not self-owned beings. Read the rest of Rogers excellent essay here.