One of the more infuriating arguments I've had in the last few months centered around this premise: "Liberty is the only important government guaranteed right, because all other rights are meaningless without it, and necessarily follow from it." It was from this premise that the person with whom I was conversing argued that we didn't need a constitutional guarantee of healthcare, or amendments to address copyright issues, or basically any legislation, because if you just took the liberty guarantee seriously, a perfect system of governance inevitably follows. By way of analogy, I would like to explore this premise by proposing a different fundamental right: the right to eat fish.
The right to eat fish obviously guarantees the right to life, because you can't eat fish if you're dead. And it guarantees the right to property, doesn't it? Because you have to be able to own fish in order to justifiably eat them. It guarantees the right to healthcare, at least insofar as you're protected from becoming too infirm to eat fish. And it must guarantee the right to eat a variety of foods, because if your diet isn't balanced, you won't survive for very long to continue eating fish.
It guarantees the right to good copyright legislation, because without vigorous cultural discussion, our right to eat fish falls into jeopardy. It guarantees the right to good legislation because a badly run government can't effectively guarantee the right to eat fish.
This argument is plainly stupid, and so, I would argue, is the claim that liberty is the only fundamental right. I last discussed this in my post, Fundamental Rights: last-in, first-out? where I pointed out that holding life as the only really paramount fundamental right is inherently destructive of the other rights. I would argue that holding any right as more fundamental than other rights, if you believe those rights to be valid, is inherently destructive to those rights, and it should be apparent why if you just look at all of the obvious flaws in the guarantee to fishy rights. If that is the most paramount right, then the best way for the government to protect it would be to imprison everyone and feed them only fish.
Now, not all rights-claims boil down to imprisonment. A guarantee of liberty, for example, necessitates failing to regulate people's behavior in such a way as could seriously risk other people's lives or pursuit of happiness (or access to fish).
I want to reiterate what I said before: the rights-based system of government works best when all rights are held in tension against each other. All rights must be compromised, but no right can be ignored. Our liberty is limited in protecting our lives, and the lives of others. Our pursuit of happiness is limited in protecting our own lives, others' lives, and others' liberty, and our lives are protected by limiting our own liberty, the liberty of others, and everyones' pursuit of happiness.
(By the way, why is pursuit of happiness a fundamental right? That's a terrible fundamental right. Pursuing happiness is practically guaranteed not to cause it, and places the responsibility for happiness on the citizens, no matter their circumstance, rather than on the government to govern in such a way as to maximize incidental happiness. More on that later.)