Christian: n,

A person who believes in Jesus Christ, God incarnate who came to Earth and became flesh to die on the cross, sinless for our redemption.

libertarian: n,

"A person who believes that no one has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human being, or to advocate or delegate its initiation. Those who act consistently with this principle are libertarians, whether they realize it or not. Those who fail to act consistently with it are not libertarians, regardless of what they may claim."

-- L. Neil Smith

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Rights 101

I believe the most important tool for any task is knowledge. Without knowledge, the ability to successfully complete any task is only guesswork, trial and error, and luck. This includes the arduous task of defending rights.


There are two main factors responsible for the constant struggle of defending rights. One is human nature. Mankind has a built in inclination to obtain that which he wants and needs for the least possible amount of personal effort. This attitude is generally negatively referred to as laziness, however the inclination is morally neutral and produces both positive and negative consequences depending on the actions employed as the means to those ends. To some, this means fitting their concept of rights to suit their needs. The second factor is the nebulous and subjective definitions which people have in regard to rights. People will purposely or subconsciously make their definition of rights elastic to suit their desires. Others, without an objective, consistent concept of rights, are simply easily misled.


I have three dictionaries in the house. My favorite is the oldest one. (I would suggest that every home be equipped with a dictionary that is at least thirty years old.) In them, they attribute several meanings to the noun "right" but as it would be used pertaining to the concept of rights, they tend beat around the bush and don't get around to the meat of the word and the attributes which would separate it from "privilege."


Coming to an understanding of a correct and consistent concept of rights took time for most of us. And it's easier to have such an understanding than it is to relate that understanding to others in a concise manner.


That said, I'd like you to consider taking the time and effort to formulate a definition of rights which is correct, objective, consistently applicable and concise.


The question is, "What are rights?" I believe the following questions will assist in formulating the answer.


From whence do rights come?


To whom do rights belong?


What human actions can be applied to rights? (Or what can one human do in regard to rights, such as respect, violate, waive, transfer, defend...)


What human actions cannot be applied to rights?


To what do rights apply?


What is the difference between a right and a privilege?


Why is a concept of rights necessary?



right(s): n,


My own thoughts on these are;


From whence do rights come? I am a Christian, therefore my answer is theistic in nature. God granted mankind individual rights and is also the only one who can take them away. They are part of His gift of grace which sustains our every breath of life. They exist as part of nature and act in harmony with the laws of nature just as surely as the laws of physics. For the non-theist, consider them as part and parcel of the equilibrium of the natural world.


To whom do rights belong? Rights belong to individual human beings. They do not belong to groups of human beings or plants or animals or society or the Earth.


What human actions can be applied to rights? People can own rights, exercise them, defend them, respect them, transfer them, waive them, abdicate them or violate them, just to name a few.


What human actions cannot be applied to rights? This question is, in my opinion, more important than the last. People cannot grant rights or take them away. They are the inherent property of each individual regardless of his ability to exercise them due to natural limitations or the degree to which they are violated. I believe this is essential to rights for if they can be granted or taken away by men then they are not rights at all, rather they are privileges.


To what do rights apply? Rights are applicable to every form of human interaction. They have to do with what individuals may and may not do, not with what they can and cannot. They do not apply to God who, as creator of all, can snuff out the whole lot of us and justly so. They do not apply to nature. plants and animals do not have rights, nor can they violate your rights, neither can gravity, lightening, hurricanes, floods, or any other natural circumstances which deprive us of our ability to exercise our rights. We are at the mercy of God and nature. The loss of ones rights due to thirst, drowning, starvation, cancer, lightening strike, etc., does not constitute a violation thereof. Only human beings can have rights. Only human beings can violate them.


This brings us to the very important distinction between rights and privileges. Privileges can be granted and taken away by human beings. Privilege is a transfer of the exercise of a right from one individual to another and can also be granted to groups of individuals from the individual members of another. However, legitimate privilege can only be granted by the owner of the right associated with that privilege. Illegitimate privilege is when a third party, such as government by granting privileges, thus violating the rights of one individual, or group, for the benefit of others. A second important distinction is that privilege can be conditional. You may give me the privilege of using your pencil, so long as I don't write dirty words with it and I bring it back sharp. You may use the government's parks, schools and roads so long as you don't bring alcohol or glass containers, don't paint your name on the buildings, wear your seat belts, don't exceed the posted limits, pick up your pet waste, don't bring your defensive weapons and be home before curfew. Rights are absolute and never conditional. Conditions placed on the exercise of rights are violations of those rights regardless of their extent or good intentions.

What are rights? They are the fulcrum of equal justice, the balance of each individual's life, liberty and property against violations by all other individuals. I may not steal from you because you may not steal from me. I may not take your life, because you may not take mine. You may not enslave me, because I may not enslave you. You may not defraud me, because I may not defraud you. All the good intentions in the world, regardless of the number of individuals or governments you can get to back these violations of rights will never legitimize them.

See also this article by Robert Higgs:
http://www.fee.org/publications/the-freeman/article.asp?aid=1088

Please send your replies to:


Peace, freedom, justice and prosperity,
Bryan Morton

2 comments:

  1. Defining what rights are and deciding what constitutes a right is a difficult thing (Lock and Nozick never justified them properly, and Nozick acknowledged this in his own description), but John Hasnas has suggested an empirical method that would yield a different conception of rights: http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayFulltext?type=6&fid=275191&jid=&volumeId=&issueId=01&aid=275190&bodyId=&membershipNumber=&societyETOCSession=&fulltextType=RA&fileId=S0265052505041051

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  2. Well said! A true free thinker of our time.

    ReplyDelete