The Meaning of Rights

Too often, especially from the Left……we hear that people “have a right to X”. But these alleged “rights” are typically undefined, emotionally appealing ideas. Example: Gun control proponents will often claim that we have “a right to be safe/free from gun violence”. These people, no matter how well intentioned, seem to fundamentally misunderstand the meaning of a “right”.  recent commenter at TTAG – The Truth About Guns, delivered one of the better overviews of rights, in layman’s terms, that I’ve come across….so I wanted to share.

Rights are viewed in two ways. One is legitimate, and the other is not. These two concepts of rights are known as “negative rights” and “positive rights.” 

Negative rights are those things that another may not do to you.

Positive rights are those things that another must do for you.

Positive “rights” are the moral equivalent of slavery as you are asserting that you have a claim on the effort of others, forcefully and without compensation or any kind of value exchange. Positive “rights” include “free” anything. Free healthcare, housing, sustenance, education, etc. These are not rights. If you receive these things for free, then someone else is paying for them. Someone else is supporting you. You are not an independent person. You are (ideally) answerable to those who support you. This amounts to charity when done privately and voluntarily. When accomplished through the state, this is theft under coercion and the threat of violence. It understandably upsets those who pay because they are working for far less than their labor is worth because they’re supporting you. Meanwhile, they are able to provide less support to the people they are truly and morally responsible for. Positive rights also include any action you expect others to take on your behalf, even — and especially — if it’s against their will. 

Only negative rights are legitimate. The only ethical fight is a defensive one. You have a right to defend your life. You have a right to refuse coercion. You have a right to reject and respond to aggression initiated against you. You have a right to protect your property and the fruits of your labor as the means by which you provide survival and comfort to yourself and your family, and as an extension of the very energy you expended to create value. You have a right to think, feel, and believe as you will. You are a sovereign being. THESE are rights. 

Perspective example: you have a RIGHT to speak. You do NOT have a right to be heard, respected, agreed with, or even be given a platform.



5 thoughts on “The Meaning of Rights

  1. The UN declaration includes the right to a job. Great example of an untenable positive right. Assuming some people have no marketable skills, where will their jobs come from? Will the state create them? Where will the state get the money to pay for them? Presumably by taxing the workers on the money they are paying them 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s