Skip to comments.WHAT IS A RIGHT?
Posted on 08/31/2003 9:27:09 AM PDT by NMC EXP
A right is the sovereignty to act without the permission of others. The concept of a right carries with it an implicit, unstated footnote: you may exercise your rights as long as you do not violate the same rights of anotherwithin this context, rights are an absolute.
A right is universalmeaning: it applies to all men, not just to a few. There is no such thing as a "right" for one man, or a group of men, that is not possessed by all. This means there are no special "rights" unique to women or men, blacks or white, the elderly or the young, homosexuals or heterosexuals, the rich or the poor, doctors or patients or any other group.
A right must be exercised through your own initiative and action. It is not a claim on others. A right is not actualized and implemented by the actions of others. This means you do not have the right to the time in another persons life. You do not have a right to other peoples money. You do not have the right to another persons property. If you wish to acquire some money from another person, you must earn itthen you have a right to it. If you wish to gain some benefit from the time of another persons life, you must gain it through the voluntary cooperation of that individualnot through coercion. If you wish to possess some item of property of another individual, you must buy it on terms acceptable to the ownernot gain it through theft.
Alone in a wilderness, the concept of a right would never occur to you, even though in such isolation you have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In this solitude, you would be free to take the actions needed to sustain your life: hunt for food, grow crops, build a shelter and so on. If a hundred new settlers suddenly arrive in your area and establish a community, you do not gain any additional rights by living in such a society nor do you lose any; you simply retain the same rights you possessed when you were alone.
A right defines what you may do without the permission of those other men and it erects a moral and legal barrier across which they may not cross. It is your protection against those who attempt to forcibly take some of your lifes time, your money or property.
Animals do not have rights. Rights only apply to beings capable of thought, capable of defining rights and creating an organized meansgovernmentof protecting such rights. Thus, a fly or mosquito does not possess rights of any kind, including the right to life. You may swat a fly or mosquito, killing them both. You do not have the right to do the same to another human being, except in self-defense. You may own and raise cows, keep them in captivity and milk them for all they are worth. You do not have the right to do the same to other men, although that is what statists effectively do to you.
There is only one, fundamental right, the right to lifewhich is: the sovereignty to follow your own judgment, without anyones permission, about the actions in your life. All other rights are applications of this right to specific contexts, such as property and freedom of speech.
The right to property is the right to take the action needed to create and/or earn the material means needed for living. Once you have earned it, then that particular property is yourswhich means: you have the right to control the use and disposal of that property. It may not be taken from you or used by others without your permission.
Freedom of speech is the right to say anything you wish, using any medium of communication you can afford. It is not the responsibility of others to pay for some means of expression or to provide you with a platform on which to speak. If a newspaper or television station refuses to allow you to express your views utilizing their property, your right to freedom of speech has not been violated and this is not censorship. Censorship is a concept that only applies to government action, the action of forcibly forbidding and/or punishing the expression of certain ideas.
Statists have corrupted the actual meaning of a right and have converted it, in the minds of most, into its opposite: into a claim on the life of another. With the growth of statism, over the past few decades, we have seen an explosion of these "rights"which, in fact, have gradually eroded your actual right to your life, money and property.
Statists declare you have a "right" to housing, to a job, to health care, to an education, to a minimum wage, to preferential treatment if you are a minority and so on. These "rights" are all a claim, a lien, on your life and the lives of others. These "rights" impose a form of involuntary servitude on you and others. These "rights" force you to pay for someones housing, their health care, their education, for training for a joband, it forces others to provide special treatment for certain groups and to pay higher-than-necessary wages.
Under statism, "rights" are a means of enslavement: it places a mortgage on your lifeand statists are the mortgage holders, on the receiving end of unearned payments forcibly extracted from your life and your earnings. You do not have a right to your life, others do. Others do not have a right to their lives, either, but you have a "right" to theirs. Such a concept of "rights" forcibly hog-ties everyone to everyone else, making everyone a slave to everyone elseexcept for those masters, statist politicians, who pull the strings and crack the whips.
Actual rightsthose actions to which you are entitled by your nature as mangive you clear title to your life. A right is your declaration of independence. A statist "right" is their declaration of your dependence on others and other's dependence on you. Until these bogus "rights" are repudiated, your freedom to live your life as you see fit will continue to slowly disappear.
The 1st Amendment right to free speech is a worthy ideal, but it will never catch on and, in fact, it looks like we we are steadily moving further away from that ideal. We now have more of a right to ramain silent then a right to speak out.
Saying what you believe can get you in hot water, can inhibit your career potential, can get you ostracised, can get you fired, can get you sued, can get you labeled as a bigot / hater / intolerant / homophobe / etc, can lose you an election, can scar you for life, can turn you into a "person of interest," can get you dead,......
Wish someone would 'splain this to all politicians before they run for office.
Leftists, who are basically relativist existentialist atheists (although some claim they believe in God but note in reality they tend to belong to liberal denominations which pay no attention to Scripture), are perfectly willing to believe that rights come from the State.
Bottom line: no God, no rights -- just revokable privileges that happen to be called rights.
Good enough. But it falls off after that.
There are various kinds of rights:
Natural or inalienable rights (Life, liberty, etc.) These exist even in a state of nature.
Civil rights (the right to vote, trial by jury, etc) These exist in a state of society and are dependant upon the society which has been established.
Legal rights, established in laws and courts.
Civil rights and legal rights are not universal. For instance, those who are not citizens may not have the right to vote in national elections.
The author says:
This means you do not have the right to the time in another persons life. You do not have a right to other peoples money. You do not have the right to another persons property. If you wish to acquire some moneyfrom another person, you must earn itthen you have a right to it. If you wish to gain some benefit from the time of another persons life, you must gain it through the voluntary cooperation of that individualnot through coercion. If you wish to possesssome item of property of another individual, you must buy it on terms acceptable to the ownernot gain it through theft.Perhaps that's a matter of interpretation. If another person or other people infringe on my rights or fail in any obligation they have to me, I might have a right to their life, money, property or time and I may use coercion in regard to that right.
The author says:
You may swat a fly or mosquito, killing them both. You do not have the right to do the same to another human being, except in self-defense.Again, perhaps that's a matter of interpretaion. An individual can have the right to kill someone who "needs killing" whether it's a matter of self-defense or not. (In "civilized" societies, individuals exercise this right through the legal system via the death penalty.)
While it's true that the actual meaning of a right has been corrupted, it is also true that people may have claims on each others lives by virtue of what for lack of a better term could be called a social contract. Maybe problems regarding statism arise when people deviate from the original terms of the contract. Anybody who doesn't feel obligated by the contract is of course free ignore it and do as they wish but they should also be ready to suffer consequences imposed by those who believe they have a property right in the society and do not wish it to be violated.
"A right defines what you may do without the permission of those other men and it erects a moral and legal barrier across which they may not cross."
Aren't legal barriers due to laws, rather than rights?
"Alone in a wilderness, the concept of a right would never occur to you... Rights only apply to beings capable of thought, capable of defining rights..."
Is this a contradiction? Why or why not?
"Freedom of speech is the right to say anything you wish..."
Does this include lies? Why or why not?
So in circumstances where there is neither a God nor a state, there will be no rights, whether recognized or unrecognized?
Right, as a substantive (my right, his right), designates the object of justice. When a person declares he has a right to a thing, he means he has a kind of dominion over such thing, which others are obliged to recognize. Right may therefore be defined as a moral or legal authority to possess, claim, and %0m/se a thing as one's own. It is thus essentially distinct from obligation; in virtue of an obligation we should, in virtue of a right, we may do or omit something. Again, right is a moral or legal authority, and, as such, is distinct from merely physical superiority or pre-eminence; the thief who steals something without being detected enjoys the physical control of the object, but no right to it; on the contrary, his act is an injustice:, a violation of right, and he is bound to return the stolen object to its owner. Right is called a moral or legal authority, because it emanates from a law which assigns to one the dominion over the thing and imposes on others the obligation to respect this dominion. To the right of one person corresponds an obligation on the part of others, so that right and obligation condition each other. If I have the right to demand one hundred dollars from a person, he is under the obligation to give them to me; without this obligation, right would be illusory. One may even say that the right of one person consists in the fact that, on his account, others are bound to perform or omit something.
The clause, "to possess, claim, and use, anything as one's own", defines more closely the object of right. Justice assigns to each person his own (suum cuique). When anyone asserts that a thing is his own, is his private property, or belongs to him, he means that this object stands in a special relation to him, that it is in the first place destined for his use, and that he can dispose of it according to his will, regardless of others. By a thing is here meant not merely a material object, but everything that can be useful to man, including actions, omissions, etc. The connexion of a certain thing with a certain person, in virtue of which the person may declare the thing his own, can originate only on the basis of concrete facts. It is an evident demand of human reason in general that one may give or leave one's own to anyone; but what constitutes one's own is determined by facts. Many things are physically connected with the human per-son by conception or birth--his limbs, bodily and mental qualities, health, etc. From the order imposed by the Creator of Nature, we recognize that, from the first moment of his being, his faculties and members are granted a person primarily for his own use, and so that they may enable him to support himself and develop and fulfil the tasks appointed by the Creator for this life. These things (i.e., his qualities, etc.) are his own from the first moment of his existence, and whoever injures them or deprives him of them violates his right. However, many other things are connected with the human person, not physically, but only morally. In other words, in virtue of a certain fact, everyone recognizes that certain things are specially destined for thc use of one person, and must be recognized as such by all. Persons who build a house for themselves, make an implement, catch game in the unreserved forest, or fish in the open sea, become the owners of these things in virtue of occupation of their labour; they can claim these things as their own, and no one can forcibly appropriate or injure these things without a violation of their rights. Whoever has lawfully purchased a thing, or been presented with it by another, may regard such thing as his own, since by the purchase or presentation he succeeds to the place of the other person and possesses his rights. As a right gives rise to a certain connection between person and person with respect to a thing, we may distinguish in right four elements: the holder, the object, the title, and the terminus of the right. The holder of the right is the person who possesses the right, the terminus is the person who has the obligation corresponding to the right, the object is the thing to which the right refers, and the title is the fact on the ground of which a person may regard and claim the thing as his own. Strictly speaking, this fact alone is not the title of thc right, which originates, indeed, in the fact, but taken in connection with thc: principle that one must assign to each his own property; however, since this principle may be presupposed as self-evident, it is customary to regard the simple fact as the title of the right.
The right of which we have hitherto been speaking is individual right, to which the obligation of commutative justice corresponds. Commutative justice regulates the relations of the members of human society to one another, and aims at securing that each member renders to his fellow-members what is equally theirs. In addition to this commutative justice, there is also a legal and distributive justice; these virtues regulate the relations between the complete societies (State and Church) and their members. From the propensities and needs of human nature we recognize the State as resting on a Divine ordinance; only in the State can man support himself and develop according to his nature. But, if the Divine Creator of Nature has willed the existence of the State, He must also will the means necessary for its maintenance and the attainment of its objects. This will can be found only in the right of the State to demand from its members what is necessary for the general good. It must be authorized to make laws, to punish violations of such, and in general to arrange everything for the public welfare, while, on their side, the members must be under the obligation corresponding to this right. The virtue which makes all members of society contribute what is necessary for its maintenance is called legal justice, because the law has to determine in individual cases what burdens are to be borne by the members. According to Catholic teaching, the Church is, like the State, a complete and independent society, wherefore it also must be justified in demanding from its members whatever is necessary for its welfare and the attainment of its object. But the members of the State have not only obligations towards the general body; they have likewise rights. The State is bound to distribute public burdens (e.g. taxation) according to the powers and capability of the members, and is also under the obligation of distributing public goods (offices and honours) according to the degree of worthiness and services. To these duties of the general body or its leaders corresponds a right of the members; they can demand that the leaders observe the claims of distributive justice, and failure to do this on the part of the authorities is a violation of the right of the members.
On the basis of the above notions of right, its object can be more exactly determined. Three species of right and justice have been distinguished. The object of the right, corresponding to even-handed justice, has as its object the securing for the members of human society in their intercourse with one another freedom and independence in the use of their own possessions. For the object of right can only be the good for the attainment of which we recognize right as necessary, and which it effects of its very nature, and this good is the freedom and independence of every member of society in the use of his own. If man is to fulfil freely the tasks imposed upon him by God, he must possess the means necessary for this purpose, and be at liberty to utilize such independently of others. He must have a sphere of free activity, in which he is secure from the interference of others; this object is attained by the right which protects each in the free use of his own from the encroachments of others. Hence the proverbs: "A willing person suffers no injustice" and "No one is compelled to make use of his rights". For the object of the right which corresponds to commutative justice is the liberty of the possessor of the right in the use of his own, and this right is not attained if each is bound always to make use of and insist upon his rights. The object of the right which corresponds to legal justice is the good of the community; of this right we may not say that "no one is bound to make use of his right", since the community---or, more correctly, its leaders--must make use of public rights, whenever and wherever the good of the community requires it. Finally, the right corresponding to the object of distributive justice is the defence of the members against the community or its leaders; they must not be laden with public burdens beyond their powers, and must receive as much of the public goods as becomes the condition of their meritoriousness arid services. Although, in accordance with the above, each of the three kinds of rights has its own immediate object, all three tend in common towards one remote object, which, according to St. Thomas (Cont. Gent., III, xxxiv), is nothing else than to secure that peace be maintained among men by procuring for each the peaceful possession of his own.
Right (or more precisely speaking, the obligation corresponding to right) is enforceable at least in general--that is, whoever has a right with respect to some other person is authorized to employ physical force to secure the fulfilment of this obligation, if the other person will not voluntarily fulfil it. This enforceable character of the obligation arises necessarily from the object of right. As already said, this object is to secure for every member of society a sphere of free activity and for society the means necessary for its development, and the attainment of this object is evidently indispensable for social life; but it would not be sufficiently attained if it were left to each one's discretion whether he should fulfil his obligations or not. In a large community there are always many who would allow themselves to be guided, not by right or justice, but by their own selfish inclinations, and would disregard the rights of their fellowmen, if they were not forcibly confined to their proper sphere of right; consequently, the obligation corresponding to a right must be enforceable in favour of the possessor of the right. But in a regulated community the power of compulsion must be vested in the public authority, since, if each might employ force against his fellowmen whenever his right was infringed, there would soon arise a general conflict of all against all, and order and safety would be entirely subverted. Only in cases of necessity, where an unjust attack on one's life or property has to be warded off and recourse to the authorities is impossible, has the individual the right of meeting violence with violence.
While right or the obligation corresponding to it is enforceable, we must beware of referring the essence of right to this enforcibility or even to the authority to enforce it, as is done by many jurists since the time of Kant. For enforcibility is only a secondary characteristic of right and does not pertain to all rights; although, for example, under a real monarchy the subjects possess some rights with respect to the ruler, they can usually exercise no compulsion towards him, since he is irresponsible, and is subject to no higher authority which can employ forcible measures against him. Rights are divided, according to the title on which they rest, into natural and positive rights, and the latter are subdivided into Divine and human rights. By natural rights are meant all those which we acquire by our very birth, e.g. the right to live, to integrity of limbs, to freedom, to acquire property, etc.; all other rights are called acquired rights, although many of them are acquired, independently of any positive law, in virtue of free acts, e.g. the right of the husband and wife in virtue of the marriage contract, the right to ownerless goods through occupation, the right to a house through purchase or hire, etc. On the other hand, other rights may be given by positive law; according as the law is Divine or human, and the latter civil or ecclesiastical, we distinguish between Divine or human, civil or ecclesiastical rights. To civil rights belong citizenship in a state, active or passive franchise, etc.
Transcribed by Charlie Martin
The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIII
Copyright © 1912 by Robert Appleton Company
Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by Kevin Knight
Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, D.D., Censor
Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
Aren't civil rights an extension of property rights, in that the government is an entity in which we all have joint ownership, and thus property rights to, because the "...right to property is the right to take the action needed to create and/or earn the material means needed for living. Once you have earned it, then that particular property is yourswhich means: you have the right to control the use and disposal of that property."
KrisKrinkle also said:
"Maybe problems regarding statism arise when people deviate from the original terms of the contract. Anybody who doesn't feel obligated by the contract is of course free ignore it and do as they wish but they should also be ready to suffer consequences imposed by those who believe they have a property right in the society and do not wish it to be violated."
I think you are right on here.
I, for example, have withdrawn my consent to be governed due to infringements of my right to keep and bear arms.
So far, none of my actions have been criminal, but I reserve without ethical qualms to right to fight tyranny. As the number of us who also withdraw our consent grows, this will become more important to the future of our nation.
Some people find the "Free State Project" to be rather humorous. I see it as a beginning of the process of withdrawing consent. If our nation wishes to avoid the type of break-up which happened to the Soviet Union, then the nation must return to the Constitution which was established with the consent of the governed.
Does that help?
BTW - "spooky" - "intel" - cute
An unalienable right may be denied but doesn't it still exist?
Rights exist only "between peers"?
While in actual practice the ruling aristocracy has more rights than me, is that the way it is supposed to be from Constitutional and moral standpoints?
And now the prohibition of the public display of the Ten Commandments is considered to be protecting the "free exercise thereof [religion].
Only in Amerika.
The fiction of "group rights" is one of the major problems with this country.
Unfortunately Fulton Huxtable's website, "Fatal Blindness" went dark a couple of months ago.
The original article for this post is from the FR archives. This piece was posted several times and it is worth a look to follow some of the old discussions.
You will see some familar names.
I know several libertarians and objectivists who are of the atheist persuasion who would not only disagree with you but would prove their point in debate.
You'll just have to take my word for it. Most are banned.
I believe the author only referred to natural rights.
Perhaps that's a matter of interpretation. If another person or other people infringe on my rights or fail in any obligation they have to me, I might have a right to their life, money, property or time and I may use coercion in regard to that right.
The libertarian "non agression principle" does cover self defense if someone initiates an act of agression against you. I believe Huxtable covers that in another essay.
While it's true that the actual meaning of a right has been corrupted, it is also true that people may have claims on each others lives by virtue of what for lack of a better term could be called a social contract.
I disagree. One person's need can never constitute a claim on the resources of another. We can have purely voluntary social obligations to address the needs of another but that cannot constitute a right.
Maybe problems regarding statism arise when people deviate from the original terms of the contract.
When people fail to fulfill their social obligations to family and neighbors the state is ready and willing to step in by claiming the needs of the poor do constitute a claim on the resources of the rest.
In an ideal world all laws would conform to natural rights hence no contradiction.
Is this a contradiction? Why or why not?
Animals do not have rights. Rights apply only to the interactions of men. A solitary man cannot violate the rights of another, or have his rights violated.
And in a later post you troll with the comment to me that "Fatal Blindness is an apt name".
You posting of this Roman Catholic prescription for the symbiosis of the church and the state must mean that you agree with it.
As to the section I highlighted first, states do not have rights -- they have powers. Second, the state "demanding from it's members....for the general good" is the opinion that has resulted in the current welfare state.
Something you have no problem with I am sure. After all, you are merely a republican and not a conservative.
2. Participation in government must be limited. Voting rights were extended only to those having property above a certain value.
3. Exclusion, 'those who do not belong.' Criminals, vice addicts etc.
There are other elements which would be tiresome to list and read. Members of the above have rights and only towards each other and others of like qualification.
What I have described is close to what really was. Those attitudes are very alien today.
Thats the way the founders meant it to be. Of course the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Nice to see you again.
You answered your own question:
...the only party capable of diminishing your natural rights is a thug...
But you knew that.
That question has been the source of good debates.
What you describe is the intent of the founders. Was their vision a perfect description of natural rights? e.g. does not an indentured servant have the same rights as the gentry?
No. Freedom does not exist for those who are denied freedom.
I'd say so.
"'Alone in a wilderness, the concept of a right would never occur to you... Rights only apply to beings capable of thought, capable of defining rights...'
Is this a contradiction? Why or why not?"
Given that a right is the sovereignty to act without the permission of others, I'd say that the concept would almost certainly never occur to someone who was alone in the wilderness and had never been in the company of others. Without others, the issue of permission would not arise. On the other hand, it is possible that a philosophical genius would be able to think through to the concept. That status does not apply to most people.
A case could be made for disagreement that rights only apply to beings capable of defining rights. A lot hangs on the meaning of capable. Those to whom the concept of a right had never occured because they were alone in the wilderness and not capable of defining rights due to that circumstance, would still have rights applicable to them if they came in contact with others. An infant, even if not capable of thought or definition, still has a right to life. On the other hand, if capable refers to the potential or lack of it (past, present, or future) to think the thing through and come to a definition of rights, a different conclusion might be reached. On what might be the gripping hand, given that a right is the sovereignty to act without the permission of others, I would not depend on going to the wilderness and trying to explain to a lion that the lion does not have that sovereignty.
"'Freedom of speech is the right to say anything you wish...'
Does this include lies? Why or why not?"
The Freedom to do something and the right to do that somehing are not the same. You may have the freedom (through the exercise of free will) to put a pistol ball through my head, but that does not mean you have the right to do so. In our society, the government may not be able censor your free speech including lies about me, but I can sue you for libel or slander after you have spread the lies because you did not have the right to do so. In some cases, good reputation is considered a property right and one has no free speech right to diminish the value of a reputation through lies.
I'm not so sure I agree with that definition. I would prefer "that dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in exclusion of every other individual." My major objection involves the phrase "needed for living," I can have property that I don't really need for living. And my comments apply to personal property, not real property.
Aren't civil rights an extension of property rights, in that the government is an entity in which we all have joint ownership, and thus property rights to...
Depending on who "we" is and the form of government that has been established, we don't all have joint ownership of government. In the case of the US, non-citizens do not participate in joint ownership of government, but they do have civil rights in regard to trial by jury, due process and so forth. But not in regard to voting in national elections.
At least in the standard historical usage of the term, a right is something that exists simultaneously among people. A right confers no obligation on another. For example, the right to free speech is something we all possess. My right to free speech imposes no obligation upon another except that of non-interference. Similarly, I have a right to travel freely. That right imposes no obligation upon another except that of non-interference.
Contrast those rights to the supposed right to decent housing or medical care. Those supposed rights do confer obligations upon others. There is no Santa Claus or Tooth Fairy. If you don't have money to pay for decent housing or medical services, and the government gives you a right to those services, where do you think the money comes from?
I thought so, but it would have been better if the author had made the distinction, particularly when he started writing about statists. In some societies someone might have a civil or legal right (but not a natural right) to housing and so forth, depending upon how the society is set up.
One person's need can never constitute a claim on the resources of another.
I did not mean to say that mere need did constitute such a claim.
I wrote that they ".. may have claims ... by virtue of what for lack of a better term could be called a social contract." The Founders (some of them) had claims on each other because of the words ",,,, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."
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