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.
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."
Using the extension of the author's reasoning, isn't that a privilege, bestowed upon foreigners by our good graces and our desire to get revenue from tourism and foreign investment, rather than a right?
I realize that I am in grave risk of delving into symantecs. But, I think that the philosophy surrounding rights - of any kind - is fascinating, and I like to get input from anyone who is willing to give it, on every facet of the topic.
I don't think so, but I might have missed something.
Of course if a right is the sovereignty to act without the permission of others, then the right to trial by jury and the right to due process are not really rights at all. They are obligations to the accused and to society.
And a lot depends on what is meant by privilege. I've seen privilege defined as a right conferred by law. I've also seen it defined as a right, advantage, exemption, power, immunity or franchise held by a person, not generally possessed by others.
I'll have to think more about this.
And I don't scorn delving into symantecs. The use of words is important in trying to convey meaning. When someone has said to me "That's just semantics," I have been know to say something like "Can I call you dipstick? After all, it's just semantics" :)
I agree. It should. It does not. Though I can find no disagreement with the author in his listing of what rights *are* he in no way offers a simple explanation of their *source*.
The closest the author comes to this revelation is in one of his closing lines: "Actual rightsthose actions to which you are *entitled by your nature* as man...."
I ask, what is my nature as a man? From what font did that nature spring?
Does evolution theory explain my rights? If the happenstance of my birth came through thousands - excuse me, millions - of years of evolution, and my life as man is pure luck of the draw according to the governing rule of survival of the fittest (over even cellular life), what claim do I have to the uniqueness of my nature? How dare I presume to set myself atop the chain of life for simply being born (with no involvement on my part) with the capacity for rational thought, a cosmic accident, biological happenstance?
Rights only apply to beings capable of thought, Fulton Huxtable asserts, capable of defining rights and creating an organized meansgovernmentof protecting such rights.
Is this why babies in utero have no right to life and may be aborted at the whim of the 'thinking' mother? Is this why the Honorable George W. Greer, Judge, Sixth Judicial Circuit, Clearwater, Florida, can rule justly that Terri Schiavo's husband may remove her feeding tube? If a man (or woman, or child) is incapable of defending his rights does he not have them?
If you (or Fulton) were to argue that those men (or women or children) who are incapable of defending their own rights due to age or disability are given assumed rights because society has made provision for their rights in law, then you are admitting that rights come from government.
I beg to differ.
Animals have thought processes. This has been proven scientifically and is irrefutable. Animals have the desire to live, and the ability to defend their lives (as men do) until that defense is countered by superior force. Thought process is not the origin of man's rights.
Man's superior ability to gather into societies and to establish government on the agreement of delineated rights, and for the protection of these, does not explain the *source* of man's rights - *unless* you or Fulton Huxtable is arguing that *the agreement of what rights are* is itself the source?
I beg to differ with that, too.
As I see it, you have three choices in naming the Source of your rights:
1) God - absolute and unchanging, according to His revealed will by His Word
2) Government - whimsical enforcement by the Power du jour
3) Your personal declaration - rationally indefensible.
I can't believe I am in agreement with you.
NMC - That question has been the source of good debates.
LiberationIT oughta just own to the the truth: he wasn't up to the challenge. He can not name nor can he defend the source of his rights; he can only proclaim what those rights are, as Fulton Huxtable has done, as though the proclamation itself gives logical defense of the rights of man.
You confuse rights with the freedom to exercise those rights.
There is a difference.
The notion of "Freedom of Speech" is only a contract between the government and the individual. You say that speaking your mind can get you fired, but that is between the employer and the individual, not the government. If your employer doesn't like what you say, why shouldn't they be able to fire you, the Constitution doesn't give you a right to a job.
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