What are “rights” and where do they come from? In attempting to answer this question, I will try to be as unscientific as possible, and rely as little as possible on outside sources. It is almost impossible, of course, not to mention quotes from the declaration of independence, or FDR’s 2nd bill of rights, or the constitution, or any number of other sources, but I’ll try my best.
From my many conversations with people, in person and in social media settings, I have found that very few people give any thought to what a “right’ or a “human right” really is. The word gets bandied about quite frequently, from patients bill of rights, to fliers bill of rights for airplane travel, etc… When I try to dig a little deeper with these people, usually liberals but also to a lesser extent republicans, I find that the discussion always tends to lead to a discussion about personal property, but I’ll save that for next week.
Let’s jump right in. In my opinion rights come from nothing. They are part of the laws of nature. Rights predate people, and governments. All living creatures are born with a set of natural rights. It does not matter weather a person is born in a first world country, or to abject poverty, or a remote Amazonian tribe that has no word for “rights” in its language. A flower has the right to germinate, a lion has a right to hunt for food, a gazelle has the right to attempt to evade being captured by that lion. We as people are born with our own set of rights. What is a right? A right is something that does not need another person to fulfill. A right is universal. A right is free of cost. A right can be exorcised by everyone in the world at the same time if so chosen. It stands on its own. Let’s look at a few examples to see what I mean. The right to pursue happiness does not transfer any responsibility to any other person to make us happy, it costs nothing, everyone on earth could pursue happiness, it simply means we can look for happiness. There is no guarantee we will find it, but we can look. If on the other hand we look at the statement, we have a right to happiness, it would infer that if we were not happy someone would have to make us happy, thus the right to happiness is no right at all because forcing someone to make me happy infringes on their right to be happy themselves.
let’s take a look at what many in Europe and most liberals in America would call “human rights”. The “rights” I hear about most are the right to a house, food, healthcare and a living wage. One thing that blatantly stands out with all of these is that they are all dependent on other people to make them happen. If you have the right to a house, but are not a carpenter, could you not force a carpenter to build a house? It is your right after all. This makes every carpenter a slave. If you have a right to food but are not a farmer, does this not make the farmer your slave? If you have a right to healthcare but are not a doctor, is the doctor not your slave? If you have a right to a certain wage does this not make your employer your slave? if you follow this logic to its end it would have to be conceded that every person is a slave to every other person. The only free people in this scenario are the least productive who give nothing to the benefit of society.
This brings me to the other side of “rights”, our responsibility. Much is written about our rights but little is written about what is required of man by natural law. Of course we can pursue anything we desire, but we have a responsibility to respect other peoples’ “right to refuse”. If I decide that a million dollars would make me happy, I cannot force you to give me a job toward the end of making that money. This concept is best described as the “non-aggression principle”. It is the defining responsibility for all human beings and basically says one person cannot injure another person by forcing them to give up their rights or personal property without their consent.
This brings me to my last point, and teaser for next week. People have a right to own things. Feel free to put this statement to the tests that I outlined for other rights above.
See you next week.