What are “rights” and where do they come from?

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.

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5 thoughts on “What are “rights” and where do they come from?

  1. Matt Wilson, what are your thoughts on the argument that the general welfare clause in the U.S. Constitution extends to the notion of healthcare being a right? Personally, since healthcare is not a right from the government, which many conservatives correctly argue, that negates the claim that Progressives make that the right to healthcare is government originated. Paul Ryan said that healthcare is not a government granted right. Here is a video for you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aaks8Bzv-j4 The guy in the video is clearly taking what Paul Ryan said out of context. Saying that healthcare is not a right from the government is not saying that it is not a right at all. He was saying that government does not have the right to force you to buy a specific type of healthcare plan. Saying that healthcare is not a right from the government=saying that it is not a right at all is dishonest. Paul Ryan is basically saying that the government should not have jurisdiction over what healthcare we can have. Not only is the guy who is making this presentation an idiot, he is clearly putting words in Paul Ryan’s mouth that Paul Ryan did not say.

    A right that we have is the right to keep and bear arms. Leftist political types want to use gun-related tragedies to push an agenda for gun control. Gun rights advocates believe in responsible ownership, not using tragedies to push a gun control agenda. What part of “shall not be infringed” is so easily misunderstood and disregarded by these Leftist political types?

    A hot topic for many people is the abortion issue. Some people claim that they believe in a woman’s right to choose. If someone did not want to face the possibility of an abortion, they should have either abstained from sexual intercourse without necessary protection that resulted in a pregnancy or gotten a course in sex education to prepare themselves with basic information.

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    • I think one thing people need to realize is that rights are not granted by government. the government did not grant us the right to bear arms. the government is only supposed to protect our rights from being infringed upon. the right to bear arms comes from a more general right to own anything. guns were singled out because authoritarian governments like to take them away. the 2a was guarding against that.
      with regards to healthcare, it’s neither a right in the broad sense, nor is it a government granted service. I haven’t read the blog you commented on in a long time, but I think I talk about the difference between positive and negative rights? if not this one, then another one. you have no right to healthcare. period.

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  2. Matt Wilson, it seems to me that these people who speak of “rights” want to make up rights that do not exist. Why should you have a “right” to something like healthcare and not pay the medical bills that you accumulate as a result?

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  3. One human right we have is the right to marry whoever we want. On the marriage issue, the libertarians are in the right. Marriage should be of no concern to the government.

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