Where Do Our Rights Come From?
This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.
Me: What would you say to someone who said rights come from the government?
Young Statesman (then 13): Well, it seems like we get our rights from government, and I think that’s a common misconception.
YS: Because the government is charged with protecting our rights. That’s their job. I think that’s why people get confused.
Me: So how would you explain to someone what rights are and where they come from?
YS: I would explain that there are positive rights and negative rights. Negative rights are a duty to refrain from encroaching on the life, liberty, or property of another.
Me: Is that why they’re called negative rights?
YS: Yes. They’re negative because they’re saying what you can’t do. Negative rights are natural to every person. We have these rights just because we are people. We don’t have to enter into contract for these rights.
Me: So what another person has the right to expect you won’t do?
YS: Yes. So I have the right to expect that I won’t be killed, enslaved, or robbed. Life, liberty, and property. Positive rights are different. Positive rights say you have a duty to provide someone with something.
Me: How do you come about having a positive right?
YS: If a negative right was infringed upon, you have a positive right to restitution. You can also contract for positive rights
Me: Can you take away a peaceful person’s negative rights?
YS: No. If your negative rights haven’t been infringed upon and if you have no voluntary contract, then you have no positive right to a good service or anything like that.
Me: So what if I were to say that what you say about rights makes sense, but I still think rights come from the government?
YS: A legitimate government is just a group of people who have voluntarily gotten together to protect their rights. The rights that existed before the government came into being.
Me: Is there any great difference between a legitimate government and a voluntary mutual aid society that agrees to help one another protect their property?
YS: No. A legitimate government upholds people’s property rights and is voluntary. It doesn’t have a band of enforcers to force you the be part of their system. That violates the rights it claims to protect. If the government violates the rights it claims to defend it’s not legitimate. I should be able to say that I do not want their services. If you aren’t able to opt out, what are you? Do you have your liberty? Slaves aren’t able to opt out, are they? We just have a slightly bigger pen.