What are rights?
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Editor’s Note: This was written to introduce the idea of rights to the Young Statesman.
What are rights? There are two types or rights: Negative rights and positive rights. If you’ve ever heard the Ten Commandments, you’re familiar with Negative Rights. Thou shalt not…. Negative rights make you refrain from encroaching on the person or property of another.
Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not steal. Or as Libertarians like to say: Do not encroach upon the person or property of another. Simple, no? These rights don’t require you to Do anything. Only to refrain. A negative right essentially protects you from the encroachment of another person, a group, and the State. The negative right tells you that you can expect not to be subject to violence or coercion.
Negative rights are based on the idea of ownership. You own yourself and you own your property. No one has the right to infringe upon your life or your liberty or your property because they properly belong to you. For a negative right to be violated, one person, group, or State must encroach upon another. (Thou shalt not kill apparently doesn’t apply to tornadoes or earthquakes so if you’re killed by a tornado we don’t say that your rights have been violated.)
If you’ve ever heard someone argue that all people have the right to healthcare, education, food, shelter, or clothing they were making an argument for Positive rights. Positive rights make everyone responsible for providing one another with goods, services, and resources. Positive rights negate the principle of ownership. Every single argument for Positive rights without exception, no matter how kindly intended or reasonable, is an attack on self ownership and property.
Positive rights are based on the principle that we do Not own ourselves nor do we own our property. Therefore access to the property and person of another without their consent–theft and servitude–is fair and reasonable.
Positive rights require that you Do something. This is a violation of the principle of self-ownership. If I own myself, I am not required to Do anything at the behest of another. A Positive right guarantees the encroachment of another person, a group, and the State against your person and property. You will be subject to violence and coercion if you violate the right of another to your labor and property.
Constitutionally, the preservation of Negative rights is the purview of the State. Negative rights are ancient and history has shown that despots violate them first by claiming the ‘general welfare’ or ‘common good’ is being served and after establishing that the people will tolerate their breach they will do away with them in all but name.