Funny Things, “Rights”

Before I start, let me ask you a simple but serious question:

Why is slavery wrong?

I mean it, why is slavery wrong?  Is it that one person is said to own another?  Well, why would that be wrong?  Think about it as you read the rest of this post.

Most people never stop to think about what a right actually is.  All they know is that they have needs, therefore, those things they “need” must be “rights.”  After all, if you need food to live, you must have a right to food.  So it is that we think we have a right to food, clothing, housing, a job and health care.  Sadly, none of these things are rights.  They can’t be – not unless you are going to say there is nothing wrong with slavery, that is.

Now, think about this for a minute.  What is wrong with slavery?  If you boil it down to the most fundamental thing, isn’t it that one person is forcing another to do something against their will.  If you accept this, then how can you claim to have a right to anything that requires another person to do something for you?  If you claim that you have a right to food, you just claimed a right to force the farmer to grow for you, the trucker to drive for you and the merchant to sell to you.  After all, if they do not do those things, you cannot get food, and if you have a right to that food, then they must do those things.  They do not have a choice.  Therefore, if you claim a right to food, clothing, housing, a job and health care, you just made slaves out of a great many people.  So it would seem that, whatever a right is, it must be something that you and you alone can claim and exercise without trampling on the rights of another person.  Think of it this way: a right must be something that you can claim and exercise if you are stranded on a deserted island.

Now, if you are one who happens to think that we are the product of a bunch of random elements getting together and conspiring to violate the second law of thermodynamics to spontaneously create life, then you shouldn’t be talking about rights at all.  If we are an accident of a violation of the universal laws of physics, then there can be no such thing as a right.  If you doubt this, just go ask the lion how much right the zebra has to her body or life.  And if you think that a silly illustration, then point me to the nearest safari court where the zebras are trying the lion for murder.

But notice how this illustration brings us to another interesting aspect of this thing we call rights: a connection to that thing we call “justice.”

55 thoughts on “Funny Things, “Rights”

    • Aurora,

      If you are going to claim that it is not wrong to force someone else to do something for you, then you are claiming that you have a right to their body, life and free will. This is slavery. Now, you can make this argument if you want, but you need to understand it works both ways: others will be able to claim they have the same right to your body, life and labor. See, you just arrived in Hobbes’ utopia — and the world of the French Revolution — where might makes right.

      Sort of negates the whole notion of a right, doesn’t it? :-)

    • “Why is forcing someone else to provide something we need wrong?”

      We are afford the following rights: LIfe, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Nothing more, nothing less. Now allow me to ask you a question. If you pursue your own happiness by forcibly removing one component of those rights of another, then how could that be right?

      • I don’t think it’s right, but socialists do. They have a right to life which means they have a right to receive benefit from those resources that support life. They have a right to freedom (as opposed to liberty) which they define as freedom from want. This makes THEM happy. Those with resources are preventing them from fully enjoying their life of freedom from want, so therefore it is right to redistribute those resources for the good of society.

        That is, in a nutshell, Marx’ argument. Marx, the man who lived off of Engels’ voluntary income redistribution for 25 years.

  1. And . . .

    For the rest of the story . . .

    Augger, I understand what you are saying about being brief, but these issues cannot be done in a 30 second sound bite.

    To “be free” and savor liberty, requires understanding. Understanding requires work-thought.

    • Texas,

      Augger is just saying that I should post my longer essays in sections. Rather than string all the related thoughts into one long post where I can tie them all together for you, I believe Augger is saying we should post each separate concept as a post in itself, then put all related posts in a folder where they can be easily accessed. This way, there is a better chance people will actually read each post.

      I understand this approach, but I see it as a double-edged sword. Much of what I deal with — if taken in sections — could create misunderstandings that could then serve the Progressive cause. The issue of natural rights vs. those rights created by the social contract is an excellent example. They are not the same, so they shouldn’t be treated the same. We can see how easily confused these issues are just in the comments to this post.

    • “Augger, I understand what you are saying about being brief, but these issues cannot be done in a 30 second sound bite. “

      I never said they should. In fact, I stated that we should write a library of reference, and succinctly state points as much as possible before we lose the attention of the readers, and give them widgets to follow to a deeper understanding elsewhere.

      Parsing thoughts is dangerous Texas.

      • I agree. (I was/am playing “devils advocate.)

        There must be a way to provide a basic understanding in smaller, more manageable “bites”.

        And then “tie” them together after having explained them individually.

        That’s why I “attempt” to explain one tiny part in my Constitution posts. And even they “grow” beyond manageability.

        What I would add for those who are reading this comment; these concepts require thoughtful consideration and constant and consistent application.

        It takes true understanding to explain these concepts, which are purposely ignored by graduate universities and law schools.

        On a positive note !

        People are still clicking on the pages here. If they click on it, they might peruse it and think about it over coffee and during discussions with others.

  2. I think I get where you’re coming from. Rights and entitlements are different things, and if we mistake an entitlement for a right then we are inadvertently arguing for slavery, because it forces other people to provide for us against their will.

    But I’m not sure if entitlements and rights can be distinguished based on the “desert island” criterion. I am guessing that you believe in the U.S. constitution, namely the 7th amendment, which guarantees a right to a trial by jury. Unfortunately, the
    state “forces” people to participate in a jury in order to secure that very basic right of being innocent til proven guilty in the eyes of the law. Plus, I am also pretty sure you cannot get a trial by jury while stranded on a desert island, well unless you capture 12 monkeys and force them to deliberate. Is this slavery? maybe for the monkeys…

    The other thing is that the right to food, healthcare, shelter, etc., (as declared in the UDHR), does not treat rights necessarily as an obligation to provide. Just like the 7th amendment in the U.S. isn’t an obligation to provide, these rights rather protect your ability to access basic necessities, not receive them on a platter. I would encourage you to study jurisprudence on human rights. It’s got great stuff for liberty-minded people, I promise. :)

    • I think I get where you’re coming from. Rights and entitlements are different things, and if we mistake an entitlement for a right then we are inadvertently arguing for slavery, because it forces other people to provide for us against their will.


      Stop stealing my thunder (otherwise known as saying the same thing I did — only better :-) ).

      Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. Now for the part that demonstrates why it is hard to discuss issues like this in short essays.

      The “right” to your free will, your life and your body would be called Natural Rights. You have claim to them simply because you exist. the “right” to a trial by jury are NOT Natural Rights, they are social constructs agreed to by all through the social contract. In this sense, they are more of a privilege than a right. Take the trial by jury as an example. When we formed our society, we agreed to voluntarily limit our individual Natural Right to self-defense in exchange for the due process afforded by our legal system. Jury trials are just one part of that system. However, if we want to step outside the social contract, the Natural Right to self-defense still exists. We just have to accept that the rest of society will likely resist, and as a society, it is likely to be stronger than we are by ourselves, so we will probably not fare well trying to defend ourselves against society.

      Finally, as for studying jurisprudence, I thank you for the suggestion — truly. But I have studied the law and it is why I declined to attend law school after being accepted. I no longer believe the legal system serves the people. It has become so perverted as to no longer be a thing of justice, but rather, a tool of oppression. I prefer to stick to the philosophy side of things: where I can study what the law was supposed to be, and why :-)

      • Joe … see how the thought expands itself? What Texas is failing to see with my suggestion (it was only a suggestion, and not a demand) is that you gave a succinct thought, and here it grabbed folks, and is now proliferating into a blossom of discussion … of which, we can take the high points, and consolidate them to a widget for later use when we come full circle at a later time. :)

      • Hi Joe. Thanks for the discussion.

        I don’t want to mischaracterize your argument, but if the 7th amendment right to due process is a privilege and NOT a natural right, does that mean it can be characterized as slavery? And can you clarify “self defense”? as in me shooting an attacker or a thief?

        And I don’t at all deny you know about jurisprudence. Like you, I also hate “law” or at least, the normative side of it. I was recommending it specifically regarding the UDHR which includes “right to food” etc. Depending how you approach it, studying jurisprudence can give lots of insight into the more theoretical and philosophical aspects of “freedom” [or the relationship between individual and society]. But I think to most libertarians, it gives lots of fodder to hate global institutions.

        • @Davey,

          As I have come to understand Natural Rights and Natural Law, “due process” would be more of a civil right than a natural right. It is something granted by society, therefore, it can be denied by society or corrupt leaders. The natural right is the right to self-defense. HOWEVER, this would be tied to the aspect of natural law that dictates we have a duty not to encroach upon the natural rights of others. In this light, due process is then an aspect of our social contract that shows we acknowledge this duty and are granting a civil right to help guard against trampling the natural rights of the individuals subject tot he social contract.

          Does that make sense?

          • Joe, I certainly hope that description works. I’d hate to have to dumb it down for Davey to the point of embarrassment.

            Well stated.

          • I think so… Is it because the right to due process, a “civil right”, is so closely linked to a persons “natural rights” like self defense or self preservation, that the 7th amendment (despite its unnatural qualities as a right only granted by society) is NOT considered akin to slavery?

            If so, I think that line of logic opens a lot of doors. In that case, I think a person WOULD have a right to food. Firstly, food sustains life, resembling more of a “natural right” rather than a “civil right.” Secondly, according to human rights law, the right to “food” does not mean the right to “be fed.” Thirdly, if I am denied access to food, say if some one seizes ownership of basic necessities by unjust means, They would be denying my natural “right to life” and effectively invoking my “right to self defense”. So I have to disagree that a right to food would resemble slavery, AT LEAST no more than the coercive qualities of the 7th Amendment.

            • Dave,

              You are working very hard to get around the differences between Natural Rights and civil rights. You do not and can never have a “right” to food — not by nature. If that were the case, man could stand with mouth open and roast duck would fly in daily.

              You also seem to miss the fact that Natural Law imparts duties to each of us. We are required to help each other as part of our duty to our Creator, but never by law. We cannot force that on another — nor can we ever require it by compact — because it is not ours to give or command. You are struggling with the human fallacy of thinking we — as created beings — can become equal to our greater than our Creator. We can’t, and when we try, we get what we have now.

              • Re: our Creator. Whoops, I assumed your standpoint was a more of an Ayn Rand, objectivist view point (Sorry, i just assumed from the title of this blog). I will have to concede on matters of “our duty and relationship to our Creator” because I dont think I’d be able to comment on that objectively. And I mean that with the utmost respect for religion, in particular (as I assume yours is) Christianity.

                And I agree! You cannot have a right to food by nature. I simply said that right to food comes “closer” to natural law than due process (food being necessary for survival, a trial by jury not so much). And because its been implied that that the 7th amendment is NOT akin to “slavery”, I argue that “right to food” does less to coerce than the 7th amendment and can thus be absolved of its resemblance to slavery in the exact same fashion.

                • Yes, well, I am not the original founder of the blog, so I didn’t name it. Still, the name fits for the purpose of our central theme as The Rio Norte Line actually illustrates the fatal flaw in Rand’s philosophy. I was actually thinking about writing a post about this very subject later this weekend.

                  As for a right to food being a natural right, it isn’t, and never can be. But I’ll go you one better: without a Creator, you can NEVER have a right — to anything, not even your own life. You can only have what you can take or are given. And what is given can be taken away.

            • I haven’t done any recent “study”. But let me throw a couple thoughts on the wall.
              Davey, its easy to mix apples and oranges and bananas, etc.
              Joe, what do you think?

              Natural Rights are more than Civil Rights and Due Process.

              Natural Rights pre-exist the Constitution and are “Creator or G-d given”. Should never be transgressed by government.

              Civil Rights are those rights which “mankind” agrees upon amongst themselves to live “harmoniously” amongst one another.

              Due Process is not right per se. Due Process is an agreed upon process, for ensuring man can enforce “civil and natural rights” through an agreed upon system (courts), instead of resorting to violence (force of arms).

              Maybe what is confusing you (and all of us to different degrees) is our Constitutional “Bill of Rights” discusses different kinds or levels of rights in furtherance of limiting government with the goal of protecting “natural rights”.

              Think of the “Bill of Rights” as the “bright lines” government is never to pass over without Constitutional Amendment.

              Therein lies the problem. NO ONE holding office can abide by their oath of office to protect and preserve our Constitution and at the same time work to dissolve the “Bill of Rights” in the Constitution. They can work towards amending anything other than the consideration given for entering into the “contract”.

              The “Bill of Rights” were “the consideration given”, for entering into the “contract of the Constitution”. The final payment “so to speak” for giving power of the people to a new Republican Government. See the preamble to the Bill of rights.


              If what was “promised” and passed accordingly, in return for entering into the agreement of the Constitution, is taken away, can the original agreement remain in force?

              Are those who hold office or work in government, who work towards violating the Constitutional agreement with Americans, violating their personal oaths to uphold and protect the Constitution?

      • I think entitlements were “something” created by the courts in response to “social” programs created by government.

    • “Unfortunately, the state “forces” people to participate in a jury in order to secure that very basic right of being innocent til proven guilty in the eyes of the law.”

      Ah, but they get the opportunity to recuse themselves during the selection phase, so is it really a forced issue? And while your point is not lost on me daveys, the rule of law in this land is the United States Constitution, and not the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – United Nations.

      • I brought up the UDHR, because that is where the things that we traditionally think of “entitlements” like “food” and “work” are declared as a human right. I used it to clarify that these rights do less to force others into doing favors, rather they keep access to these basic necessities from being denied.

        I am also a firm believer in both the U.S. Constitution and the UDHR (and yes, that is logically possible). I am sure most people here are incredibly critical toward the U.N. but that can be a discussion for another day.

        • “I am sure most people here are incredibly critical toward the U.N. but that can be a discussion for another day.”

          I do not have a particular beef with the United Nations. But the funny thing about the United Nations is two fold; 1. Nations join the UN by choice (and leave by choice), and 2. The UN still does not remain the law of the land here.

          Now, if the UN begins to stomp on our US Constitution, then we’ll have a beef to discuss.

  3. I understand your post based on a prisoner’s rights (you all know where I work). As a free man, I do not have a “right” to food. I have the right to freely choose, as much as possible, the employment I get to earn my food. A prisoner, on the other hand, has been prevented, or kept from by incarceration, the opportunity to work for his food, therefore under the terms of his incarceration he has the “right” to fed three times a day. He, the prisoner, has basic rights granted to him by the state because of his circumstances, but he also has privileges. It is a privilege (or maybe an entitlement?) to watch television for example. Not a right because it is not necessary to his survival or good health.

    Rights can be taken away under certain circumstances, ie slavery or prison. We need to guard our rights very closely.

    • FC,

      Can a right actually be taken away, or justly curtailed? The reason the prisoner is in jail is because he broke the social contract. In other words, he violated natural law and trespassed against another person. now, according to natural law, we can either kill him outright in defense of our rights as an individual, or use our natural right to contract to form a society where we establish a legal system by which we can protect our rights with less ‘permanent’ means. If we chose, we can use jail, and if we chose to use jail, then natural law dictates that we must feed and provide basic care for the prisoner for as long as we jail him. At this point, the prisoner does not have a right to food, he has an entitlement — not the same thing. If the prisoner wanted to reclaim his right to eat, he must enter back into the state of nature with society, in which case, he will lose any protections afforded by society while he is in jail and return to open war with society.

      Do you see how I am looking at this?

  4. Agreed – almost :-). “If the prisoner wanted to reclaim his right to eat, he must enter back into the state of nature with society . . . ” It is not the prisoner’s choice of when he can enter back into society, therefore, we (the state in my case) grant the prisoner the right to eat until his sentence is up. Food cannot be withheld from the prisoner under any circumstances. Entitlements, such as food stamps and Obamaphones, can certainly be withheld from someone who has the choice to work or not work.

    • I think a prisoner should be made to work in their society to pay their debt. I also believe they should be deprived of silly television in order that they read. I should like to know FL; are these boys deprived of reading materials?

      • Kells,

        Agreed, and if we were running our judicial system according to natural law, that’s what we would be doing. The injured party should be made whole, not the government. And jails should ONLY be for those persons who show they cannot or will not abide by the social contract. And, like it or not for the prisoner, if they show they are going to habitually break this contract, society has the right NOT to extend civil rights. In which case, instead of putting them in jail, society is justified in putting them in the ground.

      • kells – There is very little “work” to do in their society. Some work in the chow hall, others are assigned to cut grass, while others are assigned to clean the dorms as housemen. Books are not banned, in fact, the state keeps comprehensive libraries and law libraries in every institution. When you get 1400 men together on less than four acres land, “work” runs out pretty quickly.

    • FC,

      Not to fight here, OK? I just want to make sure you understand what I am saying about a prisoner having the right to enter back into the state of nature. In other words, he can tell you to go to h*!! and “try” to do what he wants, but when he does, you — acting as the rightful appointee of society — will “defend” society from the prisoner. And since you have help in the form of other guards, the prisoner is not going to get far. Now, he has this right, but that doesn’t mean it’s in his best interest to claim it. In which case, he WILLINGLY accepts the contract society offers and, in this case, is afforded the CIVIL RIGHT of being fed. That means society has volunteered to accept the duty of feeding the prisoner, but that does not make feeding him a Natural Right.

      Does that clarify what I’m trying to say any better?

  5. True enough. About once a day an inmate will express his 1st Amendment right to one of us officers. He invariably ends up in confinement for expressing himself. Still (not fighting at all), when the justice system incarcerates an individual, the city, county, state or federal government assumes all responsibility for that individual’s welfare; food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and a reasonable amount of safety. It is a (legal) obligation, not a volunteered one. In that case, as far as the inmate is concerned, does he have a natural right (within those limits) to his rights as he is no longer in a position to provide for himself?

    • Without knowing that particular case, I would say his conjugal visit was a privilege that was granted to him, not a right. If the visit threatened the safety or security of the institution, it would not have been allowed. That’s just my first thought. I’m gonna look that up.

  6. kells – In Lyons v. Gilligan (1974), the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio held that the prisoners have no constitutional right to conjugal visit with their wives during visits. Six states allow conjugal visits; California, New York, Connecticut, New Mexico, Mississippi, and Washington. In 2008 a mass murder was let out on a supervised visit and his wife was coming into the prison for conjugal visits, but that was in Canada so go figure.

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