There has been a lot of talk about rights over the past few days as a result of the Supreme Court ruling that marriage bans are unconstitutional. Though many across social media seem to have somewhat of a decent grasp on what rights are, many many people have what I think is a great and dangerous misconception about what is a right and, as a corollary, where rights come from. For this reason I decided to write a piece about the nature and origin of rights.
To begin, civil rights, gay rights, African American rights, etc. are all figments of our imagination. The truth is that these categories do not exist. There are only human rights. And any legitimate human right can be deducted down to the same right, the right of private property. You have a right to free speech because you own your body and mind, you have a right to keep the fruits of your labor because you own yourself and your actions. There is only a right to property—indeed all others which cannot be thought of in terms of self-ownership, are not truly rights.
Rights arise from necessity and the realities of being a human on this Earth. Morality arises from rights. We have the right to property (i.e. the right to self-ownership and anything which results from said ownership) because it is absolutely necessary for man’s survival. Man is born into this world naked, cold, and poor and so must use his faculties to manipulate the world around him, or face death. If you are not able to own your body, its faculties, and the fruits brought about by using those faculties, you will not survive. Human rights, then, are the embodiment of what we must do in order to live successfully, and that is why they are called fundamental. Rights can’t and don’t arise from any other source. They are the objective necessities for maintaining your life.
Morality is simply the observance of the rights of others. A moral action is any which does not violate the property of others, and an immoral act is one that does. This is incredibly and rightly simple. Theft is immoral because you are coercively taking someone else’s property through non-voluntary means. Murder is immoral because you are violating someone’s most sacred form of property, their person (body and mind). Morality is necessary because rights are necessary. Just as an individual cannot survive without the freedom to exercise his rights, so a community or society cannot survive if most of its members do not act morally, i.e. respect the property rights of others.
True rights are negative. This means that they do not grant you anything, rather they only give you a free avenue along which their exercise is not impeded. For example, you do not have the right to life, instead you have the right for your life to not be taken. You don’t have a right to get a job, but you have the right to seek a job. You don’t have a right to have healthcare or housing, but no one can stop you from morally (through voluntary exchange) obtaining it or keeping it once you have it. So, true rights require no action on the part of others, only inaction in certain areas.
If you are not able to exercise a true human right it is because someone somewhere committed a moral offense against you. In other words, it is only immoral actions which can keep you from exercising your right. This is the reason why things such as healthcare and schooling and housing cannot be called rights. Because they require positive action on the part of others. Unlike true rights, someone must provide you with these things. This, in effect, forces actions of others on your behalf. If healthcare is a right then everyone involved in the process of providing that service to you must do it no matter what, lest they want to act immorally. This, in fact, makes anyone involved in that process tantamount to your slave because you are the one dictating and controlling their actions and faculties. So by making services rights you are in gross violation of true rights. A doctor must now use his faculties to serve you whether he wants to or not, regardless of if he receives compensation or not. So he has lost control of his faculties as well as the right to the fruit of his labor. By making healthcare a right you are violating the self-ownership of doctors and everyone else involved. This is immoral and a great injustice.
“Rights” to healthcare, housing, and education (along with countless others) can be simply and neatly dismissed as rights if one considers what constitutes a right. We established that rights were negative and must be able to be boiled down to the right to property. These so called “rights” are positive in that they require action on the part of others instead of only the negation of certain actions, and cannot be thought of in terms of self-ownership and property rights. For these two reasons things such as healthcare, housing, and education are obviously not true rights.
Human rights, that is the right to property, are what make us human. Though we may “survive” with nearly all of our rights taken from us (as slaves survive), that cannot legitimately be called living, and those who experience this cannot be called human. Our humanity depends on our ability to exercise the means to our survival and the means to our happiness. It is rights which give us this ability. Without them you cannot find fulfillment, you cannot find success, you cannot find happiness, and you cannot be said to truly be human. To take someone’s rights is to take their very humanity and there is no greater offense than that. We must learn what rights truly are, why they are so critical, and we must be willing to fight to protect them.