Negative rights form and must remain the foundation of our American ideals lest we replace our flawed but serviceable Republic with a more totalitarian structure (whether the hard totalitarianism of the 20th century or a softer version in which the mailed fist is covered by a velvet glove). The lack of understanding of the negative nature of natural rights and the attempt to enshrine positive rights is at the root of many of today’s hottest political issues. Negative rights are generally those that make us free FROM the force or coercion of others as opposed to positive “rights” which would give us the right TO something. Negative rights are natural rights and form the foundation of our Republic.
Natural rights are rights that adhere to us as human beings because of our nature. Government or individuals might trample upon our rights but fundamental to our very existence as human beings are the right to not be physically harmed or killed by another, the right to maintain one’s own beliefs, thoughts, and reason, the right to worship (or not) as one pleases, the right to protect one’s existence both physically by maintaining arms and judicially by maintaining silence, the right to gather with others, the right to be free from forcible seizure of the products of our work and thought, and the right to use our resources to disseminate our own beliefs or thoughts. These rights are “negative” by their nature because they do not entitle us to anything. You have these same rights if you are dropped on a deserted island. On that deserted island you do not have the right to food, water, shelter, clothing, healthcare, etc. Nature does not give you those rights. If you choose to stand on such “rights” on the island, rather than on your reason and work, you will die. But until you die, you may think as you please, worship as you please, assemble with anyone else that might want to assemble with you, and place as many of your views into bottles to float away as you have bottles to float.
There is a drive both nationally and internationally to create “positive rights”. These are “rights” or entitlements TO things rather than from things. Some who do this understand the implications and are evilly seeking power over others. The masses who go along with them have not thought these ideas through to their logical conclusions and are agreeing because they seem good or “fair”. After all, how could anyone disagree with a person’s right to X if they need X to survive?
Let’s take water for example. Most of your body weight is water and you must replenish this to continue to live. People from the Pope, to UN movers and shakers, to some of your facebook friends support a “right” to clean water. This ultimately means free clean water. The problem is that the delivery of clean water to your faucet is not free. It requires effort by laborers and engineers, the purchase of equipment and materials, and significant know how developed over the last 150 years. None of that is free. Therefore, the only way to make this a right for some is to violate the rights of others.
Who is going to tell all the municipal water workers they have to work for free? And when they say no and leave their jobs does this right extend to forcing them to stay? Who is going to tell the pipe companies, pump companies, tank companies, and treatment equipment companies, that they must supply their wares for free? Who is going to tell the engineers they must think for free?
So who is going to work for free when you make clean water a right? And when they say no then you can force them right? Because they are violating your self declared rights. Hopefully you pay the police that force them but technically you shouldn’t have to because no doubt that is part of your right as well.
What? That is crazy you say. Nobody will work for free. We will just make some people – those who can afford it – pay for the others. Now you have merely traded one victim of your extortion plot for another. And you are doubly violating their rights because you are now violating their natural rights as well as this new right to water you have created. Because if they have to pay for it, it is not a right to them.
Any so called “right” that involves somebody else’s labor or assets ultimately involves extortion or slavery. That is why there are no positive rights in a just society. There is no such thing as a legitimate right which entitles you to something. You have a right to freedom of press but you are not entitled to receive a printing press. You have a right to freedom of religion but you are not entitled to have whatever deity you decide to worship actually exist. You do not have rights to things. Any “right” to things that you decide upon ultimately requires taking things from somebody else by force – whether their labor or their assets. It is at its best extortion and at its worst slavery. You may believe otherwise of course. That is why I have the right to keep and bear arms. To defend myself against people like you.