RIGHTS: The concept that ratifies our freedom. Such a concept becomes necessary when individuals form themselves into a society; it formalises the principles by which individuals are protected from each other.
Historically, the concept of 'rights' is relatively recent and by its nature highly sophisticated.
The concept of rights integrates our nature as human beings, and the freedom each of us needs within society in order to flourish. It is our minds that are our means of survival -- our thought put into action -- and in order to use our minds and plan ahead we must know the legitimate boundaries of our actions.
Rights define our boundaries, our "moral space," within which we are free to be ourselves.
Freedom pertains to action (including the action of thinking); rights specify the spheres in which one is properly free to act. 'Freedom' means the freedom to act to preserve and protect one’s existence = the right to life. Freedom to act to select and pursue values = the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Freedom to act to attain, secure and enjoy the fruits of one’s action = the right to property.
While separated thus for convenience of formulation and implementation, these rights are actually one continuance, indivisible whole, a logical unity, each implying, and being impossible without, the other. Rights may be said to be “natural” not in the sense that we are born with them literally attached to our bodies, but that they are inescapable requirements of man’s nature just as surely as if they were attached to our wrists.
Man – each man – is an entity who survives and flourishes by thinking and choosing. “Rights” sanction each man’s freedom so to do where more than one person is present. They are requirements of our minds, the distinctive aspect of our nature. Rights may be said to be “inalienable” not in the sense that they can’t in practice be violated, but that anyone who does so is “alienating” man from the reality of his own nature – a reality which remains real in spite of any violation. Rights are inalienable, in other words, not because they cannot be violated but because they may not be with moral impunity. Rights exist not because a “creator” “endowed” us with them, but because our nature demands them. To trace the origin of rights to a non-human, supernatural (i.e. non-existent) entity is to ground (cloud) them in the realm of faith, where they are vulnerable to attack from those who have equal “faith” that man has no rights, only “duties” – to his creator, or tribe, or Fatherland, etc.
The failure of America's Founding Fathers’ to ground rights in man’s nature qua man is one of the reasons legitimate rights have been all but swamped by bogus rights in the United Police States (and here in NZ). So-called rights to a job, an education, a house, etc – are bogus because they imply a right to the fruits, not of one’s own action, but of the actions of others. What becomes of the latters’ right to the fruits of their actions if those fruits have been commandeered in advance?
Rights can only be violated by physical force, and its derivative, fraud. I do not violate your rights if I decline to employ you; I do if I kill you, or detain you while on your way to a job interview. I don’t if I decline to feed you; I do if I steal your food. I don’t if I decline to perform a heart transplant operation of you; I do if I have signed a contract with you undertaking to perform such an operation and then decline to do so. I don’t if I hurt your feelings; I do if I hurt your body. Etc, etc.
The term “individual rights” is a redundancy. Rights are social requirements of reason, the thinking/choosing faculty – reason is the property of individuals – rights pertain to individuals.
I acknowledge that all of these points are wildly tendentious, and that one cannot do justice to them on a cue card. Naturally, they will be developed in more detail here at 'Not PC.' For further reading as to what rights are and aren't, readers are recommended to the Bill of Rights in the proposed Constitution for New Freeland here, and (by way of contrast) Lewis Napper's proposed 'Bill of No Rights' here.
Ayn Rand's article 'Man’s Rights' in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal and Tara Smith's book Moral Rights and Political Freedom are recommended to the reader who wants to delve further.
This is part of a continuing series explaining the concepts and terms used by NZ libertarians, originally published in The Free Radical in 1993. The 'Introduction' to the series is here. Tomorrow, 'Conservatism.'