Thursday, 16 February 2006

Still trying to get rights right

I began this blog with a post in April last year on the nature of rights, and how to get rights wrong. A lot of posts have passed under the overpass since then, many on the same subject, but the wrong still needs righting. I said then, "I had always thought one of the most difficult concepts of which we have to convince people is that rights cannot be multiplied beyond necessity," and pointed to an earlier piece of mine arguing that when rights are multiplied beyond necessity -- when bogus rights are invented and an attempt made for them to fly -- then real, legitimate rights are made to suffer.

That introduction is by way of saying that Walter Williams is the most recent to take up the subject. He asks:
Do people have a right to medical treatment whether or not they can pay? What about a right to food or decent housing? Would a U.S. Supreme Court justice hold that these are rights just like those enumerated in our Bill of Rights? In order to have any hope of coherently answering these questions, we have to decide what is a right. The way our Constitution's framers used the term, a right is something that exists simultaneously among people and imposes no obligation on another. For example, the right to free speech, or freedom to travel, is something we all simultaneously possess. My right to free speech or freedom to travel imposes no obligation upon another except that of non-interference. In other words, my exercising my right to speech or travel requires absolutely nothing from you and in no way diminishes any of your rights.
Read on to hear Williams's argument on a subject that, if sufficiently understood, from which all else politically would follow.

The key point is this: if rights are granted beyond those that are legitimate, if for example rights to health, clothing, education and wide-screen TVs are granted, then those who provide those goods and services are faced with a duty to pony up. About that proposition, Ayn Rand pointed out: "No man can have a right to impose an unchosen obligation, an unrewarded duty or an involuntary servitude on another man. There can be no such thing as the right to enslave." Right on.

LINKS: What does the Herald know about rights? - Not PC (April 3, 2005)
Rights & Goods - Peter Cresswell
Bogus rights - Walter Williams

More from Not PC on Rights

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