What is a right? Do rights exist? They seem so intangible, yet philosophical constructs can be real.
A right simply defines a state of being; it describes a condition. “Right of way,” is how we describe who has precedence in a driving situation. That certainly doesn’t mean people can’t ignore the concept of right of way, it just serves as a tool for establishing who is liable if a car accident should happen.
In the same way, a right serves as a natural basis for who is wrong in a given dispute. It establishes who should be held accountable in a legal setting. And legal does not just refer to our current court system, [common law arose without government, and governments actually pervert common law with edicts that punish people not involved in any dispute].
Saying someone has a “right” is a statement about an individual’s condition in nature, absent other parties. That is why rights are expressed in the negative. It is not something that must be provided or given (positive action), a right is a declaration of the natural state of a human, and the assertion that another human should not disrupt (negative action) this natural state.
Therefore, there is only one natural right, from which all other rights stem: self-ownership. Self ownership means your body is your property, and you can do whatever you want with it, until those activities effect another individual without their consent.
The legal basis of a right is that only the individual gets to decide what happens with his or her person. The base right of self ownership condemns non-consensual interference with another person’s body. Therefore the initiator of aggression, the person who violates another’s self-ownership, is naturally, and legally, in the wrong, and therefore should be held accountable.
In reference to human interaction, in nature an individual is at peace until acted upon by an outside force. Whoever wields that force is naturally in the wrong.
Justice is when a person who is naturally in the wrong is held accountable for their transgression of an individual’s right. Unless an individual violates the rights of another, it is unjust and unnatural to violate that individual’s rights.
A “Right” is: any activity performed by an individual that does not measurably impact any other individual without having gained their consent, and should therefore elicit no legal retribution from an individual, group, or society.
The reason all other rights stem from self ownership, is that all true rights are exercises of an individual that harm no one else; a person doing what they want with their own body.
Therefore, speaking your mind is a right; lying to defraud someone of their possessions is a violation of their right to property. Carrying a gun or other weapon to protect yourself is a right, pointing that gun at an innocent person is a violation of their right to exist free of death threats.
Some would argue that since every action has some effect, it is impossible to live without violating others’ rights. That is why a violation of rights must be measurable. Peeing in the woods does not violate anyone’s rights since there is no measurable impact. Dumping raw sewage in a river is a violation of rights, because it infects water downstream.
And the fact that it may sometimes be hard to decipher if a right has been violated, as with psychological trauma, does not change the fact that rights do in fact exist.
What Rights Are Not
Some people think rights are anything that they feel they should have, like education, food, and shelter. But if someone else must provide a “right” for you, it cannot be considered a right, unless you believe in slavery and inequality.
If someone else must be forced to provide for you, where are their rights? Or can the rights of some take precedence over the rights of others? That is simply right by force, so under those circumstances, whoever has the most guns, or biggest muscles, has the most rights.
But I don’t think most people would still support that position if they thought deeper than a knee jerk, emotional reaction of, “Well of course everyone should have food and shelter!” Which, yes, that would be great if everyone had food and shelter, but these things are not magically provided without work: they do not naturally occur without labor. Even berries must be picked, or a cave occupied.
Therefore a right cannot be something that must be provided, it can only be something that an individual is capable of exercising. It is the absence of obstruction, not the presence of a good or service.
Again, a right is a negative requiring only inaction: you may not kill me, because I have the right to life. Education, food, and housing are positives requiring an action: who will teach, who grow the food, who will provide the housing?
Rights only require the absence of violation, not the addition of something. Your right to live is a standard that it is wrong to take a life. Your right to property is the standard that it is wrong to take something which someone has been peacefully acquired. Saying you have the right to healthcare is statement that someone must give you medicine.
When you say things like, “I have the right to speak my mind,” or “I have the right to spend my money where I please,” it is simply a way of saying, it is wrong for someone to try to stop me from speaking my mind or shopping where I please.
It doesn’t mean these rights won’t be violated, it just means it is “right” for them not to be violated. It means if someone is victimized, and the victim wants justice, there is a legal basis for obtaining that justice since the aggressive party is naturally in the wrong.
There cannot be contradictory rights. If i have the right to property, then it is a violation of my rights to take that property, even to provide others with food or education. If I have the right to freedom of expression, it is a violation of that right to censor me for the sake of non-captive audiences who could ignore me.
None of this is to say that these things like education, food, and shelter couldn’t be provided for people in need, voluntarily. I’m not saying that if someone cannot get their own food or education they shouldn’t have food or education; I am saying it is wrong to violate others’ rights in order to provide them with food or education.
Two wrongs don’t make a right.