Wednesday, June 16, 2004

On Rights and Privileges

There is a Canadian election coming. Logically, I know that it is a biological impossibility for one species to produce the feces unique to another, but to my untrained nose I could swear that most of the politicians reek of bovine excrement.

How is that possible?

Never mind. I don't want to know.

What I find ever more alarming is that these bozos don't understand the concept of rights. Nor, I'm afraid, do most of the rest of us. What, exactly, is a right?

A right, I believe, is something that exists naturally. It does not have to be spelled out in legislation. It does not cost anything. No-one has to be robbed to pay for it. It simply is. Anything that is granted, at any cost to anyone in the form of taxes or other extortion, is not a right.

Free health care is not a right. Free daycare is not a right. Free pretzels with your beer is not a right. The first two examples are of privilege, born at someone's else's expense; the last is an example of good marketing.

The one universal right is the right to life. Every other right flows from the right to life. If you have the right to life, it then follows that you have the right to liberty, freedom of movement and expression, freedom of assocation and most contentiously, the right to property. The fact that these rights are absent or restricted in many parts of the world doesn't alter that fact that they are what they are. It simply means that for purposes of political expediency or ideology, these rights have been restricted by someone or a group of someones with guns. Big guns. Governments.

I've written more on the topic, for anyone who is interested, here. If you don't wish to read the entire article, here is the gist of it:

On Rights and Privileges

People are beginning to confuse rights with privileges.

How so?

Let’s talk about this trend in the context of the American Constitution. The right to life simply means that no-one else has the right to kill you. It doesn’t mean that everyone else has to support you, entertain you, educate your children, and give you a place to live. You have the guaranteed right to life and the security of your person until or unless you do something to threaten someone else’s similar rights. To the extent that anyone does receive any sort of benefit, the cost of which exceeds his own tax contributions, it is privilege, born at the cost of other individuals.

The right to liberty simply means that no-one has the right to detain you, to force you to do things you don’t wish to do, to keep you from doing things you want to do, or to restrain you from speaking freely or assembling with others. It doesn’t mean that you can escape responsibility or consequence if you have caused harm to others. To the extent that justice is not exercised against violators of the rights of others, it is a privilege to the offenders, the cost of which is continued criminal behaviour due to the willingness of the law-abiding to forego reasonable punishment of criminals for whatever reason.

The right to pursue happiness is your guarantee that no-one can reasonably interfere with you as you go about your life unless, and this is very important, your actions interfere with the similar rights of others. To the extent that we all endure daily disruptions and inconveniences, we are extending privileges to the violators because we prefer to err on the side of granting too much freedom, rather than not enough, even if it encroaches somewhat on our own.

These rights all make sense. Libertarians call them Natural Rights. They simply exist because they are natural extensions of life itself. These rights would exist even if they weren’t enshrined in the Constitution of the United States or anywhere else. To the extent that these natural rights are interfered with anywhere, by anyone, they are violations against the individual.

Violations against the individual abound, world-wide. That is no surprise. Many cultures and, more recently, political ideologies, place little value on individuals. Collective ‘group-think’ is pervasive. Individuals are expendable and are often seen to be little more than convenient sacrifices on the altar of collectivism and any of many tyrannical political systems.


So there you have it. I will be holding my nose for the next few weeks until the election is over. Then, I will be guarding my wallet because the 'rights' to God-knows-what that have been promised by our politicians are going to cost money. A lot of money.

Our election will be over at the end of June. The poor Americans have to wait until November. I wonder if free surgery, specifically to blunt my olfactory system, is a 'right' somewhere in the world?


  1. This is the class of article in which you excel. Despite the occasional reference of your olfactory disfunction during election period, your clarity of thought and thoroughness of detail when explaining a subject which many of us take for granted, hints at a natural skill to refine terms. I would like to see what you can do with explaining the meaning of the word, "God". Is there such a being, and where does it fit into changing religious practise? Keep those blogs coming.

  2. I've been struggling with that issue (the existence of God) for years. My eleven-year-old son and I speak about it constantly. I found one explanation of his, several years ago, to be very interesting. It can be found: here.