Archive for the ‘Rights’ Category

Human Rights Are Property Rights

You cannot separate the concept of right from that of property, as Murray Rothbard puts it so eloquently:

LIBERALS GENERALLY WISH TO preserve the concept of “rights” for such “human” rights as freedom of speech, while denying the concept to private property.1 And yet, on the contrary the concept of “rights” only makes sense as property rights. For not only are there no human rights which are not also property rights, but the former rights lose their absoluteness and clarity and become fuzzy and vulnerable when property rights are not used as the standard.

     In the first place, there are two senses in which property rights are identical with human rights: one, that property can only accrue to humans, so that their rights to property are rights that belong to human beings; and two, that the person’s right to his own body, his personal liberty,, is a property right in his own person as well as a “human right.” But more importantly for our discussion, human rights, when not put in terms of property rights, turn out to be vague and contradictory, causing liberals to weaken those rights on behalf of “public policy” or the “public good.” As I wrote in another work:

Take, for example, the “human right” of free speech. Freedom of speech is supposed to mean the right of everyone to say whatever he likes. But the neglected question is: Where? Where does a man have this right? He certainly does not have it on property on which he is trespassing. In short, he has this right only either on his own property or on the property of someone who has agreed, as a gift or in a rental contract, to allow him on the premises. In fact, then, there is no such thing as a separate “right to free speech”; there is only a man’s property right: the right to do as he wills with his own or to make voluntary agreements with other property owners.2

     In short, a person does not have a “right to freedom of speech”; what he does have is the right to hire a hall and address the people who enter the premises. He does not have a “right to freedom of the press”; what he does have is the right to write or publish a pamphlet, and to sell that pamphlet to those who are willing to buy it (or to give it away to those who are willing to accept it). Thus, what he has in each of these cases is property rights, including the right of free contract and transfer which form a part of such rights of ownership. There is no extra “right of free speech” or free press beyond the property rights that a person may have in any given case.

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Rights Matter

I would not surprise anyone by saying that human rights are fundamental. Not just because they provide a guide for ethical behaviour (and political theory), but that fundamentally they tell us the circumstances of when it is acceptable to kill someone.

Not to say that someone breaking a right is considered fair game, but that rights can and should be defended with all force necessary, including deadly force. This concept is not valid just for libertarians, but for every ideology.

We can place this idea in a more general context. Anything that is considered to be a right must be defended ultimately with a threat of death. We will use this as a general context, without arguing for the validity of the rights themselves.

I also make less of a distinction between positive and negative rights.

Let’s take a generally accepted idea of what human rights are: the UN Declaration. Not exactly your libertarian’s guide, but significant.

From wikipedia:

There are a total of thirty articles outlining people’s human rights, but the most important principles declared are considered to be the following:

Without picking on the criticism, let’s take them one by one:

The right to life, liberty, property and security of person.

This implies, obviously, that one has a right to defend his life and liberty (and implicitly, secure himself). This right would not have much meaning if one would not be allowed to pursue that aim to the limit of his abilities (including authorizing others to act on his behalf). And if the aggressor is not deterred by the increasing use of force, there is only one course of action: deadly force. Otherwise, it would be like saying: “If the aggressor is willing to take sufficient risks (not including the risk of getting himself killed), then his actions are not condemnable.”

The right to an education.

This wording is unclear, so I will appeal to the original text:

Article 26.

    Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

A shorter wording would be: “everyone has a right to receive education (…)”. Education must be something to be actively provided. This also happens with all other rights mentioned here.

The right to employment, paid holidays, protection against unemployment, and social security.

Now we’re getting there. What does this mean, so far?

If, for instance, social security is considered a “right” then it is right for the person in need of such a service to seek it, under action or threats thereof, including by delegating that authority to someone else (such as government).

But delegation is not the key word here. If it’s a right, the needer is perfectly entitled to go to someone who can provide him with services or money to make him “socially secure.” That provider has no right to refuse. The needer is effectively entitled to kill him if his wishes are not followed. If a provider can decline, or oppose sufficient force (short of deadly force), then the needer’s claim of “right” would be without substance. It would read: “if the provider opposes sufficient resistance, he is free from obligation.”

So we see why rights are of the utmost importance. If we are to make an argument based on ethical grounds, we must have a basic understanding of what a right is. Hopefully, I shed some light on this topic.

Coming soon: Consistency as it relates to the UN Declaration of Human Rights.