Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What Constitutes a Right in a free society?

The term "right" gets thrown around and misused a lot in our society. Questions frequently come up, such as "Is health care a right?" "Is education a right?" It may seem a tough question to answer, but the litmus test for rights is really quite simple.

Nobody has a right to another person, their time, their labor, or their property. A legitimate right is something one can have without any action being taken by another. In fact, in most cases rights are simply prohibitions on stopping you from doing something. You can excercise the right to free speech, free association, freedom of worship, without any action being taken on my part.

Education, health care, food, shelter, etc, are all nice things to have, but gauranteeing them for you would require that someone else provide them. Slavery is inconsistent with a free society. Therefore any product or service that requires the labor of another cannot be a "right".

You have the right to bear arms. You don't have a right to handgun. (you have to buy your own). You have the right to free speech. You do not have the right to an audience or a forum. You have the right to free assembly. You do not have a right to free meeting space. You have the right to freedom of religion. Society does not owe you a church.

Although we like to think of rights as being "inalienable" and something we are "endowed with by our creator", they really mean nothing unless/until we as a society, recognize and enforce them. We could make declarations that everyone has a right to health care, education, housing, food and other basic needs. Doing so would require that we also compel someone to provide the money, the resources, the time, the labor and everything that goes into producing and distributing these "rights". Naturally, this would require that the production and distribution of such goods and services be mandated, overseen and regulated by the government. Call such a society whatever you want, but you certainly couldn't call it "free".

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