Americans tend to conflate the concept of rights with the concept of liberty. We do this rather frequently and damage the cause of liberty in doing so. This is really just a matter of theoretical semantics. As Americans we’ve always grown up cherishing and protecting our negative rights, or rights that we already have inherent in us as human beings. However, in the U.S. we don’t have government provided positive rights. Positive rights are rights that we don’t have and therefore that obligate or coerce others to act in order to provide us with that missing right. (In fact, some might argue that negative rights are sacrificed at the feet of positive rights)
Here’s a prime example. “U.S. Representatives Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) and Debbie Dingell (MI-12) introduced the Medicare for All Act of 2021…” (house.gov).
The description is as follows:
Legislation guarantees health care to everyone as a human right by providing comprehensive benefits including primary care, vision, dental, prescription drugs, mental health, long-term services and supports, reproductive health care, and more with no copays, private insurance premiums, deductibles, or other cost-sharing.– house.gov
So, in this example, affordable healthcare is considered a human right.
This is an interesting flip from negative rights to positive rights. Currently, under the U.S. Constitution and government, rights are inherent and natural in humans regardless of government. Government is created to protect those inherent rights from other people who may want to hinder those rights. The Constitution is created to prevent government from ever violating those same negative rights.
There’s a critical difference here between the human positive right mentioned in this new medicare law and negative rights. Negative rights are never guaranteed or given to us by government. They are not something we deserve or should be given. Negative rights are inherent in our humanity as things we already have.
We already have the right to free speech, to life, liberty, responsibility, to property or the potential of property (property is both our own bodies and things we produce through our labor) and to protect that property with other property (bearing arms).
So, government exists to make sure that other humans don’t take any of these rights away from us–or violate these rights in anyway. Government can’t guarantee these rights, but it can protect them. The Constitution makes sure that government never writes laws that would violate these already existent rights.
This is critically different than government guaranteeing, providing and giving it’s citizenry a service or product. This is also critically different than saying that all humans deserve or should have something that they don’t already have and that it’s government’s job to provide that something for them. Negative rights are fundamentally different than positive rights.
In the quote describing medicare for all, government has arbitrarily determined that humans (Americans) should have something–a service–that they don’t already have. But here’s the thing, good healthcare, fundamentally, cannot be a natural right. We do not have a natural right to the services of others. We do not have a natural right to obtain for free what someone else had to work to develop (in this sense, the skills to be a medical professional). We don’t have a natural right someone else’s skills.
Coercing someone to provide a service for us is actually infringing on that someone’s negative rights. It’s an inherent paradox.
However, with this new potential medicare law, government has determined that it’s government’s job to provide that service to the people. This massively increases government’s power in the guise of “protecting” already existent rights. When, instead, it’s government creating a new right and saying they are responsible for providing that right to us, thereby enhancing our dependence on them for our wellbeing.
If government can look at the citizenry and make such a decision, government can really do anything.
Rights are not entitlements.
Here’s the thing. We have a “right” to life but we don’t have a “right” to a good life.
Government can’t guarantee us a good life. That’s an entitlement. Since we have liberty as a result of a confined and limited government, we have the liberty to pursue making our life a good life (again, what is a “good” life anyway?)
Societal barriers to a “good” life are a given negative side effect of liberty.
But it’s not government’s job to pick through the services and possessions that humans tend to need to have a “good” life and arbitrarily call these services and possessions “human rights”.
It doesn’t work. That’s a service, not a right. A “right” is something we already have that we created government to protect. If government takes the power to arbitrarily decide what rights are, and further, how we are to be given those rights, government is not far from taking on the role of complete arbiter of rights, in which case, government can then take away rights.
The more “rights” the government guarantees, the more laws, regulations and restrictions are required to make sure government can guarantee the growth and protection of the right. But this slowly erodes liberty.
And where does it stop? Someone could argue that access to good healthcare is fundamental to a good life so government should provide it.
Ok, but what about housing, clothing, access to the internet, cell phones, clean air, good food, healthy relationships, and more? Aren’t these all supposedly necessities for a “good life”?
I’ll end with a quote from one of my previous articles:
“We now have many people who believe that healthcare, savings for when they retire (aka: social security), a paid living wage for the poor, internet access, clean air, the ability to purchase products wherever they want to purchase them, education, a job, abortion (are you getting the picture?) are now “rights” that government ought to ensure and protect. And this list is just getting longer and longer…and longer.
Everyone is coming up with a new right, every day. Why? Because a “right” is not a real thing…it is, very literally, a figment of our imagination—albeit a powerful figment. So, if we allow “rights” to simply be whatever we want them to be, with no grounding in anything, “rights” will be anything the irrational and emotional public demands. People could very well say that pedophilia is a “right”…who’s to tell them otherwise if government has no limits about what a “right” is and therefore what their job is?
The more “rights” the public demands, the more “government” is required. Ironic, right? We might consider rights a good thing, a thing akin to liberty—-but there can be too much of a good thing. Locke, other liberal philosophers and the American founders were keenly aware of how irrational and emotional the public can be. So, they attempted to ground “rights” in nature or the Bible to keep the power to define “rights” out of people’s hands. That way, the goverment’s job was clearly defined because the “rights” government was supposed to protect, were clearly defined.
Since we’ve moved away from the Constitution and the original use of government (to protect private property), we’ve opened ourselves up to a tidal wave of potential “rights” and with that, a tidal wave of more laws, regulations and government.
Does this make sense? Do you now understand why having a firm foundation about the theory of “rights” is so important as an American citizen?
I love liberty. I love liberty more than “rights”. The idea of “rights” is fine, within reason—-but when “rights” begin to threaten liberty, the “rights” need to be reassessed.”
The Liberty Belle