Three Kinds of “Rights”

The idea of a “right” is just that, an idea.

So, political scientists and philosophers have created, defined and re-defined what they see as three categories of “rights”. I’m not going to get into a discussion about my own thoughts about these “rights” so much as arm you with this information so that you can understand and grasp what America is dealing with today.

One: Political-Civil Rights

For most of America’s history, Americans have cherished and fought for political-civil rights. These rights were the impetus for the Revolutionary War and were the rights that most American social movements centered around.

Some of the greatest philosophical minds were behind the invention of political-civil rights, including John Locke, Montesquieu and Rousseau. These types of rights are exemplified in documents like the Magna Carta in 1215, and The U.S. Bill of Rights in 1791.

Think about political and civil rights as rights connected to the individual and their relationship with government. These rights include freedom of speech, press, religion, personal privacy and the like. In other words, it is government’s job to protect an individual’s speech, religion etc from others and from government itself. Beyond that, people are are on their own—government does not interfere.

Two: Socioeconomic Rights

Karl Marx is considered the leading mind behind socioeconomic rights and the belief that government should provide these rights for individuals. These rights include the right to education, decent work, and a decent standard of living and housing.

Socialist theorists such as Marx contend that without these basic economic rights, the political and civil rights of the liberal philosophers are meaningless. Government should provide people with these basic socioeconomic rights and then address political civil rights.

Three: Collective Rights of the Group

Today, philosophers have begun to introduce a new set of rights: collective or group rights. Group rights would include some sort of protection of indigenous groups, the disabled, people of different sexual orientations and presumably the list could grow endlessly. Another example of this“collective” right is the “right” for peoples to live in a democracy or in a place where they can develop.

These collective rights are debated and fought over in countries around the world. Do they sound familiar to you?


These are simple, straightforward explanations of the three leading categories of “rights” currently circulating around the world today. Some countries emphasize socioeconomic rights over political-civil rights, while others, like the United States, focus little on socioeconomic rights and rather exclusively on the defense of political-civil rights.

There’s so much theory, so many assumptions, tied to these rights and how government relates to them. How does government properly provide for the socioeconomic needs of every individual? Should democratic countries fight to help non-democratic countries become democratic to ensure that everyone is able to live under a democratic government?

Today, we’re seeing a shift America’s collective understanding of “rights” from exclusively political/civil rights to socioeconomic and collective rights. It’s important to know what we’re dealing with when we interact with fellow Americans. We can’t assume that their understanding of “rights” is the same as our understanding of “rights”. Most people likely don’t even know that these three “kinds” of rights exist or what the implications of such rights are. Therefore, clarity is needed, both about the kind of rights and the implications inherent in the kind of rights being discussed or demanded.

Rights and government are inextricably connected. One cannot exist without being affected by or affecting the other.

We’re entering into a new year and a new era, where understanding these simple definitions could mean the difference between life and death, and liberty and slavery.

The Liberty Belle

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