ISSUES IN FOCUS

Week of June 14, 1999

 

WHAT IS A RIGHT?

 

A right is the sovereignty to act without the permission of others.  The concept of a right carries with it an implicit, unstated footnote: you may exercise your rights as long as you do not violate the same rights of another—within this context, rights are an absolute.

A right is universal—meaning: it applies to all men, not just to a few.   There is no such thing as a "right" for one man, or a group of men, that is not possessed by all.  This means there are no special "rights" unique to women or men, blacks or white, the elderly or the young, homosexuals or heterosexuals, the rich or the poor, doctors or patients or any other group.

A right must be exercised through your own initiative and action.  It is not a claim on others.  A right is not actualized and implemented by the actions of others.  This means you do not have the right to the time in another person’s life.  You do not have a right to other people’s money.  You do not have the right to another person’s property.  If you wish to acquire some money from another person, you must earn it—then you have a right to it.  If you wish to gain some benefit from the time of another person’s life, you must gain it through the voluntary cooperation of that individual—not through coercion.  If you wish to possess some item of property of another individual, you must buy it on terms acceptable to the owner—not gain it through theft.

Alone in a wilderness, the concept of a right would never occur to you, even though in such isolation you have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  In this solitude, you would be free to take the actions needed to sustain your life: hunt for food, grow crops, build a shelter and so on.  If a hundred new settlers suddenly arrive in your area and establish a community, you do not gain any additional rights by living in such a society nor do you lose any; you simply retain the same rights you possessed when you were alone.

A right defines what you may do without the permission of those other men and it erects a moral and legal barrier across which they may not cross.  It is your protection against those who attempt to forcibly take some of your life’s time, your money or property.

Animals do not have rights.  Rights only apply to beings capable of thought, capable of defining rights and creating an organized means—government—of protecting such rights.  Thus, a fly or mosquito does not possess rights of any kind, including the right to life.  You may swat a fly or mosquito, killing them both.  You do not have the right to do the same to another human being, except in self-defense.  You may own and raise cows, keep them in captivity and milk them for all they are worth.  You do not have the right to do the same to other men, although that is what statists effectively do to you.

There is only one, fundamental right, the right to life—which is: the sovereignty to follow your own judgment, without anyone’s permission, about the actions in your life.  All other rights are applications of this right to specific contexts, such as property and freedom of speech.

The right to property is the right to take the action needed to create and/or earn the material means needed for living.  Once you have earned it, then that particular property is yours—which means: you have the right to control the use and disposal of that property.  It may not be taken from you or used by others without your permission.

Freedom of speech is the right to say anything you wish, using any medium of communication you can afford.  It is not the responsibility of others to pay for some means of expression or to provide you with a platform on which to speak.  If a newspaper or television station refuses to allow you to express your views utilizing their property, your right to freedom of speech has not been violated and this is not censorship.  Censorship is a concept that only applies to government action, the action of forcibly forbidding and/or punishing the expression of certain ideas.

Statists have corrupted the actual meaning of a right and have converted it, in the minds of most, into its opposite: into a claim on the life of another.  With the growth of statism, over the past few decades, we have seen an explosion of these "rights"—which, in fact, have gradually eroded your actual right to your life, money and property.

Statists declare you have a "right" to housing, to a job, to health care, to an education, to a minimum wage, to preferential treatment if you are a minority and so on.  These "rights" are all a claim, a lien, on your life and the lives of others.  These "rights" impose a form of involuntary servitude on you and others.  These "rights" force you to pay for someone’s housing, their health care, their education, for training for a job—and, it forces others to provide special treatment for certain groups and to pay higher-than-necessary wages.

Under statism, "rights" are a means of enslavement: it places a mortgage on your life—and statists are the mortgage holders, on the receiving end of unearned payments forcibly extracted from your life and your earnings.  You do not have a right to your life, others do.  Others do not have a right to their lives, either, but you have a "right" to theirs.  Such a concept of "rights" forcibly hog-ties everyone to everyone else, making everyone a slave to everyone else—except for those masters, statist politicians, who pull the strings and crack the whips.

Actual rights—those actions to which you are entitled by your nature as man—give you clear title to your life.  A right is your declaration of independence.  A statist "right" is their declaration of your dependence on others and other's dependence on you.  Until these bogus "rights" are repudiated, your freedom to live your life as you see fit will continue to slowly disappear.

Fulton Huxtable
June 14, 1999

Copyright 1999 Fulton Huxtable
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To read more by Fulton Huxtable, go to Fatal Blindness: America's Decades of Declining Freedom and The Rise of Its Dictators.

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