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Nobody Truly Understands Natural Human Rights

The debate over what is a right rages on, yet few truly understand what rights are.

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By Andrew Lepore | United States

The idea of natural human rights, inherent to the lives of every individual, is not a new one. The various forms of human rights have evolved and been expanded upon throughout the thousands of years of human existence. From the Cyrus Cylinder to the Magna Carta, to the Bill of Rights, the debate over what is a human right has taken many forms. Today the debate still rages on, and with the UN declaration of human rights, has taken on new aspects.

The Libertarian idea of human rights is derived from two foundational principles, self-ownership, and individual responsibility. Every individual enjoys complete self-ownership, and every individual is directly responsible for the consequences of his actions. Those principles create the foundation for the libertarian values of voluntarism and the non-aggression principle.

In libertarian philosophy, human rights can be boiled down to the protections of the Non-Aggression Principle, or NAP. The NAP Means all individuals have the right not to be coerced into involuntary relationships, or have force initiated against them. Conversely, all individuals have the legal and moral obligation to not initiate force, or coerce other individuals.

Before I continue, I must make the distinction between the initiation of force, and the use or response of force. The initiation of force simply is the initial violation of life, liberty, or property of another (For example, murder, assault, theft, fraud, or trespassing). In other words the initial use of force on another peaceable individual.  But the coercive threat of violence is also a violation of the NAP. For example, somebody is walking down the street and another person runs up with a firearm brandished and says “give me your wallet or I’m going to shoot”. Now the mugger hasn’t actually initiated physical force, but threatening the individual to comply with the threat of physical violence is coercion (Which is why taxation is theft).

The NAP applies to everybody without exception, if one individual is coercing another, it doesn’t matter if the aggressor has a badge on his chest or a gang tattoo. The traditional state, being a single group with a territorial monopoly on the initiation of force, is in direct violation of the NAP. For a state to be able to fall in line with the NAP, they must abolish all “victimless crimes”, and its only legitimate role would be enforcing the NAP itself (catching thieves, murderers, rapists and other real criminals). Also, coercive taxation would be required to be made voluntary, which would either result in market forces replacing many state functions or collective funding of formerly involuntary government programs.

Generally, there are two classifications of human rights, positive and negative. Positive rights require others to provide you with something at their own expense (the “right” to healthcare, food, housing, any involuntarily funded government program etc). A negative right, on the other hand, only requires others to abstain from interfering with your actions (The right to keep and bear arms is The right not to have the state interfere with your ability to get a firearm, and the right to free speech which is the right not to have the state interfere with your ability to speak freely).

For example, most people would agree you have the right to life. Somebody viewing that right through a negative rights paradigm would say that you simply have the right not to be killed by another individual. Somebody viewing that right through a positive rights paradigm would say since you have the right to live, it’s incumbent on the government to force individuals to contribute their own capital to pay for those who were unable to obtain their own. Each individual has their own opinion on what rights should be. Some believe you should simply have the right to be left to your liberties, others believe you have a right to a part of what others own.

Under the universal application of the NAP in libertarian philosophy, positive rights cannot be enforced by law  It would be impossible to grant every person everything that they supposedly have a right to due to the scarcity of resources and the need for somebody’s capital to be used to produce anything, but it would also be immoral. Nobody has a legitimate claim to anything they didn’t purchase, produce, or inherent, Forcing people to provide for others is coercion.  

The same goes for all involuntarily funded government programs, It is a blatant violation of the Non-aggression principle to say, “give me a certain percentage of your income so I can redistribute it to others, or we will send armed men to your house to kidnap you at gunpoint, and kill you if you resist”.

On the other hand, protection of negative rights is necessary for a truly free society. There are endless amounts of negative rights in a society governed by the NAP.  You have the negative right to do anything you wish without another individual forcefully preventing you from doing so, up until you infringe on the liberties or property rights of another. Just as positive rights cannot morally exist in a free society, negative rights must exist in a free society. Liberty itself is a negative right, as it is your rights to live freely without coercive interference from others.

The protection of negative rights and the lack of legally enforced positive rights are the factors that are required in a truly free society. In libertarian philosophy, human rights can be boiled down to the protections awarded in the non-aggression principle. The only legally enforceable right you have is the right not be aggressed upon nor defrauded.

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  1. […] what sets limited government and classical liberalism apart from other modes of government is a belief in negative rights. Basically, this means that the people only have protection against other people […]

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