Tag: positive rights

The Fallacy of Limited Government and Classical Liberalism

By Ryan Lau | @agorisms

Since the founding of America, countless individuals have used the doctrine of classical liberalism to define the American way. More often than not, this leans towards ideas such as limited government and a protection of natural rights. After all, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is one of the most well-known phrases in the Declaration of Independence.

Since 1776, politicians have uttered the words as a call to action for the people. After all, the protection of these three critical rights is what sets the United States apart from the rest of the world, right? In the modern day, the usage has shifted slightly: more advocates of limited government use the phrase as a rallying cry, hoping to return to an age of freer markets and freer people. However, everything about the expression is simply a lie. The very idea of a government that naturally limits itself to these basic functions is simply impossible.

Negative Rights vs Positive Rights

First and foremost, 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 harming them. The right to life does not mean that a sick person can demand free medicine. Instead, it merely means that someone else cannot kill him against his will.

The same idea follows for liberty and property. An individual may act freely, as long as his actions do not prevent another person from also acting freely. Driving over the speed limit, for example, is an act of liberty. But, as soon as that driver hits another car, he has damaged the other person’s property. If he inflicts injury or death, he also has, of course, taken away that person’s negative right to life and liberty. To summarize, the idea of negative rights suggests that individuals have rights to their lives, liberties, and property, but only insofar as that right does not prevent another from also owning their own lives, liberties, and property. To each his own.

Positive rights, on the other hand, require the use of force against another person to bring about. So, a positive right to life would create an obligation for others to defend the life of an individual. If someone was sick, for example, he would, under a positive protection of life, be entitled to any medicine that may aid or cure him. In terms of property, a person may be entitled to a house, even if it means someone else must buy and build it.

The Classical Liberal Viewpoint

Of course, the classical liberal viewpoint is one that rejects positive rights. A number of practical reasons exist for such a dismissal. In the event of life, for example, let us imagine that same sick patient. A doctor may be able to find a cure if he labors for a thousand hours and abandons all other work. However, this doctor is also a mother. By fulfilling the positive right to her patient’s life, she may not be able to fulfill her duties as a mother. Moreover, she may have multiple patients with different needs, each requiring full attention. She cannot feasibly fulfill her obligation to every person involved, but cannot realistically be at fault. So, the classical liberal argues, there is an obligation to protect rights negatively, but not positively, as such creates unjust duress on the individuals doing the protecting.

The Fallacy of Negative Rights

Clearly, a government cannot adequately or justifiably protect positive rights. In reality, though, the same is true about negative rights, too, especially in a democracy. What breaks the soundness of the argument? Two things: taxation and voting.

On a surface level, a government can claim to only protect negative rights. Specifically, what comes to mind is the minimalist state. As many limited government advocates have outlined, such a government would only control the police, military, and courts. Yet, it appears that this notion cannot come true without taking from others. All of these organizations require the tax dollar, and this, of course, comes from the people, who may or may not have consented to give up a portion of their income. Regardless, the second that the government forces the money from the people, it becomes a positive right. Thus, a limited government cannot truly protect only negative rights: taxation turns this on its head.

A Vote for Change?

In a functioning democracy or republic, many citizens vote, either for laws or representatives. Yet, it is clear that the vote itself is also an example of a positive right. When a citizen votes in an election, he or she is exercising power, albeit small, over the electorate in order to influence political affairs. In other words, they are telling the government to use its force over other people.

Negative rights do not change. They always include, exclusively, the right to life, liberty, and property. So, if a society was to truly protect only these rights, there would be no need for a figurehead. After all, if nothing is to change, why should someone have the power to make changes? If a society ever was to only guard negative rights, any change in policy or executive order must necessarily be a violation of these rights. The only things a government could justifiably do is determine the salaries of its troops and judges, and carry out other business matters.

Theoretically, we could vote on these matters. But, as long as taxation was the end result to obtain them, the majority is still inflicting its will on the minority. If one person does not consent to the collection, then it becomes unjust. Alternatively, the collection of funds could be entirely voluntary, through donations. But, at this point, it is no longer a state, as it is neither coercive nor compulsory.

A Logical Impossibility

Thus, the notions of classical liberalism and limited government appear to be at odds with the principles they claim to safeguard. The logic works in a bit of a circle. In order to protect these rights, the limited government must become no government at all. But, by becoming no government at all, it no longer has the power to safeguard these negative rights.

Therefore, a government cannot both exist and solely protect negative rights. Every action is ultimately some form of force, whether it comes from voting or taxation. Even in the early days of the United States, citizens voted on which figures could use power over others. Eventually, these figures levied higher and higher taxes, increasing the coercion. The world’s great thought experiment has failed, and it is clear that a government cannot exist to guard negative rights. Only through the absence of government can a society exist without widespread force.


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Does Capitalism Unite or Divide People?

Joshua D. Glawson | United States

Capitalism is an economic system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state. More specifically, capitalism is the free and voluntary exchange of goods and services.

Before the implementation of money, the differences between people was a matter of Nature or God. Some, by their own free will or by location, had more than others and created more than others. Some are stronger, some are smarter, some are more intelligent, some are better looking, some need less, some utilize what they have better, etc. It is the very nature of being human that we have differences between us before ever even initiating money or property, i.e. capital, into the equation. This is most likely why Marx and Engles do not provide an origin of ‘property’ or ‘property rights’ because to take away what is someone else’s is unjust and immoral, as well as least pragmatic or least utilitarian.

Prior to the introduction of capitalism in the world, much fewer people had wealth, and all struggled to get by aside from those wealthy few. A world GINI coefficient would clearly show a lopsided distribution of wealth, in the words of Communists and Socialists, and provide evidence of the daily struggles once suffered while unknown in most parts of the world today.

We live far better lives today thanks to capitalism. Abject poverty since the implementation of capitalism in the world, especially after 1980, is nearing its very end. Prior to capitalism, people had to work longer hours, work harder, children worked more, and people married for practical reasons more than for love. It can be easily and confidently declared that capitalism made way for more love and individualism, simultaneously, more than any other approach prior.

Actual Capitalism does not infringe on the rights of others, because the philosophy of it is based on free and voluntary exchange. Typically, this also implies that there is a legal system that ensures the negative Liberties, Natural Rights, of everyone. Some economists and philosophers differ on the need of a State in order for capitalism to exist.

What most people criticize as being ‘capitalism’ today, as many Communists and Socialists have espoused, is in fact NOT CAPITALISM. A State that allows the infringement of rights while protecting a company that wishes to exploit is CRONYISM, or CRONY CAPITALISM, not capitalism itself.

Remember, government, by its definition, has the sole monopoly on coercion and initiation of force. A coercive monopoly, crony capitalism, coercion through labor unions, involuntary redistribution, taxes, etc. are only continually possible through a government, not a free and voluntary market.

Envy, jealousy, theft, coerced redistribution schemes through government, etc. are what keep people apart by force. Capitalism betters the lives of everyone in the end, generally speaking. In fact, this principle of capitalism that encourages free trade, as in laissez-faire capitalism, is one point that more economists agree on than anything else, no matter the economist’s political affiliation.

  • Isn’t it ironic that Communists and Socialists always complain about so-called “bourgeoisie” living easy lives while exploiting the “proletariat,” but Communists and Socialists want everyone to live like the “bourgeoisie” by forcefully stealing with threat of murdering the “bourgeoisie?”

Capitalism has done more to unite people than divide them. The fact that we can sit here reading and writing on the internet in the middle of the day rather than hunting, farming, collecting water, or making things to live day-to-day, etc. attests to the benefits brought by capitalism. The fact that a writer such as Marx could have existed while freely and voluntarily living off the dime of Engels, a “bourgeoisie,” is further proof that capitalism has done more to unite us than divide us. Without capitalism, our focus and worry is more on the immediate rather than the philosophy brought on by leisure for the masses which is only a result of capitalism.

When people begin making copious amounts of money more than others, sure their status and quality of life differs than the layman, but the wealthy must still spend or store their money somewhere that benefits those in lesser positions. This is a key principle, as living in a wealthier society is far superior to that of living in one where only a few are wealthy. But if everyone is forced to be the same, nothing has the same worth as it does now. When everyone has the same wealth, the cost of things becomes more expensive, subjectively and comparably speaking. If all we looked at was the GINI of two countries in order to compare wealth distribution, we could compare Morocco and the US. I am confident that more people would rather live in the US than in Morocco, aside from political and social differences, and simply based on economic reasons for equality and unity. Nevertheless, the two countries have pretty similar distributions of income as seen below:

Or we can compare the US with the Czech Republic, where the average person makes more like that of their neighbor than in the US.

I can still confidently say that more people would rather live in the US than in the Czech Republic. Not only does this suggest that there is more to living a good life than the balanced distribution of wealth, but also that when we get closer to actual capitalism we live better lives.

I will admit that Socialism and Communism in their truest forms have never been successfully attempted. Likewise, Capitalism in its purest form has never been successfully attempted. However, the near-Capitalism has done more to help unify and better humankind more than near-Socialism or near-Communism. While, near-Communism and near-Socialism have done more to destroy and divide people than any other system, records that suggest close to 100,000,000 (one hundred million) deaths from the two.

Capitalism provides solutions for people, as there is an incentive to provide these solutions in the market, and working with the marketplace. Such things as technology, medicine, art, transportation, architecture, clothing, food, etc. all help to better our lives and unify us, while more competition drives down costs of production and makes things better for most if not all, in the immediate. Capitalism does more to unify us rather than divide us, while other systems, such as Communism or Socialism, do more to divide us.


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The Problem With Making Everything a Right

By Indri Schaelicke | United States

The issue of healthcare and many other potential government-provided services is often a hot topic during races for election. As we gear up for midterm elections this November, we are sure to hear many of our left-wing candidates promise to enact policies which declare certain goods and services, like healthcare, a right of the people. There is a major problem with this idea.

To start, an important distinction must be made between positive and negative rights. Positive rights are rights which impose a burden or duty on others to provide a good or service at any given time.

Negative rights are a prohibition on certain acts by the government or some other party. For example, people have a right to not have their property stolen by either the government or an outside party. The Bill of Rights is an enumeration of the things government cannot do to private citizens.

Most people agree with the idea of negative rights. They see the very real threat of a tyrannical government coming into existence if it is not restrained by negative rights. Our founding fathers found negative rights to be so valuable that many of their home states refused to ratify the Constitution without a Bill of Rights. Only after James Madison wrote the Bill of Rights did the Anti-Federalists come on board with the ratification of the Constitution.

Part of the reason that there is currently a movement to expand positive rights is that the lay public tends to confuse access to a good or service with a requirement to provide a good or service. It is easy to say “healthcare should be a right” when you want everyone to have access to high quality, affordable care. However, unless a closer look is taken at what that truly means, we may quickly find ourselves at the bottom of a slippery slope, wondering how we managed to end up there.

Rights are something that are undeniable by the government. When goods and services are made a “right” it becomes mandatory that they be available for citizens at any time. This means that someone must be on hand to provide the “right” at any moment, a slippery slope to conscription and tyranny. For example, if healthcare is declared to be a right, doctors can be forced -at the threat of violence- by the government to treat someone. In essence, private citizens will be conscripted into providing services for people they do not know, at less pay than they would receive in the free market. Plus, the goods and services would be provided at lower quality as the government would be responsible for collecting the inputs and resources used in production and is likely not an expert in the field. Going back to the example of healthcare as a right, bureaucrats- who do not have degrees in medicine- would be responsible for ordering the supplies and tools available to the doctors to use during their procedures. Only the doctors know what equipment is best for a given procedure, so much inefficiency would result.

Our political culture must reverse course and move in the direction of advocating for less positive rights. Voluntary interactions between two consenting parties always create the greatest gain possible because each participant will only complete the transaction if it benefits them. When government forces individuals to provide services on behalf of another citizen, only one part is voluntarily interacting, and the gains are not nearly as great. Capitalism incentivizes high-quality production because that is what generates the greatest profit. As a nation, we should say no to government redistribution of our services and allow the free market to allocate them.

Nobody Truly Understands Natural Human Rights

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.