Front Page Forums Rights What is a right?

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    The intent of this topic is to develop a working definition of rights.

    A brief summary of the various concepts of rights:

    * Natural rights (created by nature) vs legal rights (created by society)
    * Claim rights (obligation on others) vs liberty rights (freedom to act)
    * Positive rights (permission to act) vs negative rights (prohibition on others)
    * Individual rights vs group rights

    A right is a social construct. A person alone in nature and not part of a society, has no need for rights and cannot benefit from rights. That person can have no rights or make up whatever rights they want, and it makes no difference because there is nobody around to violate them or to fight for them. When a person is among others, rights must be agreed upon. If a person claims a right and others reject it, the outcome depends on negotiation or violence. Similarly, if a person seeks justice for a violation of rights, it is obtained through negotiation or violence by that person with or without the support of others, or by others who fight for that person’s rights. Finally, if a person’s injury or death is perceived as a violation of rights, it is up to others to seek justice by negotiation or violence and they do not require the consent of the victim to seek that justice. Therefore, members of society must agree on rights and must obligate themselves to seek justice for themselves and for others when rights are violated.

    Therefore, we say there are no natural rights, only societal rights.

    When considering whether a proposed right should be adopted by society, it’s important to determine whether it is a claim right which creates an obligation on others, a liberty or positive right which guarantees the freedom and permission to act, or a negative right which is a prohibition on others.

    Claim rights must be supported by systems to ensure that society meets those obligations. For example, the right to education means there must be a teacher, a classroom, lesson plans, school supplies, transportation, instructional standards, and a myriad of other things involved all of which cost money or require someone’s time. A right to education cannot be fulfilled without the infrastructure or at least some system in place to provide that education. Whenever a claim right is proposed, careful consideration must be given to the obligations on society and the adoption of a claim right should be accompanied or followed by the adoption of at least one law creating the system that will help society fulfill those obligations.

    Liberty or positive rights guarantee the freedom or permission to say or do something and these need to be balanced by the rights of others, both the liberty or positive rights of others and negative rights to protect them from harm, and also may be limited in some way. For example, the right to travel guarantees that neither the government nor private individuals are allowed to interfere with someone moving from one place to another, but does not grant someone the right to trespass on another’s property or to enter public facilities outside of of their operating hours. The right to travel is limited to people who are not under arrest or imprisonment. These boundaries and limitations should be carefully considered and mentioned in the definition of the right itself or in accompanying explanation.

    Negative rights prohibit other people from doing things, and these need to be carefully considered to avoid unnecessarily limiting the freedom of others. For example, the right to consent prohibits forcing or coercing someone to “agree” to a contract. It limits the freedom of other people to force or coerce an agreement, and probably most people would agree this is a good thing and not shed any tears for the villains who are not allowed to force or coerce people. However, it also has a limit on the person consenting to the agreement, which is that they don’t have the right to consent to an agreement that would harm someone else or violate enacted laws.

    Individual rights must apply to every member of society. If rights apply only to some individuals but not others, they will create resentment. Group rights must apply to every group of a similar nature. For example, “state rights” must apply to every state in a federation, “patient rights” apply to all healthcare patients, “female rights” apply to all females, “male rights” apply to all males, “children’s rights” apply to all children, “worker’s rights” apply to all workers, and so on.

    The number of rights should be the minimum that is required to achieve a strong foundation for society. If there are too many rights, it may be difficult for a normal person to remember all of them and this will cause conflict instead of order. Societies with a large population may create additional rights with a corresponding organization to guard and seek justice against violations of those additional rights.

    Rights, and the obligation to seek justice when rights are violated, must be taught to new members of society.

    The United Nations has adopted a Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 1 is really a preamble and doesn’t describe any right, but says that everyone has the same rights. That is reflected here where we state that a right applies to all members of society. The concept in the United Nations declaration is that everyone everywhere has rights, and that’s a nice idea but it’s not really a right if there aren’t people who obligated themselves to fight for it, and the United Nations is not an organization that’s going to initiate a war to fight for someone’s rights so it’s only talk. Every society must agree on the rights its members have. We hope that more societies will adopt the rights described and discussed in this forum, because we believe they are important for peace and prosperity.

    In the United States Constitution, the Ninth Amendment states “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” This phrase creates ambiguity because people will undoubtedly claim rights that haven’t been agreed upon by society, and judges will then be ruling in favor of or against rights that maybe haven’t even been discussed by the legislature. When rights are adopted, those are the rights. This doesn’t mean there can never be more rights — society can always adopt more rights but it has to be done the right way, through broad consensus, and that means only the legislature can create new rights. In the United States and other countries with a constitutional document, that law would be an amendment to that document — the most important laws of the land. In other countries without such a document, the new right may be expressed as a law or royal decree.

    In summary:

    * A right is a social construct, agreed upon by members of a society, and applies to all members of society.
    * Members of a society must obligate themselves to seek justice for themselves and for others when rights are violated.
    * The consent of the person or people harmed by violation of rights is not necessary for others to seek justice on their behalf.
    * The number of rights must be kept to a minimum that is required to achieve a strong foundation for society.
    * Additional rights require an organization to guard and seek justice against violations.

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