Sunday, July 11, 2010

What Are Human Rights?


I have often heard it loudly proclaimed, as if bellowed atop a great mountain in triumph, that x is a “human right” -everything from food, clean water, education, and even health care.

The socialists on my campus routinely make such proclamations. But are any of these things a human right? As flowery and “compassionate” as it is to say yes, I must put my foot down.

Food, water, health care, education, all of these things are very important. Certainly I want everybody to have these things. But here is my barometer of whether something is a right: Can you demand this “right” from a stranger?

Neither you nor I can stop someone on the street and demand to be educated. It is equally as silly to stop a doctor and demand heart surgery, or an inspection of an ingrown toenail. The stranger is not obligated to teach nor to look at your toenail.

On a more serious note, even if someone is starving and dehydrated he is not entitled to demand food and water from anyone. Now, if I see someone starving and in need of water, it would of course be very kind of me to volunteer my food and water, but no legitimate force can forcibly require me to volunteer these things (that wouldn't even make sense).

Some will call this cruel, but it is the libertarian credo that all action be voluntary; and not just when it is convenient.

There are only three rights that can be demanded from anyone. Let’s call them the Golden 3.

I can demand that another person not take my life.
I can demand that another person not shackle me into slavery.
I can demand that another person not violate my body or property.


All other goods and services are not something that I can demand or force others to supply for me.

Take note that these rights are "negative." The Golden Three are rights to be left alone, and at the end of the day that's all the libertarian really wants, just be left in peace and to leave you in peace.



Eric Sharp
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