What is a Right?

"I’ve got my rights," we often hear people exclaim, but do we all have the same understanding as to what a right is? I don’t think so. I’ve heard people express ideas about having a right to decent housing, a right to a living wage and a right to basic medical care. I’ve also heard people express ideas about having a right to free speech, a right to practice whatever religion they wish to practice, a right to think whatever comes into their minds and a right to be left alone.

What of the above, though, are actually rights? The first group I brought up are indeed necessities but are they rights? I need decent housing but if I don’t make enough money to afford that type of housing how is it my right to demand that someone else provide it to me? I need to earn a living wage but if I don’t prepare myself for the type of work that pays a living wage how can I demand those wages from someone else?

The second group, however, are things that I have a right to expect. No one has to do anything for me for those rights to exist. The second set puts no demands for the action of other’s, only their inaction. Those are true rights. None of these, however, are true necessities. If someone forces me into a religion that I have no real belief in I can still eat well, be well clothed and well sheltered and have all my medical needs looked after.

So, we don’t have a right to livable wages or decent housing or basic medical care. It’s the right thing to do for society to try to provide such things but there is no right of the individual to have them. By attempting to make those a right you have to take something away from others which infringes on their right to be left alone.

Those distinctions need to be made.

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