An Argument Against Collective Rights and Positive Rights
In the realm of capitalist thought and in the discussion of the degree of government statism, natural rights are a necessary entitlement for rational beings.
Before the following analysis of rights, one must differentiate between natural rights and legal rights. The United States guarantees a set of legal rights consisting of the right to an attorney, the right to remain silent, and many more. The legal rights are denoted in the bill of rights (an artificial document constructed by a set group of individuals). Natural rights contradict with the nature of legal rights as natural rights are implicitly set by the nature of human existence.
The purpose of rights can be easily understood through a moral analogy. In the words of Jason Brennan, morality can often be assumed as an attempt to maximize pleasure over pain (the fundamentals of this definition are created due to most morals adhering to this principle). Sometimes humans have to make tradeoffs. An example of a tradeoff would be learning an instrument, while the act of learning may be rigorous or difficult, one will end with the pleasure of being able to produce music. However, the question is, can humans make the same tradeoff with people? Essentially, making others suffer for one’s pleasure.
Utilitarianism defines itself as “the doctrine that actions are right if they are useful or for the benefit of a majority.” Simplify, if an action positively affects the majority then the action is inherently moral. To put the utilitarian doctrine in place, the story of Omelas is presented. The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas is a short work of fiction authored by Ursula K. Le Guin. The plot goes as follows: Omelas is a town in which everyone (almost everyone) lives in unimaginable happiness. However, underneath the city is an isolated child that is kept captive in a constant state of misery. The city’s immense happiness and utopian aspects are contingent on the horrific and negative state of the singular child.
The story of Omelas represents the necessity of natural rights. Rights forbid society from immorally taking ownership over one’s own resources or efforts. With rights, an obligation has been placed on society (right of life means one can not kill me). Due to the clear requirement of rights, what rights exist? Many argue that beyond natural rights, collective and positive rights (within the realm of politics, at least) exist.
The distinct idea of rights is to protect the individual. Collective rights entail moving the rights of the individual to the rights of certain groups. Specific groups contain a similar trait thus when one initiates the idea of moving rights to groups, one is saying that a particular trait in someone proves a sense of hierarchical superiority. One is placing an inherent hierarchy within the nature of freedom (as the degree of rights correlates with the degree of freedom). The implication of superiority denotes an unequal balance of individual freedom. An example of this would be rights of people of color. The call for POC rights demonstrates that either those of color deserve to be granted a social ranking, or those of no color deserve to be granted a social ranking.
“The notion of ‘collective rights’ (the notion that rights belong to groups, not to individuals) means that ‘rights’ belong to some men, but not to others–that some men have the ‘right’ to dispose of others in any manner they please–and that the criterion of such privileged position consists of numerical superiority” (The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand, 120)
Rights of any group are directly obtained from the rights of the individual. Individual rights work as the start of a chain link of other implicit rights. To put forth this principle, an examination of abortion is presented. A call for “women’s right to an abortion” is fundamentally invalid. If the government is properly sustaining their only role of protecting individual rights, then women do not need to worry. The right to life and property says that any aggressor threatening one’s existing rights may be handled accordingly. As the fetus is an active aggressor (leading the mother out of work, taking nutrients and energy, and limiting physical activity), the woman holds the right to then evict the trespasser. The eviction proves the chain link of implicit rights and disproves the idea that groups need further rights to achieve their desired freedoms.
The political function of rights is to protect minorities from majorities. Natural rights cover the basics of necessary survival as well as an active obligation that no one may morally violate the existence of those rights.
The current state of American politics has found a fond desire of pushing the idea of the right to many foreign ideas. Discourse, especially within the Democratic party, continues to lure voters into voting for one way or another with the concept of “positive” rights. Positive meaning that one (or the state) has an obligation to supply another individual with a product or service. Examples of political rights may include the right to a “fair” income, the right to an education, the right to adequate health care, and many more.
The basis of positive rights neglects the foundation of natural (negative) rights. To call for a positive right is to place an obligation on another individual other than oneself. The obligation grants the one providing the good or service the role of a slave or servant. If man is required to labor for the production of benefiting others, man is subjugated to slave labor. Subjugation entails a stripping of rights, which proves to be inherently immoral.
In addition, rights are universal. As justified in the concluding answer to group rights, each and every human being obtains natural rights. To say one has a right to, for example, a commodity — such as clothes — is saying everyone has a right to the commodity including those of nations or regions of lesser opportunity. As presented a few sentences ago, the positive right entails one must produce the commodity. If an individual lacks the funds to produce but has an obligation to the production, then they are being forced to lack the resources of proper survival.
Rand, Ayn, Nathaniel Branden, and Ilona. The Virtue of Selfishness. 1964. Print.
p.s. i’m not a randian (ayn rand supporter) lol.