What’s Wrong With Rights?

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A judge in France recently declared that access to the Internet was a basic human right. This is simply the ad absurdum of a lot of political chatter these days, what with rights to affordable housing, the right to health care, the right to a living wage, and so on. Rights sound so noble, so what could be wrong with them?

Actually the concept of human rights is noble, and that is why the enemies of humans and their rights have taken up the language of “rights,” the better to befuddle us with.

There is a chasm that separates the two views of rights. In the first, grounded in a biblical worldview, rights basically consist of the right to be left alone. The only subsidy that others must pay in support of this right is to do the leaving alone. I have the right to own property, which means that others have the obligation not to steal it from me. I have the right to keep and bear arms, which means that others don’t get to take my gun (as they pry it from my cold, dead fingers). I have the right to free speech, which means that others have to obligation to let me say what I believe. I have the right to a fair trial if accused of a crime, which means that others must not bring charges against me that they cannot prove in an open court. The subsidy that others (especially others in the government) pay to me in support of my rights is that of abiding by the law when it comes to me. They can honor all my rights without ever finding out that I exist. To the extent they come into contact with me, they have the obligation to obey the Golden Rule. That’s it. There is no expensive enforcement mechanism, no vast budgets, no regulatory agencies, nothing. Two guys sitting on a log all afternoon can honor all the rights given by God to the other one.

But let us look at the other kind of “right,” so honored and prized by officious meddlers, tyrants, and regulatory punks. If I have a right to affordable health care, then that means someone else has an obligation. (All rights bring obligations for others with them. The two concepts of rights differ in the nature of the obligations they impose.) So if I have a right to affordable health care that I cannot afford, then this means that someone else has the obligation to make up the difference. If I have a right to own a house, but I cannot afford a house, then someone else, or a consortium of someone elses, has the obligation to buy me one. Capice?

When hunting around for who that somebody who owes me a house might be, I look (not being mama’s little fool) for somebody with money. Whoever has some extra money owes me a house, darn it. And knee surgery. And a better job than the one at the warehouse I used to have.

Now notice what has happened, remembering the while what Isaiah said about those who invert their moral categories (Is. 5:20). Whichever definition of rights we follow, we need to remember that governments are fully capable of violating rights (whatever those rights are). If I have the right to speak freely, governments can violate my rights by punishing me for my foul sentiments by shipping me off to a Canadian hate crimes seminar for an entire weekend. If I have the right to a three bedroom house, the government can fail to ensure that those who owe me one give me one. So then, either way, the government can violate my rights.

But what happens if the first view is correct, and my rights consist largely of my life and property being left unhassled by others, but the government is proceeding on the assumption that my rights actually consist of me getting my share of the free chocoloate milk, as I have said before, that is owed to everyone? On the strength of that assumption, they will go in search of the funding for these rights, and they will take the funds that are necessary for me to get my milk, my house, and my surgery. But in doing this, they are stealing — violating basic human rights, and they are doing it in the name of basic human rights.

God’s Word says something about not stealing, even if you are the government. Ahab would not have had the right to take Naboth’s vineyard if only he had been planning to fund Medicare with it. And God’s Word does not say that I have the right to a free house, with someone else obligated to pay for it. This means that all the current talk about rights is a deceitful lie, calculated to create confusion so that the government can create a situation they desire about as much as anything — free rein to trample on real human rights. And we must never forget that in this regard property rights are human rights.

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