UN Shows Positive Rights are Bogus
Tibor R. Machan
Even though the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a confused mess, in its frequent reports on the state of human rights across the globe the United Nations is inadvertently rejecting the idea of positive rights (which sadly is a substantial portion of that list of supposed rights everyone has). In recent months the UN has reported on widespread human rights violations around the world but in most if not all cases, the violations involved abridgments of basic, negative rights. That is certainly the case in Darfur, where genocide is now rife, and in the various countries where women are oppressed, as another example.
The rights that the UN reports are being violated all over the place, even in the United States of America, are the bona fide, genuine individual rights laid out in the Declaration of Independence. They are distinct from the pseudo rights that amount to entitlements to the work and property of others who do not willingly provide these. Such entitlements include the "right" to a job, "right" to health care, "right" to decent housing, "right" to education and so forth.
The former, genuine rights require that people do not aggressively interfere with others—that no one murders or assaults or otherwise violently or by means of fraud intrudes on other people. Another label for these rights is "freedom" rights. When they are respected and protected, people enjoy freedom from, oppression, brutalization, servitude or slavery.
The so called positive rights, in turn, require that people perform involuntary servitude for others, including the government. For example, the so called right to health care coerces doctors and nurses to work for patients or it coerces some people to pay for the medical care of other people they have not volunteered to help. Such "rights" really are an abuse of the concept, which was originally—starting in the 12th century—a principle identified as involving people respecting each other's independence, each other's sovereignty, their unalienable rights to be free.
When the UN reports on rights violations across the globe, it mostly lists abridgment of negative or freedom rights. That makes sense since those rights can be respected virtually anywhere, any time. There can be no excuse for raping, murdering, assaulting, kidnapping people, no matter what.
In contrast, if someone's so called positive rights are violated—for example, if one didn't get medical care or education or a decent job or housing in a country—this could well be lamentable but it would not amount to violation of one's basic rights. It could even be argued that where such services are lacking for people, there is something amiss. Maybe the country is too poor, too undeveloped, too technologically and economically backward. But these do not have to involve the violation of anyone's rights and where rights are violated, they would be negative or freedom rights so that such violations prevent people from achieving a better life for themselves.
It is argued by some developmental economists and scholars that it is precisely the violation of negative or freedom rights that poses the greatest obstacle to people's well being. When such rights are respected and protected in law, the society can be free and in a free society there is a greater likelihood of advancement of all sorts than in an oppressed society.
But when so called positive rights are enforced—when entitlement programs are being imposed on a population—there is a great deal of curtailment of individual liberty. People are coerced to "help" others which then leads to resentment and rebellion instead of development and creativity.
Even the UN's reports appears to strongly confirm that the only genuine rights we have are negative or freedom rights, those that require others—including the government—to stop interfering with us. No one is entitled to be helped by others who do not volunteer for this. And it seems that recognition of this actually fosters well being.