Positive Rights and Entitlement

Hey awesome-loyal-beautiful readers I just wanted to fill you in on what I’m up to. At the moment I’m working on a new article for Pajamas Media.

The article will be about how “positive rights” and entitlement has handicapped my generation and how a proper view of the world can restore us. I’ll give you a little taste here:

Positive rights are the greatest fallacy affecting this country today and for well into the future. Their entrenchment in my generation’s culture have handicapped us more than any recession or ever could. The idea of positive rights effectively turns selfish envy for the possessions of others into mere desire for your rights to be upheld. But, on more practical terms, it the programs they directly lead to that are perhaps the clearest example of the dangers of this attitude. The Heritage Foundation has estimated that medicare and social security alone will cost us $42.9 Trillion more than we have budgeted for them over the next 75 years. And that’s just the unfunded commitments of two programs which have developed directly out of a “positive rights” mentality. There are dozens, if not hundreds, more programs and trillions upon trillions of dollars tied up in them.

So, now you see the problems with “positive rights” but what exactly are they anyway? Well, when I say “positive rights” I mean the idea that I have an undeniable right to take from you that which I have not earned. It is the idea that I, just by virtue of being born, am entitled to something that you have rightfully earned. I don’t need to work for these things. I don’t need to rely on your compassion or sympathy for these thing. I simply deserve them because it is my right.

I’m here to say what is rarely said. Neither you or I have an undeniable or unalienable right to take something from somebody else. We have no right to take what is not ours. This principle extends to all things even water and food. We are born with no inherent right to someone else’s water or food no matter how little we have or how much they have.

I understand that seems like an extreme or even radical thing to say but once we examine the issue closer it will become obvious that common sense and even social attitudes dictate this conclusion. Take for example one of our most revered practices, charity.

Charity is taking from what you have rightfully earned and giving it to those in need. It is considered to be a noble or self-less act done out of concern for others. An act of charity is worthy of commendation. However, in a “positive rights” framework there is no such thing as charity.

If a person has an irrefutable right to something from you then it is by no means a noble act to give it to them. Think of it this way, are we grateful when our right to free speech is not violated? Do we thank the government when they don’t impose restrictions on our right to freely exercise our chosen faiths? Do we pat others on the back for not murdering us?

Of course not. We fully, and rightfully, expect these things to be done because they are appropriate. In fact the violation of these rights is just cause for anger, protest, and in extreme cases revolution. For this reason it is simply absurd to extend right-hood to “positive rights”.

STAY TUNED: I know there are several questions unanswered thus far but those will be answered in the full article which I hope to submit today.

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Stephen Gutowski

Stephen Gutowski is an award-winning political reporter who got his start in 2009 when he founded this blog.

4 thoughts on “Positive Rights and Entitlement”

  1. Stephen,

    You deny the existence of positive rights, and yet clearly believe that people are entitled to what they happen to possess. On what grounds do you justify this dubious metaphysical assertion? If you are right that “We are born with no inherent right to someone else’s water or food no matter how little we have or how much they have,” what makes you so sure that we are born with the inherent right to what we happen to come to possess? At one point you imply that “earning” one’s possessions is the criterion for being entitled to them, but many people’s possessions are not earned–they are inherited, or given as gifts, or perhaps taken through conquest–and the holding of possessions that are “earned” clearly depends on factors well beyond our control, such as our natural talents, position in society, and even physical attractiveness. How is that just? How does my happening to be a tall, handsome, son of a business owner entitle me to the money I get at a job I could never have gotten had I been the short, ugly, son of a carpenter? Why is the government taking my money and giving it to the carpenter’s son any more unjust than the government taking the money I stole from you and giving it back to you? There’s interference from the government either way, and if you believe that you have a right to get the money back in the latter case, you’re on shaky ground when you deny even the possibility of the carpenter’s son having a right to the businessman’s son’s money in the former. Don’t get me wrong: there are good prudential reasons for the government not to interfere too much in the distribution of wealth–the inevitable inefficiency and waste, the stifling of people’s incentives to earn wealth, etc.–but I don’t know how you can believe that the government has *no* responsibility to provide social services if you believe it does have a responsibility to protect people from theft, fraud, and the like.

  2. Excellent article! and very much on the spot, my generation (I am 64) always felt that we as part of the baby boomers would be paying penalties for many years because of the mis-use of the social un-equality delt out by our government.

  3. I like the definition and use of new the term…positive rights.However,if it would follow the intro first two sentences,understanding would have dawned sooner.

    Tangential thought:
    In Judaism,the highest form of charity is to help a person get a job.

    Nevin C.In Western civilization birthright is a cultural and legalistic

  4. Oh,Nevin C.,Stephen is “so sure that what we are born with the inherent right to what we happen to come to possess” because it is a birthright of American citizens in the CAPITALISTIC United States of America.

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