Rights: Negative Vs. Positive

Laws have always been a controversial issue. On one side Anarchists want no laws, on the other Communists want laws for just about everything. But what laws would do the most good for the most people? I would argue that it all goes back to rights. More specifically negative rights, or the right to not have something done to you. Here is a good video to introduce the point I am making. 


Any Negative right is very difficult to go wrong with. For instance you have the right to free speech, protest, and of press. This negative right permits you to do any one of those things. You are allowed to attempt these things without fear of retaliation, but you are not guaranteed the right to succeed at these things. There is no public fund for people wanting to start a newspaper, and nor should there be. 


Negative rights grant opportunities, protect individuals, and generally require minimal effort from either party to maintain these rights. For instance you have the right to not be harmed. All I have to do is not intentionally, or negligently harm you. However, you also have the responsibility to not trespass on my property, steal my property, or otherwise provoke me into harming you. It is a simple enough concept, you leave me alone and I will return the favor. 

Positive Rights on the other hand are far more complicated, and in my opinion wrong. A positive “Right” is the right to an education or to a good source of employment. These things are not natural rights. An education is a privilege, something that is provided because society has the excess resources to spare and thus grants this to you. A good source of employment is also not a right. Someone has to go out and create a sustainable “good” job for you. It is not just there and waiting to be attained. Additionally, women have the right to use birth control to prevent pregnancy, but they do not have the right to free birth control or abortion any more than I have a right to free condoms. Such an idea is absurd and ineffective. Just because you have a “Right” to an abortion does not mean that a Dr. is therefore obligated to give you one, even against his or her own consciousness.

Another such right that is simply wrong is affirmative action. The idea of this system is to help minorities graduate from college and become successful as well. this view turns equality into a pure numbers game, and ignores the human cost of this supposed “equality”. This is nothing short of government sponsored racism. It leads to a separate class of people thinking that they are entitled to certain things because of their race and ethnicity. Starting to sound familiar? If i applied a negative rights view to this then people of every ethnicity would be entitled to low interest government loans, as long as the resources are available. In this scenario everyone is treated equal, nobody is discriminated against, and nobody is entitled to something because of their skin color. 

Whenever a society begins to tell a group of people that they are entitled to something for any reason other than that they would not survive without it there will be inequality. You may wish to argue in response  “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor, to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets and to steal bread. ” But on the flip side of this coin, both parties are not allowed to commit fraud, launder money, embezzle, or insider trading. 

I will admit that there are gray areas where some rights do overlap, but for the most part negative rights are far more important and necessary for a truly free and equal society.

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4 Responses to Rights: Negative Vs. Positive

  1. haleyschryver says:

    It is wrong to discriminate based on skin color, but I don’t agree that affirmative action is “government sponsored racism” by any means. The groups that benefit from affirmative action are groups that have been disenfranchised in the past. In order for there to be any sort of equality of opportunity for those people, there need to be programs like this in place.

    • So what you are saying is that because an ethnic group has been hurt in the past they get “Payback” to compensate for it? I don’t really see how that is a stride towards treating everyone equally. It seems more like blood money to satisfy the universal conscience. “Ohh sorry we enslaved your people 200 years ago, here is some free education.” How does that settle the issues of racism, dsicrimination, and violence that still exist?

      If a particular ethnic group is falling behind it is not our duty to catch them, they should be given th same chances of everyone else for better or worse. That is what equality is, treating everyone the same. In areas like Chicago you cannot force the children to go to school, even though it would benefit them greatly, they need to have internal motivation. Someone within thier community needs to step up and give them a sense of hope and pride in themselves. You cannot throm money at the problem until it goes away!

    • roblewis92 says:

      Affirmative action reminds me of when pro-lifers say “an unborn child is a human person with all the rights to life, unless the mother was raped, then she has every right to kill the child”. Some people do not have a very good sense of how retributive justice works. In the case of abortion in cases where the pregnancy was caused by rape, the pro-lifer is basically saying that it is alright to commit a wrong in order to right a wrong. The same thing occurs with affirmative action. A minority group was oppressed in the past. Therefore, we should disadvantage some members of the former oppressive group.

  2. Nathaniel Conrad says:

    Ah, that William DeBurgh quote is so childish.

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