Monday, April 16, 2012

Types of Rights: Positive and Negative Rights

In political philosophy, rights are broadly categorized as positive rights and negative rights. LGBT rights, women rights, and freedom of speech are examples of negative rights. Right to healthcare, right to welfare, right to education are examples of positive rights. If you are puzzled by the notion that LGBT rights, for example, are negative rights, then just bear in mind that positive and negative in this context are not judgements on whether those rights are good or not.

Positive rights are those rights that create duties on others. Negative rights are those rights that are satisfied by simply not taking action by others. For example, when we say that homosexuals have the right to engage in homosexual acts, this right does not create a duty on anyone to act; They are maintained by simply not taking action. In other words, by refraining from taking action to try and stop their sexual acts. On the other hand, a right to education does create duties on others. By claiming education rights, you claim that someone has to build a school, and teachers have to attend the school to provide education.

For this reason, positive rights are usually called entitlements. Saying that a person has a positive right to education, means that the person is entitled to education. On the other hand, negative rights are usually called rights of non-interference. Saying that a homosexual has the negative right to practice homosexual acts, means that the homosexual has a right that others don't interfere and prevent him or her from practicing their preferred sexual acts.

But let's do a thought experiment and assert that LGBT rights are positive rights. In other words, that homosexuals are entitled to engage in homosexual acts. So, let's say that a gay person is walking down the street picks a random stranger and says: "Let's go and have sex." The stranger replies: "But I don't want to." Then the gay person says: "But I have a positive right to homosexual sex." and forces that stranger to engage in homosexuality. Any reasonable person would object and say: "That's a misinterpretation of the concept of a right! Saying that homosexuals have positive rights is a right to rape people! That's nonsense...". This scenario raises a reasonable question: Are positive rights misinterpretations of the concept of a right?! Or are there positive rights that are legitimate?! It is obvious that claiming that homosexuals have positive rights to homosexual acts is illegitimate, but is it the case that all positive rights are really illegitimate?!

Some people claim that a right to education is a legitimate positive right. Or that right to healthcare is a legitimate positive right. But are they really?!

Consider the right to healthcare. If someone goes into a clinic and demands that they get treated for some illness without paying anything to the doctors or nurses who are taking care of him; Is that patient's actions legitimate?! To understand the problem with the proposition that this is a legitimate action, let's see how such a scenario would play out. Suppose the doctor refuses to give treatment for the patient, the patient might use force to get treatment. This would be a form of theft in practice. What about the case that the patient makes the case that the doctor has the duty of providing healthcare. Such duty can only be interpreted as slavery. Claiming that the doctor has an obligation to provide medical care to patients without being compensated, is to say that the doctor is a slave to his or her patients. Moreover, if we establish that patients have the right to medical care without providing compensation to doctors, what would happen to the medical profession?! Would any person desire to become a doctor and go through the process of medical education just so that in the end he would be regarded as a slave?! Under such conditions, no person in his right mind would decide to become a doctor!

In practice, this is not how the right to healthcare is implemented. So, let's try to propose a second scenario that comes closer to practice. Say, a group of people decided that a right to healthcare is desirable. And as such, they created an institution where people pay 10$ each month to this institution, and the people who participate in this institution would receive free medical care from doctors. But doctors don't do it as slaves, they do it with the understanding that they are going to be compensated by the institution that those people participated in. That is all good. Such an institution would be analogous to health insurance companies that we are all familiar with. The problem arises if and when such an institution claims that people should have "free" healthcare, and hence being a member of the institution is not optional, it is mandatory. What if a person decides that they do not want to pay 10$ monthly?! If they are forced to pay the 10$, then this is no longer voluntary participation in an institution, but rather outright theft. Taking 10$ from a person against his will is theft in the most common sense of the word.

Imagine that you go into a shop, and the shopkeeper decided that all customers must buy a bar of chocolate. And you enter that shop, and the shopkeeper puts a gun in your head and demands that you pay for a chocolate bar, and then gives you the chocolate bar. While this is not theft as we are used to it, but the fact that the purchase was forced and not voluntary implies a form of theft, even if you were getting what you paid for.

And this brings us to what actually happens in practice when claiming that people have a right to healthcare. Such a system is implemented through one or both of the following methods: 1- Making health insurance mandatory to all citizens by law. Or 2- Raising taxes to create public sector clinics and paying those doctors. It does not take a genius to figure out that both solutions are forms of theft. Simply claiming that it is required by law to have health insurance, does not negate the fact that forcing someone to pay for health insurance is a form of theft, be it forced by the insurance company itself or by the government. And raising taxes to achieve the same result is also forcing people to pay for healthcare, but with simply creating the trick of changing labels from mandatory health insurance to tax money. It's the same process but under different pretenses.

So just as claiming that homosexuals have a positive right to homosexual acts is in practice (and also in principle) a right to rape others, saying that people with a medical condition have a right to healthcare is in practice (and in principle) a right to steal from others or enslave them.

The same logic applies to the right to welfare, education, and almost every other set of positive rights that are proposed. If someone is entitled to a positive right, then someone else has to provide that entitlement either voluntarily or by force. Therefore, we can see the obvious problem of positive rights; That they cannot be implemented without infringing on somebody else's rights!

PS: Check this video for more explanation about positive and negative rights

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