Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Continuing my theme of differing definitions I guess I have to keep my (implied) promise and address the concept of rights. This is a challenging area for me to stay balanced, as my personal beliefs are pretty heavy right-wing here. I shall try my best.

First up is negative rights. This is the concept that certain rights exist, natural to all persons. They are not dependent on any external force, but rather internal to each individual. The obvious and best example is the Bill of Rights in the constitution. It does not say what your rights are, in fact it specifically says that it is not an exhaustive list (via the ninth and tenth amendments). Instead, it is a list of places government is not allowed to interfere. It includes no promise that you will get anything, just a promise that these things may not be taken from you.

Next up is positive rights. This is a concept that there are certain things that each person should have, and if they fail or are prevented from attaining these things, some external force (government) should provide them. The example that comes to mind is the UN definition, which literally defines rights as something the government is required to guarantee. This is why the UN does not recognize a right to self defense. By definition, self defense cannot be externally supplied.

(OK, I think that was pretty balanced, now comes the hard part.)

An interesting parallel can be found in the rules of motor sports. Most smaller and entry level sports have what I call open rules. There is a list of required rules, and a list of what you are not allowed to do. Beyond that, anything not addressed in the rules is by definition allowed. Eventually, as a sport gets bigger and the vehicles get faster, they go to what I call closed rules. This is a list of requirements and a list of what you are allowed to do. If the rules do not say you can do something, you cannot.

The Constitution, as written, sets up open rules for people. You can do anything you want unless there is a law against it. It sets up closed rules for government. They can only set up the laws allowed by the list. This is negative rights at its purest. It maximizes freedom, but creates no security.

The New Deal largely introduced the concept of open rules for government. By way of creative interpretation of a few words, Congress justified doing pretty much anything they wanted. This allowed for the creation of Social Security, minimum wages, and in many ways most important, the civil rights movement. ( A strong case can be made that Federal enforcement of civil rights laws against states was unconstitutional. That is also a pretty strong case for positive rights.)

!!!Light Bulb!!! A strong justification for the concept of positive rights is that it is not just the government that can take away someones rights. Negative rights are great for protection against the government, but not so good against concerted efforts by a powerful group of private citizens attempting to control another group of citizens.

I think I have to stop here and let this idea develop a bit. I guess sometimes you can teach your self things.


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