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Rights are legal, social or ethical principles of freedom or entitlement; that is, rights are the fundamental normative rules about what is allowed of people or owed to people, according to some legal system, social convention or ethical theory. Rights are of essential importance in such disciplines as law and ethics, especially theories of justice and deontology.

Notable Topics


The American Disease, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 21 Mar 2014
Explains how U.S. government meddling in foreign countries (citing contemporaneous examples in the Ukraine and Russia) is generally counterproductive, even when genuinely attempting to advance liberty
[Cohen] said ...:
... there is no substantial popular opinion in Russia that favors gay rights. None. Nor was there any here 30 or 40 years ago. I don't remember any Russians coming over here and telling American gays how to fight for their rights. I grew up in the segregated South. I don't recall any Russians coming over here and telling black folk how to get their rights. This is a universal rule. You win your rights in your own country or you never have them.
... You win your rights whether you’re a black person or a Jew or a gay or a person of Islamic descent in this country by fighting for them ...
Animal Rights Absurdity, by Scott McPherson, 22 Oct 2003
The Bastiat Solution, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 29 Aug 2008
Analyzes segments of Bastiat's The Law (Dean Russell's translation) as "the best antidote for the toxic demagoguery" of the election season
This principle—that a group can have no rights not possessed by the individual members—is consistent and simple. It defies all challenges ... Bastiat goes on to elaborate.
... Force has been given to us to defend our own individual rights. Who will dare to say that force has been given to us to destroy the equal rights of our brothers? Since no individual acting separately can lawfully use force to destroy the rights of others, does it not logically follow that the same principle also applies to the common force that is nothing more than the organized combination of the individual forces?
Benjamin Ricketson Tucker, Part 2, by Wendy McElroy, Freedom Daily, Sep 2007
Biographical essay on Benjamin Tucker from the first issue of Liberty until his death
Historically, the radical individualist tradition has embraced a theory of natural rights; the term refers to the enforceable claims that one person has in regard to others in society. The substance of these claims is generally stated as a right to person, property, and peaceful behavior. Each right is accompanied by a corresponding duty ... Natural-rights theorists embraced an objective right and wrong in human behavior ... Only by having an objective standard of values, they argued, could people have a framework against which to judge whether or not laws were just.
Benjamin Tucker, Liberty and Individualist Anarchism [PDF], by Wendy McElroy, The Independent Review, 1997
Presents a short biography of Tucker and then the history of the Liberty journal, including its major themes, the debates over Stirnerite egoism vs. natural rights and its literary and international coverage, concluding with commentary
Natural-rights theorists—John F. Kelly, Gertrude Kelly, Sidney H. Morse, William J. Lloyd—claimed there was an objective right and wrong to human behavior based on the nature of man and reality ... In early 1887, John Kelly, who was a staunch Spencerian, accurately assessed Tak Kak as saying "that the idea of right is a foolish phantasy, or that there are no rights but mine,—that is to say, that there are not rights, only mights" ... The egoists argued that they were merely reducing the concept of rights to its proper place as an artificial, useful construct with which to organize society.
Benjamin Tucker's Liberty, by Carl Watner, Reason, Apr 1979
Examines several of the themes discussed by Tucker in Liberty, e.g., anarchism, natural rights, monopoly, and how his views changed throughout the years
Tucker became a convert to Max Stimer's variety of egoism ... In later years, Tucker exemplified his new position by questioning the supporters of natural rights.
... These two rights—the right of might and the right of contract—are the only rights that ever have been or ever can be. So-called moral rights have no existence.
Thus Tucker concluded that rights begin only with convention. They are not liberties that exist naturally but liberties that are created by mutual guarantee. So he no longer defended property as a natural right but declared that property is a social convention.
Bentham, Jeremy (1748-1832), by T. Patrick Burke, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
Biographical essay
Natural rights, he stated in a famous phrase, were not merely nonsense, but "nonsense upon stilts." ... His scorn for natural rights, however, remains controversial and is frequently blamed for providing a key conceptual foundation for the modern welfare state. Traditional advocates of natural rights have accused Bentham of undermining liberty by entrusting to legislators the power to rearrange legal rights whenever doing so might lead to more utility, thereby undermining the stability of rights necessary for generating the very utility Bentham thought the only proper goal of law.
The Bill of Rights: Freedom of Speech, by Jacob G. Hornberger, Freedom Daily, Jul 2004
Part of a series examining the Bill of Rights, this covers the freedom of speech clause as a barrier to censorship by government (and not by private entities)
The First Amendment reads: ... The first thing to notice here is that, contrary to popular opinion, this amendment does not give people rights to free speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, or freedom of assembly, or the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. In fact, the Constitution does not give people any rights whatsoever. Instead, it operates as a restriction on the interference with rights—rights that preexist both the government and the Constitution ... the Constitution called the federal government into existence ... to protect the exercise of pre-existing, fundamental rights.
Blessings of Discrimination, by F. A. Harper, In Brief, 1951
Discusses the human ability to discriminate, e.g., to feel the heat of a stove, which Buddha considered an "essential" virtue, contrasting it with the policy of nondiscrimination on employment, association and other areas
And in any event, what difference does it make how A arrived at his choice? One cannot question the basis for a choice without questioning the right of choice itself. There isn't much sense to saying that I have the right, for instance, to select any kind of cheese I wish, but that I have no right to select one in preference to another because it tastes better, or has a more appealing color, or is made from the milk of better cows. The right of choice is the right of choice, and the reasons therefor become a sacred part of the right of choice itself.
Coke, Edward (1552-1634), by Stephen M. Sheppard, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
Biographical essay
The fourth principle inherent in Coke's legal theories is that law is a source of rights. ... Chiefly, he protected what we would now call rights, but which he saw as those interests and privileges in property and offices that were understood as the result of long practice and custom, barring the King from taking privileges from Parliament, as in Bates' Case, and barring Parliament from limiting the prerogative of the King, as in the Case of Non Obstante. Overall, Coke's common law protected the customary rights of the subject from interference from all, whether from interference by a neighbor, a sheriff, the King, or Parliament.
Related Topics: Edward Coke, Law
The Constitution Within, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 18 Aug 2006
Questions the validity of constitutions by relating how James Madison behaved during the debates over the U.S. document and later after his introduction in the first Congress of the amendments that would become the Bill of Rights
The 1977 Soviet Constitution proclaimed, "In accordance with the interests of the people and in order to strengthen and develop the socialist system, citizens of the USSR are guaranteed freedom of speech, of the press, and of assembly, meetings, street processions and demonstrations. ... Citizens of the USSR are guaranteed freedom of conscience, that is, the right to profess or not to profess any religion, and to conduct religious worship or atheistic propaganda." The 1936 Constitution contained some of the same guarantees. How much were those words worth?
A Conversation with Leland B. Yeager, by Leland B. Yeager, Austrian Economics Newsletter, 1991
Topics discussed include utilitarianism, rights theory, ethics and economics, mathematics and economics, methodological taboos, hermeneutics, Austrian economics, socialism and Eastern Europe
AEN: What's wrong with natural rights theory?
YEAGER: Nothing. I consider myself a consistent champion of the kind of rights that are mentioned in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. But it is wrong to start with some conception of rights and then try to derive everything from that. The importance of respecting human rights is a result of our coming to realize how important they are to a good society and human cooperation. I get the impression from libertarian rights theorists--like Tibor Machan--that they want to just posit human rights. The good guys see them, the bad guys don't, and that's that.
The Court Almost Gets It Right on Guns, by Sheldon Richman, Freedom Daily, Oct 2008
Discusses the U.S. Supreme Court majority and dissenting opinions on the D.C. law that banned handguns in private homes
The Framers apparently understood the principle of rights better than Stevens does. If one has a right, one may exercise it for any purpose consistent with the rights of others. Keeping and bearing arms for self-defense or hunting violates no one else's right. So it is entirely consistent with the Amendment. Stevens's conclusion implies that government creates rights and thus can create a right for one purpose (the militia) but not for others (self-defense). That would amount to a wholesale rejection of the Jeffersonian philosophy found in the Declaration of Independence and a repudiation of the American Revolution.
The Critical Dilemma Facing Pro-War Libertarians, by Jacob G. Hornberger, 14 Feb 2007
Discusses the contradictions faced by U.S. libertarians and conservatives who endorsed or encouraged imperial and interventionist foreign policies following the attacks of 11 Sep 2001
If a government has the power to arbitrarily take anyone into custody and torture and kill him, how can the citizenry in that society truly be considered free? ... [I]magine a suspected terrorist being stretched on the rack or subjected to waterboarding, screaming, "I have the right to criticize the government" under principles of freedom of speech (or even "I have the right to call my lawyer!"). His torturers would respond, "Well of course you do. But we have 'rights' too—including the right to arrest, torture, abuse, and kill you without judicial interference."
Democracy Versus Freedom, by Jarret B. Wollstein, Freedom Daily, Jan 2006
Compares the definitions of democracy, collectivism and individualism, explaining why democracy and regular elections do not guarantee freedom, substantive rights nor peace, and that democracy is not a precondition for individual liberty
If whites have more votes than blacks, they cannot be allowed to deny blacks their constitutional rights. If men have more political power than women, that cannot permit them to deny women certain individual rights ... To understand why democracy does not guarantee freedom, it is essential to distinguish between electoral and substantive rights ... Electoral rights give you some say in who governs. They do not guarantee that elected officials will respect your freedom. Substantive rights are the ability to control your own life and property. They are the core elements of freedom.
The Drug War's Immorality and Abject Failure, by Anthony Gregory, Freedom Daily, Jul 2006
Discusses how drug use differs from criminal, property-rights violations, the justifications for the drug war and the many areas where it has had detrimental effects on society: inner cities, rule of law, foreign relations, etc.
What many might not realize, having not been exposed to libertarian ethics, is the nature of the distinction—drug use, in and of itself, is a victimless act, whereas murder, like rape, kidnapping, assault, theft, and trespassing, is a rights violation. People have a right to life, liberty, and property, and to pursue happiness within the limits emerging from other people's equal rights to life, liberty, and property. If not for this, theft would not be a crime ... When a person is murdered, his right to life has been violated. When a person is kidnapped, his right to liberty has been infringed.
E.R.A.: A Red Herring at Best, by Charles Curley, 1981
A rebuttal to an Association of Libertarian Feminists discussion paper in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment
The Equal Rights Amendment carries with it a subtle and dangerous error. Rights are not given in legislation; not even in changes to the Constitution. Libertarians differ on where they do come from but on one point at least libertarians are agreed; rights are not granted by the rulers.
Related Topic: Law
The Ferguson Distraction, by Sheldon Richman, 4 Dec 2014
In the wake of Michael Brown's shooting death, points out the unequally kept statistics on the number of people killed by police vs. police officers killed and suggests Americans should rethink the police force "experiment" began in 1829 in London
The ultimate cause of this problem is that the police are the domestic armed troops of America's rulers — falsely called "representatives" — and the rest of us are the ruled. They know it, and we are increasingly coming to know it. Most of the "laws" they enforce against us violate our natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The chasm between rulers and ruled exists everywhere in the country, but it exists on a spectrum from the barely noticeable to the extreme. Obviously, it's most extreme in poorer black communities, where race and class prejudice sit atop the general disdain for the ruled.
First Freedom, by Tom G. Palmer, Reason, Jun 1993
Review of Liberty and Nature: An Aristotelian Defense of Liberal Order by Douglas B. Rasmussen and Douglas J. Den Uyl
Exactly why do individuals have rights? The latest to submit a detailed answer are Douglas Rasmussen and Douglas Den Uyl ... This flourishing of individuals as moral beings necessarily requires for each and every one of them that they enjoy self-directedness ... And in order for each and every one to enjoy self-directedness, they must enjoy a protected sphere of autonomy. This sphere is delimited by the concept and institution of rights, which create 'a sphere of freedom' and 'moral territory.'
Related Topics: Aristotle, Property Rights
Frederic Bastiat, Ingenious Champion for Liberty and Peace, by Jim Powell, The Freeman, Jun 1997
Biographical essay of Frédéric Bastiat, covering those who influenced him as well as those influenced by him, his writings (including correspondence with his friend Coudroy), his roles in the French Constituent and Legistative Assemblies and his legacy
[Bastiat] affirmed the natural rights philosophy, the most powerful intellectual defense of liberty ... "It is not because men have passed laws that personality, liberty, and property exist," he declared. "On the contrary, it is because personality, liberty, and property already exist that men make laws ... Each of us certainly gets from Nature, from God, the right to defend his person, his liberty, and his property, since they are the three elements constituting or sustaining life ... Law is the organization of the natural right to legitimate self-defense."
A Free-Market Constitution for Hong Kong: A Blueprint for China [PDF], by Alvin Rabushka, Cato Journal, 1989
Discusses the draft of the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), expected to be promulgated in 1990 (actually adopted 4 April 1990 and went into effect 1 July 1997), as a "free-market constitution"
Chapter III of the draft Basic Law enumerates fundamental rights and duties of the residents: equality before the law; the right to vote; freedom of speech, association, assembly, and trade unions; the prohibition of unlawful search and seizure; freedom and privacy of communications; freedom of movement; freedom of occupation; freedom of academic research; the right to legal counsel; and so forth ... In reality, most Hong Kong residents have enjoyed these rights relatively free from government interference. In China, these rights have often been suppressed.
George Mason and Individual Rights, by Willie E. Nelms, The Freeman, Sep 1977
Biographical essay highlighting Mason's ideas about individual rights and slavery, from his early childhood reading of Locke, the drafting of the Virginia Declaration of Rights to his opposition at the Virginia constitutional ratifying convention
The Declaration stated that all men were by nature free and had certain basic rights, including 'the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.' ... The Virginia Declaration noted 'that freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained by despotic governments.' Mason also called for freedom of religion and religious tolerance. The document went on to proclaim that trial by jury was vital, and it set forth the idea that government gained its powers from the consent of the governed.
Herbert Spencer: Liberty and Unlimited Human Progress, by Jim Powell, The Freeman, Apr 1995
Biographical profile, highlighting Social Statics and his acquaintance with Andrew Carnegie
Spencer used spare time to write his first book, Social Statics, and it was published in 1851. He presented an inspiring moral and practical case for individual rights which he called "equal freedom." Everyone should be free to do what he wishes, Spencer insisted, as long as he doesn't infringe on somebody else's equal freedom. Accordingly, he advocated abolishing all trade restrictions, taxpayer church subsidies, overseas colonies, medical licensing, legal tender laws, central banks, government schooling, government welfare, government postal monopolies, and so-called "public works."
Hobby Lobby Ruling Falls Short, by Sheldon Richman, 2 Jul 2014
Dissects the good and bad parts of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, ruling against the Affordable Care Act provision that required employers to pay for contraceptives
I wish the court could have said this instead: (1) No one has a natural right to force other people to pay for her (or his) contraception or anything else (with or without the government's help), and by logical extension, (2) everyone has a right to refuse to pay if asked. For people about to celebrate the Fourth of July, these principles ought to be, well, self-evident. A group of politicians cannot legitimately have the power to compel one group of people—employers, taxpayers, or insurers—to pay for things that another group wants. That's immoral, and it violates inalienable rights.
In Defense of a Free Market in Health Care, by Robert D. Helmholdt, 16 Apr 2004
Explains why government health care reforms will not improve the status quo, recommending instead complete deregulation of the industry and reliance on the free market
[R]ising costs are exacerbated by the threat of malpractice from sue-syndrome patients nurtured by a few unscrupulous attorneys fostering the psychology of entitlement. Superimposed on all this mess is the pervasive unhealthy belief in our society that one may by right get something for nothing. But it makes no more sense to claim a right to health than to claim a right to wisdom or courage. However, in an age when people are clamorous about "rights" without responsibility, they don't want to be told that health is primarily their duty and responsibility.
Individual Rights or Civil Rights?, by Sheldon Richman, Freedom Daily, Dec 1995
Contrasts the right not to be discriminated against with the right of freedom of association and concludes that one of them is invalid, also discussing private vs. government discrimination
The way civil rights are defined today confronts us with a choice between them and individual rights as conceived in the classical-liberal tradition. In other words, the alternatives are phony rights and genuine rights ... On the one side is the alleged right not to be discriminated against. On the other is the right to freedom of association ... When two rights clash, at least one of the rights is counterfeit ...The very purpose of a rights theory is to avert conflict and establish what individuals may and may not legitimately do ... A rights theory that makes conflict inevitable is worse than useless.
In Pursuit of Liberty, by Jarret Wollstein, May 1997
Primer on liberty concepts, including voluntary vs. coercive associations, individual rights, government and possible future improvements in the status quo
Individual Rights are Essential for a Free Society. Individual rights is the recognition by others that voluntary association is fundamental and you should be free to live your life in peace. Your rights include:
  • freedom of speech, press, religion and assembly
  • freedom of association
  • the right to defend yourself (including the right to own the means of self-defense, such as guns)
  • the right to keep what you earn
  • freedom of enterprise and the right to own property.
Jefferson on American Liberty, by Gary M. Galles, Mises Daily, 4 Jul 2002
List of Thomas Jefferson quotations on the subjects of liberty, rights and government
Our government exists only to defend our pre-existing rights.
"A free people [claim] their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate."
"The true foundation of republican government is the equal right of every citizen in his person and property and in their management." ...
"Our legislators are not sufficiently apprised of the rightful limits of their power: that their true office is to declare and enforce only our natural rights and duties and to take none of them from us."
Kerry Complicit in Bush's Crimes, by Paul Craig Roberts, 19 Sep 2007
Comments on the lack of concern for constitutional rights under George W. Bush, as evidenced by the tasering of a student simply for asking questions about vote fraud during the 2004 presidential election, as well as the infamous "no-fly list"
Usually when police violate constitutional rights and commit acts of police brutality they do it when they believe no one is watching, not in front of a large audience. Clearly, the police have become more audacious in their abuse of rights and citizens. What explains the new fearlessness of police to violate rights and brutalize citizens without cause? The answer is that police, most of whom have authoritarian personalities, have seen that constitutional rights are no longer protected. President Bush does not protect our constitutional rights. Neither does Vice President Cheney, nor the attorney general, nor the U.S. Congress.
Lessons about Our Constitution from Abu Ghraib, by Jacob G. Hornberger, 26 May 2004
Argues that constitutional protections and restraints on government are needed more than ever to prevent abuses such as have happened in U.S.-occupied Iraq
[Otherwise] U.S. officials would do to the American people ... what they have been doing to the people of Iraq ...: closure of newspapers that criticize the U.S. military; shooting of peaceful demonstrators; warrantless searches of ... by military forces; gun control and gun confiscation; indiscriminate roundups of suspected criminals; indefinite detentions of people suspected of crimes; no right to counsel; no due process of law, jury trials, or right to confront witnesses; no right to bail; no habeas corpus; and ... the infliction of cruel and unusual punishments consisting of sex abuse, torture, rape, ... murder.
Let the Immigrants Stay, by Sheldon Richman, 9 Jul 2014
Discusses the plight of unaccompanied Central American children migrating to the U.S. who face deportation by the Obama administration
These children are human beings. Whether they are coming here to be with family or to escape danger, they have the same natural rights as Americans have. Our rights can be expressed in many ways, but they boil down to just one: the right to be free of aggression. We have this right not by virtue of being American, but by virtue of being human. It is a natural, not national, right, so these young Hondurans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans have it too. Locking them up and deporting them should offend Americans, who claim to believe in the natural right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Related Topics: Children, Government
Liberty Defined, by F. A. Harper, 4 Sep 1957
Speech to the Mont Pelerin Society; Harper first offers his definition of liberty, then explores "adulterated" definitions, its relation to morals, moral law and basic humans rights, ending with his hope for the cause of liberty
In ... making the decisions that liberty entails, one must assume certain human rights ... These ... are not the sort ... prescribed by a political body ... Basic among [these] would seem to be the right to life itself ... The right to life as an assumption is evidenced by the way people act ... If one has the right to life, he then has the right to sustain his life with his own time and means, so long as in so doing he does not infringe on the same right of others. If one has the right to thus sustain his life, he then has the right to have whatever he is able to produce with his own time and means.
The Liberty Manifesto, by P. J. O'Rourke, 6 May 1993
Remarks at a gala dinner celebrating the opening of the Cato Institute's new headquarters in Washington, DC
Freedom is not empowerment ... Anybody can grab a gun and be empowered. It's not entitlement. An entitlement is what people on welfare get, and how free are they? It's not an endlessly expanding list of rights—the "right" to education, the "right" to health care, the "right" to food and housing. That's not freedom, that's dependency. Those aren't rights, those are the rations of slavery—hay and a barn for human cattle. There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences.
Liberty or Empire?, by Patrick Henry, 5 Jun 1788
Excerpt of speech to the Virginia Ratifying Convention; criticizes several clauses of the proposed Constitution and warns about the possibility of a U.S. President becoming even worse than a king
Will the great rights of the people be secured by this government? Suppose it should prove oppressive, how can it be altered? Our Bill of Rights [Virginia Declaration of Rights] declares that "a majority of the community hath an indubitable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to reform, alter, or abolish it, in such manner as shall be judged most conducive to the public weal." ... Show me that age and country where the rights and liberties of the people were placed on the sole chance of their rulers being good men without a consequent loss of liberty! I say that the loss of that dearest privilege has ever followed ...
Lysander Spooner, Part 1, by Wendy McElroy, Freedom Daily, Oct 2005
Lengthy biographical and bibliographical essay; from Spooner's birth to 1850-1860, examining his writings on economics, money, banking, mail delivery and slavery
Natural-rights or natural-law theory, as espoused by Spooner, is based on the idea that justice and just laws are inherent in nature—in the nature of man and of reality. Thus, rights can be discovered and they can be codified through documents such as the Constitution. Rights cannot be created by man or by human agencies such as government. Rather they emerge through reason and in the process of resolving social conflicts. For example, the idea of self-ownership—that every person has a natural jurisdiction over his own body—emerged as a resolution to the conflict over slavery in America.
Madison, James (1750-1836), by Michael Zuckert, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
Biographical essay
Like Locke, Madison identified all rights as property, which he explains to be a "dominion which one man claims ... in exclusion of every other individual." There are thus two elements to rights: dominion and exclusivity. The rights holder has a kind of control over that to which he has a right, coupled with an immunity from the intrusions of others on that to which he has a right ... He included in property in this broad sense "safety and liberty of person," "the free use of ... faculties, and free choice of the objects on which to employ them," the rights Locke, and after him Jefferson, included in the catalog of rights as "life" and "liberty."
Related Topics: James Madison, Government
Natural Law and Peace: A Biography of Hugo Grotius, by Jim Powell, 4 Jul 2000
Biographical essay; alternative version of chapter "Natural Law and Peace" in section 3, "Peace", of The Triumph of Liberty (2000)
Natural law, Grotius maintained, is the basis of natural rights: "Civilians call a faculty that Right, which every man has to his own ... This right comprehends the power, that we have over ourselves, which is called liberty ... It likewise comprehends property ... Now any thing is unjust, which is repugnant to the nature of society, established among rational creatures. Thus for instance, to deprive another of what belongs to him, merely for one's own advantage, is repugnant to the law of nature." ... Grotius influenced the English natural rights philosopher John Locke.
Related Topics: Hugo Grotius, Law, Netherlands, War
On Equality and Inequality, by Ludwig von Mises, Modern Age, 1961
Examines the premise that "all men are created equal" and some possible as well as purported conclusions
The doctrine of natural law that inspired the [18th] century declarations of the rights of man did not imply the obviously fallacious proposition that all men are biologically equal. It proclaimed that all men are born equal in rights and that this equality cannot be abrogated by any man-made law, that it is inalienable or, more precisely, imprescriptible. Only the deadly foes of individual liberty and self-determination, the champions of totalitarianism, interpreted the principle of equality before the law as derived from an alleged psychical and physiological equality of all men.
On Liberty & License, by H. Maitre, Reason, Dec 1976
Discusses commentary by supposedly "conservative libertarians" on Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia and worries about "the amoralism of some of the libertarian movement"
Radical libertarian thinkers, in rejecting the authority of both State and Church, in not conceding to either the "right" to grant rights, are left with the task of defining both the origin and justification of rights considered by them basic and inviolable—in particular the "right to life" and, derived from it, the "right to property." They find it relatively easy to refute ... the notion that "rights are granted by governments, which also enforce them." But they have not succeeded so far ... in convincing the intellectual public of the allegedly sacrosanct nature of the individual's rights.
On the Origin and Character of Rights, by William Blackstone, The Freeman, Mar 1981
Selection extracted from Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765), Book I, Chapter I, "Of the absolute Rights of Individuals"
By the absolute rights of individuals we mean those which are so in their primary and strictest sense; such as would belong to their persons merely in a state of nature, and which every man is entitled to enjoy, whether out of society or in it ... For the principal aim of society is to protect in the enjoyment of those absolute rights, which were vested in them by the immutable laws of nature; but which could not be preserved in peace without that mutual assistance and intercourse, which is gained by the institution of friendly and social communities.
Related Topics: Law, Liberty
On the Origins of the Modern Libertarian Legal Movement [PDF], by Roger Pilon, Chapman Law Review, 2013
Historical survey of libertarian influences on constitutional and other areas of law, from the mid-1970s to recent decisions
After all, I thought, wasn't the nation founded in the name of rights—natural rights, which conservatives dismissed as no business for the courts? And wasn't it the duty of the courts, in the name of such rights, to protect individuals against majoritarian tyranny? Still, I paused, because the conservative critique and those questions were arising in the context of a galloping welfare state ... and an intellectual climate that called for greater protection for "social and economic rights"—welfare rights—both at home and abroad, which hardly seemed consistent with the Framers' plan for limited government.
Personal 'Freedom': Review of Harry Browne's How I Found Freedom In An Unfree World [PDF], by Roy Childs, The Libertarian Forum, Apr 1973
While admitting that the book has many valuable insights, Childs chastises Browne on his definition of freedom and his views on morality and natural rights
No one has ever said that rights are enough to make anyone happy: they are rather a necessary but not sufficient condition for individual happiness and well being. And neither is the alternative either-or as Browne implies, i.e. either we rely on rights or we rely on insurance and individual action for protection, for instance. No advocate of natural rights has ever attacked the idea of insurance against theft, and for good reason: the two things are completely different, and have different purposes. Why then does Browne ... have a need to attack natural rights? Obviously they do not defend or help people in the same way, but so what?
Real Liberalism and the Law of Nature, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 10 Aug 2007
Examines Thomas Hodgskin's introductory letter to Henry Brougham, a Member of Parliament (later Lord Chancellor), written in 1829, published in The Natural and Artificial Right of Property Contrasted (1832)
Is government the source of our rights? I fear that today many people would say yes. Not infrequently it is said that the government or the Constitution grants us freedom of speech or press or the right to own property. This offends the natural-law tradition that was essential to the genesis of classical liberalism ("liberalism") and the vital institutions it spawned. While some prominent early liberals sought to overthrow natural law in favor of the seemingly more-scientific utilitarianism, the heart and soul of liberalism is—and remains—the natural law.
Reasoning on the Nature of Things, by Clarence B. Carson, The Freeman, Feb 1982
Discusses how natural law doctrines were repudiated by utilitarians, why natural rights are important from an economic viewpoint, how the rights to life, liberty and property can be construed and what the author understands as the "social contract"
The rights my friend had in mind were of much more ancient vintage and claimed something much more substantial for their authority. They were rights said to subsist in the nature of things and to antedate governments, courts, and constitutions even. The economic rights he had in mind consist of such things as the right of man to the fruits of his labor, to exchange his goods freely with other owners, to have, to hold, and to dispose of his property, and to be secure in his possessions without arbitrary interference from any person or governmental authority.
Religion and Freedom, by Robert Sirico, Freedom Daily, Dec 1993
Examines the premise that the state is justified as a means to promote or even coerce morality, the role of attaining liberty and the historical roots of "church and state"
Once people obtain liberty, the more fundamental questions of how to order our lives, what values to seek, and which virtues to practice take on greater significance ... The fact that a person should have the political right to ingest various kinds of drugs into his or her body or to engage in consensual sexual activity with another adult does not answer the question, "But should we?" or "Is it right to do so?" Those are questions of value and morality, not politics, and it is both a shame and a danger that the two orders have become so sadly confused. Nor is it the case that these two spheres are radically separate ...
The Rhetoric of the Environmental Movement, by Ronald Hamowy, Mises Daily, 26 May 2006
Rights so conceived do not require that others be forced to act in specific ways if I am to exercise my rights but only that they refrain from intervening in certain areas without my consent. Thus, my right to life does not entail that others are obligated to do everything within their power to keep me alive but only that they cannot kill me.
The Rights of the Colonists: The Report of the Committee of Correspondence to the Boston Town Meeting, by Samuel Adams, 20 Nov 1772
First of three reports of the Massachusetts Comittee of Correspondence, authored by Adams, presented to a town meeting by James Otis and later republished by Benjamin Franklin
Among the natural rights of the Colonists are these: First, a right to life; Secondly, to liberty; Thirdly, to property; together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can. These are evident branches of, rather than deductions from, the duty of self-preservation, commonly called the first law of nature. ... When men enter into society ... they have a right to demand and insist upon the performance of such conditions and previous limitations as form an equitable original compact. Every natural right not expressly given up, or, from the nature of a social compact, necessarily ceded, remains.
Rothbard's The Ethics of Liberty: Still Worthy after All These Years, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 9 May 2014
Review of The Ethics of Liberty (1982) with emphasis on part 1, covering Rothbard's arguments for the validity of natural law
Rothbard’s conviction that individual rights are derived from something more fundamental can be seen in this statement: "The myriad of post-Locke and post-Leveller natural-rights theorists made clear their view that these rights stem from the nature of man and of the world around him." For Rothbard, individual rights boil down to the right to be free from aggression ... This is what he wished to derive from the natural law. The principle ... follows from earlier findings that reason discloses about human nature ..., human action, ... and the conditions under which we may flourish.
The Top 25 Liberty Songs, by Bill Winter, Libertarian Party News, Aug 2001
List of 25 "Liberty's Best Songs" chosen from over 200 suggestions, each with a short summary and highlighted lyrics, and a supplementary list of 25 runners-up
"Get up, stand up / Stand up for your rights / Get up, stand up / Don't give up the fight." It is the message of the Founding Fathers set to a reggae beat. And ... Marley (R.I.P.) had the spirit of a Founding Father with Rastafarian dreads. Rastafarians believe in religious and personal freedom, including the freedom to smoke ganja ... Later, Marley sings: "Most people think / Great God will come from the sky / Take away everything / And make everybody feel high / But if you know what life is worth / You will look for yours on Earth / And now you see the light / You stand up for your rights."
What Crisis?, by Scott McPherson, 18 Sep 2006
... the root of the problem is a total breakdown in our society of any understanding of the concept of individual rights ... Were it otherwise, patients and health-care workers alike would stop making spurious arguments about their alleged rights and accept responsibility for their lifestyle choices — whether it's a patient who needs to find a new pharmacist or an ambulance driver who should find a new line of work.
Related Topic: Health Care
What the Immigration Bill Overlooks, by Sheldon Richman, 9 Jul 2013
Discusses the 2013 Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (approved by the Senate, but not considered in the House) and how it disregards basic human rights
In conventional terms, the bill seems fairly complete. So what does it overlook? Several things: First, by nature all individuals—not just Americans—have rights. Specifically, they have a natural right to engage in any peaceful activity, that is, any conduct that does not aggress against other people. Among those rights, therefore, is the right to travel and settle anywhere, so long as no one else's rights are violated. Considering that plenty of Americans would eagerly rent apartments to and hire, say, Mexicans, migration is included among the freedoms all people possess.
Related Topics: Free Market, Law
Why Should a Supreme Court Justice Care about Natural Rights?, by Jim Powell, 9 Jul 2010
Discusses the evasiveness of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan when asked about the Declaration of Independence, and argues why justices should heed the natural rights philosophy embodied by its most famous lines
Natural rights provide a moral standard, independent of law, for judging the legitimacy of law. ... In July 1847, when housewife Elizabeth Cady Stanton visited four friends in Waterloo, New York, they decided to hold a meeting about women's rights. They needed some kind of statement explaining what they wanted. They realized they could do no better than the natural rights philosophy expressed in the Declaration of Independence. Stanton drafted what became known as the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments and went on to launch the movement for women's rights.


Individuals and Their Rights by Tibor R. Machan, by David M. Brown, The Freeman, Jun 1990
Review of Tibor Machan's 1989 book Individuals and Their Rights
Rights are a kind of moral claim, based on the objective requirements of life in a social context, although they have been treated by many writers, including Thomas Jefferson, as a kind of endowment. By contrast, Machan defines rights as "social conditions that ought to be maintained, moral principles pertaining to aspects of social life." He favorably quotes Ayn Rand’s statement that rights are "conditions of existence required by man's nature for his proper survival."
V for Vendetta, by Wendy McElroy, 31 Jul 2010
Review of V for Vendetta (2006) both as a movie and as a political statement, comparing it to The Count of Monte Cristo (1934) (which is shown in some scenes)
Other libertarians have excused the kidnapping and torture [of Evey by V] ... Evey ultimately forgives V, which makes everything okay. But if you believe that forgiveness justifies the violation of rights, then what actions can you not justify? Theft, rape, torture ... after all, the victim might ultimately forgive the perpetrator. Ultimate forgiveness is irrelevant to whether an act violates rights. What is relevant is whether the victim says "yes" or "no" when the act is occurring. Forgiveness may well affect a legal prosecution but it does not change the violation of rights.

Cartoons and Comic Strips

Government Politicians, Who Never Ever Lie, by Ted Rall, 22 Jul 2006
Rights, by Clay Bennett, The Christian Science Monitor, 2006


Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality?
    by Thomas Sowell, 1984
Contents: The Civil Rights Vision - From Equal Opportunity to "Affirmative Action" - From School Desegregation to Busing - The Special Case of Blacks - The Special Case of Women - Rhetoric or Reality? - Epilogue: The Degeneration of Racial Controversy
A Life of One's Own: Individual Rights and the Welfare State
    by David Kelley, Cato Institute, 1998
Contents: The End of Welfare As We Know It? - What Is a Welfare Right? - The Emergence of Welfare Rights - Economic Freedom and Economic Risk - Welfare and Benevolence - Community and Contract - Conclusion
Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty
    by James Bovard, 1994
Partial contents: The New Leviathan - Seizure Fever: The War on Property Rights - The Proliferation of Petty Dictatorships - Subsidies and Subjugation - The Opportunity Police - Guns, Drugs, Searches, and Snares - Taxing and Tyrannizing
Putting Humans First: Why We Are Nature's Favorite
    by Tibor Machan, 2004


Schools of Thought in Classical Liberalism, Part 5: Natural Rights, by Nigel Ashford, 9 May 2012
Short video, with transcript; discusses the answers to the question "What is the proper role of government?" from the viewpoint of Ayn Rand and Robert Nozick
Both [Rand and Nozick took] the so-called natural rights approach. So they believed that natural rights is the correct approach to deciding political questions. America has a strong tradition of natural rights going back to the American founding. ... So ... they believe in a minimal state solely designed to protect us. So the state should provide a military to defend us. It should provide a police to defend us against criminals. It should provide a court to avoid conflict between people. And that is it. There's no justification for any form of government beyond that, such as a welfare state.
Related Topics: Robert Nozick, Ayn Rand

The introductory paragraph uses material from the Wikipedia article "Rights" as of 13 Nov 2018, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.