What is the True Nature of Rights?

In his essay Welfare as a Right, written in 1973, Ridgway K. Foley Jr. writes the following:

“Properly construed, a right exists without law, without the sanction of a legal system — once one assumes the necessity of a juridical unit to establish rights, he must also posit that that same body may limit or destroy those identical rights. Consider reality: if the right of free speech, free press, and free association, guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution do not inhere in mankind but exist only because of some writing on a crumbling document, the guarantees mean little: in periods of stress, martial law may be impaired by the same authority which produced the Constitution, allegedly justifying the “temporary” removal or restriction of those rights.

Contrary to Black’s definition, a right need not favor one person to the detriment of another. Properly analyzed, the existence of rights in one man benefits all mankind. Man should be free to choose his own destiny in all enterprises. The sole justifiable limitation on this liberty rests in the injunction that no man shall use his powers to coerce or deny an equal freedom in all other human beings. My freedom diminishes to the extent that I do not possess the right to murder my neighbor; his liberty likewise lessens because he may not lawfully take my life. But to ascribe to rights the attribute that the existence of a right in A diminishes the corresponding right in B fails to ring true. A’s right to order his life does not conflict with B’s equal, reciprocal right (except in the limited sense that neither may coerce or defraud the other); indeed, a vast multitude of actors, each seeking their own ends, effectively produce material well-being (or welfare in one sense) beyond the wildest imaginations of the utopian planner. My right to produce shoes does not infringe upon my neighbor’s right to produce shoes in competition with me; we each create value; that value is measured by the choice of others who wish to purchase shoes, exercising their respective rights to choose.

A fundamental right must preexist a jural system, but it may exist contemporaneously with such a system. The appropriate interrelationship between essential rights and the jural system appears in the Jeffersonian phrase, “That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men.”4 Rights inhere in man because he is a human being endowed with such powers by his nature and by the principles which govern the universe. The sole legitimate function of that organized force we call the state, or government, is to secure — protect against invasion — these rights in every individual. The result: each man remains free to follow the dictates of his conscience and to seek his own destiny.”

Read the entire essay here, http://www.thefreemanonline.org/features/welfare-as-a-right/.


2 Responses to What is the True Nature of Rights?

  1. Simeon Blatchley says:

    I agree entirely. There are those rights, and then the “rights” some people seem to think they have. Like a “right” to having the government take care of them. That “rights” ideology, is in essence, laziness. An entitlement attitude.
    I would also say that in the sense of murdering you neighbour, not only do your so called “rights” and everything end there as you said, but even in a lawless society, the general sense of moral ethics would govern your decisions and it should. Of course nowadays, it seems as though the sense of morals have all but been trashed in place for what we call “law/jural system”. Rights have overrun morals.

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