The Logic of Entitlements

The Logic of Entitlement

Tibor R. Machan

So the other morning I woke up to the disturbing news from the Big Apple that some disgruntled ex-employee of the Empire State Building went on a shooting spree and killed someone, after which he was himself shot to death by police.  No, I don’t know the details but even the sketchy story points up something about the logic of entitlement.

Remember that according to the proposed “second bill of rights,” one proposed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and championed by many very prominent people in the legal profession, such as President and former law professor Barack Obama and his favorite legal theorists, Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein (who wrote a book trying to justify the basic right to employment, among other things), everyone has the right to a job.  The United Nations Declaration of Universal Human Rights states this too, in Article 23: “everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment….”  This according to its supporters, is a basic right, comparable to the rights listed in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights of the U. S. Constitution, such as the right to one’s life and liberty.

One implication of having a basic right is that anytime it is being threatened and no law enforcement officer is present to resist the threat, one is at least morally but often legally justified in resisting such a threat.  So, for example, if one’s right to life is threatened, one may defend oneself and such defense can involve killing the perpetrator of the threat.  The right to self defense arises from the right to one’s life and liberty.

If, now, one has the right to work and to protection against unemployment, one may be understood to take it that one is justified in defending oneself against the threat to take from one one’s job.  If then one is fired from a job without proper cause, such as having committed a crime, one may be forgiven for taking it that one is justified in resisting this, in putting up self-defense when one’s job has been taken from one.

Being entitled to something–having proper title to something–confers upon one the right to defend against anyone who would deprive one of what one is entitled to.  Usually the legal authorities take care of this but in the case of the perpetrator of the shooting at the Empire State Building on August 24th, 2012, it can be argued that if he was entitled to the job that was taken from him and if he lacked police protection against having the job taken from him, he could reasonably be understood to have the right to resist this, if need be violently.

Indeed, entitlements may be defended, logically speaking, with whatever force is needed to prevent being deprived of them. One may violently resist trespassers, burglars, robbers, kidnappers, etc.  So in the understanding that follows the doctrine of basic entitlements, a doctrine widely preached by political theorists who hold that one is owed service from others, including being provided with employment, someone whose job is taken from him could well seem justified resisting this, including by means of whatever force is necessary to do so. And if one is resisted, that too could be understood to justify resistance.

A more sensible and civilized understanding sees jobs as the result of employment agreements between two willing parties and no one is entitled to have another give one a job.  Yes, jobs are important and valuable but can only be had once both parties, employer and employee agree to work with each other on mutually satisfactory terms.

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3 Responses to The Logic of Entitlements

  1. Deebu says:

    A bit of a stretch to infer that one possesses a moral or legal right to defend their right to work by waging retribution against any employer who dismisses them. A dismissal does not constitute an infringment against his or her right to free choice of employment. If one was trying to coerce an individual into a contractual agreement of employment, or strip him or her of their ability to work for other employers of their choosing, this may provide a legitimate reason for self-defense in accordance with the reasoning aforementioned in your post (albeit, this reasoning can be further dissected on its own). The New York incident does not meet these criteria and does not constitute a violation, even when assuming your grounds for such rights being existent are true in the first place.

    • szatyor2693 says:

      The point I made holds: rights violations are justifiably resisted. Of course, proportionality applies but if the proportional resistance or retaliation is itself resisted, the confrontation can escalate into serious violence (just as when one is arrested by the police but then resists or tries to escape, the result of can be a very serious and violent confrontation). The gist of the point is that if one has a basic right to a job, then being fired amounts to a serious rights violation and morally this may be resisted more or less forcibly. That is, of course, a reductio ad absurdum point, showing that in fact no right to a job exists. Jobs come from mutual agreements between potential employers and employees and if either party withdraws, the job is gone.

    • szatyor2693 says:

      A dismissal from a job would violate any supposed “right to a job.”

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