The Corruption of Individual Rights
Tibor R. Machan
Whenever a good idea surfaces, there will surely be many who will try to hitch their wagon to it filled with corrupt versions that aim to serve numerous purposes having little to do with the original good idea. One example is the idea of individual natural human rights.
Some simply disagree with the idea, like Jeremy Bentham did, denouncing it in various terms (e.g., “nonsense upon stilts”). Others do not like going about it straightforwardly. Instead they try to recast the idea to mean what it didn’t. A good case in point is the idea of welfare rights.
The rights John Locke identified as belonging to every adult human being are prohibitions, aimed at spelling out a sphere of personal jurisdiction, a private domain, for us all, one within which the individual is sovereign, the ruler of the realm as it were. For example one’s right to private property spells out the area of the world that one is free to use and roam with no need for anyone else’s permission; to enter this realm one must give one’s permission without which others must remain outside. One’s right to one’s life is similar. No one may interfere with one’s life without having gained permission, not even someone who means to do one no harm but only provide help (e.g., a physician).
The point of such rights is to recognize that every adult person is in charge of his or her life and property and others must not intrude. Why is this important? Because people make significant decisions about how they will live and if others intrude, these decision become distorted. Basic rights carve out the region of the world where the individual is in charge!
This is of course an irritant to all those who would just as soon have other people available to be used, bothered, nudged, and so forth. The tyrant is fended off by individual rights, as is the meddlesome legislator and regulator. So instead of accepting this, such folks are bent upon recrafting the idea of individual rights. Welfare rights are like that. If one has a basic right to welfare, it means others must become involuntary servants to one’s objectives and may not tend to their own affairs in peace. The idea of basic individual rights establishes peace among people. They must deal with one another by consenting to the various projects one might support. One may not be conscripted and robbed. And this is inconvenient, of course, to people who don’t want to bother about gaining the consent of those whose support they seek. Instead of convincing them of the merits of their projects, they can skip this troublesome step and just tax and draft and otherwise make people serve them whether or not they want to.
People of course often should help others but that must be done voluntarily. There is no merit to such help if it coerced! To avoid the perception that one’s support is coerced, the idea of welfare rights is fabricated! This needs to be resisted good and hard!