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Property Rights, Human Rights, and Stupid Tweets

By Tyler Bauer

Yesterday, I posted a long blog in which I analyzed and discussed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s stances on a number of issues. If you read that blog, you know that her I and disagree on what we do and do not have a right to. Ocasio-Cortez is not the only person with her views. Others, such as @existentialcoms on Twitter, agree that people like me who support property rights are opposed to human rights.

It’s not that libertarians such as myself oppose human rights. We just fundamentally disagree with the likes of Ocasio-Cortez on what human rights are. So, let’s take a closer look at rights.

Rights and How Rights Vary

Rights are legal, social, or ethical principles of freedom or entitlement. Rights that deal with principles of freedom are negative rights. Negative rights require only that others allow you to act as you please. Negative rights can only be infringed upon if they are used to violate the rights of others. For example, you have a right to swing your fist, but your right to swing your fist ends at my face. If you were to punch me in the face, I have a right to stop you from swinging your fist. Positive rights, on the other hand, deal with principles of entitlement and require others to provide you with a good or service, regardless of whether they want to. Positive rights inherently force someone to act on another’s behalf, which is why I do not support any positive rights. Nobody should be forced to act against his or her will.

When it comes to individual rights, I am a follower of the Lockean tradition. John Locke, a Western philosopher, said that there are two kinds of rights – natural rights, which we are born with, and legal rights, which can be given, taken away, and modified by governments. Natural rights come in the form of negative rights. Legal rights are, for the most part, positive rights.

Natural Rights

Natural rights are the rights which we are born with. Some believe these rights are given by God (or any religious deity of your choice), while others believe we have them solely because we are human. Regardless of where you think these rights come from, they are as follows: all humans have a natural right to life, liberty, and property. Those who believe in natural rights believe that these rights are inalienable, meaning they cannot be granted, taken away, or modified.

Each of the three natural rights are rooted in property rights. We have a right to life because we own our lives. What you do with your life is your prerogative, and nobody should be able to deprive you of your life by killing you. Our right to liberty exists because we are all born free and equal. You own the actions of your life. For example, you should be able to speak, practice religion, and live in whatever way you wish, all without restriction from the government or other people, provided you don’t violate another’s natural rights. Lastly, we all have a right to property. We have a right to that which we create or that which we gain through trade, as long as it doesn’t conflict with the other two natural rights. In my opinion, these natural rights are the beginning and end of the rights we have.

Legal Rights

Legal rights consist of any and all rights granted by a government. The field of legal rights contains all positive rights. As previously stated, positive rights place an obligation onto others – whether it be society, government, or any other being – to provide a good or service. A good example of a positive right is the right to housing. A right to housing places an obligation on government to provide a house for the homeless. I have no problem with someone volunteering to build a house for someone else. However, labeling something a right gives one person the legal authority to force another to act for him or her, which is effectively slavery. For example, Senator Rand Paul explained the implications of labeling something a right in a hearing.

Property Rights vs Human Rights

Any libertarian with half a brain will tell you that all rights, including human rights, originate from property rights. So, to an extent, @existentialcoms is correct – libertarians do value property rights over human rights. However, this only occurs when human rights violate one’s property rights. For example, a libertarian will tell you that freedom of speech – a human right – is a property right and should be protected at all costs. However, a right to housing – also a human right – violates the property rights of whomever will be forced to build and/or maintain that housing. So, we libertarians don’t value property rights over human rights – we just don’t believe something is a human right if it enslaves another to act against his or her will.

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