Lately, the concept of what constitutes a right has become quite muddled…extending from simply things inherent to us and our behavior and involving no one else, to now (to some) involving concepts that do involve others’ time and work. The late John Hospers, a former Libertarian candidate for the office of President of the United States, touched on this subject in his acclaimed book: “Libertarianism: A Political Philosophy for Tomorrow”. If any of you have yet to read it, I very much recommend the book. It touches on many concepts of the philosophical thought that makes up libertarian ideals, and offers much insight and understanding. Here is Hosper’s take on the idea of a right (and what I would term privileges), which I very much subscribe to (with maybe a little exception). Enjoy :

“It has become fashionable to claim virtually everything that one needs or desires as one’s “right”. Thus, many people claim that they have a right to a job, the right to free medical care, to free food and clothing, to a decent home, and so on. Now if one asks, apart from any specific context, whether it would be desirable if one had these things, one might well say yes. But there is a gimmick attached to each of them: “At whose expense?” Jobs, medical care, education, and so on, don’t grow on trees. These are goods and services “produced only by men” (from me: for those offended, “men” derives from “mankind”, which is an alternative term for humanity. Hospers isn’t taking a shot against women here, but referring to people in general. Grow up. Okay, back to Mr. Hospers.). Who, then, is to provide them, and under what conditions?

If you have a right to a job, who is to supply it? Must an employer supply it even if he doesn’t want to hire you? What if you are unemployable, or incurably lazy? If you say “the government must supply it”, does that mean that a job must be created for you which no employer needs done, and that you must be kept in it regardless of how much or how little you work? If the employer is forced to supply it at his expense even if he doesn’t need you, then isn’t “he” being enslaved to that extent? What ever happened to “his” right to conduct his life and his affairs in accordance with his choices?

If you have a right to free medical care, then , since medical care doesn’t exist in nature as wild apples do, some people will have to supply to you for free; that is, they will have to spend their time and money and energy taking care of you whether they want to or not. What ever happened to “their” right to conduct their lives as they see fit? Or do you have the right to violate theirs? Can there be a right to violate rights?

All those who demand this or that as a “free service” are consciously or unconsciously evading the fact that there are in reality no such thing as free services. All man-made goods and services are the result of human expenditure of time and effort. There is no such thing as “something for nothing” in this world. If you demand something for free, you are demanding that other men give their time and effort to you without compensation. If they voluntarily choose to do this, there is no problem; but if you demand that they are “forced” to do it, you are interfering with their right not to do it if they so choose. “Swimming in this pool out to be free!” says the indignant passerby. What he means is that others should build a pool, others should provide the materials, and still others should run it and keep it in functioning order, so that “he” can use it without fee. But what right has he to the expenditure of “their” time and effort? To expect something for free is to expect it “to be paid for by others” whether they choose to or not.

Here, then, is the importance of saying that you have a right to an activity. You have a right to earn property, if you can — not the right to simply take it over. “A right does not include the material implementation of that right by other men; it includes only the freedom to earn that implementation by one’s own effort”.”

Citation from: Hospers 1971: Pgs. 75,76