Negative vs. postive rights


The phrase “healthcare is a human right” displays a profound ignorance of basic terminology, as well as a contradictory, self-imploding notion of what qualifies as a “right.”

A poll once indicated that many Americans believe healthcare to indeed qualify as a right, probably mistaking themselves to possess compassion for holding such an opinion.

However, I find it unlikely that anyone actually thought about this statement; rather, they merely felt about it.

Note what this statement is NOT saying: it is not saying “Do you think it would be nice if everyone got the healthcare that they needed?”

Unfortunately, that very often is how people incorrectly interpret such a question.
Let us seriously ask ourselves: what is a “human right?”

Or really, what is a “right?”

A right is a category of things in defense of which it is morally acceptable to use violence. Property is the most important right, and indeed the basis of all rights.

You are morally entitled to use violence in defense of yourself from physical harm (assault/murder), or from others taking the fruits of your labor (slavery).

By extension, you are entitled to use force (albeit less so) to defend against those who would take your personal belongings (theft).

However, it is not morally acceptable to employ force against other peaceful people because you want or need them to pay for a good or service for you or your buddies.

That would be nothing short of extortion or armed robbery, and that is a violation of their rights.
No one’s rights can be violated unless something is done to them; rights are a “negative” concept.
That is, it is something with which is not to be interfered.

If you formulate a conception of rights that includes “positive” rights — that is, where there is some good X that you may use violence to acquire — then the entire conception of rights implodes. The set of rights cannot possess any contradictions, just as a contradictory notion in general cannot be true.

The right of speech means that others are not morally justified in using violence or the threat thereof to prevent you from speaking (or, for that matter, force you to speak), but it does not mean you are entitled to a stage.

The right to practice religion means you can practice your religion (ere harm to others) but you cannot force others to partake in your religion with you.

So, if a healthcare right exists, it exists only insofar as no one can forcibly prevent you from acquiring care, but it does not mean that you can force care to be given to you.

Of course, that would make healthcare rights redundant because we already have a notion of property rights and there would be no reason to delineate a specific right called “healthcare.”

Somebody not giving you something you think you deserve is not a form of oppression.


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