Friday, February 17, 2012

The Myth of Negative Rights

Those opposed to freedom, civil rights, constitutional rights, and civil liberties often call the Bill of Rights "negative rights." The Bill of Rights lays out basic rights of the people that the government is not allowed to infringe upon. So:

1. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. 

That does sound pretty negative. But the actual rights are not "negative rights." The Bill of Rights only proscribes the government from violating those rights; it does not grant those rights. The framers of the Constitution considered the right to free speech, to bear arms, to personal security to be positive, natural rights. They stopped the government from violating those rights; they limited the government's power; they handicapped the government; and in the manner of the Bill of Rights they codified (enumerated, counted) natural rights, and they stated - in a very negative way - for power hungry bureaucrats and pols to go stick themselves in order to protect the positive, natural rights of individuals.

NOTE: I need to further research the concepts of positive and negative rights. I think the terms need to be recast, because especially the use of "negative right" taints the argument between a right that requires no action to be preserved (negative right) and one that requires action to create (positive right).

Reason Magazine's article, "It's Not About Contraception" includes a short section on positive and negative rights. 

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