Shield Or Sword?

Are the inalienable rights guaranteed by, but not created by, US Constitution a Shield or a Sword? Are they negative or defensive in nature or are they positive and offensive in nature? This is the oft unspoken core of the debate in matters of healthcare, sustenance, and other perceived human rights in America. Do our rights merely protect us from the actions of others, or do they entitle us to the benefits of the actions of others?

The Right to Freedom of Speech:

I have the guaranteed right as an individual to be free to speak my mind on these issues. I even have the right speak out against the actions of the US Government. Essentially, no matter how much you hate what I’m saying, you can’t legally shut me up – though you can walk away, click on another blog, or otherwise remove yourself from my presence and my opinion.

My right to free speech is a negative or defensive entity, my shield against oppression as it were. It takes nothing away from any other human.

The Right to Life:

I have the guaranteed right as an individual to be alive. Nobody is allowed to arbitrarily end my life – though they are allowed to kill me in defense of their own life or the lives of other, if I choose to violate this same right of theirs.

Again my right to life is a negative or defensive entity, my shield against being exterminated as it were. It takes nothing away from any other human.

The above two examples showcase the perception or theory that our inalienable rights are of a defensive or negative nature. They serve solely to protect the individual from the actions of other individuals or the State. This was the most common view of our rights as guaranteed by the Constitution for much of America’s history.

In the latter half of the 20th century things changed. Some people started strongly espousing the ideology of positive or active rights. They move the concept of individual rights out of a defensive posture and into an aggressive posture that makes demands upon other individuals or the State.

The Right to Healthcare:

The concept of the right to healthcare says that I have the right to receive medical care whether I can afford it or not. Healthcare should be provided for me through some agency other than my own ability to secure it. If I cannot procure it for myself, it must be provided for me because it is my right.

This is an example of my right, not being a shield against others but being a sword to use against others. It takes the fruits of others’ labors from them to provide my entitlement.

The Right to Food:

The concept – espoused by the U.N. if not officially by America – that I as an individual have the right to enough food to sustain myself. Food should be provided for me through some agency other than my own ability to secure it. If I cannot procure it for myself, it must be provided for me because it is my right.

This is another example of my right, not being a shield against others but being a sword to use against others. It once again takes the fruits of others’ labors from them to provide my entitlement.

We are faced with the conflict between two diametrically opposed ideologies. One side views individual rights as a shield; the other side views them as a sword. Until we can come to some conclusion on this fundamental issue, we are going to continue to constant strife over each definition of the scope and nature of human rights.

Shield or Sword? Defense or Offense? Which should it be, and is there any room for compromise at all on the underlying issue?

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7 Responses to “Shield Or Sword?”

  1. Josh Brandt Says:

    This is possibly the most insightful thing I’ve read on your blog. Excellent! Would you mind If I send the link to a teacher or post the link on my Facebook?

  2. jonolan Says:

    Thank you, Josh. Please feel free to send this – or any other found here – post to anyone that you wish, and to link to them from wherever you wish.

  3. Naturallawyer Says:

    jonolan:

    Thanks for dropping by my blog yesterday. I like your blog, and especially this entry. You have touched upon the long-developing tension between the positive rights (the sword) and negative rights (the shield) theories of rights. I must admit I fall solidly into the latter camp.

    Jurisprudence in the United States concerning the Bill of Rights has seen this shift. That shift has also, in my not-so-humble-opinion, led to a sense of entitlement among the younger generation of Americans. Just because you have a right to free speech (as you noted) doesn’t mean the government has to give you a bull horn to spout off your ideas in the public square. Nor does it have to provide any of us with a computer so we can blog. 🙂

    A sub-current to this debate is “where do rights come from?” The general theories are that they come from God/nature, or they come from the law itself (we make them up). The founders of the United States believed the former, while most modern and post-modern academic elites believe the latter.

  4. jonolan Says:

    Naturallawyer,

    Thank you, both for stopping by and commenting, and for the kind words.

    Yes, the argument – it has passed debated in the public sphere – between positive and negative interpretations of our “rights,” as well as what they actually are is what I see as the core of a lot of the issues we have right now.

    I’m not particularly happy with the shift towards a positive interpretation that has happened over the last few decades either. It’s only a small – but scarily profound – step from there to a very nasty form of society.

  5. Susanne Says:

    Good stuff! I don’t believe anyone has the “right” to free healthcare and food and so forth. Walter Williams says this mentality is slavery. We are forced to provide someone something with the money we earned. He says it much better than I, but it’s telling coming from a conservative BLACK man.

  6. jonolan Says:

    I’m not sure that I’d go so far to say that enforcing “positive” rights is slavery, but it is certainly an example of the same mindset that led to slavery. Once one group believes that they have the right to the efforts of another group, we enter into the same power dynamic that has led to great harm time and time again.

  7. Leftist eBullshit | Mizozo Says:

    […] always, they seek to wield fictional rights as a sword in their broad ranging jihad against individual liberty, capitalism, and any thought that […]

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