Friday, April 3, 2015

Negative Rights Vs. Positive "Rights"

More on Indiana's RFRA, but with a focus on the base principles:

A lot of the talk about Indiana's new RFRA, and the concept of rights seems to revolve around the claim that "It's a violation of my rights to be denied service." So, a review of what rights actually are, and aren't, is in order.

Actual rights are negative - rights to be from government interference in daily affairs. For example, speech rights prohibit the government from restricting people from speaking, but they do not grant any special privilege to speak, no special privilege to an audience or a venue. Likewise, the freedom of religion protects the rights of people to religious practice and belief - people may not be prevented from worshiping their god(s) in the way they choose, but they get no special privilege to assets or forums to use in their ceremonies. Most cleanly, the Fourth Amendment's protections against search and seizure don't even have a potential positive relation. They're just protections against government interference in regular life.

And that's negative rights, the only real, genuine concept of rights that exist. In short, negative rights consist of ways in which a person is free to pursue his own goals in his own way, without interference: "Freedom from".

Positive rights are the opposite, they are the right to: an audience to speak to, a venue to worship in. But the problem with positive rights is that they require someone to provide it. If someone has the right to a venue, for example, someone else has to provide it without compensation. If someone has the right to an audience, someone else must be compelled to show up.

You may be noticing a pattern here: positive rights require something to be provided by someone else. Positive rights require someone else's negative rights be violated. Someone's right to something requires that thing be taken away from someone else.

Positive rights are inherently poison - they pit people against each other. They turn friends into strangers, and strangers into enemies. The genius of America was that every culture was allowed to go it's own way, to choose who it dealt with and on what terms. That basic principle was what allowed groups who, in their homelands would've killed each other, to work together and become friends.

Now, one culture, of deeply committed Christians, is being commanded to violate and abandon the principles of their faith, in sacrifice to the positive right of someone to always get service from any vendor they choose. That is already breeding hostility and resentment among communities who before did not take sides in the argument. It is exactly this kind of action, of stripping one community of its ability to choose how it engages with the rest of America, that breeds sectarian war.

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