It has been the object of debate for centuries, it has been the subject of philosophical tomes for that time too and it is an essential driving component of political systems. A use, or misuse, of the term has played a major part in telling history; and will play a major part in mapping the future.
This term is rights. It is easy to understand why this word has been the object of so much discussion and study over time, as an establishment of rights (in any capacity) is the act of transmitting a code of ethics into the political realm. Rights are the conduit that makes the systematic reflect the moral; an unavoidable stepping stone. It is an unavoidable stepping stone, even if the conception of rights is ‘nothing’ or ‘everything’. Note, then, the collectivist moral crimes of the past and the pragmatic moral crimes of the present: rights have been embezzled.
One of these moral crimes is how rights are stretched and conflated with that which is necessary – or even that which is merely desirable. So often now, particularly in the pool of advocates for social democracy (whether they be so called ‘conservatives’, Corbynite leftists or otherwise), one can hear cries for the right to healthcare, the right to a stable job, the right to an income and the right to food. All of which, morally speaking, are illegitimate.
This is because these examples require a violation of the only valid expression of rights, which is: individual rights.
Individual rights transmit the volitional, free capacity of a person into a social context; and because of this, a political expression of individual rights serves to offer protection against coercion in the social sphere.
The implicit idea in asserting that a stable job is a right is that force can be morally sanctioned. That one can go to an employer and demand a job just because it’s been adorned with the title of a right – regardless of the employer’s claim to their time, their money or their property. If they say no? The only recourse is the state – a state unconcerned by the violation of individual rights – and the only intermediary that says ‘you must’.
The horrible cut on the other edge of this sword is how this kind of assertion has diluted the meaning of what a right is. Individual rights, if properly upheld and protected, are natural, inalienable and absolute. Man does not think in a collective capacity, nor does he exist metaphysically in a collective capacity. If man is forced collectively to act against his own volition (against his own nature), to deny it and have it abrogated, his rights have been fully dissolved. His rights, as an individual, did exist – but without acknowledgement and protection they are destroyed.
That item or service which requires the productive capacity of another individual to be provided cannot legitimately be called a right. An expression of individual rights says; you don’t have a right to this item or service – but you do have a right to freely pursue your own happiness.
The denial of this is the start of the process which advocates for social democracy are now executing: by declaring anything and everything to arbitrarily be a ‘right’, not only does the right become meaningless – but the very concept of a right ceases to exist.
One of the key problems is, in a modern context, there is seemingly little pretence. The acknowledgement of individual rights is so rarely seen; the term has become too transient and used too flippantly to carry any weight at all. In the mainstream political milieu, individual rights aren’t only violated, but seldom recognised at all. Until a recognition of individual rights occurs at a cultural and political level, countries are doomed to exist as areas of warring factions; asserting that each other’s lives are each other’s rights and vice versa until that only fatal recourse – force – becomes manifest as tyranny in government. There is no need to restate what this has given the world in the past.