Saturday, August 23, 2003

In considering challenges to our rights, I believe it is helpful to distinguish between human rights and civil rights. Human rights are those that arise simply by the fact of being human. Examples would be right not to be tortured, and the right to have children. Civil rights are those that arise from creation of political entities. Examples of these rights would be right to vote, and right to petition the government.

Of the two, human rights trump civil rights. Human rights do not depend on the existence of a state or of a particular political system for their observance.

While rights are often though of in the abstract as positive, (e.g. right to an education) in practice they involve restraining an external power. (Right not to have someone interfere with your education.) Rights, properly thought of, do not exist as a “freedom” to do as one wishes, but more pragmatically involve what one can get away with. Rights can not be defined in the absence of some power that can limit human action. Rights therefore are not the affirmative assertion of power by the holder of the right, they are the practical constraint on any power that might limit such action.

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