Human rights

From the Townhall meeting moderated by Fox network, this exchange took place:


“I believe that health care is a right of all people,” he said.


Where does that right come from? Baier pressed the senator.


“From being a human being,” Sanders responded.




“Rights” come in all sizes and shapes, in one way or another rights have been articulated in some form in nearly every society from every age. “Human rights” though has only a recent pedigree, a few centuries or more. “Human rights” are those rights predicated on mere existence. We can modify Descartes famous phrase, Cogito ergo sum, which translates “I think, therefore I am”, like this: “I exist, therefore I have ______”, with the blank representing “rights”. Filling in this blank with an articulated list of “human rights” is not easy. A true list, that is!



Such rights though, would at least be those which our Declaration of Independence describes as “certain unalienable rights”. The Declaration lists three of those: “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. These three rights are interconnected, I am alive thus I can move about and act and those actions can be geared towards the things which I believe would constitute happiness. And one of the roles of government is to protect that environment so individuals can experience those “rights” completely. I would venture that most people would accept those three examples!



Now there are a host of other kinds of “rights” which flow from the exercise of government in its role over society. We enjoy many of those and we disagree with some of these, but they come out of processes in which “the people” have a say regarding. “Human rights”, by contrast, are those rights which just are! And in much of our political discourse going on today, two more rights are topics of heated discussions: free education and universal healthcare. These may emerge as some kind of right legally, but are these rights “human rights”? If they are, then we are absolutely stuck with them as a structural part of our nation! If they are not, then we have the freedom to approach the issues more pragmatically and hopefully we will.



But politicians, especially liberal democrats, who love to tinker with society in a utopian kind of way, think everything they want is a “human right”. This phrase is not used accidentally, connecting these issues with “human rights” gives the right an overly important and profound existential quality to it. It also gains a certain emotive force from that designation!


But does the fact of my existence include healthcare? What if there are not enough doctors, what if the healthcare I want is an abortion and a doctor’s conscience forbids him to act accordingly. Does the government force the doctor to comply so that my right to an abortion can be exercised? The problems with the healthcare issue being a human right is that it involves too many other people acting on your behalf. The right to universal healthcare is not like the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. Their substances are made up of very different material. Hopefully that distinction is seen when contrasted this way!


I illustrate these distinctions with a gedanken experiment or “thought experiment”. Suppose a group of 100 people find themselves on a deserted island, where everything starts from scratch. No law, no government, etc. The question is this—what are my rights? With no organized societal structure your rights will be only those which are “human rights”. Now what are they? It is a hard list to compile. We would at least accept “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness”. But it gets more difficult after that. Does healthcare as a “human right” make sense in this context? It doesn’t!


Anything can be claimed as a “human right”, that doesn’t mean it is—hopefully enough Repub leaders understand this distinction and approach healthcare and education responsibly! We know liberals won’t! It is scary, thinking what this nation could become if certain ones gain the Presidency! Lot at stake in these elections!


One thought on “Human rights

  1. This was definitely a thought provoking article. I now have more of a basis for argument about what actually is defined as a human right.

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