This distinction between positive and negative rights, isn’t

August 1, 2014 § 6 Comments

Libertarians – and some other folks who are liberal moderns but are under the delusion that they are not – will sometimes make use of a distinction between “positive rights” and “negative rights”, condemning the former while celebrating the latter. Negative rights involve protection of the individual from things others demand of us without our consent, while positive rights involve an imperative to hand over our stuff to others even though we didn’t consent to do so.

This distinction is illusory for the same basic reason that the libertarian ideal of completely consensual contracts is illusory.  It presumes a whole metaphysic of what certain people are entitled to from others – which is precisely what is in contention – and then pretends that it hasn’t made this presumption.

Justice cannot be fabricated whole cloth from consent or contract. Consent and contract do mediate what people are entitled to in justice in particular situations, of course. But the idea that what is just can be fabricated whole cloth from consent is another form or cognate of positivism. An epistemological positivist doesn’t comprehend that in order for words to communicate meaning, almost all of the meaning must already exist in the minds of the people talking. And a consent-positivist doesn’t comprehend that when a given disposition of property is just, almost all of what the parties are entitled to from each other did not arise from the consent of the parties.

None of this is to suggest that people are not entitled to things from each other. A property owner is entitled to walk around on his property; a trespasser isn’t, even though that represents a restriction on the trespasser’s freedom.

But what it means is that the illusion of consent which forms the basis of the positive-negative rights distinction is just that: a question-begging illusion.

§ 6 Responses to This distinction between positive and negative rights, isn’t

  • Mike T says:


    Libertarians – and some other folks who are liberal moderns but are under the delusion that they are not – will sometimes make use of a distinction between “positive rights” and “negative rights”, condemning the former while celebrating the latter. Negative rights involve protection of the individual from things others demand of us without our consent, while positive rights involve an imperative to hand over our stuff to others even though we didn’t consent to do so.

    One is not better than the other, but positive rights more often require participation in another’s acts of evil as well as are more easily turned into vehicles for abuse. Consider birth control from the Catholic perspective. Sandra Fluke’s argument is that Catholics must be required to fund it for women like her, whereas the libertarian who embraces birth control as a negative right rejects that and only argues that people like you have no right to stop people like her from buying it with their own money. Whether any of that is objectively good or not doesn’t change the fact that there is a meaningful, non-hair splitting difference between the liberal love of positive rights explosion and the libertarian love of negative rights.

    What I’ve tried to point out to you, JustSomeGuy, etc. is that while liberalism and libertarianism share many traits in common, a formal liberal will not even try to accommodate you. They are formally totalitarian in their views. A libertarian will at least try to let you construct your own voluntary system so if you want to create your own voluntary membership-based, contractually bound Catholic community you can try. You will fail because there are so many internal contradictions in terms of trying to be all things to all people by that state. However, there is too much glossing over the differences to condemn with wide strokes here for my taste.

    At the end of the day, a formally libertarian state would try to bring the hammer down on your wife if you had a prenup agreeing to Catholic rules of conduct and she filed for divorce. A formally liberal state would cheer her on with the judge all but shouting “u go grrrlllll.” Because their problems aside, libertarians tend to down with forcing people to accept the consequences of their freely chosen decisions, especially those in a formal contract.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:

    One is not better than the other, but positive rights more often require participation in another’s acts of evil as well as are more easily turned into vehicles for abuse.

    One can’t be better or worse than the other if the distinction is illusory.

    Even if you were right that libertarianism is less totalitarian than other liberalisms, which you aren’t, it doesn’t matter because all of liberalism is inherently unstable. Whatever ‘libertarianism’ you have in mind can’t last for more than an instant on its own terms before it continues to work out the implications of its self-contradictory political philosophy on everyone, good and hard.

  • InTheProcess says:

    The biggest problem to any speculation on politics is that history shows all roads lead to totalitarianism/authoritarianism. Democracy becomes communism, republic becomes feudalism, democratic republic becomes socialist, etc…

    So libertarianism assumes a positivist slant in terms of the fact that ideas aren’t created in a vacuum so contracts always have a degree of non-consent, but what doesn’t assume positivism in government?

  • InTheProcess says:

    “In politics we have no choice but to try to figure out what is good and initiate force to make other people conform to it. Some political philosophies pretend to avoid the question, but they are simply deluded.”

    Ah, I failed to read ahead. Nothing wins 😀 Sweet!

  • […] happens to share the same view; so the distinction between positive rights and negative rights is illusory as something distinct from the […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading This distinction between positive and negative rights, isn’t at Zippy Catholic.

meta

%d bloggers like this: