This is the essay for the 2nd week of the Tom Woods Homeschool Government course. In this blog post, I will be discussing two things:
1. Whether the “right of free speech” is a property right or a human right
2. The differences between positive and negative rights
The right to free speech is often cited as a human right. The right to free speech says that anyone is allowed to say whatever they want to say. Are you allowed to say it wherever you want, though? For example, are you allowed to shout towards your neighbor’s kids or can someone barge into your house and try to convince you of something? Most people would find both of those examples to be at the very least an example of bad manners, if not more. Would it not make more sense for the right to free speech to be a property right instead of a human right. What I mean by this is that, if you are in your own house, you can say whatever you want. If you are in someone else’s house, then you have to follow their rules. By saying that the right to free speech is a human right, that leads to it having to be restricted. For example, you shouldn’t be allowed to shout “fire” in a crowded theater when the fire doesn’t exist. If it is a property right there is no need to limit the right to free speech, because you have to follow the rules of the property you’re in.
To make the difference clearer in the former it is necessary to limit someone’s right to free speech in some situations and in the latter you don’t have to do that. For example in a lot of places, like a library you would be removed if you started shouting, not because of what you said but because you started shouting in the first place. A lot of problems that come from scarce resources and demand can be solved using property rights. For example, if there is a meeting where a lot of people want to speak, if you let everyone speak the same amount of time, then they won’t be able to talk very long. Instead, the person who is leading the meeting can decide who can speak as it is their property for at least the duration of the meeting. Most issues over free speech take place on public property where property rights aren’t clearly defined. An example of such an issue would be, whether people are allowed to protest in the middle of a street or a public park.
There are two different categories that all rights fall into; negative rights and positive rights. Negative rights are rights that don’t require anything from anyone, except that they don’t interfere with you. If you have the right to life that means you have the right not to be killed by someone else. It is important to emphasize the “not” in the previous example and the “don’t” in the definition, which is why these rights are called negative rights. Positive rights, on the other hand, are rights that place at least some obligation on other people to give you certain benefits. These are rights, such as a right to health care, where somebody else has to pay for your health care.
The difference between the two rights is that for a negative right you can just leave that person alone, but for a positive right, you have to do something to give that person the thing they have a right to or at least give a portion of what you earn. Positive rights also require violence to be acted out. I would imagine that most people wouldn’t spend all their time doing something towards billions of strangers that they’ll never meet. There is also a natural clash between negative and positive rights. The negative right not to be forced to do something against my will that directly clashes against the positive right to provide health-care services to someone else. Only one of these can be adhered to at a time. In a situation with only two people, it is easy to adhere to negative rights as you either have to leave the other person alone or not use force against them. Trying to adhere to positive rights results in both people shouting at each other and trying to control the other person so they can get their rights. Natural rights are rights that people have by nature. What this means is that everyone has these rights and because of that everyone has to be able to exercise these rights at the same time and in the same way. If a right can’t do this then it isn’t a natural right. For example, a right to health care can’t be exercised by everyone at the same time in the same way. Somebody needs to be able to force someone else to do it for it to work.