The concept of human rights is a particularly appealing one for folks on the left. Invoking human rights in an argument is sort of like insinuating that your opponents don’t think human beings matter. It’s a neat rhetorical trick, and it’s tiring. If a progressive, for example argues for nationalized health care, and I push back, with the idea that our system is pretty nationalized already and that some better incentives ought to be put into the system, the invocation of “basic human rights to health care” inevitably comes up. It’s as if the reason I push back against socialized medicine is because I want people to get sick, suffer and die. Great.
There can be no such thing as “human rights” without a corresponding right to property. Indeed, a property right is a particular form of human right. This has to be true. Consider the basic human right of “free speech.” We all think we know that it means Wintercow can say whatever he likes, wherever he likes, so long as he does not libel someone in doing so (although some folks even argue that libel is morally appropriate!). But what does this right actually mean? Am I a floating wraith in space? Not at all. To say that I have the right to “free speech” is nothing more than to say that if I have peacefully acquired the means to create speech, then and only then is my right to say whatever I want guaranteed. But no one has to provide me a microphone, a podium, a website, book, pen or paper. I am free to speak so long as I can acquire those things and to deliver such speech to people who voluntarily agree to hear it.
Similarly, to invoke a right to anything implies that humans have obligations with respect to that right. To say that there is a human right to speak freely means that others in society are obligated to provide you with the means to do so. Now, that obligation insofar as I see it, only extends to respecting your ability to speak conditional on you obtaining the property upon which to do it. But I have met very few people who seriously argue that as a member of the human community, wintercow has an obligation to provide pens and paper to every other person, and also to guarantee that every human read what others write. And so long as no such obligation is generally accepted as required, then there can be no right to free speech. If governments want to legislate such positive rights, I suppose that is fine to do – but then let’s not call them rights. And then let’s remember that in legislating your “right” to speak freely, then they are also mandating that someone provide you with the resources to do it. It’s no different in health care or any other positive “right” that is typically invoked.
Which brings us to the Marxists and their relatives. A fundamental proposition of Marxism is the abolition of private property. But if it is true that property rights are a particular form of human rights, and that no one in a collective nirvana can or ought to have private property, then it follows that the fundamental ethic and idea of Marxism is an explicit and direct violation of human rights. That’s not exactly the bill of goods the left sells us now is it?
That uncomfortable position is eerily similar to this one.