Tolleson, DL. “Rights Vs. Privileges.”
Tolleson, DL. “Rights Vs. Privileges.”
At various times it has been in vogue to assert that certain privileges are actually rights. For example, in his Fireside Chat of January 11 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt proposed that there is a “right to a useful and remunerative job.” More recently it has been widely asserted that there is a right to healthcare.
If not a condition of human psychology, then it is at the least a habit to accept at face value a message without regard for the meaning of the underlying words and precepts.
So, what exactly is a right? Or more to the point, what is it in the American psychology (or ideology) that accepts as a given the concept of a right?
For answers we can begin with the foundation of American government.
From the second paragraph of Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness…
Right off the bat, before we even get to the idea of rights, some would see a problem: All men are created equal? Some would ask, “How equal is it when the son of a wealthy man has all the advantages that money can buy?” Or, “If we are all created equal, what about the mentally handicapped?”
Such questions presume a position that the Declaration of Independence does not advocate. The phrase, all men are created equal, does not suggest that all men (or women) are born into or reared under equal conditions. Also, the phrase does not say that all men are created equally followed by a sentence ending period.
What the phrase does say is that we are all born (created), that a Supreme Being (our Creator) endows (freely furnishes or provides us with) rights (things to which we have a claim) and that among those things we may claim are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Nowhere in the phrase is equality equated to a condition of our circumstances. Rather, the equality is a condition equated to birth (our creation). Some are born into wealth, others into poverty. But regardless of the circumstances into which one is born, we are equally all born—created. With that comes the philosophy that we are all invested with certain rights.
Now, an unalienable right is something to which you have not only a claim but also a claim that is impossible to have taken away from you. In other words, the right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness are things that you may not be denied or refused (so long as your enjoyment of those rights do not infringe upon another person’s rights). Through your own efforts—or lack thereof—you might forfeit your Life, your Liberty or the Pursuit of your Happiness. But barring an illegal infringement upon others or the civil society, it is impossible for another person to take away these rights to which you have a claim.
Why? Well, this brings us to the wisdom of accepting—or at least acquiescing to—the source from which our rights are derived. Legitimate historical scholarship tells us that all of the signers of the Declaration of Independence believed in the existence of God. There were a few of these men—numbering 3 as far as can be easily documented—who believed in the existence of God but did not identify with specific churches. But regardless of religion or theology, the signers of the Declaration of Independence established that the Creator (God) is the source of our right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. This had far-reaching consequences as far as government is concerned. After all, if God grants a right to a person, who among us may take or infringe upon that right granted by God?
It goes without saying—but I will make note of it nonetheless—that it is beyond the powers of mankind or government to take away, limit or re-define rights that are granted by God. Or to contrast the supremacy of these rights in another way, any right granted by government can be altered, regulated or taken away by government. Thus for these reasons whether one believes in the existence of God, it is to his or her foolish detriment to advocate the removal of God as an integral necessity to American philosophy, ideology and government. Simply put, if a Supreme Being does not furnish these rights to an individual then the government’s obligation to that individual is dictated by either a ruler or other people.
So, knowing all of this and understanding that a right is something to which you have a just claim, do you have a right to healthcare? Do you have a right to own a house? Do you have a right to an apartment? Do you have a right to own a car? Do you have a right to a job? When you lose your job, do you have a right to unemployment compensation? It is certainly popular to suggest that there are a wide range of rights to which a person is entitled. But are we really entitled to these things in the way we hold that we are entitled to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness?
To answer that, consider this: As a result of each individual’s employment, money is paid toward a fund upon which an individual may depend during finite periods of unemployment (provided they meet specific qualifications). It is important to note that the fund is a result of what the individual did to contribute to its existence. In other words, you have unemployment compensation because your previous employment was contributory to the existence of the fund. Unemployment compensation is established and managed by government but which you and your employers are the source. This comes to you because of your own effort and not because you are infringing upon someone else to provide it.
This illustrates that for a right to exist there is at least one component upon which that right rests: The source—or provider—of that right.
We have established that certain rights are unalienable, which is to say that we are “invested” with those rights through virtue of birth and a supreme authority (the Almighty). If certain rights are thus inherent, it then follows that there are certain other rights that are not equally the same in nature. If these other rights are not the same, they then do not meet the previous definition of a God-given right. And if that is so then what does it mean?
We can answer this question by using the reasoning that brought us to the question. For example, do you have a right to a job at another person’s private enterprise? If my company makes and sells the Super-Duper Grand Widgets, what just claim do you have to a job in my company? After all, in creating my company I am exerting my God-given right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of my Happiness. If you have a right to a job in my company it would be at the expense of me—your claim would reduce the value of what would otherwise be my God-given right (to have the company and deny you that job). Since you do not have that authority, then a job is not a right (or at the least, not in terms of it being God-given in nature).
It is, however, the exercising of your Life, your Liberty and your Pursuit of Happiness to do whatever is necessary and legally permissible to obtain employment within my company—to sway or convince me, if you can, to hire you.
And that is the difference between a right and a privilege. You have a job, you own a car, you have an apartment, you own a house and/or you have healthcare as a privilege—not a right.
Healthcare only seems to be something of a different matter because it can impact your life on a primal level—it can mean the very perpetuation of your life. We live in a country where you can now go to the hospital and if your situation is life-threatening, you will be treated. If you can afford to pay, you are expected to do so. If you cannot, you are fortunate enough to be in a place where help is available to meet the financial obligations for the services rendered. However, the financial assistance in such instances is not available because the healthcare is a right to which you are entitled. Instead, the assistance is available because you live in a civil society with an economic system that motivates rather than mandates such charity.
Indeed, this matter is often clouded by arguments concerning the financial impact of healthcare. Such arguments are usually along the lines of, “You shouldn’t have your life savings wiped-out and be left destitute because of the expense in treating a life-threatening ailment.”
Really? What about house payments, car payments, goods and services bought on credit and even investments? All of these things and others—all freely chosen—can leave you destitute. And yet you do not have a right to these things. The very moment that the thing you want must be provided by someone else, it becomes a privilege for which you are responsible to obtain. A job is offered by someone and you qualify for it. A car, a house or an apartment are all built and sold by others—and it is your privilege to purchase or lease those things. You decide what is important to you and you spend accordingly. Foolishly overburdening yourself with a mortgage you cannot meet, vacation expenses you don’t need, car payments beyond your income bracket, the consequences of a pregnancy you risked or deciding against the monthly expense of healthcare coverage are all decisions that can leave you homeless and broke.
How you succeed or fail is the result of privileges afforded to you at the behest of your right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness.
That is the nature of life and the risk inherent to living.