Negative And Positive Rights Throughout societies in history and presently, we can see the employment of two primary forms of rights: positive and negative. The bulk of the following attempts to highlight the differences between the two. The proponents of each will also be discussed. Negative rights are simply “freedom from” certain things. For example, freedom from false imprisonment, from illegal search and seizure, freedom of speech, are all forms of negative rights.
This concept is totally Lockean in nature. They are called “negative rights” because government ensures them by not doing things or restricting the actions of others. Negative rights can also be viewed as placing a protective wall around us. Positive rights are somewhat different. Positive rights grant access to a good. For example, a positive right to healthcare would mean that the State is providing the healthcare or payment thereof on your behalf. If we were to make this a negative right to healthcare, this would mean no one may prevent me from getting medical attention, however, neither the State nor any person other than myself is responsible for acquiring it.
I believe both Locke and Mill would defend negative rights. Locke is a proponent simply because he feels that some rights must be suspended in order for government to protect others. It can be seen that Mill supports negative rights through the “bridge walker” example. We can only stop the man crossing the bridge to ensure he is aware of the condition of the bridge; otherwise we may not interfere with anyone. Another good example for Mill is the corn dealer situation.
True, the crowd may say what it wants so long as it does not cause harm. I believe that this restriction, NOT CAUSE HARM, is what makes this a negative right. Furthermore, if this restriction were not in place, and harm was done to the corn dealer (death), then the dealer’s rights are violated. This is a good example of why some rights must be given up in order to protect others. With regards to the positive rights, I believe Marx is the best example while simultaneously being the worst.
Marx contends that humans must be free from both external and internal constraints, in order to achieve liberation and self-fulfillment. However, I think this causes some confusion. I believe we could find certain situations where both positive and negative rights would apply. For instance, if people are to achieve liberation and self-fulfillment, then I assume the people must be fed. This would be an example of a positive right; all persons have the right to eat.
However, at the same time, a manager of a farm is restricted from exploiting his workers because that would inhibit their abilities to achieve their liberation and fulfillment. This issue of Marx brings us to what conception I find most convincing. The fact of the matter is I do not find either concept of rights to be superior. Moreover, I do not believe one can exist independently of the other. For instance, as the Marx examples indicated, it seems that all positive rights must have a negative right attached to them as if some sort of appendage. However, does this mean that preclusion of positive rights occurs when we employ positive rights? It seems to me that insofar as our studies to date, that this does occur.
Suppose the following. I have some disorder. I need to see a doctor. In our society I have a positive right to healthcare, therefore, the doctor is subsidized by the State and must give me the attention I need. Now, a positive right means I have access to a good or service, in this case healthcare. However, this right to healthcare necessarily requires that the doctor’s rights be restricted.
Therefore, negative rights appear to be the prevailing form of rights. It seems one may have negative rights without having positive rights but may not have positive rights without negative rights. Philosophy.