Rights are not Gifts from the Government

Women’s Equality Day filled my newsfeed with memes and articles about women’s rights. Facebook took the time to even proclaim how women “achieved” the right to vote. Of course, no one stopped to ask why they needed to “achieve” a right.

Let’s get one thing straight: you cannot “achieve” rights nor are they government permissions. They exist naturally.

Women were not gifted the right to vote. Gays were not allowed to marry. Blacks were not permitted to integrate. They already had those rights, but instead were denied them through government coercion.

In civil society, rights are not up for debate or government legislative imposition, but they have been subjected to that for decades. It’s become such a norm that we now assume a specific group has been “granted” a right to something. Thus, we have terms like “minority rights”, which is either redundant or a violation of equal rights.

I am not suggesting that we ignore the abolishment of government coercion. As a libertarian, I think that’s a wonderful thing!

We do, however, need to frame the message differently. As it stands, one might think that “social progress” is achieved through asking the government permission for certain rights. This only pays lip service to reality.

Instead of “achieving the right to X”, I believe the more honest message is “abolished the state-enforced prohibition of a fundamental human right”. See the difference? There is still an achievement of human progress, but it’s an honest assertion of why a right needed to be achieved in the first place.

Can you image if headlines read “Government Can No Longer Force Gay Lifestyle Choices”? That’s much more of a publicity nightmare for the heads of state than “Gay Marriage is Legal”.

It must be fundamentally understood by any society that government does allow the exercise of rights, regardless of who is exercising them. We must always maintain that the state, in its proper and constitutional role, can protect rights or take them away, but not “achieve” them for anyone.

Human rights and civil liberties are not up for debate. They exist by virtue of being human – not because the political class has bestowed them upon you.


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