Yet another weird SF fan


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Yet another weird SF fan
 

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Negative Rights, Positive Rights, Negatively-Positive Rights, and Positively-Positive Rights

Cass Sunstein, in the course of commenting on FDR's “Second Bill of Rights,” pointed out that the common distinction between negative rights and positive rights is slightly blurry. Libertarians usually classify property rights as negative rights. On the other hand, property rights, at least when they include the right of stockholders to defend their property against an Enron-style mutiny, require government activity. (You can make the case that defending small objects or even small pieces of real estate can be done in the absence of government.)

One way to distinguish between those property rights that require government enforcement and the usual examples of positive rights is that property rights are enforced by ensuring that some things don't happen whereas positive rights requires that some things do happen. We can call property rights part of “negatively-positive rights” whereas a right to medical care is one of the “positively-positive rights.”

To take Roosevelt's “Four Freedoms,” as an example, freedom of speech and freedom of religion are negative rights, freedom from fear is a negatively-positive right, and freedom from want is a positively-positive right.

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