How Rights Destroy Us

The thought that something like “the right to a secure retirement” could destroy us seems a little crazy at first. Who, after all, opposes old people living comfortably? Nonetheless, many rights do destroy, and it recently struck me that I had never seen a clear and dispassionate explanation of why. And so I’ll rectify that.

The Two Rights

This will be brief, so please follow me.

When we say “rights,” we are making “should” statements, like “old people should spend their final years comfortably.” At first that sounds okay, but right is even stronger than should, and implies a demand… a must. That can be problematic because there are two types of these must statements:

  1. You must do something.
  2. You must not do something.

Must not statements are like those in the US Bill of Rights, telling the government that it may not impinge upon free speech, the practice of religion, peaceful assembly and so on. “Congress shall make no law.” These statements aren’t usually a problem.

The must statements, however, are a problem, because they make a universal demand. When you say, “we have a right to a secure retirement,” you are also saying that someone, somewhere, must make it happen.

Gods And Rulers

Demands that a right be satisfied are made to unspecified providers. Thus they accrue to gods and rulers. And with gods no longer in style, they go directly to rulers, who are expected to satisfy the demands.

To make secure retirement happen, however, the ruler must provide goods and/or money to old people. And those have to come from somewhere: roof repairs and microwave ovens don’t come from magic incantations, after all; someone must work to provide them.

So, since the ruler won’t personally work for the goods, he or she must take them from other people. Thus the seemingly benevolent “right to a secure retirement” leads directly to the forcible taking of personal property and the labor that produced it. That’s not seriously arguable.

Damage And Destruction

As every adult knows, claims of rights are more or less endless these days: The right to a roof over our heads, the right to health care, the right to employment, the right to clean water, and so on. All of these things are being demanded; that’s what a claim to a right is, a demand.

So, whether people admit it or not – whether they understand it or not – to claim such a right is equally to demand that other people give it to you.

In actual practice it’s working people who are expected to pay for all these demands. Money is coercively taken (by threat or worse) from the electrician, the farmer, the nurse and so on. Expressed in any honest vocabulary this is “damage.” And enough damage qualifies as destruction.

Clearly, the obligation to satisfy all the claims of the modern era is impossible. Everyone from the indigent to the cross-dresser are claiming new rights while the electrician, farmer and nurse are being drained beyond endurance.

Making things worse, if a “right” – a must statement – isn’t satisfied, people take it as evidence of a crime… a wicked violation of their rights.

In the end, all these universal demands – all these must statements – come crashing down on the working man and woman, not only dragging money out of them, but calling them criminals for not having provided the impossible.

And so, yes, these rights are destroying us. I hope I’ve made that clear.


Paul Rosenberg