Saturday, October 17, 2009

Rights versus Entitlements

Something that has been bothering me for quite some time now is the definition of a 'right', as opposed to the definition of an 'entitlement'.

What exactly is a right? A right, simply put, is that which cannot be denied to the individual by others without due process of the law (some would argue the last part of this sentence). In other words, a right is nothing more than the freedom to pursue something without interference from others.

What then is an entitlement? Merriam-Webster defines an entitlement as: "belief that one is deserving of or entitled to certain privileges". In other words, an entitlement is something owed to you without you having to pursue it.

The definition of a right, over time, seems to have morphed to have the same definition as an entitlement.

Just because you have a right to something does not mean you are entitled to that something. The right to keep and bear arms does not mean that others must provide you with a gun, it just ensures your ability to pursue the means to acquire a gun.

Bill Whittle stated in an opinion that;
Entire text of article here

"But these new so-called “rights” are about the government — who the Founders saw as the enemy — giving us things: food, health care, education... And when we have a right to be given stuff that previously we had to work for, then there is no reason — none — to go and work for them. The goody bag has no bottom, except bankruptcy and ruin."

Since when does it mean that to have a right means you must be 'given stuff'? Using the above logic, everyone must be given guns because to keep and bear arms is a right. We must be given paper and pen, and a TV show because we have a right to free speech. The government better build churches because we have the freedom of religion. I may be wrong, but I have never heard anyone argue that we must be given guns, pens, or have churches built for us because they are rights.

Until recently, it was understood that it was up to the individual to provide the necessary means to exercise a right. If you wanted a gun you had to buy it. You wanted food, you had to acquire it, same thing with health care and an education. To have rights, is simply to recognize that a pursuit cannot be denied by others. No one can tell you that you cannot pursue the acquisition of food, health care, or an education, but it is up to you to provide the means. In other words, to work for it.

So why now do we argue that to have a right means that we must be given the 'stuff' necessary to exercise that right? Why, because what was once a right is now an entitlement - Nothing more than priviledges that can be taken away by others.


  1. Hi, I was thinking about the rights vs. entitlements, and you hit it spot on. I would make an exception for people who really can't exercise their rights..but this really makes sense.

  2. Mr. Yoon,

    I also agree that he has put this very well, but as a person who has a handicapped sister. I would have to respectfully disagree with your assertion that there is any exception regarding those that cannot assert their rights, it is simply the small opening to the slippery slot problem. There are always good people who will bond together, of their own accord, to help with those in need. Turning to the government to fill that form of need is akin to building a dam and putting a small crack in it to allow a small group living next to it to have drinking water. Sounds reasonable at the time, but dam will ultimately fail due to the flaw in it's design. Just food for thought.

    -- Shane G.

  3. what about the notion of a right that is balanced by an obligation? .
    A right that is not balanced by an obligation (i.e. buy your own food) is an entitlement.

  4. Some use the word "Right" when they mean entitlement. A right gives you freedom which people in the government may not take from you, which applies equally to everyone, and which deprives no other person.

    An entitlement means you use the power of government to put your personal responsibility on the backs of other people. Entitlement means your class of individuals will use the people in the government to take, at the point of a gun, from others in a different class of persons. When you use force to take property, it is theft, legalized or not. Using force to take the fruits of someone’s labor is slavery.

    If you argue for entitlements, you argue for enmity and class divisions within society, created and enforced by imperfect people in government. You are advocating sometimes arbitrary (because people in government can be stupid and unfair) legalized theft of labor and slavery with foreseeable, inevitably bad consequences. As the abuses pile up, society destabilizes.

    Freedom, on the other hand, means people in the government must leave me alone to live my life as I see fit, so long as I do no harm. It also means I must accept ownership and personal responsibility for myself and mine, if I am capable.

    Among my personal responsibilities is to bond with my neighbors to create common wealth and to provide for our common physical protection. That does not mean I am obligated to provide a livelihood for my able-bodied but dissolute neighbors.