If I feel that you hav wrongfully terminated me and I sue you, the government is not assuring my rights. Rather I am using the court system to assert my rights.
Yes, I understand what you mean. But maintaining the courts themselves requires the government to take action to defend individuals’ rights, although it doesn’t initiate a specific act of protection. The government need not initiate action to defend individuals’ putative right to housing, either; it could just allow individuals to seek redress through lawsuits, and if it found that a rights violation had occurred, it could require other organizations or individuals to redress it. Just as the court can require your employer to give you your job back if it finds you were fired for a reason that infringed your rights.
Yes, I wasn’t very clear about that, and thank you for stressing the distinction. And thank you for the cite, divemaster.
Um, says who? (Besides Locke and other people putting words in the mouth of Nature, I mean.) It seems to me that if the society you live in considers you endowed with certain birthrights, you have them. If it doesn’t, well, whom are you going to complain to?
Pausing to note that of course we’re not talking about “a house” in particular, or home ownership, but the more tenuous concept of “adequate housing”, I’d like to know: how would you consider the government’s obligation to guarantee you “adequate housing” essentially different from its obligation to guarantee you “a speedy and public trial” with all the requirements laid out in Amendments VI and VII of the Constitution? I know, I know, they don’t look alike superficially, but consider the points in common: The government has to provide a trial to anyone who needs one, it has to maintain physical locations and structures in order to fulfill that obligation, it has to maintain a huge and complex organization and spend a mint of money to keep it operating, it has to provide secure accomodation for the accused (ignoring the bail issue for the moment) and protection of his or her rights.
All this stuff is in place not to ensure some “negative freedom” of leaving people alone, but to give them something we’ve decided people in this situation need, and are entitled to simply by virtue of breathing. In what way would maintaining a court system to give people trials be fundamentally different from maintaining a housing system to give them homes?
Yes yes, the need for living space usually lasts longer than the need for a trial, and yes, it would likely require more physical space (although it would probably require less staff), but I’m talking about fundamental differences of the sort that inspire you to say that one type of right makes sense and another doesn’t. Why do you say it’s logical to have a right to get a speedy, public (possibly very expensive) trial for free if you should happen to need one, but not to get adequate living quarters for free if you should happen to need them?
Although I think you don’t believe it, I’m really not trying just to jerk your chain on this issue. I’m interested in finding out why the putative right to housing is so quickly dismissed as illegitimate, and I think most of the answers up to this point have been too simplistic. They mostly seem to have been on the order of “the government shouldn’t have to take action to protect rights” (and nobody has yet explained to me why a “positive” right is intrinsically less legitimate than a “negative” one either, but that’s another issue), or else along the lines of “Those lazy bums don’t deserve to be rewarded with a house!” Well, plenty of people enjoy rights they don’t deserve, and in fact as a nation we rather pride ourselves on the way we’ll spend money and time protecting the rights of those that many of us consider undeserving (the KKK’s right to maintain a racist organization, for example, or the Boy Scouts’ right to maintain a homophobic one). If something is a right, it doesn’t matter whether individuals deserve it or not.