You dont have a "right "to be given anything!

Mr. Z.:
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.

I would like to point out that the Constitution is not the definative authority on this subject. Besides the fact that this theoretical discussion is not limited to the USA, there is also the fact that the men who wrote this document were not infallible. They did believe in inherent rights ( bestowed by a god or nature ). This does not make it so. Sociology was unheard of in their day and they, unlike the posters here who share their view, had no way of knowing better.

I am not certain that this disscusion can move forward before the nature of rights is agreed upon. But this seems as good a way as any to help people get a handle on the concept.

Just my opinion. I will let y’all judge if it is humble or not.

I don’t see how these are actions. Refusing to serve someone is definitely an inaction rather than an action. By “changing ou[r] hiring practices”, I take it you mean that you fail to hire some people, another example of inaction. And if you force someone to quit, then you’re failing to continue your employer/employee relationship, another inaction.


Article V of the Bill of rights (emphasis mine):

Also, notice that Article VI has been intepreted as giving people the positive right to a public defender.


Huh? I just provided a cite from more than 200 years ago, and I can provide Biblical instances of a right to private property. The concept of private property even exists among other animals.

Well fairly recently I think. And a big part of the confusion comes from focusing on “rights”.

The Civil Rights movement was ultimatly sucessful, I think, because it focused on Justice. Which differs from Rights. The question is not does someone have the Right to take away my property, which I have the Right to own. The question should be is it Just that in a prosperous society someone should die freezing in the snow.

How can that possibly be answered absent any context?

A. Mr. Smith is freezing in the snow because he has Alzheimers and got lost.

B. Mr. Jones is freezing in the snow because, despite pleadings from the social worker, he wouldn’t go inside.

C. Mr. Brown is freezing in the snow because Senator Fatcat suspected his live-in son of dealing drugs and took his home away.

D. Mr. Reeves is freezing in the snow because he is drunk and doesn’t know he’s cold.

E. Mr. Howell is freezing in the snow because he bet everything he had on a horse race and lost.

F. Mr. Johnson is freezing in the snow because he is homeless, and lacked the foresight last summer to head south.

G. Mr. Carter is freezing in the snow because a bureaucrat messed up some paperwork. When he reported to the shelter, he wasn’t “in the system”.

H. Mr. Lords is freezing in the snow because a tornado destroyed everything he had; he has no friends, family, neighbors, house of worship, or local charity; and he was uninsured.

I. Mr. Franks is freezing in the snow because he’s a moron.

Give some context, please.

Mr. Z… you forgot J. None of the above

Because in your world no one would be entitled to government help. Am I right in assuming this?


my two cents…

A person’s rights stop where someone else’s starts. The “right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” was well-said. Note the wording “pursuit of happiness”, not just “and happiness”.

In other words, you have the right to strive toward having housing, but you do not have the right to be given it. That would imply that other people MUST give up part of their rights for you. You would be stealing their money, resources, property, and time.

Another example, the claim that health care is a right would imply that doctors are slaves that must treat you whether they want to or not. Instead, a person has a right to become a doctor if they want to, and you have a right to pursue health care (ask for or purchase medical services).

life and freedom…you and everyone else…so it is wrong for someone to use their freedom to take away someone elses.

Kimstu asked

I am glad you asked. The right to a speedy trial kicks in after the government has taken away your right to liberty through its action (encarcerating you.) IT merely is a qualifier as to how they can deprive you of your rights. Im my mind, this is similar to the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. IT just describes the manner in which you can be deprived of your rights. It merely sets parameters for the violation of your rights.

The same goes for seizure of property. There is an implicit right to own posessions. The gov’t can sieze them, but only under certain circumstances. Heck, if they gov’t did not recognize your right to own goods and money, they wouldn’t have to qualify how it is siezed; they would just take it because it is not yours in the first place (note: real estate is treated differently. I am using “property” to mean your goods, money and services.) I would argue that due process is not so much a right in and of itself. It only kicks in after your rights have been violated through the actions of the Gov’t.

You have the right not to have your housing taken away except for in certain cases. You have the right to secure housing. You have the right to be safe in your home from jackbooted federales. You do not have the right to be given free housing. You don’t have the right to housing.

To turn it around a bit: THe gov’t has a duty to leave you alone and not take your stuff. They do not have a duty to make sure other leave you alone or to assure that you are given stuff.

Free housing for all who want it is not a right. It is a campaign promise.

What I am getting at is that rights, true rights, must be a gurantee fo rthe individual to be able to do something or to be free from having something done to the individual. IT can’t be a gurantee that you will be given something. Like civil rights, you have the right not to be discriminated against in the hiring process, but you don’t have a right to a job.

divemaster a million thanks for the cites. I couldn’t figure out how to find them having only heard about it in the news 3 years ago. You rock.

Isn’t the original OP actually stating that citizens have the right to be free of having to live in squalor due to someone else’s greed? Isn’t it stating that if the government does take on a program for housing then it has the obligation to monitor the program so that it does not enslave the very people it is designed to help? (Much like the argument against welfare.)

I know Mr. Z that you would say the government shouldn’t take on these programs. They are no win situations. I’m beginning to understand your take on this. Tell me from a libertarian standpoint what should our taxes go too? What is viable under libertarian principles? Surely roads would be wouldn’t they? It wouldn’t be feasable for private citizens to maintain our vast system of highways and roads would it? Should the public fund any works programs like a police force or EMT services? Schools would not come under these principles would they? Each parent should be responsible for the education of their children, right? So what should taxes be spent on if they are collected at all? Does this idea allow for anything but survival of fittest?


I closely read the definitions of “right” and “private” several times, but I couldn’t discern that by someone having private property implies that person has a right to that property. Please explain. Maybe I’m just arguing semantics, but, again, it seems to me if you can imply property rights, you can also imply housing rights.

** The original post I took that quote from was suggesting that unoccupied buildings in teh DC area be taken from their owners and made into free housing for the homeless. And I would state that people are absolutely free not to live in squalor. Millions have proven capable of achieving this, except those who choose not to work.

** No, you are not beginning to understand my take. I am not a libertarian. I believe that teh government should collect taxes and provide some services. IT is just the level of tax and type of service that concerns me.

zero said:

You have a right to obtain and keep housing. You have a right to obtain and keep private property. That is not the same as saying that you must be provided with housing and private property.

Needs: Right. No libraries. Let those fuckers buy the books if they want them so bad.

Parks? Why should we, the taxpayers, pay for something for which someone other than ourselves could possibly benefit? Let 'em buy suburban tract homes if they’re so crazy mad after greenspace.

The only consolation, of course, is if somebody were to rob a rich guy, he’d have no money left to pay the police to find out who it was…

Some people here have the opinion that rights come from nature and are inherent in us all from birth.
For the claim to be valid these rights would have to be a part of the physical world, as that is the only known medium through which humans perceive reality.

However, I can’t find any evidence of their existence.
There is no single code for rights that all societies and people throughout history have utilised, nor is there any physical property of matter (or any form of energy) that would define them.

So where are the natural rights defined, and what process is used to discover them?

I haven’t seen that many strawmen since the Creation Science convention.

It seems that in your view, only politicians and bureaucrats are capable of providing things like libraries and parks. If you trust your neighbors so little about so much, it is amazing to me that you trust them to help elect your politicians. I should imagine you would exclude all those idiots and take upon yourself the appointment of governors.

Lord knows you don’t trust us. I mean, unlike you, the rest of us don’t care whether we have libraries and parks. Why, if it weren’t for your meddl…, er, concern, we might not know how to wipe our butts. Or else, we might not wipe ourselves to your satisfaction.

Obviously, you make a good case. I mean, just look at utitilities. All those powerlines and stuff, gosh, that could never work in private hands, could it?

Now, Matt, Mr. Z said he was not a libertarian, so you’re not representing his views correctly. Parks, libraries, and a police force are public goods paid for by the community they serve. The community, or its representative, the municipal government, can decide to build public housing for the homeless. However, there is no obligation for the city to do so because of some putative “right” to housing.

matt said:

** Are you advocating that parks are a “right”? Well, there is no park near my house, so I guess the gov’t better tear down some houses and put in grass, otherwise, my rights are being violated.

Well, I think that the concept of a right is inherent in the concept of property. If you have no right to something, then it isn’t your property, is it? If I can take away the house you live in and force you to live elsewhere anytime I want to, in what sense do you “own” the house?
But that’s not the argument I was making. The Fifth Amendment clearly states that private property can’t be taken without due process of law. That sure sounds like a right to me.

Um, no.

First of all, the Board of Education quite clearly is the government.

Second of all, the party appealing the case to the Supreme Court is the part listed first. Quite frequently, cases before the court are in fact listed as “U.S. v. so-and-so” or “Minnesota v. Mr. Smith.”

Sorry Mr. Z…I was under the impression that you considered yourself a Libertarian. (Granted I’m not sure exactly what this entails and will look it up.) But you still didn’t really answer my question, what do you deem suitable for the government to provide through our taxes? I am beginning to understand your disdain for certain government practices. I didn’t say that I feel the same way but I do understand your frustrations. I pay taxes myself. I’ve also worked without a break since I was 15 years old, I’ll be 42 next month. It has always seemed to me that you are vehemently against any kind of government funded program that you consider “gives” someone something. That could be an awful lot of stuff. So naturally you wouldn’t agree to seize abandoned buildings to house the homeless. I’m not sure I agree with that line of thinking myself. Although it might at least be in the city’s interests to mandate that these buildings be maintained as though occupied. Run down abandoned buildings do nothing for the value of a neighborhood.

OK so what kind of services should the government be providing through our taxes? They actually provide so many to so many different groups not just the general population that it would be very hard to pare it down wouldn’t it?