This article is reprinted by permission from the January-February ¹969 issue of G. P. Press, published by the Texas Academy of General Practice. Dr. Johnson practices in San Antonio.
Rights are what stout-hearted men supposedly fight for. This muddled definition is probably as good as most people’s understanding of this blood-soaked concept. Rights is a word which provokes emotion. Label something a right, play a martial tune, and the legions will march to your cause. If your opponents accept your sloppy definitions, victory is yours. Stouthearted men might do well to identify those rights they adore.
The concept of rights has developed over several centuries. It is a complex body of thought about the nature of man. These ideas have had consequences; they enabled man to emerge from barbarism. The concept, quite properly, has acquired an emotional value. Unfortunately, to most people, the concept is hazy, distorted by those who wish to cash in on its emotional power.
Rights, as defined by Burke and Locke, as incorporated in the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, and the writings of others, are the conditions necessary for man’s survival according to his nature, as he was designed by God or nature. Man, in order to exist among the other flora and fauna of this planet, has certain requirements. First, he must have a drive to live and continuously act to sustain his life. By his natural design, his special means of survival are: conceptual, volitional thinking; hands designed for tools; and differentiation, enabling man to specialize his productive energy and to prosper by trading with one another, each party profiting by the exchange. The conditions such social organization requires are: the free range of each man to think, choose, and act; and to own property, to hold secure the products of his mind and hands for him to consume or save or trade. Men must, to live, assert a claim to these conditions: life, liberty, and ownership. These proper claims are rights. Actions against this system, the molestation of another man’s life, liberty, and property, are wrongs.
No one has a right to anything he must ask permission for or in any way take from another. In interpersonal and societal relationships there are many goods and services traded and privileges granted, but there is no "right" to take these from another. In distinguishing rights from privileges one may ask, "provided by whom?" If it is provided by God or nature or by one’s own self, it is a right. If it is provided by someone else, it is a voluntary exchange, a privilege—or theft.
No one has a right to food, water, shelter, money, or love if he must obtain it at the expense of the owner. Medical care is no more a right than these.
Man rightfully obtains goods and services by producing them from nature or by voluntary exchange with others. Man may exchange goods, services, and emotional values, but he must trade to obtain them. Otherwise he is a thief acting against human existence.
Medical care is a service traded or a privilege granted—or theft.
I know the American People are much attached to their Government; I know they would suffer much for its sake; I know they would endure evils long and patiently, before they would ever think of exchanging it for another. Yet, notwithstanding all this, if the laws be continually despised and disregarded, if their rights to be secure in their persons and property, are held by no better tenure than the caprice of a mob, the alienation of their affections from the Government is the natural consequence; and to that, sooner or later, it must come.