Many times when I discuss natural rights with people, I frame the conversation into one of de facto rights. This is because I believe natural rights, as the founding fathers and others used the term, were rights which come from God and nature, and therefore function with or without permission from others, in contrast to social, civil, and certain other rights. I think my concept of de facto rights best fits this requirement.
I recently had a discussion where one person took issue with the concept of de facto rights. This person began by positing that natural rights are merely social constructs, which may or may not be institutionalized in society. I agreed that social norms are a kind of right. I think they are specifically a Burkean sort of right.
As an aside, it’s interesting which is an interesting point because Burke was a conservative Christian and an opponent of atheism and deism, but my conversation was proceeding with at least one and possibly two atheists, and I don’t think either of them would have considered themselves conservative.
I laid out my view of de facto rights this way, and here’s how it went:
- Me: Not all natural rights are socially constructed; de facto rights are natural rights which are not socially constructed.
- Him: De facto rights?
- Me: I have a right to defend myself because i can defend myself is a de facto right. I have the right to life because I’m alive and you can’t stop making me be alive is a de facto right. I have the right to free speech or conscience because I can say things and believe things is a de facto right.
- Him: Those are indeed common arguments made for imaginary things called rights. But, saying I have a right to defend myself bc I can doesn’t make rights real. It just means you are responding to stimuli in a certain way.
- Me: “It just means you are responding to stimuli in a certain way.” Well, it means I might respond to stimuli in a certain way if I elect to do so, but I’d be curious what else anyone means when they say a right? A right to do x is just the ability to do x is it not?
- Him: You are conflating right with response. Just bc you do something doesn’t mean you have a right that should be respected or even recognized.
- Me: Let’s not say that I’m conflating things when I’m asking you a question, but to your later point: Does anyone think that all rights are recognized or respected? Under the concept of de facto rights there are many people with many rights that are not recognized by others, and it doesn’t matter. A de facto right need not be recognized to be utilized. That’s one of the beauties of it, and why it’s the best concept of a natural right. Natural rights are not supposed to come from permission they are supposed to come from God and nature. Social norms are another sort of natural right but they are not de facto rights. It’s important to realize there are many kinds of rights and they are not equally utilizable. Civil rights are rights guaranteed by government, but many of them are not rights at all from the perspective of another definition of rights. For example, one person’s (civil) right to healthcare is another person’s slavery. Surely there is no right to slavery.