How to Tell the Difference Between a Right and a Privilege


What is a Right? What is a privilege? What is the difference? These are obscure if not important questions. Something only an idle thinker would ever spend the time to ponder about, let alone write an essay or commentary on. Yet, no matter how trivial others might think it, such questions should be asked. And receive logical answers. To initiate this discussion on two similar yet altogether different concepts quotations and examples shall be given to distinguish and then explain them. A privilege is a special entitlement granted to a restricted group or person, either by birth or on a conditional basis, and can be revoked. By contrast, a right is irrevocable and inherently held by all human beings. It is self-evident and universal under the laws of nature. Though there is such a thing as legal rights, the focus of this discussion will be upon natural rights, that is, those rights which are inalienable.

By:  AJ Oatsvall

This article first appeared at VoicesOfLiberty

What qualifies as a privilege? In a broad sense it refers to special powers or immunities held as a consequence of political power, social status, or wealth. While an individual has the right to own and live in a home, a state governor is entitled or given the priviledge, to live in a specified residency during their term in office (i.e. a Governor’s Mansion). Such an example elevates that person, giving them status and power that others no better and no less do not get to experience unless they too are elected into that particular office. A privilege is something a particular individual or group are allowed to do which others do not have permission. Privileges are prominent everywhere within society. Participation in certain events or functions is meant exclusively for members or those who qualify, such as at golf clubs, places of employment, and business establishments. You have a right to use the bathroom, but you do not have permission to use this bathroom: paying customers only!

So what qualifies as a Right? To cite the American Declaration of Independence, all men (i.e. mankind) are Created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights such as Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Originally, in place of “the Pursuit of Happiness”, it was suppose to be “property”. However, there was a confict of interest during the drafting of the Declaration, and eventually with the Constitution, as some held that slaves were property and therefore men had a right to own other men, while others contested that no man – regardless of the color of their skin – should endure what the American Revolution would free the colonies from with regard to Parliament and the British Crown. For tyranny and slavery go hand in hand.

John Locke was the first to summarize the three most basic of natural rights. He stated that everyone is entitled to live once they are created; that everyone is entitled to do as they please so long as it does not conflict with the first right; and that everyone is entitled to own all they create or gain through gift or trade so long as it does not conflict with the first two rights. For in order to pursue happiness, one must be able to live how they choose and how best to sustain themselves and their families. Property, usually referring to land, housing and/or livestock, is the primary and most basic way of sustaining one’s self as well as a family. Happiness and property cannot be experienced or owned without life, or rather if one is not living. And life cannot be experienced to its fullest measure if others intrude upon or interfere with it; which is why life, property and happiness are so greatly dependent upon Liberty.

Liberty itself is dependent upon each individual to defend and maintain it. Which is why every person has a Right to Bear Arms, for which to defend their homes, their families and themselves from any enemy either foreign or domestic, or even a tyrannical government. It cannot go without saying that the Founding Fathers of these united States of America purposefully included the Second Amendment immediately after the First to ensure that if no person could speak, or assemble peaceably, in protest against the government, then the only course of action would be to fight against it. For no other way can any person do anything if they cannot defend themselves when reprimanded by those who persecute them for their thoughts, their words, or their beliefs.

Ultimately, a right is the ability to decide for one’s self; to make a choice. Exercising a right is always a choice. Choosing to not exercise it is still a choice; a decision based upon thought. And that is the core of all inalienable rights. This is what fundamentally distinguishes a Right from a Privilege. Whereas a right is something that can be done because it originates commonly within all individuals, a privilege is something that cannot be done without permission. The Freedom of Speech, of Religion, of the Press, and to Peaceably Assemble are not privileges. No man, woman, or child need ask for permission to exercise these rights. Nor does any government, instituted by any collective body of men, has the right or authority to deny or circumvent such rights. Governments do not grant rights, since governments are a creation or coalition of men, but rather are meant to protect those rights for all people.

Is the confusion between rights and privileges the reason we have such a big government? Share your opinion in the comments.

This article first appeared at VoicesOfLiberty