Individualism vs Collectivism 2 The True Debate of Our Time []

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The first of these has to do with the nature of human rights and the origin of state
power. Collectivists and individualists both agree that human rights are important, but they
differ over how important compared to other values and especially over the origin of those
Rights are not tangible entities that can be viewed or measured. They are abstract
concepts held in the human mind. They are whatever men agree they are at a given time and
place. Their nature has changed with the evolution of civilization. Today, they vary widely
from culture to culture. One culture may accept that rights are granted by rulers who derive
authority from God. Another culture may claim that rights are granted by God directly to the
people. In other cultures, rights are perceived as a claim to the material possessions of
others. People living in tribal or military dictatorships don’t spend much time even thinking
about rights because they have no expectation of ever having them. Some primitive cultures
don’t even have a word for rights.
Because of the great diversity in the concept of human rights, they cannot be defined
to everyone’s satisfaction. However, that does not mean they cannot be defined to our
satisfaction. We do not have to insist that those in other cultures agree with us; but, if we
wish to live in a culture to our liking, one in which we have the optimum amount of
personal freedom, then we must be serious about a preferred definition of human rights. If
we have no concept of what rights should be, then it is likely we will live under a definition
not to our liking.
The first thing to understand as we work toward a useful definition of rights is that
their source determines their nature. This will be covered in greater detail further along, but
the concept needs to be stated here. If we can agree on the source of rights, then we will
have little difficulty agreeing on their nature. For example, if a security guard is hired by a
gated community to protect the property of its residents, the nature of the guard’s activity
must be limited to the activities that the residents themselves are entitled to perform. That
means the guard may patrol the community and, if necessary, physically deter burglaries
and crimes of aggressive violence. But the guard is not authorized to compel the residents to
send their children to bed by 10 PM or donate to the Red Cross. Why not? Because the
residents are the source of the authority; the nature of the authority cannot include any act
that is denied to the source; and the residents have no right to compel their neighbors in
these matters.

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