21 Jun 2009

Human Rights Redux

Aguanaut Jay Wetmore writes this:
I was pleased to see that our exchange on the human “right to water” developed into a blog post.

While I struggle to define how I would characterize the human right to water, I am still uncomfortable with using the term “right”.

Let me explain. As a person who tries to be very precise with words, I believe the word “right” has evolved considerably over time so it no longer has a precise meaning. It seems much of the change in the definition has been intentional, by individuals intent on creating new “rights”...

My own bias is for the term “right” to mean personal protections from government or other institutions in keeping with the definition of rights in the Bill of Rights, and natural rights as defined by classical liberal scholars. The term “right” has come to be used to mean, “wants” and “expectations”. These new “rights” are often proposed by individuals who seem to not believe that the Constitution protects individual liberties and places limits on the federal government, so I hope you can understand my discomfort with your use of phrase “right to water”.


I may be able to come to terms that the “right to water” is a natural right like the right to breath after additional analysis, but I am not quite there yet. To me this is not just a quibble. The foundation for lasting institutions (and personal philosophies) must be solid. I agree with you that nature has first call on water and that just because man can control water, does not mean he has a moral authority to divert all of the water to his own uses. Governments certainly have no moral authority to withhold water from any of its constituents. However, if you as an individual, own water rights, I do not think you have a legal obligation to provide water to others. (I have left open the question of moral obligation because I think it is dependent on circumstances.) This hypothetical ignores the original mistakes that may have been made in granting of water rights, but as you said, there is little utility in unraveling the fairness of the status quo.
What do you guys think?