A "Right" to Subsidized Leisure?

Adam Fowler
Apr 24, 2010 at 7:48 AM

Add holidays to your list of unalienable "rights," at least if you live in Europe.

According to a recent London Times report, a proposal would subsidize Europeans vacationing in other parts of their continent. It will be considered a "right."  The report says the following:

An overseas holiday used to be thought of as a reward for a year’s hard work. Now Brussels has declared that tourism is a human right and pensioners, youths and those too poor to afford it should have their travel subsidised by the taxpayer.

Under the scheme, British pensioners could be given cut-price trips to Spain, while Greek teenagers could be taken around disused mills in Manchester to experience the cultural diversity of Europe.

This is not necessarily something new. The much-celebrated Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes a supposed right to "rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay."

The 20th century saw a host of new "positive rights" added to our traditional understanding of what the term "right" means. One person's positive rights require action (and often money) from another person. Traditional, "negative" rights only required that others leave an individual alone to enjoy their rights.

The problem is that both sides of the positive/negative right debate claim that their vision is correct. In observing this debate, Gerald C. MacCallum noted the following:

... disputes about the nature of freedom are certainly historically best understood as a series of attempts by parties opposing each other on very many issues to capture for their own side the favorable attitudes attaching to the notion of freedom. It has commonly been advantageous for partisans to link the presence or absence of freedom as closely as possible to the presence or absence of those other social benefits believed to be secured or denied by the forms of social organization advocated or condemned

In sum, the last several centuries have demonstrated the popularity of the concepts of "freedom," "liberty" and "rights." As such, the argument is that many individuals and groups have noticed the popular appeal of such concepts and have tried to link, however rightly or wrongly, their particular partisan ideas to these concepts in order to gain greater support for them.

In reality, these positive "rights" are not really rights in that they require action from others in order for them to be realized. It can also often require denying others certain negative rights (like liberty and property) in order for an individual to "realize" their positive rights. But the proponents of forced equality have essentially hijacked the language of "liberty," "rights" and "freedom" to support their vision of political action.

Positive "rights" are more tied to values like equality and community, while negative rights are tied to values like freedom and liberty. It's really a deliberate confusion in terms.

This purposeful confusion is something astute observers should remember when they see proposals like the one in Europe promoting such supposed new "rights" -- unless, of course, you're OK with government forcing someone else to pay for your vacations.

*Note:  I'm currently writing my graduate thesis applying the positive-negative rights dichotomy to FCC broadcast regulation in the name of the "public interest."