Rights vs. Privileges

Jan 13 / Dynamo Jakk


In the complex tapestry of society, the concepts of rights and privileges play fundamental roles, often interwoven yet distinctly different in their nature and implications. At the heart of many legal, social, and political discussions lies the crucial distinction between these two concepts, which, although sometimes used interchangeably in casual conversation, hold vastly different meanings in the realms of law and governance.

Rights are fundamental principles that are considered inherent and inalienable to individuals. These are not granted by any authority but are recognized as essential freedoms and entitlements belonging to every person simply by virtue of their humanity. Rights, such as the right to life, liberty, and property, are often enshrined in legal documents and are protected and upheld by legal systems. They are seen as universal and unalienable, meaning they cannot be rightfully taken away or given up.

Privileges, on the other hand, are benefits or advantages that are granted or bestowed upon individuals or groups by an authority, typically a governing body. Unlike rights, privileges are not inherent and can be granted, altered, or revoked based on certain conditions or circumstances. They are often seen as special allowances or permissions that can be contingent upon a person's status, role, or fulfillment of certain criteria.

The purpose of this blog is to delve into the intricacies of these two concepts, exploring the differences between rights and privileges within the context of law and government. This exploration is crucial in understanding how societies function, how laws are interpreted and applied, and how individuals interact with and are affected by governing bodies. Through this examination, we aim to shed light on the significance of these concepts in shaping the legal and moral framework of societies, and in influencing the everyday lives of individuals.

Understanding Rights

Rights are foundational to the structure of a just and free society. They are best understood as unalienable and inherent attributes that every individual possesses simply by virtue of being human. These rights are not granted by any government or authority, but are recognized and protected by them. The concept of unalienable rights is rooted in the philosophy that certain liberties are so fundamental to human nature that they cannot be surrendered or transferred.

Definition of Rights: Rights are unalienable and inherent to individuals. The term "unalienable" is key here. It implies that these rights are a permanent part of the human condition, immune to being taken away or given up. This definition underscores the idea that such rights are not a grant from the state or any external authority, but are inherent in each person.

Examples of Rights: The most commonly cited examples include the right to life, the right to liberty, and the right to property. These rights are considered essential for the freedom and well-being of individuals.

  • The Right to Life implies the right of a person to protect their own life and existence.

  • The Right to Liberty encompasses freedoms such as freedom of speech, religion, and the freedom to pursue personal happiness.

  • The Right to Property signifies an individual's right to own and control possessions without unwarranted intrusion from the government.

Legal Interpretation:
 According to Black’s Law Dictionary, Fourth Edition, page 1693, “Unalienable” is defined as synonymous with "inalienable," meaning incapable of being alienated, sold, or transferred. This legal interpretation solidifies the understanding that these rights are inherent to each individual and are not to be infringed upon or usurped by others, including the government. This understanding forms a cornerstone of many legal systems and is integral to the interpretation and application of laws.

The recognition and protection of these rights are critical in ensuring that individuals are able to live with dignity and freedom. They serve as a fundamental benchmark against which the actions of governments and individuals are measured, ensuring that the inherent human dignity of every person is respected and upheld.

Understanding Privileges

Privileges stand in contrast to rights, offering a different dynamic in the relationship between individuals and the governing bodies. Unlike rights, which are inherent and unalienable, privileges are granted by an authority—typically a government—and are subject to change based on various factors. Understanding the nature and scope of privileges is crucial for comprehending how governmental policies and social structures operate.

Definition of Privileges: Privileges are benefits or concessions that are granted by a governing body to individuals or groups. Unlike rights, which are inherent, privileges are bestowed and can be modified, revoked, or extended under different circumstances. This grant of privilege is contingent upon certain criteria, regulations, or conditions set by the authority that offers them.

Examples of Privileges: Common examples of privileges granted by governments include:

  • Social Security: A government program that provides financial assistance to retirees and disabled individuals, representing a privilege contingent upon age, employment history, or disability status.

  • Medicare: A federal health insurance program mainly for people aged 65 or older, as well as for younger individuals with certain disabilities or conditions.

  • TANIF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families): A program providing temporary financial assistance to low-income families, often with additional requirements such as employment or participation in job training programs.

Nature of Privileges: The nature of privileges is inherently conditional and subject to governmental discretion. This means that they are not guaranteed to remain constant and can be altered based on changes in law, policy, or the discretion of the governing authorities. For instance, eligibility criteria, benefits levels, and the structure of programs like Medicare or Social Security can be modified by legislative changes or policy shifts.

Privileges often reflect the social, economic, and political priorities of a government and can be used as tools for public policy, social welfare, or economic strategies. Understanding that privileges can be adjusted or rescinded is important for individuals who rely on them, as it underscores the importance of staying informed about policy changes and participating in the democratic process to advocate for their needs and rights.

In summary, privileges, unlike rights, are not an inherent part of an individual's existence but are granted by an external authority and are subject to change. This distinction between rights and privileges is fundamental to understanding the role and limitations of government in providing for and protecting its citizens.

The Legal and Philosophical Distinctions

The distinction between rights and privileges is not just a matter of semantics but a fundamental legal and philosophical concept that underpins the structure of law and government. This distinction becomes particularly evident when considering the concepts of private and public persons, the role of government, and the implications of de facto governments.

  1. Private vs. Public Persons: Rights and Privileges 

    - Private Persons: In legal and philosophical terms, private persons are individuals in their capacity as citizens or members of the public. The rights of private persons are those unalienable rights inherent to every individual, such as the right to life, liberty, and property. These rights are protected under the law and are not contingent upon the individual's role or status.

    - Public Persons: Public persons, on the other hand, are individuals who hold an official position or role within the government or public sector. The privileges associated with public persons are those benefits or powers that come with their official role or office. Unlike rights, these privileges are granted by virtue of their position and can be revoked or altered depending on the rules and regulations governing that position.

  2. Government's Role in Protecting Private Rights 

    - The primary role of the government in this context is to protect the private rights of individuals. This involves ensuring that these rights are not infringed upon, either by other private entities or by the government itself.

    - A critical aspect of this role is preventing the conversion of private rights into privileges. This means that governments should not condition or limit fundamental rights based on an individual's status, nor should they transform these rights into benefits that can be granted or taken away.

  3. Implications of De Facto Governments 

    - A de facto government refers to a government that is in control, but may not have legal or constitutional legitimacy. The concept raises concerns regarding the recognition and protection of private rights.

    - When a de facto government does not recognize or protect private rights, it implies a significant deviation from the principles of justice and democracy. In such situations, the rights of individuals may be at risk of being treated as privileges, subject to the whims of those in power.

    - The failure to acknowledge or safeguard private rights under a de facto government often leads to authoritarianism and the erosion of civil liberties. It underscores the importance of legitimate and lawful governance, where the protection of inherent rights is paramount.

In conclusion, the legal and philosophical distinctions between rights and privileges, and the understanding of private versus public persons, are crucial in assessing the role of government and the integrity of its governance. The protection of private rights is a fundamental duty of legitimate governments, and the failure to do so is a hallmark of de facto regimes that do not adhere to democratic principles and the rule of law.

Historical and Legal Perspectives

The distinction between rights and privileges, and the role of government in relation to these concepts, has been a topic of significant discussion in historical and legal contexts. Two notable references that shed light on these perspectives are the Supreme Court's viewpoint in the case of Loan Association v. Topeka (1874) and a quote from President Woodrow Wilson concerning government power and liberty.

  1. Supreme Court Viewpoint: Loan Association v. Topeka (1874)- In the landmark case of Loan Association v. Topeka, the United States Supreme Court addressed the issue of government's use of taxation and its implications. The court critically examined the misuse of taxation powers by the government for private benefits.

    - The decision in this case highlighted a fundamental principle: The power of taxation should not be employed to further private interests at the expense of the public good. The court's opinion stated, “To lay, with one hand, the power of the government on the property of the citizen, and with the other to bestow it upon favored individuals to aid private enterprises and build up private fortunes, is none the less a robbery because it is done under the forms of law and is called taxation. This is not legislation. It is a decree under legislative forms.”

    - This viewpoint underscores the importance of government power being used in a manner that is just, equitable, and in line with the principles of protecting the rights of individuals, rather than serving private interests.

  2. Quote from President Woodrow Wilson on Government Power and Liberty

    - President Woodrow Wilson, who served as the 28th President of the United States, provided a profound perspective on the relationship between government power and liberty. He is quoted as saying, “The history of liberty is the history of the limitation of governmental power, not the increase of it.”

    - This quote reflects the understanding that a government's role is not to continuously expand its power but to limit its authority to what is necessary for protecting the rights and liberties of its citizens.
    - Wilson's statement aligns with the foundational belief that true liberty is found not in the unrestricted growth of government but in its restraint and in its commitment to safeguarding the unalienable rights of individuals.

These historical and legal perspectives provide a critical lens through which to view the roles and responsibilities of governments. They emphasize the importance of government power being exercised in a manner that protects individual rights and public interests, rather than advancing private gains. This understanding is crucial in maintaining a society where liberty and justice are not only promised but actively upheld.

Political Exploitation and Rights

The interplay between politics and individual rights often leads to complex scenarios where the lines between rights and privileges become blurred. Political strategies and tactics can sometimes lead to the conversion of fundamental rights into taxable privileges, affecting the very foundation of a democratic society. Understanding these dynamics is crucial in recognizing and safeguarding individual liberties.

  1. Strategy of Converting Rights into Taxable Privileges

    - This strategy involves transforming inherent rights into benefits or services that are controlled and taxed by the government. This conversion can subtly shift the perception of rights as inherent freedoms to privileges that can be regulated or taxed.

    - Such a shift can lead to a scenario where individuals no longer have absolute claim over their rights but instead are subject to governmental control and discretion. This can be seen in instances where activities that should be rights (like earning a livelihood) become heavily regulated or taxed by the state.

  2. Tactics Used by Governments to Persuade Citizens

    - Taxation: Governments may use the tool of taxation to indirectly control or limit what are otherwise basic rights. For example, excessive taxation on certain activities can serve to restrict those activities, effectively turning a right into a privilege.

    - Political Rhetoric: Political language and messaging are often used to justify or mask the conversion of rights to privileges. This rhetoric can create a narrative where the public accepts more government control under the guise of various benefits or protections, often at the expense of individual freedoms.

  3. Legal Implications for Voters and Jurists (18 U.S.C. §208)

    - Under the United States Code, specifically 18 U.S.C. §208, there are legal implications concerning conflicts of interest for government employees, including voters and jurists. This statute addresses the issue of participating in governmental decisions in which the individual has a financial interest.

    - This becomes particularly relevant in the context of political exploitation of rights. If voters or jurors are making decisions based on personal financial interest (such as receiving government benefits that might be affected by their vote or verdict), it could be considered a conflict of interest.

    - The enforcement of such legal provisions is intended to prevent the misuse of public roles for personal gain and to ensure that decisions affecting rights and privileges are made impartially and justly.

The intersection of politics and rights is a delicate area where the principles of democracy and individual liberties can be at risk. The strategies and tactics used by governments to maneuver this intersection must be closely monitored and scrutinized to protect the fundamental rights of individuals against being diminished or converted into mere privileges. It's crucial for a democratic society to maintain clear boundaries between rights and privileges and to uphold legal standards that prevent conflicts of interest in political decision-making.

The Role and Purpose of Law

The role and purpose of law in society are multifaceted, extending beyond mere regulation and order to encompass the protection of individuals, the definition of government jurisdiction, and the elimination of injustice. The perspective of Calvin Coolidge on the nature of law provides a profound insight into this understanding.

  1. Protecting All Individuals

    - The primary role of law is to safeguard the rights and liberties of every individual within the jurisdiction it covers. This includes not just citizens but everyone who resides within the jurisdiction, regardless of their status.

    - Law acts as a shield, defending individuals against abuses, whether from other individuals, groups, or even the state itself. It ensures that fundamental rights, such as the right to life, liberty, and property, are protected and that individuals are treated fairly and justly.

  2. Defining Government Jurisdiction

    - Law delineates the scope and limits of government power. By clearly outlining what the government can and cannot do, law prevents the overreach of governmental authority and protects the freedoms of its citizens.

    - This aspect of law is crucial for maintaining a balance between the need for effective governance and the protection of individual rights. It serves as a check against the potential tyranny or authoritarianism of the government.

  3. Eliminating Injustice

    - One of the fundamental purposes of law is to eliminate injustice in society. This includes addressing inequalities, ensuring fairness in the distribution of resources, and providing mechanisms for resolving disputes.

    - The law strives to create an equitable society where every individual is given due process and equal protection under the law, regardless of their background or status.

  4. Calvin Coolidge's View on the Discovery and Foundation of Laws

    - Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President of the United States, held a distinct view on the nature and purpose of laws. He is quoted as saying, “Men do not make laws. They do but discover them. Laws must be justified by something more than the will of the majority. They must rest on the eternal foundation of righteousness.”

    - Coolidge's perspective suggests that laws are not merely arbitrary rules created by people but are discoveries of underlying principles of justice and righteousness. This viewpoint underscores the belief that laws should be rooted in moral and ethical truths and should reflect the inherent principles of fairness and justice.

    - According to this view, the legitimacy of laws comes not from their mere enactment by a majority but from their alignment with these underlying principles of righteousness. This aligns with the notion that the true purpose of law is to serve justice and protect the inherent rights and dignity of individuals.

In summary, the role and purpose of law extend far beyond the mere establishment of order. Law is a tool for protecting individuals, defining the limits of government, and striving to eliminate injustice in society. The perspective of Calvin Coolidge adds depth to this understanding, highlighting the moral and ethical foundation upon which laws should be built.

Limitations and Clarity in Government Jurisdiction

An essential aspect of a functional legal system is the clarity and precision of legal definitions and the acknowledgment of the limitations of government jurisdiction. Ambiguities in legal terminology can lead to overreach or misuse of power, while a clear understanding of the sovereign's role in law is crucial for the protection and creation of laws.

  1. The Problem with Ambiguous Legal Definitions

    - Ambiguity in legal definitions can lead to significant issues, particularly when it comes to the application and enforcement of laws. When terms are not clearly defined, it leaves room for interpretation that can be exploited or misused by those in power.

    - Case of IRS Definitions: A notable example is the interpretation of terms by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the United States. For instance, the definitions of "employee" or "trade or business" can be contentious. If the IRS interprets these terms too broadly or ambiguously, it could potentially extend its jurisdiction beyond its intended scope, imposing tax obligations in areas that were not clearly legislated as taxable.

    - Such ambiguities can lead to legal disputes and challenges, as individuals or entities may find themselves unexpectedly subject to laws and regulations that they did not anticipate or understand. This underscores the need for laws to be written with clear and precise language to ensure fair and predictable enforcement.

  2. The Sovereign's Role in Law Creation and Protection

    - In democratic societies, the concept of sovereignty lies with the people. The sovereign, which is the body of citizens, plays a critical role in the creation and protection of laws.

    - Law Creation: Laws are created through a process that ideally represents the will and consent of the governed – the sovereign. This involves democratic processes such as elections, referendums, and public consultations, ensuring that laws reflect the collective will and values of the society.

    - Law Protection: The sovereign also plays a role in protecting laws, ensuring they adhere to the principles of justice, fairness, and respect for individual rights. This is achieved through checks and balances in government, an independent judiciary, and active civic engagement, where citizens hold their leaders and institutions accountable.

    - The concept that law is a "solemn expression of the will of the supreme power of the State" (as defined in various legal dictionaries) reflects the importance of the sovereign's role. It is not just about the power of the state but about the expression of the collective will of the people who constitute the sovereign.

In conclusion, the clarity of legal definitions and the role of the sovereign are pivotal in maintaining a just legal system and a well-defined government jurisdiction. Ambiguities in legal terminology can lead to overreach and injustice, while a strong and engaged sovereign is essential for the creation and protection of laws that uphold the principles of democracy and respect individual rights.

Classification of Laws

Laws can be broadly classified into two main categories: Public Law and Private Law (also known as Special Law). Understanding this classification is key to comprehending the legal framework within which societies operate and the dual role that government plays as both a governing body and a business entity.

  1. Public Law- Definition and Nature: Public Law is the body of law that deals with the relationship between individuals and the state. It encompasses all legal rules that apply to public institutions, the structure and operations of the government, and the relationships between individuals and the government.

    Enacted by Collective Consent: These laws are created through a process that involves the collective consent of the governed, reflecting the democratic principle of majority rule. This includes constitutional law, administrative law, criminal law, and other statutes that have a broad application to all members of society.

    Application: Public Law applies to all individuals and entities within a jurisdiction. It governs aspects such as the rights and responsibilities of citizens, the conduct of public officials, and the functioning of government institutions. Public Law is instrumental in maintaining public order, protecting individual rights, and ensuring the effective functioning of the state.

  2. Private Law/Special Law- Definition and Nature: Private Law governs the relationships between individuals (including corporations and other entities) in matters that are not of direct concern to the public or the state. It deals with issues between private citizens or organizations and typically involves private interests and rights.

    Based on Individual Consent: Unlike Public Law, Private Law is often based on the individual consent of the parties involved. It includes areas such as contract law, tort law, property law, and family law. The agreements or disputes are usually between private parties, and the law serves to resolve these issues based on the agreed-upon terms or established legal principles.

    Role of Consent and Autonomy: In Private Law, the autonomy and consent of individuals play a significant role. The parties have more freedom to determine their legal relationships, and the law intervenes primarily to enforce and regulate these relationships as per the agreed terms or established legal norms.

  3. Government's Dual Role as a Governing Body and a Business Entity

    - In its role as a governing body, the government enforces Public Law, maintaining order, providing public services, and upholding the rights and duties of its citizens.

    - Simultaneously, the government can also act as a business entity, engaging in commercial activities, entering into contracts, and participating in the market. In these activities, the government is subject to Private Law just as any other private entity would be.

    - This dual role of the government highlights the diverse ways in which law operates, depending on whether the government is acting in its sovereign capacity or as a commercial entity.

In summary, the distinction between Public Law and Private Law is essential in understanding how legal systems function. Public Law reflects the collective will and applies universally within a jurisdiction, governing the relationship between the state and individuals. Private Law, on the other hand, is concerned with individual relationships and is based on personal consent and autonomy. The government’s role in both spheres underscores the multifaceted nature of law and its application in society.


In exploring the intricate dynamics between rights and privileges, it becomes evident that these concepts, though often intermingled in public discourse, hold fundamentally different positions in the context of law and governance. Understanding these distinctions is not merely an academic exercise but a crucial aspect of comprehending how societies operate and how individuals interact with their governments.

  1. Recap of Key Differences Between Rights and Privileges

    Rights: Rights are inherent and unalienable. They are not granted by an authority but are recognized as intrinsic to every individual. Rights such as life, liberty, and property are foundational to human dignity and freedom. They are universal, inviolable, and protected under the law.

    Privileges: In contrast, privileges are granted by an authority, typically a government, and are not inherent to the individual. They can be given, altered, or revoked based on certain conditions. Privileges are conditional and can reflect the social, political, and economic policies of the government.

  2. Final Thoughts on the Importance of Understanding These Concepts

    - Understanding the distinction between rights and privileges is critical for a functional democracy and for the protection of individual freedoms. It helps in discerning the proper role of government and the extent of its powers.

    - Recognizing what constitutes a right versus a privilege is essential in safeguarding against the encroachment of governmental power into areas of individual autonomy. It serves as a check against the potential for governmental overreach and ensures that the liberties and freedoms of individuals are not unduly compromised in the name of governance.

    - In the broader context of law and governance, this understanding fosters a more informed and engaged citizenry. It empowers individuals to hold their governments accountable and to advocate effectively for their rights and freedoms.

    - Lastly, the clarity in these concepts aids in the pursuit of justice and equity. It ensures that laws and policies are aligned with the fundamental values of human dignity and freedom, rather than being driven by arbitrary or unjustified expansions of power.

In conclusion, the nuanced understanding of rights and privileges is more than just legal semantics; it is a cornerstone of democratic societies. It influences how laws are framed, interpreted, and applied, and it plays a pivotal role in shaping the relationship between individuals and the state. As such, an informed perspective on these concepts is not only beneficial but necessary for the health and vitality of any society that values liberty and justice.


In the creation of this blog, several authoritative sources were referenced to ensure accuracy and depth in the discussion of rights versus privileges, as well as related legal and governmental concepts. The key references include:

  1. Black's Law Dictionary

    Editions Cited:

    - Fourth Edition for the definition of "Unalienable."

    - Sixth Edition for the definitions of "Law" and other legal terms.

    Purpose of Citation: Black's Law Dictionary is a widely respected legal dictionary that provides clear and precise definitions of legal terms and concepts. The definitions sourced from this dictionary were crucial in clarifying the meaning of fundamental concepts such as "unalienable rights" and "law."

  2. Legal Cases- Loan Association v. Topeka, 20 Wall. 655 (1874)

    Context of Citation: This Supreme Court case was referenced to illustrate the historical and legal perspective on the misuse of taxation powers by the government and its implications for individual rights.

    Quote Cited: The decision included a notable quote that critically addresses the issue of using taxation to benefit private interests at the public's expense.

  3. Statutory Reference

    18 U.S.C. §208
    - Context of Citation: This United States Code section was cited in the context of discussing legal implications for voters and jurists, particularly concerning conflicts of interest in governmental decision-making.

  4. Presidential Quotes

    Woodrow Wilson
    - Quote: "The history of liberty is the history of the limitation of governmental power, not the increase of it."

    Context of Citation: This quote was used to emphasize the perspective on government power and liberty, highlighting the importance of limiting governmental authority to protect individual freedoms.

    Calvin Coolidge

    Quote: "Men do not make laws. They do but discover them. Laws must be justified by something more than the will of the majority. They must rest on the eternal foundation of righteousness."

    Context of Citation: Coolidge's view was cited to discuss the moral and ethical foundation upon which laws should be built, underscoring the importance of laws aligning with principles of justice and righteousness.

These references provide a solid foundation for the discussions presented in the blog, lending authority and depth to the exploration of the complex interplay between rights, privileges, and the role of law and government.

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