DR Ambedkar IAS Academy

Positive and Negative Rights

We are all aware that we have rights. Today we have a right to school, education, a job, property, life, freedom and personal security. However, there is a fundamental difference between rights. There are two types: Positive or «artificial» rights, to hear some describe them, and negative or «natural» rights.

Calling it «positive» and «negative» has nothing to do with an assessment of the rights, but describes the nature of each type of right.

Negative Rights

Negative rights, or negative freedom, means freedom from something. Your negative right imposes a negative duty on others, meaning a duty to do nothing and not interfere.

My negative freedom requires only that you respect the right by not preventing me in doing it. Examples of negative rights are the right to live, to be free, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from violence, freedom from slavery, and property rights.

Positive Rights

Positive rights, or positive freedom, means freedom to something. Thus, your positive right places a positive duty on others, i.e. a duty to offer something or act in a certain way.

My positive right requires you to respect it by complying with it. Examples of positive rights are the rights to free schooling, free healthcare, a job, and a minimum wage.

They are Incompatible

On a societal level, these two types of rights are incompatible. For instance, you cannot both have a right to be free, while still being forced to work for others (this does happen, obviously, but it is contradictory and inconsistent). Today, all states and the UN have a mixture of positive and negative freedoms among their human rights (if they have any at all).

Positive rights can still exist in a society or state built on negative rights, but in the form of voluntary solutions, such has having a right to medical care if you have health insurance.