Schools of Thought in Classical Liberalism, Part 5: Natural Rights

Some philosophers believe that all human beings have natural rights. America has a strong natural rights tradition, embodied in the Declaration of Independence’s claim that all men are endowed with “certain unalienable rights.” In part 5 of his series, Dr. Nigel Ashford explores the beliefs and philosophical methodology of philosophers Ayn Rand and Robert Nozick,  both of whom believed that natural rights should dictate the proper role and size of government.

The philosophers agree that government often violates our natural rights. They also argue that capitalism is the only moral economic system, since it is based on voluntary action. So what should the proper role of government be? Rand and Nozick argue for a minimal state whose sole purpose is to protect our natural rights.


  1. Alex Moscoso

    wow never knew of this perspective.

  2. Adam

    I knew both Ayn Rand and the Founding Fathers believed natural rights, but didn’t know the difference of how each derived their view. Great explanation by Prof. Ashford. Thanks!

  3. Anonymous

    Johnnycoronel: The concept of rights is sometimes classified into ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ rights. Negative rights more or less are property rights and general liberty and don’t require anyone to provide them to you, just inaction or non-infringement of them. Positive rights require actions by other people that will invariably violent negative rights. For example, if you believe that being fed is a right, then you must compel others and violate their rights, eg. right to property, in order to satisfy that right by taking food or cash from them to give to the hungry. If you have a right to food, healthcare, income, etc from others, then they don’t have a right to their own property, and assuming equality, neither do you or anyone else for that matter if your stuff can be taken at will. This example could also be extended to your right to life somewhat. So you can either have rights or entitlement to material items, or you can have rights to property. Google positive and negative rights for a better description.

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