So what exactly is a right? The legal dictionary at Law.com defines the word as follows:
1) n. an entitlement to something, whether to concepts like justice and due process or to ownership of property or some interest in property, real or personal.
Okay, so who entitles us to our rights then? The word "entitlement" gives us the impression that rights are handed down from some sovereign, or perhaps divine authority.
In medieval Europe, only the King could own property. In turn, he could then share that property with whom he chose. It was therefore this human being, who ultimately defined the rights of all those who resided in his lands. It's no wonder why, through the ages, Kings have been revered as gods upon the earth. The righteous and the tyrants alike held this power over the people in their realm.
All of that suddenly changed, when a group of men rebelled against the concept of one man ruling over other men. Industrious men of the New World rebelled against their sovereign King, and declared their independence from him and his government.
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
~Declaration of Independnce
These men founded a new nation, where rights would be shared equally among all men. Rights entitled by no one man but rather by nature and the divine, defined by a Constitution, and empowered by the consent of the governed. They formed a new government, where all men would be their own king, owing their destiny to no man. Each man a sovereign, free to choose his own destiny.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
~Preamble, United States Constitution
So now we see that while rights may actually have variable definitions throughout the world and throughout history, the definition has been made more exact in the United States of America, by the Founding Fathers of hte nation. Here, rights are ordained by nature and God, not by the men who have documented what those rights are. It is not even the government formed by We the People, which entitles us to the rights defined by the Constitution.
“The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government - lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.” ~Patrick Henry
A right is not something that can be changed, or taken away. A right is that which defines our very being, as an American, as a human beings. So let us compare that now, to the definition of privilege. What exactly is a privilege, and how dies it differ from a right as we explored above? Black's Law Dictionary defines the word privilege as follows:
privilege - 1. A special legal right, exemption, or immunity granted to a person or class of persons; an exception to a duty
So we see that the word privilege first requires a legal right, rather than a natural or divine right which was defined as "unalienable" and "self-evident" by the Founding Fathers when they declared Americans sovereigns and penned the Constitution. A legal right is a construct of men and government, not by nature and not by God. It is neither self-evident nor unalienable.
unalienable - incapable of being alienated, that is, sold and transferred." Black's Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition, page 1523
The Constitution secures your rights, it does not grant them or create them. It defines the framework in which law and government must confine itself within. The Constitution is not law itself, but the document which defines us as a people. It spells out the values which constitute America.
Statutes and laws on the other hand are privileges. They can be written, repealed, altered, transferred, applied selectively, irregularly, and arbitrarily based upon whatever criteria an authority self-validates. Rights cannot be affected in any such way. They are set in stone so to speak. Privileges can be extended to you or revoked from you, by authorities such as the government, police, your boss, your parents, your landlord, and so forth. Rights on the other hand, are a constant, that cannot be altered.
A privilege is created to give favor to a person or class of persons separate from all others. Of course, this then flies in the face of equality, to give some people certain privileges that other people do not enjoy. But it also means that such favor can be taken from you by that authority which granted it to you in the first place.
Let us take a police officer for example, since so often citizens tend to resent the privileges afforded them. A sworn police officer takes an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America and to perform certain duties of justice in accordance with those values. In exchange, he is afforded special privileges that the average citizen does not enjoy.
Chief among them, an exemption against prosecution for detaining a citizen. You, as a citizen, may arrest another citizen for a crime, but you must be certain that you are not committing a crime yourself by doing so. If it turns out that the person you detained was not in fact guilty of the crime you alleged, you would have actually then committed a slew of crimes yourself by defaming them and infringing upon their liberty. You can be charged with any number of crimes and face civil liability for denying the persons freedom of movement, kidnapping, making false and defamatory accusations, false arrest, and so forth.
A police officer on the other hand, can detain someone for the purposes of investigation for anywhere from 24 to 72 hours depending on what state you live in. After such time, the police then have to charge a person with an actual crime, or release their detainee. But even if it turns out that the person did not in fact commit any crime, and/or if they are exonerated at trial, the police officer still cannot be charged with any crime or civil penalty so long as the charge was based upon what the officer saw as reasonable evidence. Prosecuting attorneys are also afforded similar privilege as officers of the court.
The police officer can have that privilege revoked at any time a superior or judge deems appropriate, even after an arrest had been made. So let us make another example there, to see how having privileges rather than rights, can become a serious liability. A police officer makes an arrest and files a charge on a citizen, for what the officers states is reasonable suspicion and evidence. If, however, his superior views the arrest to not be reasonable, and does not believe that the officer truly believed the arrest was reasonable, his privilege can be revoked retro-actively and the officer can then be prosecuted for making a false arrest, dereliction of duty, civil rights violations, and so forth. On the one hand, this protects citizens to some degree, from police officers who may be inclined to make false arrests for any number of political, personal, or otherwise criminal reasons. But on the other hand, we also see how the arbitrary nature of the privilege might be misused, to coerce or blackmail police officers into cooperating with agendas of cronyism and even criminal enterprise within the system.
At this point, you the reader should see clearly that there is indeed a difference between rights and privileges. They are nearly complete opposites. Given a preference, I for one would much prefer rights over privileges too. I like to know where I stand, and not leave my fate in the hands of someone else or some other group of people who may or may not be looking out for my best interests, and regardless of their own intentions which may or may not be well-meaning.
There are so many examples that could be made of the differences between rights and privileges. Yet time and time again, we see lawmakers today blurring the two concepts, to the detriment of liberty. Society, being too busy working for their slave-wage or otherwise preoccupied with the many distractions put out there to dumb-down the population, are content with this blurring of the distinct meanings. Indeed in this day and age it takes little to sway the masses to not only accept the erosion of liberty, but to demand it with potent support of knee-jerk reactionary legislation of all sorts. But now dear reader, you are informed. You know the answer to the question put forth here to today. What is the difference between rights and privileges?
"The issue today is the same as it has been throughout all history, whether man shall be allowed to govern himself or be ruled by a small elite."
For further insight, please enjoy any or all of the following material:
Arbitrary Arrests and the Rule of Law
Recap of Caylee's Law Controversey
Freedom a Threat to Police
Season of Treason (video)
And finally, here is part one of five for Michael Badnarik's lecture on Rights vs. Privileges: