Anarchists(1), among many other characteristic divisions, espouse two opposing philosophies on the subject of rights, as in the old school constitutional 'right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness' that gets the paleo-conservatives so misty eyed. I will broadly label the opposing sides as the Natural Rights camp, and the Jungle Law camp.
The former state that all human beings have as inherent in their being a certain set of rights, similar to what TJ and company had in mind when they scribbled up their spin on the social contract. Whether these rights are endowed in men by their Creator, or come from our Randian power of reason(2) or what have you, they are innate in human beings and the pivotal reason for the anarchist cause is that states so enthusiastically trample these natural rights. The anarchist society would conversely then hold paramount the protection of said rights.
The latter side, which I will defend in this essay, posits that the concept of natural rights is only relevant insofar as believing in it shapes oneís behavior. There are no true objective human rights. The central point trying to be expressed by us Jungle Law people is that "Rights" enforcement has no fundamental difference from any other market service, like taxis or peanut butter.
Unless there is a strong conscious demand for Rights (whatever they may be) to be enforced, it will not happen. That is why we have statism, there is essentially no demand for libertarian style Rights to be enforced. What little there is, cannot be supplied because the per unit cost of doing so is currently overwhelming. In order for some producer to provide the service of Rights enforcement to our niche market would require them to overcome the resistance of the single most financially potent entity on the planet, the United States Govt.(3)
That is the only relevant concept in the whole debate. Rights are just a specific set of services we want provided but are presently cost ineffective to do so. Our mission as anarchists is to alter our environment such that it can be profitable to provide that service, whether by converting people and increasing the demand, or reducing the cost via weakening the state, or increasing supply with various Ancap themed firms.
Thus Rights in economic terms are indistinguishable from any other service that can't be provided in the current climate, like space travel or necrophiliac brothels, due to lack of technology or cultural disgust or whatever.
Once we do make it possible to buy and sell Rights services, the debate becomes more meaningful, but no less pragmatic. Without the state, only those Rights which are both in high demand and cost effective will be provided. For example the Right to have one's death avenged ala ancient Iceland(4) will likely be demanded and with efficient detective agencies, is a viable industry, therefore that Right will exist. Contrarily, a large segment of the population may demand the Right to income redistribution. Without a state however, the expense of collecting would quickly surpass the funds themselves. Thus that Right will not exist.
Lastly there may be for some reason a Right that is easily enforced, say against trespassing on private property, but for whatever reason it is in low demand. Hypothetically it might be the case that no one cares if vagrants wander on their land. Thus due to lack of demand that Right would not exist, despite its inclusion in libertarian dogma.
So the point is: there are no objective Rights. The Right to life is not fundamentally different than the Right to be free of second hand smoke, the only thing that determines which Rights exist and which do not is market forces. You may have an epiphany and craft the ultimate moral theory, but unless it is both practical and attractive to follow that theory, you might as well not have bothered: your theory is irrelevant.
Another good piece of the "jungle law" theory is that it automatically handles all the oddball cases that always pop up in our favorite hypothetical game. I.e. what do you do about:
Genetically engineered slave class
Hyper intelligent chimpanzees
Self aware machines
Magically animated objects
Middle class Libertarians
Who on this list has Rights? Answer: no one has any Rights other than what the market will bear. If robots become independent to the point that they can produce economic wealth of their own, nothing stops them from spending their earnings to hire a Rights enforcement agency. Voila, they have Rights. On the other hand, infants obviously are unable to perform any useful task and thus canít provide for their own defense either directly or through hired surrogates. Unless someone (usually their parents) is willing to donate Rights enforcement services to them, they do not have Rights.
Bottom line, Rights are nothing more than one commodity in the whole wide market. Demand implies having the will and the means to acquire some good. e.g. if you donít want or cant afford a car, you donít demand a car. Thus if you donít want Rights or cant afford them, YOU DONT HAVE THEM.
Conclusion: do we have Rights, at this moment, in the face of the state? NO!
1. For the casual reader, when I say anarchist, I refer to anarcho-capitalists. Not window smashing thugs at protests or obscure Marxist sects.
2. Ayn Rand, from whom many anarchists borrow heavily in matters of philosophy, a firm atheist, wrote that the mental capacity for reason was the criterion by which a being should be granted rights. In other words just a secular version of the Christian notion that we have rights because God created us as rational beings.
3. With a standing army of some 3 million, and yearly income of $2trillion, I donít see how one could argue this point.
4. In ancient Iceland if you murdered someone, a court would decide how much that person was worth and youíd have to pay that sum to the victimís family, and your family would permanently lose the right to request compensation if you were later murdered. Thatís all. No prison, no death penalty.