One man’s right is simply another’s obligation

We are so used to the idea of “having” rights—that rights are something one can possess—that we rarely think about what this might actually mean.

In fact (as Medieval jurists were well aware), one man’s right is simply another’s obligation.
My right to free speech is others’ obligation not to punish me for speaking; my right to a trial by a jury of my peers is the responsibility of others to maintain a system of jury duty.

The problem is just the same as it was with property rights: when we are talking about obligations owed by everyone in the entire world, it’s difficult to think about it that way. It’s much easier to speak of “having” rights and freedoms.


This is one of the many passages and charts I find in books and articles on a daily basis. They span many disciplines, including:

I occasionally add a personal note to them.

The whole collection is available here.