Rights are rightly called social claims which help individuals attain their best selves and help them develop their personalities. If democracy is to be government of the people, it has to exist for them. Such a democratic government can best serve the people if it maintains a system of rights for its people. State never gives rights, they only recognize them, governments never grant rights, and they only protect them.

Rights emanate from society, from peculiar social conditions, and therefore, they are always social. Rights are individual’s rights, they belong to the individuals, they exist for the individuals, they are exercised by them so as to enable them to attain the full development of their personalities, and as such, the result of our membership of the society.

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Rights are indeed claims, but every claim is not a right. A claim is not a right if it is not recognized, or enforced. Claims become rights only when they are recognized by society, maintained and enforced by a State. Rights are social claims which means that claims which are social in nature, alone are rights because they are social; exist in society, because society exists and because society alone grants them and society governs them to those who are its members. Rights are social claims given to the duties the individuals have performed. Rights are social because their claims stand to strengthen the society, and accordingly, the rights are never against society. There are no anti-social rights.

The rights are to be maintained, enforced and protected. It is here that the institution of the State has a definite role to play. It is society and not the State, which rewards the individuals after having performed their duties, with their rights. The State maintains the framework of rights in the society by providing them to one and all, the State protects individuals’ rights in their interests and for them against any encroachments by executive authorities, other individuals and groups of individuals.

Rights are responses to the society where they exist. The content of rights is very largely dependent upon the custom and ethos of society at a particular time and place. As the society and its conditions change, so change the contents of rights. It is in this sense, that we say that rights are dynamic. Rights are responses to what we do. They are in nature of ‘returns’ or ‘rewards’. They are given to us after we have given something to the society, to others. It is after ‘owing’ that we ‘own’. Rights are not only the returns of our duties, but also they correspond to what we perform. Rights are the rewards given to us, by response to the performance of our duties towards others.

Rights are social claims, they are not powers. Rights and powers are to be distinguished. Nature has bestowed every individual with a certain amount of power to satisfy his / her needs. Power is a physical force, it is a sheer energy. On the basis of mere force, no system of rights can be established. If a person has a power, it does not necessarily mean that he has a right. He/she has a right as a member of the society. As individuals we have powers; as social beings, we have rights.

Our existence as members of society alone ensures us rights. Rights are rights when they are recognized by others as such. They are, then, the powers recognized as being socially necessary for the individuals. Rights arise from the recognition that there is an ultimate good which may be reached by the development of the powers inherent in every individual.

Rights are social claims of the individuals eventually recognized and lawfully maintained. Apart from society, there are no claims which individuals can seek for. Apart from the State, there are no individuals’ rights whose protection can ever be expected. Society gives us rights and the State protects them.

Rights are claims, social claims necessary for the development of human personality. They are not entitlements a person is possessed with. Rights are not privileges because they are not entitlements. There is a difference between rights and privileges; rights are our claims n others as others’ claim on us, entitlements on the other hand are privileges granted to some and denied to others. Rights are obtained as a matter of right, privileges as a matter of patronage.

A working definition of rights should involve certain aspects. One aspect is, the social claim, which means that right originate in the society and therefore, there are no rights prior to the society, above or against the society. Another aspect is the development of personality which means that rights belong to the individual and they are an important ingredient which help promote one’s personality – this aspect includes the individual’s right to oppose the government if the latter’s action is contrary to the individual’s personality.

Rights are socially sanctioned so far as they are preceded by duties an individual has as a member of the society. Duties came before rights and not after them. It is, in this sense that duties are prior to rights and it is what makes the rights limited in their nature and exercise.


Research Assistant in Law,

IILS, Siliguri



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