Negative and Positive Character of Rights

Franklin D. Roosevelt expressed this perception of freedom in 1941, when he spoke of the “Four Freedoms”, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom from want and freedom from fear, which were to be established in all the countries of the world. Freedom of religion and freedom of speech are essentially negative in character whereas freedom from want and freedom from fear are significantly positive.

Freedom from want requires a positive effort on the part of governments in the direction of production and distribution to eliminate hunger, squalor and disease. Freedom from fear requires the most complex action and it embraces the abolition of war and to end tyranny and persecution of any kind.

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Roosevelt gave a more detailed list of positive human rights in his message to Congress in January, 1945, and called for a “Second Bill of Rights” for the American people. It has not been accomplished so far, but full employment legislation and President Nixon’s proposal for a guaranteed minimum income are steps in this direction.

The Constitutions of the erstwhile U.S.S.R. and other defunct Communist countries carried an impressive list of positive rights, for example, right to work and equal payment for equal work, right to leisure and against unemployment and exploitation of any kind.


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