In order to have a clear understanding of rights, one must first understand the concept of property.  Questions of “right” can be easily sorted out when approached from the perspective of property.

Most envision a piece of land when thinking about property, but this is too narrow a definition.  Property begins with self ownership.  As an individual, you have full ownership of your own body.  You have the absolute right to determine what goes in to your body.  No one has the right to infringe on your property, in this case, to assault your body.  Your labor is your property.  What you produce with your hands, or with your mind, is your property.  When you go to work, you sell your labor to your employer, who in turn sells you money in exchange for your labor.  Everything you acquire through lawful exchange is your property, and you have the absolute right to determine the disposition of your property, whether you choose to sell it, give it away, or dispose of it.

Property ownership is transferred through mutually agreed upon exchange.  If I own a bicycle, I may agree to sell it to you or I may give it to you.  Once I have decided to do so, I have transferred the property and therefore the property rights to you.

Understanding rights from the perspective of property helps us clear the air of confusion when collectivists put forth their “but” arguments against individual rights.  For example, many have heard the argument that you have a right to free speech, “but” it has to be limited because it shouldn’t be a “right” to run into a theatre and yell “FIRE!”

Approached from the perspective of property rights, it is easy to see why yelling “FIRE” in a crowded theatre isn’t a “right” in the first place.  First, the theatre owner (as the property owner) has the absolute right to establish rules of conduct on his property.  By purchasing a ticket, you consent to his rules.  The act of yelling “FIRE” disrupts his business operations on his property, endangers his customer relationships and future revenues, and may subject him to liability if people are harmed.  The property rights of the individuals attending the show are similarly violated, as they exchanged their money for 110 minutes of entertainment, and cutting the show short deprives them of the property they rightfully purchased.

Speaking of individual rights, it should be noted that only individuals have rights.  There is no such thing as a “group’s” right.  Groups are abstract concepts, only individuals exist.  Every individual in a group has rights inherent in his humanity, but no additional rights are acquired by membership in a group.  The rights of a group are simply the rights of its individual members.