Some thinkers who believe in natural law are uneasy with the language of natural rights. The reasons for this disquiet are understandable. Why? Because however firmly rights may be grounded in what is objectively just, grammatically speaking my rights seem to be subjective, just in the sense that they are “mine.”
Of course, the same is true of duties, yet, psychologically, there is a difference. “My” duties direct my attention outward, to the persons toward whom I owe them. By contrast, “my” rights direct my attention inward, toward myself.
This makes it very easy to view rights as though they were not really about objective moral realities, but “all about me” – about sheer self-assertion. The fear of these thinkers, then, is that talking too much about rights subtly influences us to accept a false view of rights.
To most natural law thinkers, however, it seems unreasonable that we should avoid the language of natural rights just because the idea is so badly abused. The reality of natural rights, properly understood, is a truth, knowable by reason. In this life, truth is always abused; there is no such thing as a non-abusable truth. Even liars know that in order to be persuasive, they must fit as much truth into their lies as possible.
Besides, rights and duties are correlated. If only we got into the habit of remembering the duties that our rights imply, it would go a long way toward making rights talk safer.
Instead of avoidance, then, a better strategy (though perhaps a risky one) would seem to be redemption: To reclaim the spoiled language of natural rights, to rescue the concept from its abusers, to uproot it from the theory of radical self-sovereignty and plant it again in the soil of natural law.