I was talking with a few recent college grads on the subject of rights. They were proponents of what I think are categorized as positive rights, things such as a right to a college education and the right to health care, proper housing etc... I on the other hand am a proponent of the basics, life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, otherwise known, I think, as negative rights.
The rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, don't demand anything of others except the respect of those rights. In other words, for me to exercise my right to live, all that is required of others is to respect that right by not killing me. My right to liberty simply requires you not to enslave me.
Among the problems with the rights proliferation favored by my young friends is that they can't be accomplished without chipping away at the basic rights favored by liberals (true liberals that is) like myself. For example, the right to a college education necessarily demands much of others. Colleges must be built, professors must teach, and this all costs money. Thus, your right to an education requires others time and money to provide that right. And in the process, one's own rights to liberty and one's own right to pursuit of happiness are diminished by the demand to provide a college education for someone else. And I am willing to bet that the advocates of rights proliferation are far more likely to be squishy on the most fundamental right, to life. What good after all is the right to a college education for the aborted/killed baby?
And on a tangential note, isn't the notion of a right to a college education rather silly if you think about it? One must have the intelligence and the drive to earn a college degree. How can those be guaranteed? It is a bit like me demanding the right to bench press 400 pounds or the right to be a pro bowl defensive lineman.
And lastly, to the extent that a right to a college education gains acceptance, we will see a commensurate increase in muddled thinking on rights.