Rights are conditions essential for development of personality of man. According to Laski, rights are those conditions of social life without which no man can be at his best.
The theory of natural rights is the most important Locke is the main exponent of this theory. According to this theory, man possesses certain natural rights that are inherent in man and cannot be taken away from him. These rights are based on natural reason.
According to Locke, rights of person, liberty and property are natural and precede the state and are an obligation on the state. However, this does not provide a proper basis of rights. These are not the only rights that man needs. In fact, right of property in absolute terms may become an anti social institution. The concept of natural reason is also vague.
Another theory is the historical theory. According to this theory man should be guaranteed rights that he enjoyed in the past like the right of property.
It is also an inadequate theory. Rights in the present cannot be based on the past Some of the rights enjoyed in the past may become obsolete and may not be needed.
Some more rights may be needed under the new conditions. Past cannot be a guide for the present. Moreover, no two writers would agree as to what rights man enjoyed in the past as no authentic records are available.
A third theory is that of legal rights. According to this theory, state is the creator of rights. Only such rights are valid that the law recognizes and enforces.
Austin, Hobbes, Bentham are some of the important protagonists of this theory. This theory is also inadequate. It shall reduce man to complete subjection to the state. Individual would become a lifeless instrument State would become despotic. In fact, personality of the individual would be frustrated.
The real basis of rights is the personality of man. Rights are conditions or opportunities that enable every citizen to be his best by developing his personality fully and freely according to his choice. It is only by enjoyment of these rights that man can be free.
As Laski points out liberty is enjoyment of rights. The state is not the creator of rights. Rights are a limitation upon the state; they precede the state. A State exist only to maintain these rights. The extent and character of the rights maintained by the state would thus determine its character.
This further means that opportunities necessary for self-development cannot be uniform for all citizens, since they are different and have different capacities to develop and are capable of performing different social functions.
However, this differentiation can be made only after a minimum level of rights and opportunities is granted to all. These minimum rights are fundamental rights. Without them, no person can be his best self and free.