The title formulation was something that I first heard while living in Germany. My girlfriend at the time had a father who was a political philosophy professor and he spoke of this claim with regard to the relationship of various individuals to each other and to the society and/or state at large. Although he was speaking in the context of how some people believed that they had the right to make claims against the state without incurring any obligations to the state, I thought that the overall formulation was pretty spot on with regard to more general relations between people over all.
In a nutshell–it spoke to me as being part (not all!) of the essence of what equality is all about. Specifically, if we are to live in a community or society that values equality then we need to treat each other with the cognizance that we do not have the right to make claims of people without also recognizing that there will be some sort of corresponding obligations that come with this claim. In addition, I would further specify that these obligations and rights would be in substance and form pretty balanced–i.e. it is not that some people get a lot of rights and only have a few obligations or the reverse–lots of obligations without many rights (something that occurs in hierarchy-based social structures a lot more…).
Now, yes, there are special cases where this isn’t 100% accurate in all cases. Children and Parents have different rights and obligations to each other and there are particular situations where rights and obligations take on particular socially constructed forms that deviate from this dictum.
Still, I do think that it pretty much holds true. A right to privacy includes the obligation to respect the right of privacy of others. A right to security within national borders may entail obligations to support the state (and particularly the armed forces) with resources to enact and create this security… And so on…
Anyway.. that’s just the thought for today… It’s also something I wanted to get down here because it is part of the underlying value system that I believe in and follow. And whenever someone claims to have a right, I tend to go looking to see what the obligation is that corresponds to it..