The irony of protesting oil on an oil painting.

Entitlement is feeling right about performing some act. More specifically, entitlement is feeling that one has the right to do something. The question of entitlement arises when a behavior is uncivil, and thereby questionable in being reasonable.

Whether a person is entitled to behave a certain way is a moral issue. Broadly, morality is about how a person’s behavior affects others. The moral issue of entitlement is civil right. Civility is courteous or polite behavior.

A public act is reasonable if it is civil. The philosophical question of entitlement arises in wondering where the envelope of civility ends and rudeness begins: in other words, where the border of reasonableness lies.

The idea of reason is practically as old as philosophy. The 12th century English word reason derives from old Latin rationabilis, which means ‘to reckon.’ In the 16th century, reasonable came to mean ‘fairly tolerable’: acting in a way that a fair-minded person would tolerate. What is reasonable has less to do with reckoning than what is socially acceptable. “Reasonable for most people has nothing to do with reason but with consensus,” observed social philosopher Erich Fromm.

Entitlement is a measure of egocentricity. Egocentricity is the degree you regard your behavior as a civil standard: whether others are entitled to behave as you do.

You are unquestionably entitled to behave civilly. Acts which irritate or disturb others ushers the question behind entitlement: “what is reasonable?” The philosophical wagons of entitlement circle about reason as measured by tolerability.

All ideas arise by contrast. Incivility is as old as the idea of civility. Ancient buildings commonly had graffiti scratched into them shortly after their erection and for millennia to come. That said, entitlement has been rearing its ugly head more often since democracies arose.

Emboldened entitlement became a strong current in the cultural vein of post-industrial nationals, especially Anglos (Americans, Brits, Australians, and Canadians), who have centuries of democracy in their political belly. The entitlement trend has strengthened in recent generations as youngsters did not have to earn their keep. Indulgent parents, determined to give their offspring a “better life,” instead bred entitlement into their brood.

The reemergence of social life after the covid pandemic shutdowns has seen a rash of ugly entitlement. The covid break in sociality only amplified an established trend.

More people in public – in restaurants and theaters, and on airplanes – have been behaving badly. Brawling has become more popular.

Concertgoers are assaulting performing musicians. “This kind of disrespectful behaviour has become the new norm at live performances,” said Sam Allison, an American concert organizer.

Tourists are vandalizing ancient European and Japanese landmarks at a record pace. When caught, many admit their narcissism by saying they hadn’t given their vandalism any consideration.

With the world growing hotter, ‘climate activists’ have been acting up. Some are throwing soup at paintings in museums. Others are blocking traffic and disrupting public events. They do so with placards and espousing their belief on the evil of fossil fuels. Their sense of entitlement to criminal acts is strong indeed. And they have substantial support in social media. Being passive does not mean one’s sense of entitlement is not well fed.

Protests to change political-economy policy are a hoary tradition. Societal ‘progress’ and revolutions are built upon protest.

Having learned from history, China’s authorities nip revolution before it buds by repressing dissent. Civility is a stricture in China.

Other authoritarian regimes are less fastidious in keeping the lid on incivility towards authorities. And they often pay the price of losing their jobs, and their lives, for letting their citizens feel entitled.

Feeling entitled themselves, and thereby not governing in the traditional sense, 21st-century authorities in democracies have let people run amok, including rampant abuse by law enforcement.

It is easy to say that growing incivility is a symptom of mental, moral, and societal decay. What is driving the rot is an unreasonable sense of entitlement.


Kirsty Sedgman, On Being Unreasonable: Breaking the Rules and Making Things Better (2023).

Natalie B. Compton, “Vandalism, tantrums and narcissism: Entitled tourists are out of control,” The Washington Post (14 August 2023).

Nadia Khomami, “Bad behaviour at concerts is becoming normalised, experts say,” The Guardian (4 August 2023).

Lilly Quiroz, “The activist who threw soup on a van Gogh says it’s the planet that’s being destroyed,” NPR (1 November 2022).

Angela Dewan et al, “Young people rally at climate protests around the world,” CNN (24 September 2021).

Mary Mcnamara, “Column: Americans have forgotten how to behave. And it’s time to stop blaming the pandemic,” Los Angeles Times (17 August 2023).

Marnie Hunter, “FAA numbers confirm it – 2021 was terrible for bad behavior in the skies,” CNN Travel (13 January 2022).

Megan Gannon, “7 entertaining examples of ancient graffiti,” Mental Floss (30 April 2018).

“Travel: Why tourists are behaving badly,” The Week (15 September 2023).