Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Gimmedat

A interesting article from James E. Miller:

When then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid saw fit to ram the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (now affectionately known as ObamaCare) through Congress, the country engaged in a substantive debate over the duty and role of government.

Did I say substantive debate? What I really meant was childish rancor and outrageous demands.

Lefty politicians wanted to get the poor and working class further hooked on the government dole. Republicans, for the most part, rallied against socialized medicine, with a hefty amount of cognitive dissonance telling them that Medicare didn’t suffer from the same deficiencies. The voting hordes were just as divided. Seniors wanted protection from government regulation of medicine, while demanding no changes to federal entitlement programs. Democrat voters were up-front about their desire: to force other people to pay for their goodies, which include health care.

Out of this nonsensical debate arose the idea of health care being a human right. Back in the 2008 presidential campaign, then-candidate Obama called it a fundamental right. From there, the liberal press harped on the message. By the time ObamaCare’s passage came around, progressive mobs were declaringhealth care is a human right” in the street. Who would pay for all this care was a question left unanswered.

“All this cant about human rights is sucking away at the true nature of rights and what they mean to government.”

The debate over ObamaCare demonstrated just how perverted talk of human rights is in this country. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley recently said in a CNN interview that an increasing number of young adults believe that Wi-Fi is a right for everyone. The claim sounded like typical leftist gibberish—off-the-cuff theorizing in the name of government redistribution. But O’Malley, who is a possible contender for the 2016 presidential race, was just reciting a claim made by the United Nations in 2011. The international governing body declared that Internet access was a human right because it helps in exercising other rights. I suppose it’s a great injustice that some primitive tribesman on the African plains still can’t check his Facebook on a smartphone.

All this cant about human rights is sucking away at the true nature of rights and what they mean to government. The phrase “human right” is tossed around to justify so many things—gay marriage, abortifacients, sex reassignment surgery, untrammeled immigration—that it now repulses many conservative-minded observers. When young, idealistic college students preach the virtue of guaranteeing every citizen quality health care, a dignifying job, affordable housing, and a cell phone, it makes for a sanctimonious demonstration of unrefined self-satisfaction. No wonder it turns off mature listeners.

For something to be a human right, it needs to have been on the table for all of history. By that standard, Internet access and modern medicine can’t possibly be rights. How can something that’s the innate property of man come along thousands of years after civilization came into existence? It doesn’t make any sense for something that was invented less than a half century ago to be a hallowed, integral part of humanity. Either rights are inherent to man’s character or they can be made up on a whim whenever Silicon Valley develops a new toy. In the latter’s case, anything can be turned into a “human right” if enough people demand it.

From a natural law perspective, rights are claims that men have by virtue of being men. These include ownership over the self and justly acquired property. It’s illogical to say that people don’t have a right to their form, since the converse is that everyone owns an equal part of everyone else. As Murray Rothbard wrote, “The concept of ‘rights’ only makes sense as property rights.” Such fruits of logical deduction rarely leave a mark on the liberal mind. They only reinforce the belief that bourgeois rationalism is an evil tool used to keep the weak enslaved to the rich and powerful.

“Human right” is now a catchall term for things people want. Want a Christian baker to sell a cake to your gay wedding? Demand a right to service. Want to walk into a hospital and be given free care without paying a dime? Just call health care a human right. Want to get more free time by sending your kids to a penitentiary-like school for eight hours? Declare that universal education is a right for everyone.

The Lockean underpinnings of the American Constitution were supposed to protect against this kind of distorted thinking. Unfortunately, the principles taught by Locke were infused with a kind of revolutionary ardor that overtook the lessons of prudential governance and reverence for a higher power. The driving call to liberation, expressed most prominently in the American Revolution, began the crusade for human freedom. What that liberty looks like in its final form is up for debate. But what’s not questionable is the wisdom of the relentless drive to achieve salvation. If humanity must always be barreling down the linear path to history’s end, then there’s no problem with helping it along by perpetuating erroneous theories about rights.

By putting the label of “human right” on certain commodities or practices, those things slowly become an expected norm. Health care is widely available in the U.S.; thus it’s not a heavy burden for the government to demand that every citizen have free access to it. The Internet is cheaper and more widespread than ever before; therefore Governor O’Malley can refer to wireless access as a human right and not be laughed off the television screen.

As long as capitalism continues to create material prosperity, new rights will be discovered for every new gizmo. The goal isn’t finding truth about the human condition embedded in reality. Progressives are concerned with creating a utopia where everyone is equal to everyone else. In practice, that requires a grand scheme of redistribution implemented by the state. Some are robbed for the sake of others, while being given the excuse that certain human rights trump their own.

As long as the debate over natural rights is muddled with demands for bigger and better stuff, the welfare state will expand. Few politicians want to tell voters they are taking away their biweekly check in the mail. Even fewer want to tell taxpayers that they should be on their own, not counting on government bureaucrats to fix their problems. It’s better to be given something; and better still to be told you deserve it for no other reason than you have a right to it.

Democracy hinges upon the unthinking masses voting themselves more and more favors. Nearly a century after the progressive era took hold in the U.S., the idea of the old republic is gone. Government no longer exists to protect the nation from enemies. Washington, D.C. is now a sugar daddy that buys the affection of the public. The political class calls these Stockholm syndrome payments a “right” to distract from the creeping trend of serfdom.

A reorientation of public opinion toward understanding what constitutes a real and proper human right would put a stop to the unrivaled growth of the federal government. But that would require instilling a sense of duty and morality in the masses. Perhaps it’s better to settle for free Wi-Fi in the end. At least the downfall of civilization can be witnessed while live blogging the rise of the new dark ages.

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