Friday, October 17, 2008

Whittle On Rights

As mentioned earlier in the comments, Bill Whittle has written a nice piece on rights in the October 9, 2008 edition National Review Online. Here is an excerpt:
...Constitutional rights protect us from things: intimidation, illegal search and seizure, self-incrimination, and so on. The revolutionary idea of our Founding Fathers was that people had a God-given right to live as they saw fit. Our constitutional rights protect us from the power of government.

But these new so-called "rights" are about the government -- who the Founders saw as the enemy -- giving us things: food, health care, education... And when we have a right to be given stuff that previously we had to work for, then there is no reason -- none -- to go and work for them. The goody bag has no bottom, except bankruptcy and ruin.

Does that ring a little familiar these days? Because isn’t the danger here that if you’re offered something for nothing... you'll take it?

Only it's not something for nothing. "Free" health-care costs us something precious, and no less precious for being invisible. Because there's a word for someone who has their food, housing and care provided for them... for people who owe their existence to someone else.

And that word is "slaves."
Whittle identifies the central issue -- rights are freedoms of action (and corresponding restrictions of government power). They are not entitlements to goods and services that must be produced by others.

I also liked his identification of the fact that a welfare state turns both the producers and the recipients of these redistributed goods into slaves. That's a point that cannot be emphasized enough.

(Disclaimer: This should not be construed as any kind of general endorsement of NRO or Whittle. I like much of Whittle's writings, although I have disagree with his characterization of rights as "God-given". For a secular discussion of the nature of rights and the objective facts that give rise to that concept, see "Man's Rights" by Ayn Rand. I also have other disagreements with Whittle on issues not related to this particular topic.)