Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
--C.S. Lewis--

Friday, December 5, 2008

The "Right" To...

Often in politics, we hear talk of rights. The "right" to health care, the "right" to housing, etc. Rights talk has a very strong resonance in the American political psyche, because that's the basis on which our country was founded. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." The Lockean idea of natural rights pervaded much of the founders thinking, and so is still a powerful concept today. We see it in the writings of men like Madison and Paine.

The problem comes when we forget that natural rights are inherently limited. They have to be, because if they were not, they would inevitably impose on the rights of others. The classic example is that, while a man has a right to swing his arm, that right ends where another man's face begins.

So, here's a question to consider the next time you hear someone refer to health care or some other program as a "right". How does this perceived "right" impinge on the rights of others? Or, maybe a better way to put it, what "duty" goes along with the "right"? For, if I have a "right" to health care, or housing, or marriage, then that means someone else has a duty to pay for my treatment, or build me a home, or marry me. By generously providing me with rights, you are also forcing duties upon others. That's a thought that should bear some consideration next time the "rights" talk begins.