Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Collapse And The Crowd Part 2: The Lexicon

     Has there ever been a time at which so many people were so strident, so brazen, in demanding that they be accorded so many “rights?”

     My memory is a good one. I’ve lived sixty-three years. I remember nearly all of those years very well. And I cannot remember a time at which there was more political or polemical nonsense in the air than there is today.

     The following statement by a largely forgotten French statesman of the Nineteenth Century is critical to this subject. As I’ve already used it once today, once more should do no harm:

     Either rights exist, or they do not exist. If they exist, they involve absolute consequences...Furthermore, if a right exists, it exists at every moment. It is absolute today, yesterday, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, in summer as in winter, not when it pleases you to declare it in force. – Louis Thiers

     Though Thiers disagreed with the Lockean / Jeffersonian conception of natural rights, he possessed the mental attribute most important to any discussion, whether of rights or anything else: clarity. More, he was unafraid to articulate what he clearly understood.

     We begin.

     The notion that “rights” can be created or enacted by the State is part of the sociopolitical fallacy we call democracy. Indeed, democracy is inimical to the concept of rights, which is why, apart from the election of Representatives, the Founding Fathers averted democracy from the Constitutional design. Yes, things are different today, owing to the ratification of various Amendments to the Constitution. But different is not synonymous with better, as innumerable examples from recent history will attest. At any rate, the Founders were candid about their fear of democracy and its offspring faction, which have their best representation today in the “movements” to which we’ve been subjected by various voting blocs and interest groups.

     Consider one of the day’s current contretemps: that over a “right” to a “living wage.” This notion has considerable popular support, and scant wonder: some millions of persons believe they would benefit from the elevation of the legal minimum wage to $15.00 per labor hour. You can count on the thoughtless and uneducated to back such proposals; just as they believe a “right” can be created by law, they believe the consequences of such a creation can be forestalled by wishing them away.

     How much intelligence need one possess to grasp that you can never do only one thing? Every action has both immediate and contingent consequences. One contingent consequence of elevating the legal minimum wage – indeed, of mandating a legal minimum in the first place – is that some employers will find that they can’t afford to employ as many bottom-tier workers as they currently do. Some jobs will vanish; others will be curtailed in their hours or benefits; some businesses will never be started. Total bottom-rung employment will decrease. Given these consequences, the workers vulnerable to those effects should be skeptical of the “benefit” that will accrue to them. Sadly, not enough such workers possess the clarity for it.

     That’s only one economic consequence of what happens when a legislature tries to create a “right” out of whole cloth. Another right – a real one this time – is infringed: the right to associate with others according to one’s own preferences and standards.

     “You cannot do wrong without suffering wrong.” When a legislature tries to impose a fictitious “right” upon the nation, it abrades the citizen’s true rights while engendering suffering, resentment, and ultimately, resistance to the political class. It doesn’t matter whether the political class had “good intentions;” in failing to honor the nature of rights, it transgressed its proper bounds and did harm rather than good. It will suffer the reaction in due course.

     Democracy, of course, is as notorious for destroying rights explicitly as it is for counterfeiting them. Consider the following snippet from Jonah Goldberg, cited this morning by Mike Hendrix:

     Freedom has costs. And I think it is reasonable to ask whether some of those costs are too great for society to bear. Conversely, there are very strict limits to what you can accomplish with paternalism. And I think it’s beyond foolish to ignore those limits out of a desire to fix a demand-side problem with supply-side solutions. As a society, we’ve decided not to ban alcohol. That was the right decision, but it had costs. As a society, we are pondering whether to lift the ban on drugs. Excepting marijuana, I think that is the wrong decision. Reasonable people can disagree and they may be right. But reasonable people cannot dispute that doing so will have costs, too.

     Goldberg is an intelligent and thoughtful man as well as an articulate writer. Yet in the above, he comes very near to stating outright that whether or not to honor the right to control one’s own body should be balanced against some concept of “costs.”

     “Either rights exist, or they do not exist.” If rights exist, then they completely trump all other considerations: We are morally bound to respect them. Costs there may be, but to treat any right as if it can be legitimately traded off against some lesser consideration is to destroy rights as a concept – and “costs,” whether in the objective sense of the word or in some nebulous, tendentious “social cost” formulation, are definitely a lesser consideration.

     But can you guess who absolutely adores the notion that rights can be traded off against “costs?” The folks who gave you the America of today, folks. The class that sees no harm in grouping us into voting blocs and horse-trading legislation for votes. The guys that came up with the notion of ”compelling government interest.” The people who believe that a thirty-round magazine for your rifle can be legally disallowed as “too dangerous,” but who think it’s just dandy to award weekend furloughs to convicted murderers sentenced to life without parole. Politicians.

     How often have you heard some liberal mouthpiece say that “If it saves one life, it’s worth it.” Speak not to them of “costs” unless you’re braced for a stream of vituperation and condemnation in reply. Yet those very same persons will demand that we ignore the costs their policies incur once put in practice...even when they openly, unambiguously cost lives.

     Five-day waiting periods for handgun purchases? So what if a few women aren’t armed in time to fend off their vicious ex-spouses? They should have waved their restraining orders more vigorously. Anyway, only the police should have guns.

     Abortion on demand at any stage of gestation? So what if a Kermit Gosnell kills a few fully born babies...and a few women...after botched third-term abortions? Think of all the subsequent unhappiness he spared those unwilling mothers-to-be. Anyway, mistakes happen.

     A luxuriant, no-conditions welfare state? When it’s the leading cause of illegitimacy, which is itself the best predictor of teen pregnancy, youth criminality and gang involvement? Women shouldn’t have to get married to have children, HDTVs or smartphones. A slew of broken homes and a little blood in the gutters is nothing to concern ourselves long as we can live somewhere else, that is.

     An educational system so overloaded with left-liberal social engineering that its graduates can’t form complete sentences or calculate the correct change from your purchase? We know what’s important: diversity. As long as the schools have the right racial and ethnic mixes in them and the teachers all toe the politically correct line, we’re satisfied. Besides, our kids go to private schools.

     Tax policies that cripple small businesses and inhibit the formation of new ones? Big deal, the money to fund all our programs has to come from somewhere. Anyway, we all work for the government, so there’s nothing to worry about.

     At one time or another, every last element of the left-liberal agenda has been promoted as a “right.” A right to abort. A right to welfare support. A right to “a living wage.” A right to “affordable housing.” A right to a “free” education. A right to medical insurance. A right to retire at State expense.

     I could ask which of those “rights” Robinson Crusoe enjoyed, but I think the point has been made.

     A crowd will back any assertion of “rights” uncritically, as long as it can be led to believe it would benefit. If they can be made angry enough, and ignorant enough, even the relentlessness and brutality of Nature’s correctives, demonstrated repeatedly throughout history, will fail to sway them.

     There are innumerable more things to be said about this, including the importance of coalition politics, voting power effects, and “iron triangle” defenses for “rights” created by political decree, but I’ll spare you. The most important point is this: every “right” sleazed into existence by political action hastens the collapse and increases its eventual savagery. For we cannot indulge spurious “rights” without destroying real ones. As Ayn Rand has told us:

     I could say to you that you do not serve the public good - that nobody's good can be achieved at the price of human sacrifices - that when you violate the rights of one man, you have violated the rights of all, and a public of rightless creatures is doomed to destruction. I could say that you will and can achieve nothing but universal devastation - as any looter must, when he runs out of victims. I could say it, but I won't. It is not your particular policy that I challenge, but your moral premise.

     As we Christians would say, God is not mocked.


Weetabix said...

I was just reading Nock's essay, Life, Liberty, and..., last night, and your post reminded me of this snippet:

Again, the absolutist rejection of the idea of natural rights lands one straight in the midst of the logical tangle that so baffled Herbert Spencer. If the individual has no rights but those that the state gives him, and yet if, according to republican theory, sovereignty resides in the people, we see a strange sort of sequence. Here we have a sovereign aggregation of individuals, none of whom has any rights of any kind. They create a government, which creates rights and then confers them on the individuals who created it. The plain man's wits do not hold out through this sequence, nor yet did Spencer's. "Surely," he says, "among metaphysical phantoms the most shadowy is this which supposes a thing to be obtained by creating an agent, which creates the thing, and then confers the thing on its own creator!"

But then, statists, absolutist, leftists, progressives, etc. are no strangers to mental gymnastics or ignoring logical conflicts, are they?

Francis W. Porretto said...

Indeed, Weet. I think that course in "Straining at Gnats and Swallowing Elephants Whole" that's been mandatory for law students is now signing up the statists and progressives as well.