Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Rights (or Preachin' to the Choir)

I’ve been musing on the concept of Rights lately. If I recall correctly from my studies Rights are the guarantees and moral obligations of an individual within a society. The common discussion of Rights in the political forum of America has gotten far from this idea. It seems that Rights in common parlance means a handout from the Government. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Rights are, in essence, negative. They can only be taken and not given. Healthcare, for example, cannot be a right. Something must be given in order for everyone to have healthcare. It is possible to argue that healthcare is a privilege that every citizen should enjoy, but it is not possible to argue that healthcare is a right. The same can be said about programs that ensure a minimum standard of living. Nobody has the right to be fed and clothed at the taxpayers’ expense, but one could argue that these are privileges that every citizen should be able to receive should they need to. Make no mistake: the Constitution places no moral obligation on me or the government to give charity. My religion might compel me, but the government was compelled to welfare by labor unions. And those unions had no more claim to morality than those who felt otherwise. It ain’t a right.
America was founded upon an agreement that life, liberty, and private property would be mutually defended from attack or seizure. The government would defend you against bandits, and the people would come to your aid against the government. Any time that your rights and my rights came into conflict we would accept (or the government would legitimately impose) a solution arbitrated by a jury of our peers. From those agreements, our societal rights descend.
I’ve been thinking about this and other things ever since having a conversation with Jon Henke at Q and O. You can read his post here about how a misconception of Lockean rights as a priori truths saps libertarians (and small l- liberals in general) of the ability to engage in realistic foreign policy debate. He’s dead on. Lockean rights are not a priori truths. They descend from a Social Contract that the vast majority of a society is willing to agree upon and enforce.
Take for example fundamental Islamism. I mean the real deal, Al Qaeda, form. In order to be eligible for their rights you must be a male Muslim holding their beliefs. To them, any human not meeting this standard is just like a bear or a tiger: a possible threat to people (as in those with rights) that must be subjugated or eliminated. We must realize; anyone who considers us in that manner MUST be treated in the same manner. They are ineligible for rights, because they will not accept our legitimacy.
One caveat to that last statement: just because these people are not eligible for rights due to their conflicting values, they should be given the same dignity as any other dangerous animal if captured. Our social values prohibit the torture of captured animals, and we shouldn’t torture captured humans.