"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Rights and Not Rights

We talk a lot about rights in this country.   There is a huge body of learning and analysis on the subject of what is a "right."   I'm not going to go into all that, but instead want to propose a simple test.   Consider: could you get nearly unanimous support for the following propositions in America?

An individual has a right to equal treatment before the law.
An individual should not be discriminated against because of his race.
An invidual has a right to express himself through speaking out on public issues.
An individual has a right to worship God as he sees fit.

I think you could nearly 100% of Americans to say they support these sorts of things.

Now consider the following propositions:

An individual has a right to require his fellow citizens to pay for his healthcare indirectly through their taxes.
An individual has a right to procure an abortion at any time during her pregnancy.
An individual has a right to preferential treatment in college admissions if he happens to be black, over equally-qualified applicants who are white or Asian.

I think you would find yourself hard-pressed to get anywhere near 50% of the public to say they support these propositions. **

So here's my test... a right is only a real "right" if nearly everyone in America would support it.   Otherwise, it's a matter of policy differences, and ought to be worked out through the democratic political process, and not through Constitutional litigation.  

**To be sure, I've phrased them differently than most MSM pollsters would.   I've phrased the questions honestly, where MSM pollsters, as liberals, would likely frame their poll questions on healthcare, abortion and affirmative action dishonestly by eliding the reality of the other people involved -- the taxpayer, the baby, the white applicant denied admission.   But even if I asked them in the preferred manner, such as this -- an individual has the right to healthcare, a woman has the right to choose abortion, a black college applicant has a right to preferential treatment because of historical racism -- I still don't think you'd get much over 50% of the public to agree.   In part that's because at least some of us have learned to see through the type of ideological loading you get in MSM poll questions.   But, mostly, it's because people understand that these simply aren't "rights."   They might be good things, but you have to make arguments about them openly and convince your fellow Americans.   You shouldn't be able to just slam down the word "right" and expect everyone to agree.

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