Monday, July 31, 2017

A Right to Pursue versus a ‘Right’ to Provision: The Declaration and its Reactionaries

A New Jersey Star-Ledger Independence Day guest column by adjunct professor Robert Ingoglia opens with this paragraph:

The Founding Fathers used John Locke's brilliant explication of natural rights (Second Treatise of Government) as the philosophical basis for their revolt against British rule. Since then,  we,  as a nation,  have witnessed the ongoing discovery and extension of natural rights. "Discovery" is the correct word because,  as the Declaration of Independence makes clear,  this enumeration is only a partial listing (" ... among these Rights ... "). Both Locke and the Founding Fathers,  as Enlightenment thinkers,  were confident that rational men and women could -- and would -- discover additions to that list and then use government to concretize and protect these newly-discovered rights.

He then pulls a classic Leftist bait-and-switch, introduced by President FDR seven decades ago. Then, FDR introduced his so-called “Second Bill of Rights,” which consists of economic outcome ensured coercively by government. Proclaiming that “the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures—proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness,” FDR introduced his eight-point declaration of economic “rights”:

Thus began the steady slide from a free capitalist society to a socialist dictatorship, a slide that continues apace today. This broad mandate for government power over our economic lives has framed the Democrats’ domestic agenda ever since. Ingoglia doesn’t mention FDR or his Second Bill of Rights. But that’s what he obviously has in mind. I left these comments, edited and expanded for clarity:

True. You can add to the list of unalienable rights. This is codified in the U.S. Constitution by the Ninth Amendment, which reads “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

But you cannot alter the fundamental unifying principle tieing all human rights together. Rights are guarantees to freedom of action, not automatic claims on material values that others must be forced to provide. Rights belong to individuals, and only individuals. They are unalienable, meaning possessed by all, equally, and at all times. Implicit in the concept of “unalienable” is that there are no “rights” that necessitate the violation of the rights of others. Rights that can be violated, whether by a neighbor, society, or the government, are not unalienable rights of citizens but permissions granted to subjects.

In calling for a “readjustment,” Ingoglia is advocating nothing less than the repudiation of the fundamental unifying principle tieing all human rights together, and thus the destruction of the United States of America. How? By switching the concept of rights from pursuit to guaranteed provision, thus obliterating the fundamental principle of unalienable rights. It’s the difference between peaceful coexistence and predation. No one has an automatic claim on the lives, property, or labor of others. There is a right to pursue healthcare, not a right to force others to provide it; a right to pursue productive work, not a right to a decent-paying occupation. No one has a right to force others to provide what cannot be gained by self-effort and voluntarily through the mutually advantageous medium of trade. When your life, personal freedom, achievement, and flourishing is at the unpredictable mercy of any individual’s or group’s claim to some unalienable right to what they didn’t earn, neither you nor anyone else is safe, and the government has failed in its duty to “secure these rights.” Ingoglia isn’t proposing adding to our list of rights, but obliterating our American concept of rights.

The pursuit of happiness and “an unalienable right to one job that nourishes the soul” are mutually exclusive. It is the difference between a society of peaceful coexistence (trade) and a predatory society in which everyone has a moral and legal claim on others’ lives and property, but not to his own. There is no way peaceful coexistence and predation can coexist. Our society is well on its way to a “readjustment”—read transition—from the first to the second, thanks to the ideas peddled in this article. So don’t ask why political differences are increasingly contentious, polarizing, and even violent. The only true path that allows people to peacefully “belong, to feel a part of something larger than themselves, to contribute to society” is a society of voluntary trade, not a government chain gang of mutual dependence. To earn your keep is to actually “contribute to society.” To be provided by government is to take from society. When your life, personal freedom, achievement, and flourishing is at the unpredictable mercy of any individual’s or group’s claim to some unalienable right to what they didn’t earn, neither you nor anyone else is safe.

The author calls for a “readjustment” to our Founding principles.

Our "pursuit of happiness" must now include an unalienable right to one job that nourishes the soul,  valorizes human dignity,  fosters community participation and allows the achievement and maintenance of a decent standard of living for everyone.

At least he recognizes that the U.S was not Founded on the predator’s concept of “unalienable rights.” What he doesn’t acknowledge is that “an unalienable right to one job,” or to healthcare, or to “a decent standard of living for everyone” is not compatible with the unalienable rights to Life, Liberty, Property, and the Pursuit of Happiness. There can be no such thing as a right to anything that must be produced by the human efforts of others. Such is not “community participation” but slavery, and there is no “human dignity” in slavery. There is logically no such thing as an unalienable right to alienate others from their rights, which is the only way government can ever guarantee an unalienable right to anything others are not freely and voluntarily willing to give. To adopt those “rights” is to annihilate the only true “greater good”—the universal, equal, individual right to the pursuit of one’s own happiness through self-governance and voluntary trade, so long as the same rights of all others is recognized and respected. The fundamental alternative cannot be stressed too strongly. It’s either/or:

It is either FDR’s economic “second” bill of rights, or the original political bill of rights embodied in the U.S. Constitution.

Either your life is the property of the state, to be disposed of for the sake of whatever “unalienable right” to unearned stuff anyone claims to possess. Or your life is yours to live.

Either we have a government that secures your rights, or a government that eviscerates them.

It is either socialism or capitalism.

In my July 4 tribute, I observed that “The Fourth of July reminds us that the fight for freedom is a philosophical fight—fought not on foreign military battlefields but right here at home, on the intellectual battleground of ideas.” This article is a prime example of why the fight for freedom is philosophical.

You can’t have your Declaration of Independence, and eat it, too. You can have the unalienable rights to your own life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Or you can have the “unalienable right” to exploit and enslave other lives. But you cannot have both. No matter how many new rights we “discover,” the most fundamental right from which all the others derive is your right to your own life—which means, the right to act on your own judgement, and choose accordingly. You either have it, or you don’t. If you can be forced to provide healthcare, a “decent-paying occupation,” or any other material value to others, your right to your own life—your judgement and your choice—has been violated. The choice has always been, and is now, the fundamental choice; Americanism, or not.


Interestingly, Ingoglia lists “social workers, sales associates, stay-at-home parents, maintenance workers or adjunct instructors” as occupations deserving of guaranteed monetary remuneration. No one is entitled to more than consumers of their efforts are willing to pay them. To say otherwise—to say that others must be forced by government to pay more than they voluntarily would—is to violate those others’ rights to act on their own judgement.

But notice the one occupation that doesn’t belong on that list: The inclusion of stay-at-home parents in this list is particularly egregious. A paying job implies the provision of an economic value to others, for which payment is received (earned). Doing a job in which he or she is the beneficiary of the service of his own work is not a paying job, precisely because others are not beneficiaries. If stay-at-home parents deserve a monetary payment coerced from others, then why shouldn’t I be similarly paid for cutting my grass, painting my living room, or replacing a faucet in my own bathroom (I am a plumber by trade)? Ingoglia advocates double-dipping. At least those other occupations involve services provide to others. Ingoglia goes a step further—the right to be paid for providing no benefit to others. (It’s also an invitation to government to dictate how we raise our children, which is probably why Ingoglia includes parenting, but not grass-cutting, painting, or plumbing in that list. He who pays the piper, calls the tune.)

Economic “rights” are a means to expanded government power, and nothing else. Political rights restrict government power. We must remember the difference.

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