Advocates of the Democrats’ socialized medicine program often speak of the “right” to health care, or more specifically the right to affordable health care or health insurance. This notion of rights bestowed by government is one of the basic tenets of modern liberalism, which is the mirror image of classical liberalism. It is a foundation that should be attacked by the defenders of liberty at every opportunity, because if one concedes this principle, the remaining logic of “soft” tyranny becomes inexorable. This is an argument that conservatives must never grow weary of having, because there will never come a day when it’s unnecessary to make it.
The Left became preoccupied with “positive rights” over the last century. The edifice of socialism is built on the idea that people who lack the necessities of life are not truly “free.” What good is the freedom of speech to someone weak from hunger? What use is the right of free association, when you’re dying of a contagious disease? If you accept the proposition that freedom from want is a pre-requisite for enjoying all other forms of freedom, the modern liberal world-view becomes much easier to understand. It should also be easy to understand why those who believe themselves deprived of those basic necessities would find this an appealing argument.
These “positive rights” are not a precursor to the rights described in the American Constitution. The whole concept is implacably hostile to the Constitution. The “right” to food, health care, a job, or the other staples of the socialist menu can only exist in the absence of individual rights. Most fundamentally, the State can only provide benefits to some by violating the property rights of others. This crucial concept of progressive taxation on individual income is based on the idea that the State has a moral right to confiscate and re-distribute resources, which transcends any individual citizen’s right to his own property.
Having conceded the supremacy of the State’s needs over the rights of the individual in this area, we find ourselves endlessly fighting over just how much of his property the individual has an absolute right to retain… and the only logical answer is “none.” There is no ethical reason why a government that taxes some people’s income at 35% cannot tax it at 70%, 90%, or higher, to meet the needs of those in the lower tax brackets. We have also established the precedent that those “needs” are infinitely flexible – there are no iron-clad rules that prevent the State from deciding that access to the Internet, mass transportation, food, or housing are “rights” that it has a duty to provide.
These are deep and troubled philosophical waters for a population that has largely been content to sit quietly while a socialist government mutates into a command economy. The rank-and-file liberal just thinks government should take care of the needy, and rich people should pay for it, because the people in those top tax brackets have gained so many benefits from the system, and they can afford to pay more. Dick Gephardt’s famous quote, “Those who have prospered and profited from life’s lottery have a moral obligation to share their good fortune,” wraps a great deal of sinister intent and unforeseen consequence in the needlepoint of good intentions and democratic guilt.
We should be clear that we’re far past the point of “taking care of the needy.” If the sole objectives of the federal government were national security and providing charity for the truly indigent, it would be a fraction of its current size. We could provide health-care benefits to those who truly cannot afford or receive coverage for a relatively modest cost, since this group is far smaller than the figures Democrats like to use when they frighten voters into supporting their plans. We certainly don’t have to spend trillions of deficit dollars we don’t have, and shred what remains of our Constitution by nationalizing the medical insurance industry, and eventually medicine itself.
In an atmosphere of perpetual crisis, in which the central government is portrayed as the only possible savior, its dependents always become starving orphans, and Uncle Sam is always dressed in a nun’s habit. The public desperately needs to outgrow this nonsense. You don’t need nine trillion dollars in deficit spending to feed the poor. This fantastically generous nation casts three hundred billion votes in favor of charity every year, with every dollar its people freely donate. To suggest that lethal government force is required to ensure compassion for the destitute is an insult to every one of those voluntary donors.
The Left uses the language of charity to disguise the ugly reality of entitlements, which are taken by force. No one can be fairly said to have a “right” to the labor or property of another, because this requires the rights of one person to be suspended in favor of another. To be truly universal, a “right” can only be understood as a restriction on the government. The Bill of Rights is a list of things the government cannot do, or forbid its citizens to do. Your freedom of speech exists because the government is prevented from silencing you, not because anyone else is obliged to listen to you.
The genius of the Constitution is the way it begins by acknowledging the existence of rights that transcend the government. These rights are inherent – they existed before you were old enough to acknowledge the authority of the government, and the government is compelled to respect them. It’s equally important to understand that these rights are individual. They do not depend on your membership in any group. It’s easy to agree with this idea, but much harder to fully understand it. Our forefathers studied it in a cathedral built from the bodies of a million dead soldiers, clad in blue and gray. Today, we float on a sea of news reports about “crises,” and are easily lured away from our studies by talk of “making people pay their fair share” and “guaranteeing equality.”
The difference between liberty and anarchy is the understanding that every right comes with an equally significant responsibility. Your right to free speech does not entitle you to speak in ways that directly compromise the rights of others, such as the infamous “shouting fire in a crowded theater” example. Your right to bear arms is not a license to shoot everyone who displeases you. The only creatures on Earth who have rights in the absence of responsibility are children. That’s why socialism always reduces its dependents to infancy. The only way to obtain a benefit like health insurance, without respecting the rights of those who don’t want to give up their existing coverage – or those who earn their livelihood by providing it – is to demand it, with the scream of a needy child. Socialism always turns ugly, as the screams of competing dependents turn blood-curdling, and the State manages scarce resources by deciding whose rights to violate first.
This may all seem very basic, and of limited relevance in an era when the United States government has already become the largest consumer, borrower, and employer in the world. I believe in the importance of making these basic arguments, because too much of the public has come to accept situations that should be unacceptable. Look at how much time and money we could have saved, if we had the maturity to accept that nothing resembling a Constitutional republic has any business talking about seizing tax money to fund the takeover of a private industry, no matter how many people loudly proclaim their “right” to a deep discount for its products.