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What's Wrong With The First One?

Does Barack Obama agree with Marcy Kaptur that we need a Second Bill of Rights?

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D. Toledo) whipped the crowd up before Mr. Obama took the stage yesterday telling them that America needed a Second Bill of Rights guaranteeing all Americans a job, health care, homes, an education, and a fair playing field for business and farmers.

Sure he does. He already said in a debate that we all have a "right" to health care. No, I don't think that I, or anyone, has a "right" to stuff that requires taking from others. This is Eurosocialism.


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Jardinero1 wrote:

The correct term is "positive right". It denotes a "right" which would not exist without the enforcement action of the state. Most socialist enterprises are about "positive rights".

Negative rights, also referred to as natural rights, are rights that one can enforce on one's own... most of the time. These include but are not limited to self defense, worship, speech, life, liberty. I say most of the time, because negative rights can be hampered by others asserting a positive right or by the state acting on its own, according to its own prerogatives.

Leland wrote:

I think he does. As David Bernstein points out here, Obama is "not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts." As the discussion continues, Obama's point is that changes in governance via judicial activism is unstable. All it takes to undue the judicial activism is other judicial activism or change in law. What I get out of Bernstein's explanation is that Obama believes heavily in following the Constitutional tools provided to him for making change. So I expect Obama to make his change, but do so via legislation or amendment.

Perhaps we should be happy the Democrats are not likely to get 2/3rd majorities.

K wrote:

A guaranteed job, health care, 3 squares. Those are "prison rights". The same "rights" one gets in a well run prison.

Carl Pham wrote:

I think you're wrong, J, and furthemore indulging in an abuse of English.

Firstly, even what you call a "negative right" can only be guaranteed by the majority in any meaningful sense. Your "right" to free speech means nothing at all unless it's guaranteed by the majority against any collection of your neighbors larger and more powerful than you, but less so than the entire majority. The "rights" you can enforce on your very own are nonexistent, inasmuch as one stronger man, or a few men of any capability and strength, can deprive you of their enjoyment at any time.

Secondly, the word "right" implies something absolute, something which cannot be overriden for any purpose whatsoever, something than which there are no higher goals. A right to free speech, for example, is only a "right" because it is yours even if you exercise it obnoxiously, e.g. by agitating for a return to slavery or Jim Crow, for a fascist government, in support of Nigerian bank frauds or Nancy Pelosi's re-election, or to stir up trouble by bullshitting and misleading others (so long as you don't cross certain narrow lines of criminal fraud).

That is, no social goal can be considered of higher value than your rights. We cannot muzzle you, in order to make the Republic a more peaceful place. We cannot enslave you, in order to make the Republic a more prosperous place, or even to save the life of another and more worthy citizen. And so forth.

By contrast what you call a "positive right" by definition is subsidiary to social goals. Obviously we cannot guarantee everyone an unlimited "right" to good health if, say, it means guaranteeing every man a donor when he needs a heart transplant. Either we must severely compromise the "right" when some other social goal (or a genuine right of another) interferes, or else -- and, indeed, this is how it usually ends up in the socialist utopia -- we guarantee these "rights" to only a select few, those who are "more equal than others."

Thus to speak of a "positive right" is an abortion of English, insmuch as such things can't be "rights," and the attempt to paste the word on what is really meant is usually an attempt to mislead people into thinking that, somehow, everyone can be above average, that everyone can be rich without working, and that, in short, by reconstructing society in some clever way the Second Law of Thermodynamics and TANSTAAFL can be overcome.

MG wrote:

Hear, Hear!

Carl has it nailed. Positive "rights" aren't.

They may be properly called "entitlements" (as a result of being a person in a certain category), "priveleges", or "benefits".

But the use of "rights" in such a way is a pox on the body politic, and on classically liberal culture.

But Senator Obama is just using the terms he has learned at the feet of his Chicago political machine fixers.

Jardinero1 wrote:

Positive and negative rights are well defined and understood in political science and philosophy circles. I wasn't trying to point out anything new; just defining terms.

Carl is right, positive rights aren't rights in the classical, rights of man, sense. They exist only by the enforcement action of the state. The whole liberal agenda is a positive rights agenda. The problem with any positive right, is that it impinges upon our negative rights since they require taxation, government action or regulation to enforce.

Avi wrote:

What is the difference between health care and free speech, if you live in a society (not the USA) where group A would suppress the speech of group B without a large expenditure of judicial, police, and even military resources to keep speech free?

Even in the United States, don't people have the saying "Freedom isn't free"? Paying taxes for judges, the police, and the militiary makes people have less money and paying taxes for health care makes people have less money, so what's the difference between positive and negative rights?

Carl Pham wrote:

Positive and negative rights are well defined and understood in political science and philosophy circles.

I'm aware of that. But the fact that people have made deceptive and self-contradictory definitions of terms does not imply that the rest of us must, or should, accept them. I for one would certainly resist referring to a program of genocide as a "final solution," no matter that it was the officially accepted and widely-understood polite-company synonym, vetted by any number of professors and ministers of government.

I wasn't trying to point out anything new; just defining terms.

Fair enough. But words are important, and all too often we think what we say, rather than vice-versa. I think the defenders of individual liberty have been much too complacent over the past half century in allowing the insectoid collectivists to redefine the language of political discourse. That's what has brought us to the ludicrous point where Mr. Obama can, with a straight face, call massive public charity programs a "tax cut."

In short, by allowing our ideological opponents to define the terms of debate -- to define what it means to be "progressive" or a "feminist" or in favor of "fair taxation" or in favor of the "right to choose" or just in favor of "rights" in general -- we have needlessly hobbled ourselves. It's time, and well past time, to insist that square-bottomed digging implements be called spades, and not some other damn thing. It's time to bury narcissist postmodernist shitheads who suggest we debate the meaning of the word "is."

Carl Pham wrote:

so what's the difference between positive and negative rights?

We can guarantee the "negative" rights of every man, without exception. "Positive rights" can only be guaranteed to a minority.

The "negative" rights are the mainstay of individual liberty, your bogus "positive rights" are the path to enslavement.

To enforce "negative" rights we must defend the weak against the strong. To enforce bogus "positive rights" the strong exploit the weak.

"Negative" rights celebrate and encourage our individuality and diversity. Bogus "positive rights" demand our sameness, our ability to be smoothly-functioning cogs in a giant insect society.

"Negative" rights are the treasure of the freedom-loving individual. "Positive rights" are the hope of the slave, lacking any self-respect, who will sell his liberty for a guaranteed daily crust of bread.

Give me a little longer, I'm sure I can think of more, and probably many other people can, too.

Avi wrote:

Babies have rights. Are they negative or positive?

Jeff Medcalf wrote:

Babies have no rights. Babies are not moral actors, because they cannot be responsible for the results of their actions. Only moral actors can have rights; it's part of the differentiation between rights and privileges.

Babies have a duty owed them by the parents, which is essentially a property right in the parents' labor (their time, more or less) and property, a duty owed by implicit contract as a consequence of the parents' exercise of their rights, which exercise formed the baby in the first place.

The term "negative rights" was not initially meant to distinguish Natural Rights from "positive rights" (a later term). "Negative rights" means that the state has a negative obligation, an obligation to not do a thing. It was a descriptive, not a proscriptive, term. Carl is correct that "positive rights" is a hijacking of the language. A claim of rights trumps a claim of privilege, so the attempt was to escalate privilege claims into rights claims. "Civil rights" is another such attempt.

Perhaps if you would care to assert a particular right held by a particular party, we could discuss more specifically. You might try reading an old post of mine, if you have the time, which goes into the foundation of Natural Rights in some depth. Fran Porretto also has an old post laying out the different conceptions of government that arise from the realization of constraints, which goes into some depth about the consequences to governance of different models of rights. ("Positive rights" correspond to the utilitarian model, and "negative rights" to the natural-rights theory model.)

Jardinero1 wrote:

Another way to think of negative rights is they do not require force, coercion to exist.

Free speech is not the result of coercion. The right to bear arms is not the result of coercion. Real property rights are not the result of coercion. Each of these rights can and do occur historically in the absence of an positive or coercive force. The loss of these rights is the results of someone asserting a positive right. Censorship in the case of speech. State regulation for the right to bear arms. Taxation, regulation or eminent domain in the case of real property.

I think the readers are hung up on the term "negative". It's not a slur. It is used to connote a lack of force or coercion. In the olden days they were referred to as natural rights. I guess you can refer to positive rights as unnatural rights, if that would make you happy.

Avi wrote:

Spelling it out: Abandoned babies have the right to shelter, food, life itself. They have the right to be brought up and educated and given a chance at a decent life. That requires resources from the community. Do abandoned babies have a natural right to these resources? Are a baby's rights negative ("natural") or positive ("unnatural")?

Avi wrote:

If rights only apply to moral actors, consider an attractive unaccompanied woman on a dangerous street. Protecting her sometimes requires coercing bad men to leave the woman in peace. That protection requires resources. Imagine she has no money - she can not pay for such protection. She has a natural right to life and liberty and maybe even the pursuit of happiness. Does she have a right to the resources that can protect her life and her liberty and maybe her ability to pursue happiness?

Rand Simberg wrote:

If rights only apply to moral actors, consider an attractive unaccompanied woman on a dangerous street. Protecting her sometimes requires coercing bad men to leave the woman in peace. That protection requires resources.

That is one of the classical roles of government--to provide security against those who would by force deprive others of the right to live and prosper. It's a different thing than giving them stuff.

Avi wrote:

Why is protecting the woman from bad men different from protecting the woman from germs?

Rand Simberg wrote:

Why is protecting the woman from bad men different from protecting the woman from germs?

It's not.

Do you have some weird delusion that this (non)argument supports national health care for all?

Avi wrote:

I want to understand if there are two kinds of rights. But if germs are like criminals, and if people have the right to protection from criminals, perhaps people have the right to protection from germs. I don't know what kind of right this is but it is health care. I don't know why this is a delusion.

T.L. James wrote:

Umm, "negative" vs. "positive" here is not meant in the normative sense (good vs. bad).

Jeff Medcalf wrote:

You are missing a fundamental point, Avi. The woman in your hypothetical has made a free choice, within her rights, to go to a particular place that is dangerous to her, as you described it. She has the right to protect herself in that place, but has no right to demand that others protect her. We have established a government to protect her, because it's generally better (in the sense of happiness, health and prosperity) for all of us if security from force and fraud is provided by a government than if we always have to do the job ourselves. In other words, she has no right to be protected; we have collectively established a government whose legitimacy derives from protecting her exercise of rights, and such protection is a privilege granted to her and all of us. But you will note that the police have no duty to respond, as has been long established in many court cases.

There are three bases on which government can be established, in terms of the constraints on government actions: absolutist (no constraints on its actions), utilitarian (constrained such that the government must make the case that an action is in the public good), and natural-rights (constrained such that the government is limited to protecting the rights of its citizens against force and fraud, whether internally or externally derived). You are making the utilitarian argument (it would be a public good for people to have health care), but dressing it up as a right (she has a right to be protected from germs). Here's where that falls down: does she have a right to be protected from herself? It's ludicrous on its face, if you understand rights at all, but it is the rights-based argument you'd have to make for her to get rights-based treatment for genetic illnesses like sickle-cell anemia.

There is a reasonable utilitarian case to be made for health care, and given that we have evolved from a rights-based into a utilitarian government, feel free to make the case. In my experience, the reason people dress utilitarian arguments up as rights is to shut off debate. If I have a right to state a fact or an opinion, you have no right to interfere with that (providing I'm not violating your property rights in doing so), and so your only remedy is to speak out against me. If I am granted the privilege of stating an opinion, such as who I support for President, you can on utilitarian grounds prevent me from doing so (see McCain-Feingold as example 1) if you can show a public good arising from preventing me from speaking. So dressing up utilitarian arguments as arguments about rights is basically saying, "and you have no right to disagree, or more to the point, your disagreement is not relevant." The reason that this is so powerful is that it avoids such niggling distractions as having to discuss where the money and labor will come from that provides that "free" health care. It's nice not to have to argue the downside, but I'd prefer if you'd just make the utilitarian case, and let's argue the pro's and con's, rather than trying to claim, in effect, that discussions of the down sides are out of bounds.

By the way, a moral actor simply means that the person is able to comprehend and take responsibility for the consequences of his actions. It seems from your hypothetical that you are confused about that as well.

Leland wrote:

Why is protecting the woman from bad men different from protecting the woman from germs?

Silly argument. The US government has no role in protecting the woman from bad men until the men are proven bad in a court of law. That requires the bad men to first do something to the woman, and then the government has a role. To do otherwise is to deny the rights of the men to be in the same place the woman is allowed to go.

What the US Constitution provides is the right for that woman to protect herself against the men, so long as she can prove they were a threat to her.

A germ? She can kill it anytime she wants. She doesn't need to prove it was a threat to her.

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on October 28, 2008 9:03 AM.

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