There are a myriad things I could write about this morning – you should see my “Future Columns” folder – but one has risen above (below?) the rest to evoke a balled-fist tirade from my underappreciated main computer.
So you’re unhappy with the Supreme Court justices who turned back the clock on environmental protection, abortion, school prayer and guns? You’re angry because they’re ideologues with a reactionary agenda, flexing their muscles to eliminate rights, weaken government and endanger the planet?
Me too. They’re reprehensible.
Any doubt about Mr. Goldberg’s political leanings, or his opinion of American individualism? Then let’s proceed:
But let’s be honest: The problem isn’t just with the justices. The problem, or at least a substantial portion of it, lies with the U.S. Constitution itself.
Yes, the hallowed Constitution, the document hammered out in 1787 by 55 bewigged men in Philadelphia. Our revered charter that lays out the foundational rules and principles at the heart of the American experiment: freedom of speech and religion, the separation of powers, federalism, bicameralism and all the other checks, balances, rights, promises and innovations that make this nation what it is.
Mr. Goldberg plainly dislikes the Constitution – which, in his words “make[s] this nation what it is.” Therefore, he dislikes the United States of America. But never fear: he has a program for us to follow, so that he’ll like us better. He plainly dislikes the Electoral College, and he’s furious about the Second Amendment, but what’s worst in his opinion is that the Constitution protects the wrong rights:
[C]onstitutional thinking has evolved since 1787. Today, most new constitutions include far more enumerated rights than ours, notes David Law. The right to education, for instance, and to privacy, food, healthcare and housing. Many modern constitutions protect reproductive rights, freedom of movement, the right to unionize and the rights of the disabled.
Today, more than 100 national constitutions include explicit references to environmental rights.
The rights of women are singled out for protection in 90% of today’s constitutions.
These kinds of rights, unmentioned in our Constitution, reflect 21st century issues. No one is concerned today about the quartering of troops or the establishment of well-regulated militias.
The column is replete with lunacies of this sort. However, I’m not here to perform a “fisking.” Rather, I’m here to talk about the damage that’s been done to the concept of rights.
[I]t is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. [George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language”]
Orwell’s essay is one of the most valuable pieces on its subject that I’ve encountered – and my Gentle Readers know how I feel about the English language and its rampant abuse. Clarity in verbal expression is one of my highest priorities. If I sometimes fall short of that standard in my own writing, it’s because I’m fallible, not because I’m insincere about it. And the campaign starts with the accurate use of words – the use of the mot juste, the exact word for each application.
And in our political lexicon, the word that has been most frequently and horribly misused, misapplied a thousand times for every proper application, is our old friend rights.
Either rights exist, or they do not exist. If they exist, they involve absolute consequences…Furthermore, if a right exists, it exists at every moment. It is absolute today, yesterday, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, in summer as in winter, not when it pleases you to declare it in force. – Louis Thiers
Rights involve “absolute consequences.” Absolute! No hedging, negotiating, or mealy-mouthed sophistry. Effective at once, in all places and at all times. This is indeed the heart of the question.
Rights are also uniform over Mankind. We all possess them equally. Equality of rights is the only kind of equality Man can honestly claim. But that demands of us that our rights be defined exactly, to the greatest degree of precision the human mind can achieve.
Nicholas Goldberg either fails to understand this or refuses to admit it. That’s how he can warble to his readers about “rights” to food, housing, healthcare, education, and privacy. He proposes to imbue certain persons with the legal power to command others to provide those things, at no cost to the beneficiaries. Why not? They’re “rights,” after all – and rights are absolute!
But soft! What demand for clarity through yon window breaks? It is the East, and Fran Porretto is shining a million-candlepower flashlight into Nicholas Goldberg’s eyes. Can you be more specific, Mr. Goldberg?
- How much food, and how often? Of what kinds? Does the recipient get to specify these things according to his tastes?
- What sort of housing? How many square feet per person, and with what amenities? Must it come with free heat, water, and electricity?
- How much healthcare? Who decides what constitutes healthcare, and what amount of it shall be allotted to each recipient? Are there any conditions that would abrogate that “right?” Terminal illness, perhaps?
- Education? In what? And who decides to how much education, and what variety thereof, any of us are entitled?
- “Privacy!” This is the ultimate laugher. If all the preceding “rights” be recognized and enforced, then no one may have any privacy whatsoever. For we must all be monitored to ensure that no one’s exercise of his “rights” impedes anyone else’s exercise of his “rights!”
This is the sort of morass that comes from the slovenly, often venally grasping language of the Left, with its million-and-one demands for “rights.” It inherently divides Mankind into masters and slaves: those demanding their “rights” from others, and the others, who are slaves de facto to the satisfaction of those demands.
This is what passes for political thought and expression in our time.
Give to every other human being every right that you claim for yourself – that is my doctrine. – Thomas Paine
The yammerheads of the Left, forever trumpeting their ludicrous “rights,” are only possible because some will listen to them and parrot their demands. Given how fatuous their notions are, how do they persuade anyone to treat with them seriously? The Goldberg column provides a case study:
- He denounces the Constitution, his main target, as the product of a group of old men more than two centuries ago. It’s old, therefore it’s obsolete!
- He introduces the “complex modern society” gambit, as if complexity were itself a rationale for discarding a structure founded on enduring ideas.
- We get the “too inflexible” and “insufficiently democratic” canards next, as if “flexible” and “democratic” were absolute values that must be pursued at the expense of all else.
- Then comes the “antiquated and dangerous” dismissal of the right to keep and bear arms.
- And of course, “constitutional thinking has evolved!” What’s new must be superior to what’s old, right? A 21st century Constitution must “reflect 21st century issues!”
I could go on, but I think the point has been made.
There is a single criterion for determining whether a claim qualifies as a right. It’s simple and unambiguous, which is part of why statists of all stripes despise it:
If the answer is no, then the claim is a claim of privilege, rather than a right. As all of Goldberg’s “rights” require that some be enslaved so that others may receive what they demand, all of them fail the test. Their instantiation would unmake the idea at the foundation of our Republic: that the individual is the possessor of all defensible rights, that they are absolute, and that they exist in all places and at all times. He may not morally be compelled to serve others’ claims of “rights” that would violate his own most precious right: the right to be left alone.
If you’ve been reading Liberty’s Torch for any length of time, you know how I feel about slavery. If not:
“You killed an unarmed woman. I watched you do it. She was a victim too, Trish. I was trying to come up with a way to spare her life. You didn’t give me the chance.”
Her face flamed red. “You’re damned right I didn’t,” she said. “She was a slaver. The price of her security was lifelong bondage for her pupils. She worked with a thug who looked like he outweighed you and me put together. Would you like to talk about what he did to drive her lessons home?”
“There’s no mercy for that kind of scum, Lar. When I find them, they die. Armed or unarmed. Male or female. Standing, sitting, lying down, or on their knees pleading their little hearts out, they die. Period fucking dot.”
She took the remote from his hand and stabbed the action button. Even from more than a mile away, the dull whoosh as the thermite charges erupted into flame was faintly audible.
“She convicted herself out of her own mouth,” she said. “Part of the reason I came with you was so I’d be there to do what I did, if you turned out to be too soft to do it. Don’t you ever get between me and one of them. Don’t you dare.” She tossed the remote onto the floor at her feet, folded her arms across her chest, and stared straight forward. “Now start the fucking truck and get us home.”
He did as he was told.
Now you do. I trust Nicholas Goldberg knows, as well. It’s time to get belligerent about it.