There has been much debate this past week over Florida removing Disney’s special tax and governing provisions and as it went on it occurred to me that the concept of “rights” isn’t properly understood in America these days by a lot of people. We know that the Left doesn’t understand the concept at all, but even many on the Right seem to be pretty hazy on the subject. So, let’s take a stab at defining what a right is:
A human right is something that an individual inherently has: to determine if something is yours by right, you must consider whether or not any human being, at least in potential, can think, say or do a thing on their own: if they can, it is almost certainly a right. If thinking, saying or especially doing something requires the cooperation of one or more additional people, it isn’t a right but a privilege.
In our Declaration, we assert that we are endowed by God with these rights. It isn’t necessary to believe in God to hold that rights are inherent, but it is a lot easier if you do. The main thing about it, though, is the assertion that a human being, as such, simply has them. They aren’t granted, they are secured. And that is the crucial thing – because we go on to assert that governments are instituted among men to secure our rights. That’s the only purpose of government: to make sure that everyone’s rights are secured: left up for debate is just how to secure the rights, but that the individual has the rights and government must secure them to be legitimate is a bit of dogma absent which the United States has no reason for existing.
It is also important to remember that rights are individual in nature. They don’t adhere to a group: they adhere to you and me, as people, simply because we are people. There are no black rights or gay rights or women’s rights: there are only human rights and only individual human beings have them.
What has gone very wrong in America over the past century, and especially the last fifty years or so, is the loss of this understanding of human rights, and what our government is supposed to be doing. When a Leftist says that the Constitution doesn’t give you a right to own a machine gun, all he’s doing is talking drivel. Of course it doesn’t give you a right to a machine gun. It doesn’t give you anything. It secures all your rights (or, that is what it is supposed to do). To say it doesn’t specifically authorize machine gun ownership, or their other argument that gun ownership is dependent upon militia membership (with the further assertion that the militia is now the standing Army) is to talk nonsense. The Constitution also doesn’t specifically say I can have a ham sandwich – and I doubt anyone will try to enact common sense ham sandwich control. I have, as a human being, the inherent right to do anything that any individual human being has the potential to do on their own: as long as I’m not required to obtain the consent of another to do a thing, then I get to do it and the only purpose of government is to secure my right to do it.
I can thus own any property that someone wishes to sell me. I can say whatever I want. I can believe whatever I want. I can go in the public domain anywhere I wish. I don’t have to account for my actions to anyone unless I’ve tried to take something from them (ie, their life, their liberty or their property). Most people don’t get this concept: that we are all free agents. We’re not supposed to have to fill out a form. We don’t need permission. To take it to a small level as an example: in most places, every year you have to re-register your car and pay for the privilege of not getting a traffic ticket while driving your property in the public domain. What possible argument can be made that I, as a person, should have to tell the government what I own? Why should I have to pay each year to tell them what I own? I have an inherent right as a person to own a car and that’s the end of it. You might reasonably be able to tell me that I have to keep it on the roads, that I can’t exceed certain speeds as a means to protect the rights of others on the roads…but you don’t need to know if I own a particular car. But we’ve grown so used to this sort of thing that we don’t even see it for the imposition that it is. And because we do things like register cars, the Left says it is reasonable to register our guns. And, hey, please have your child fill out this form telling the government what religion you are and what language is spoken at home. One thing leads to another, doesn’t it?
The Left makes their arguments because they (a) don’t know what a right is and (b) haven’t the foggiest notion of how the United States Constitution and government are supposed to function.
But it also infects the Right. Plenty of voices rose up as Florida removed Disney’s special protections to say that we on the Right are violating Disney’s right to free speech. They are asserting that Disney corporation, in engaging in the debate about sex education in school, was merely exercising its right to free speech and to take away Disney’s tax breaks was unjustly punishing speech. This is an absurdity. Disney is a publicly traded corporation with hundreds of thousands of employees…it is a collective thing and thus has no rights at all. All it has are privileges…and the Florida legislature has decided to revoke some of those privileges. Each Disney employee is, of course, free to say whatever they want – and the employees of Disney are also empowered to range their corporation on any side of the political spectrum they wish. Nobody can make the least move against any individual Disney employee for speaking out…but the collective entity called Disney has no rights and, as it enters the political debate, it is entirely legitimate for their political opponents to use their constitutional powers against the Disney entity. In this case, the power inherent in government to decide what the tax bill is going to be.
These days, we’re so used to asking permission to do things that even many on the Right seem to think that as long as you can go to court and have a judge say you can do a thing, you’re free. But that isn’t how it is supposed to work. It isn’t for me, as an individual, to argue I have a right – it is for those who say I don’t to argue that I don’t have it. Like this: what was wrong in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case was that the owner of the shop had to defend himself. He had to go through a long, tortuous, expensive legal process just to get a judge to say, “hey, turns out he as an individual doesn’t have to bake a cake if he doesn’t want to”. Do you see how utterly ridiculous that is? Who the hell was anyone to think, even for a moment, that they had the right to tell a person they must do anything? Free people can’t be told to do something they don’t want to do. The end. The whole case should have been five minutes:
Plaintiff: Your honor, I want that man to bake me a cake.
Judge: Defendant, do you want to bake the Plaintiff a cake?
Judge: Ok, sorry, Plaintiff, he doesn’t want to do it. Case dismissed. Oh, and Plaintiff: you owe the Defendant his legal costs.
But because we’ve got into this “mother, may I?” attitude, it went on for years. And because it was allowed to go on for years, the people trying to destroy Masterpiece Bakeshop simply tried again and again with different plaintiffs and slightly different arguments. But they all came down to the same absurdity: an assertion that Person A has a right to order Person B to do something. That in this or that circumstance, a person loses their rights as an individual depending on the supposed need of another individual.
We must get back to the understanding of human rights – it will be crucial as we reform America. The old America we grew up in (and especially that, say, our grandparents knew) is gone. We’re at the crossroads where we are going to decide if America will remain free, or become a quasi-Socialist society of Rulers and Ruled. But for us to recreate a free America, then Americans are going to have to re-learn what being free means. They’ll need to re-learn, that is, that we don’t need permission. My grandfather used to make massive business deals on a handshake. There was no contract. There were no lawyers involved. They were free, adult Americans presumed by all concerned to be in full possession of their faculties and so if the deal went belly up they’d all take their lumps and move on. They didn’t need to fill out a government permission form (and the very concept would have amazed them): they saw their opportunity to make money and agreed to give it a try. We must restore that mental attitude – something in the mind which assumes we’re all able to do a thing without permission from anyone save those directly involved.
Because if we don’t, then even our victory over the current Left will be hollow – unless people are imbued with a spirit of liberty, they won’t remain free. They won’t, that is turn from Marx to Madison, but from Marx to Franco. In the end, Franco is still vastly better than Marx…but Madison is better than both, by a long shot.