Negative rights are the most important basis of a free society. These are specific restrictions on what the government can and cannot simply legislate away on arbitrary whims of politicians and brief flare-ups of fear and emotion.
The written constitution; to ensure that each particular fundamental right is a part of the fundamental law of society.
The right to freedom of speech; the government cannot imprison you for saying something that disagrees with the President, Congress, or even every single citizen of a given society.
Private property; that the government cannot take your property based on their ideas of what is good for society.
Self-defense; a tenet of natural law that enables a given person to defend themselves and others against unlawful use of force.
Criminal procedure; to ensure that governments cannot expedite prosecutions for political purposes and that one’s privacy and right to live may not be violated under the guise of “security.”
These are just a few of the essential negative rights in a society. But, not every society has them. Furthermore, even societies that believe they are free do not have them, and hence are really not free at all.
This begins with the slow, but sure deterioration of responsibility in a given society. Responsibility is the fundamental law for the basic rights of a free society; because a society cannot be free unless there is responsibility to maintain said rights.
One of the most efficient ways of reducing responsibility is excess wealth and luxury. Take for instance the United States, the most prosperous nation the world has ever known. In years prior to this prosperity, hard work and responsibility reigned. The fruit of such virtues is prosperity. However, prosperity without continuation of responsibility leads to forfeiture of negative rights for positive rights.
The cry for positive rights stems from the underlying attitude of entitlement typical of a wealthy and irresponsible society. This was embodied perfectly in (go figure) President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s State of the Union Address to Congress on January 11, 1944. Roosevelt believed that the federal government should have the power to ensure certain rights to the people, positive rights.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.
Among these are:
- The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;
- The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
- The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
- The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
- The right of every family to a decent home;
- The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
- The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
- The right to a good education.
These may sound well and good, but the implications of such power is never considered when such positive rights are proposed. In short, what this enumeration of rights to the people means is an extensive state with nearly unlimited powers to provide for such rights. Limited government, and the essential negative rights of a free society cannot coexist with a society of positive rights.
The entire idea of positive rights is a deeply flawed, Utopian, Keynesian notion that economic problems can be rid of from society, and even worse that the government can solve any of them better than a laissez-faire approach.
Let’s look at the first tenet of FDR’s Second Bill of Rights. In order to achieve “a useful and remunerative job,” economic policies will have to be put into place to guide the economy towards certain goals; in essence central planning that is at the core of tyrannical regimes.
Central planning and freedom cannot coexist, as they are mutually exclusive. Can you call yourself free in any sense if the government is attempting to guide the economy so it may be able to choose a vocation for you? Most certainly not!
The error of this logic lies in the fact that government guidance will always reflect the ideology of those guiding the economy, not facts about economics and the natural flow of a prosperous economy.
A breakdown of the following tenets is not a topic that can be exhaustively covered in an article series such as this. However, the reader should, by now, be able to see the reason why a delegation of positive rights from the government is completely incompatible with the essentials of a free society.
Let’s take a look at the recent case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, in which the defendant objected to 4 out of 20 forms of birth control and contraceptives due to religious beliefs. They already offered 16 0f 20 forms required by the Affordable Care Act; they simply objected to 4 forms that are medically know to be abortion inducing drugs. Well the entitled leftists of American society didn’t see that as an excuse, and the Secretary of Health and Human Services sued so that every form of birth control would be offered by the coercive force of the government.
This case should never have come up, but Americans have allowed themselves to believe that positive rights are really the meaning of being free, and that having murder drugs is more important the religious conscience. But enough of that, because the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby (thankfully) and slowed the war on religious conscience. Nonetheless, cries still came for Hobby Lobby and others’ religious conscience to be violated so they might be provided their “rights.”
If the government has the ability to dictate to a citizenry what it’s rights are, then that society’s citizens will have lost their sovereignty. The people’s responsibilities will have been forfeited to the government under the guise of security, and a sense of entitlement.
This concludes the series “The Rights of Society.” I hope you have enjoyed my brief examination of the essential rights of a free society, and the even briefer disassembly of the notion of positive rights. If you have further questions about positive or negative rights, please leave them in the comments section below!