The Defunct Foundations Of The Republic

Ilana Mercer, January 1, 2010

In the course of the agonizing debates over the soon-to-be-merged Senate and House healthcare Bills, Republicans cried out for partisanship, griped about procedure, and said next to nothing about principles, an accusation that cannot be directed at the Democrats.

“Health care in America ought to be a right, not a privilege,” thundered Senator Christopher J. Dodd. The Democrat from Connecticut was expressing sentiments that are par for the course in Democrat discourse.

Nancy Pelosi’s core beliefs vis-à-vis conscripting individuals into buying (or providing) a commodity at the pains of punishment came across loud and quirky. When the House passed its hulking health-care legislation, the Speaker was asked where in the Constitution is the warrant for individual health mandates. Pelosi’s response was for posterity. “Are you serious?” she shot back.

No, Democrats are not in the habit of hiding how they feel about the US Constitution. As much as he dislikes the philosophical foundations of the republic, the president seems to know ─ and prattle ─ about them more so than do the Republicans. Here’s Senator Barack Obama talking about the document Republicans discount and Democrats deem dated:

… as radical as I think people try to characterize the Warren Court, it wasn’t that radical. It didn’t break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution … generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties. Says what the states can’t do to you. Says what the Federal government can’t do to you, but doesn’t say what the Federal government or State government must do on your behalf, and that hasn’t shifted and one of the, I think, tragedies of the civil rights movement was, um, because the civil rights movement became so court-focused I think there was a tendency to lose track of the political and community organizing and activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalition of powers through which you bring about redistributive change. In some ways we still suffer from that. I’m not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts. You know, the institution just isn’t structured that way.

The president recognizes ─ and rejects ─ “the Constitution as a charter of negative liberties.” Because of the obstacles the Constitution poses to “redistributive justice,” community organizing à la Obama aims at achieving extra-constitutional change.

“That’s the way the founders designed it, because they saw what governments do when they are allowed to do stuff for you,” responded Glenn Beck, who regularly storms the ramparts of the progressive Demopublican regime.

Not quite. The Constitution is not a culmination of the wisdom of the ages, but an instantiation of the natural law. By the dictates of immutably just law, arrived at through reason (or revelation), negative liberties are the only authentic rights to which man can lay claim. LIFE, LIBERTY, AND PROPERTY: These are the sole rights of man. Congress doesn’t grant them; they exist irrespective of government.

One’s life, liberty and the products of one’s labor were not intended to be up for grabs by grubby, greedy majorities. The position that the law is always just because it was arrived at through majority vote is a species of legal positivism. Contra classical natural law theory, legal positivism equates justice with the law of the state. However, from the fact that most Americans want others to fund or subsidize their healthcare, it does not follow that they have such a right.

A need is not a right.

Rights always give rise to binding obligations. In the case of natural rights, the duty is merely a mitts-off duty. My right to life means you must not murder me. My right to liberty means you dare not enslave me. My right to property means you ought to refrain from taking what’s mine. And you have no right to stop me from taking the necessary acquisitive action for my survival, so long as I, in turn, heed the same restrictions.

If in exercising a “right” one transgresses against another’s life, liberty and property ─ then the exercised right is no right, but a violation thereof. Because my right to acquire property doesn’t diminish your right to do the same, the right of private property is a negative right. Negative rights are real or natural liberties because they don’t conscript me in the fulfillment of your needs and desires, and vise versa.

The reason the Constitution is by-and-large a charter of negative liberties, as the president put it, is because state-manufactured rights violate the individual’s real rights. Unless undertaken voluntarily, positive liberties are rejected outright in natural law. Now, many would argue that making some supply others with work, water, clothes, food, education and medical care will increase overall liberty in society. THAT WON’T WASH. Liberty is not an aggregate social project. Every individual has rights. And rights give rise to obligations between all men, including those who are in power. That men band in a collective called “government” doesn’t give them license to violate rights.

To their credit, Democrats speak candidly of their disdain for natural rights and the foundations of the republic; Republicans speak of them not at all.

January 1

CATEGORIES: Barack Obama, Constitution, Democrats, Founding Fathers, Individual rights, Natural Law & Justice, Natural rights, Republicans