There is a serious lack of concern for individual rights today. The concept of rights has been distorted to such a degree that the authors of the Constitution would not recognize what is today referred to as a “right.” Demands for unearned wealth, based on needs and desires, are now casually accepted as rights. We see little value placed on the traditional concept of equal rights.
This change in the general attitude regarding rights is the most significant event of the twentieth century. It has literally torn us away from the constitutional guidelines given to us by the Founding Fathers two hundred years ago. The media, the Congress, the courts, and the President reflect the prevailing philosophy of our thought leaders -- especially those in our teaching institutions. Without an understanding of the nature of rights, a solution to today’s political problems is impossible. The gimmicks won’t work, only philosophy works.
People must once again believe that it is in their best interest to support individual rights, just as they now believe it’s in their best interest to vote for those who provide food stamps for the poor, corporate bailouts for the rich, and bankers aid for the powerful.
The purpose of government is now dramatically different than that which the eighteenth century writers of the Constitution intended. Government is now broader in scope and bigger in size with a corresponding reduction in individual liberty. A precise definition of individual rights, strictly adhered to, is required to prevent the continued erosion and complete destruction of our once-free society.
The twentieth century has been characterized by the diminishing importance of the individual and the rising importance of the collective.
Prosperity, a wonderful benefit of a free society that we continue to enjoy, has numbed our senses, hindering the motivation required to understand the relationship of individual rights to productive effort. Accumulation of wealth, and its forceful redistribution through government coercion, preoccupies the special interests that determine which politician will represent us in our legislative bodies. Political clout is now more important than economic freedom for achieving financial success.
Rights, as understood by the authors of the Constitution, are not an issue of current debate. Rights today are seen as collective and not something individual. Just as economic theory has become macro and not micro, groups are now thought to have rights, rather than individuals. The twentieth century has been characterized by the diminishing importance of the individual and the rising importance of the collective. This lack of definition and confusion regarding rights has caused a hodgepodge of court rulings, bizarre legislation, and needless guilt on the part of many.
Today’s Confusion on the Concept of Rights
After two hundred years, the constitutional protection of the right of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is virtually gone.
Today’s current terminology describing rights reflects this sad change. It is commonplace for politicians and those desiring special privileges to refer to: black rights, Hispanic rights, handicap rights, employee rights, student rights, minority rights, women’s rights, gay rights, children’s rights, Asian-American rights, Jewish rights, AIDS victims’ rights, poverty rights, homeless rights, etc.
Until all these terms are dropped and we recognize that only an individual has rights, the solution to the mess in which we find ourselves will not be found. The longer we lack a definition of rights, the worse economic and social problems will become.
Every year new groups organize to demand their “rights.” White people who organize and expect the same attention as other groups are quickly and viciously condemned as dangerous bigots. Hispanic, black, and Jewish caucuses can exist in the U.S. Congress, but not a white caucus, demonstrating the absurdity of this approach for achieving rights for everyone.
The welfare ethic now universally accepted at all government levels determines the concept of rights. No longer are rights individual but they are based on demands, needs, and greed.
When Lee Iaccoca came before the House Banking Committee on which I sat, he made the “right” of Chrysler workers to keep their jobs the issue, not government largesse for a failing corporation. He explained in his autobiography that the issue had to be workers’ needs or he could not obtain the bailout. Since the concept of rights is currently so inexact, he had no difficulty convincing the Congress. The rights of the small businessman who had his credit “stolen” and was forced into bankruptcy due to the Chrysler bailout was not easily identified and thus ignored.
The individual who dares to demand to be left alone and to assume responsibility for himself becomes a criminal.
Careless disregard for liberty allows politicians to promise anything in order to be reelected. Inevitably this leads to a steady increase in spending, forcing higher taxes, more borrowing, and inflation of the money supply.
Government by majority rule has replaced strict protection of the individual from government abuse. Right of property ownership has been replaced with the forced redistribution of wealth and property, without concern for the individual producing the wealth.
Once the dictatorial power of a majority is accepted as legitimate, the days for the Republic are numbered -- which is the case unless current trends are reversed. The individual, throughout this century, has suffered greatly from this dramatic change in attitude. The individual who dares to demand to be left alone and to assume responsibility for himself becomes a criminal. Amish farmers have been arrested for not paying social security taxes, though they sought no aid from the government. Any independence from government welfare programs is deeply frowned upon. Those failing to keep financial records for the IRS are promptly imprisoned.
The good of “society” has replaced the notion that the individual has a sacred right to live unmolested by government interference.
Today it is usual to assume that the government owns all that we produce, and through government generosity we are permitted to retain a certain portion. We routinely hear that if a particular tax is reduced, it will be a “cost” to government. This concept must be changed if the idea of individual liberty is to survive. There is no such thing as cost to government. There is only cost to people. Government cannot grant to us our right to life and liberty, it would mean that government controls all that we produce. Sadly this is essentially the situation in which we find ourselves today.
Government’s intrusive role has grown throughout the twentieth century, while individual responsibility has correspondingly diminished. The expansion of government control over our lives is both a result and cause of individuals’ assuming less responsibility for themselves. Failure today is rarely blamed on the inadequacy of the individual; society and environment are blamed for all our problems. Criminal acts are frequently excused as being the result of “bad breaks.” Justifying welfare on the needs of individuals has been upheld and expanded by the courts.
Careless disregard for individual rights, concern for group demands, and concern for the good of society have led to a steady erosion of privacy. Billions of dollars are spent yearly keeping records for the government.
The people, like lambs, are innocently driven to the slaughter as they conform to all the government regulations and record-keeping--records that frequently are used against them in a court of law.
We all naively and obediently become tax collectors for the government, turning over the loot that the politicians will waste as they further destroy our right to live as we choose.
We keep volumes of financial records solely for the government’s benefit. We accept currency controls with barely a whimper. We allow the FBI and CIA to snoop on everything and everybody, and rarely is the snooping challenged on principle. The only challenge to the secrecy of government action is whether the activity is supported by the right or left.
The Computer Age is now upon us, and this technology could easily eliminate completely the privacy that should be cherished by all freedom-loving individuals. Like nuclear power, computer technology can enhance our standard of living or destroy our freedoms completely. It is just a matter of time until we have a mandatory national I.D. card.
Lie-detector tests and urine and blood tests are now common-place and have been strongly supported by the Reagan Administration -- an administration that championed limited government principles. Today the government sends out planes and helicopters to spy on farmlands and industrial plants, taking pictures while looking for information about drugs and violation of EPA regulations -- regulations which no one clearly understands.
It is inevitable that, once the concept of absolute individual rights is ignored, with each attempt to solve a problem, two new ones replace it. Malcolm Forbes was asked whether his listing in his magazine of the 400 wealthiest Americans would draw the attention of terrorists. His answer was affirmative: “I think the terror most people are concerned with is the IRS.”
Today the lack of understanding and respect for voluntary contracts has totally confused the issue that in a free society an individual can own and control property and run his or her business as he or she chooses. The idea that the social do-gooder can legislate a system which forces industry to pay men and women by comparable worth standards boggles the mind and further destroys our competitiveness in a world economy.
Employee rights are said to be valid when employers pressure employees into sexual activity. Why don’t they quit once the so-called harassment starts? Obviously the morals of the harasser cannot be defended, but how can the harassee escape some responsibility for the problem? Seeking protection under civil rights legislation is hardly acceptable. If force was clearly used, that is another story, but pressure and submission is hardly an example of a violation of one’s employment rights.
The concept of equal pay for equal work is not only an impossible task, it can only be accomplished with the total rejection of the idea of the voluntary contract. By what right does the government assume the power to tell an airline it must hire unattractive women if it does not want to? The idea that a businessman must hire anyone and is prevented from firing anyone for any reason he chooses and in the name of rights is a clear indication that the basic concept of a free society has been lost.
In the name of equal rights, the State of Montana has forced insurance companies to charge women additional premiums to make the fees equal to those charged men, regardless of the economic realities that allow for a lower premium.
Americans today have more people living on the street than ever before, in spite of the hundreds of billions of dollars spent to eradicate poverty. Of course, logic tells us that if you subsidize poverty, you’ll get more of it.
New York City is plagued with thousands of street people. On cold nights this tragedy is more apparent. Mayor Koch’s approach to protecting the “rights” of the street people is to sue hotels which refuse to house the homeless tramps. Another attempt to solve the problem has been to round up and force the vagrants into shelters -- to eliminate the embarrassment of people dying on Wall Street. The American Civil Liberties Union has come to the rescue, saying that “arresting” the homeless against their will violates their rights as citizens -- a reasonable assumption. But the ACLU provides another solution by claiming the poor have “a right to a decent home.” The problem, they state, is the failure of government to provide (or steal) sufficient funds to build enough tenement housing. This confused notion of rights regarding the New York street people clearly demonstrates how poorly the concept of rights is understood America.
Much of the confusion over rights comes from the accepted idea that “compromise” is the most noble trait of today’s politician -- hardly a characteristic of those who signed and defended our Declaration of Independence. It is hardly reassuring that giving in halfway is the most important political act of our twentieth-century politicians. Standing firm on principles is viewed as illogical rigidity and dangerous to America. This idea clearly ignores the fact that philosophy of compromise and acceptance of the philosophy of pragmatism is a rigid philosophy in itself as a compromise between socialism and individual rights. Although many justify interventionism as a compromise between socialism and laissez faire,
interventionism is also a precise philosophy and not a compromise at all. It requires a sacrifice from those who give mere lip service to the Constitution and to the concept of individual rights.
Until it’s respectable once again to champion individual rights and government, we cannot expect to reverse the trend in which we as Americans find ourselves. Tokenism won’t work. Clearly defining the seriousness of the problem and stating what is required to change our direction is absolutely necessary for the survival of freedom in America.
In the infinite wisdom of our twentieth century, courts and legislative bodies have decided that there are two kinds of speech: commercial and Literary. Liberals who envy wealthy businessmen support free speech, but advocate strict control over commercial speech. Conservatives, who defend free commercial speech, carelessly support control over literary speech. Somewhere in the twentieth century, we lost our way with accepting this distinction.
The right of commercial speech and business activity are thought to be something quite different from the right to publish whatever one desires and live a lifestyle of one’s choosing. The liberal has refused censorship of any journalistic production, yet has never applied the same principle to the entrepreneur who produces a commercial product rather than a book. It doesn’t bother conservatives to write laws regulating printed matter of a sexual nature, which they see as offensive and harmful to society. Liberals are unconcerned about their attack on the businessman’s freedom of speech by regulating ads for alcohol, cigarettes, and gambling, as well as controlling the manufacture of consumer products.
Rules of fraud and product liability could surely be applied to consumer goods, just as the rules of libel apply to the written or spoken product. This discrepancy in dealing with commercial and literary speech must someday be resolved if liberty is to be defended consistently.
When selected prosecution occurs, it is a clear signal that the concept of equal rights is no longer honored. Today it is commonplace to select special people and make them examples. It’s the IRS’s public policy to make certain key community citizens examples in order to terrorize the other segment of the population into submitting to the tax authorities.
In spite of the fact that even the IRS can’t agree on the meaning of the massive tax code and the regulations which are frequently never written, the taxpayer is never excused for filing errors.
In a free society, governments are not permitted to break the law for any reason.
Constitutionalists who understand the corrupt nature of our monetary system are likely targets of an aggressive Justice Department, although the litigants are nonaggressive as they practice civil disobedience in seeking favorable court rulings.
Resisters to draft registration have been too numerous to prosecute. The vocal opponents, those who publicly express their views that such registration is unconstitutional, have been singled out as particularly dangerous and prosecuted precisely because they spoke out.
In a free society, governments are not permitted to break the law for any reason. Yet it has become common for legal authorities to entice citizens, through entrapment, into breaking the law. Tempting individuals and officials with bribes or solicitation of prostitution or offering drugs is frequently done. FBI sting operations and Abscam-type operations are accepted procedures for the Justice Department, permitting officers of the law to break the law to get others to do the same.
When U.S. News reporter Daniloff received “secret” papers from Soviet KGB agents in Moscow he was arrested. U.S. officials were outraged at the nasty trick and called it a “set-up.” Yet this is the identical procedure followed by our government against our own citizens.
The New York Times explains editorially the purpose of zoning (November 24, 1986): “Zoning has helped establish the principle that the interests of property owners must yield to those of the public.” Zoning under current law, according to The New York Times, is inadequate, and the public demands that more controls are needed to assure a proper working and living environment. The only problem is, “who is the public” and why are ownership rights subservient to public interest? I’m sure The New York Times editors have a precise idea of who the public is and how its interest is best served, according to their definition, but clearly it clashes with the entire philosophic concept of private property ownership. If the concept of privately owned property’s being used “for the public interest” is not challenged, the ideas of socialism will emerge victorious.
If welfare needs of any segment of society can be granted against the wishes of society’s productive segment, private property ownership will disappear. If property can be confiscated by the arbitrary actions of the state, the individual will also be expected to serve the state on command.
The more authoritarian the government is over the economy, the more authoritarian it will be over the use of young people in forcing them to serve in the military or national youth service to achieve what those in power determine is in the “public good.” In a free society, the individual cannot be forced into serving the state, and the property he owns cannot be confiscated for any reason, even that of a humanitarian nature. The needs of one person cannot be used to justify the victimization of another by robbing him of the fruits of his labor.
Traditionally the family has been the core unit in America, with parents in charge of their children until adulthood. This means they are responsible for their physical well-being, providing proper care and guidance. Permission until recently, to treat a child medically was always granted by the parent, and without proper consent, medical personnel were considered in violation of the parents’ rights if treatment were rendered. Today permission (and frequently the financing) for this treatment is given by the state to the medical profession to treat adolescents. It has gotten to the point where the M.D. is absolutely protected and relieved of any responsibility to the parents. Twelve-year-old children deserve respect, love, and treatment in a nonviolent manner, but parents who raise and are responsible for their children deserve to know what others may be doing to them. Don’t parents deserve at least the same respect regarding their children as others expect regarding their property?
When the state replaces the role of the parent in giving permission for medical treatment, a serious flaw is introduced which is likely to undermine our free society. Since a child is unable to assume responsibility for himself or herself, the only choices are the parents (or legal guardians) or the government. The government, through court rulings or legislation, should never be permitted to perform the role of the parent.
Assuming responsibility for one’s own acts was further undermined by the Texas Supreme Court’s 1986 ruling that a bartender was responsible for the accident which one of his customers caused after leaving the establishment. This is a perfect example of what happens when no one knows what individual rights are! Once this concept is lost, the idea of self-responsibility is lost as well.
Since the Great Depression of the 1930’s, federal laws have curtailed individuals’ rights to work in their own homes. The Founding Fathers, I’m sure, never dreamed this could happen in the United States of America. Union workers prompted this law to prohibit low-cost labor from doing jobs on a piecemeal basis. No wonder the U.S. industry lost out to the low-cost labor markets of Japan, Taiwan, and Korea!
Privacy is one of the most sacred elements of a free society
In 1986, after fifty years, a modification of the law was made. But there was a Computer Age IRS catch. People who wanted to work at home (which many continue to do anyway) could do so if they got a certificate of permission from the Department of Labor. The United States is considered a free country, and yet a permit from the federal government is needed to sew clothes in our own homes. My guess is that this little change was more likely motivated by the desire of the IRS to find out where the activity was, than to take a bold step in the direction of freeing up the labor market.
In America we see excellent private homes for wayward children, more successful than any state-run institution, being closed down by the heavy hand of the government when owners refuse, for religious reasons, to buy state licenses. This is done in the name of protecting the children from harsh treatment. All evidence shows that the religious homes for children are far superior to anything the state has to offer, yet are closed for failure to register with the state. This is more evidence that the state now controls our children, not parents or (non-state-designated) guardians.
Articles appear in medical journals debating whether choosing a physician is a right or a luxury. (It’s a shame that the correct answer is not automatically known by everyone!)
The confusion over rights has caused numerous debates, such as whether women have the right to join men’s clubs. Women obviously have a right to apply for membership in any group they wish, and a club has a similar right to exclude anyone it wishes.
But the great debate goes on. A woman recently sued the Boy Scouts because she claimed she had a right to be scout master. Women may want to be scout masters, but where did they get this “right” to coerce a private organization to change its rules regarding members and leaders?
Privacy is one of the most sacred elements of a free society. It is now common to pass laws which routinely violate the Constitutional guarantee that our homes and persons are not to be invaded by government agents.
When the title of a law incorporates the word “privacy,” in true 1984 “new-speak” fashion, you can be certain it means the opposite. Government secrets are more sacred in today’s society than individual privacy. When government information leaks occur, the FBI is called in to “protect” government secrecy. The CIA, with its independent operations and funding, is a law unto itself, engaging in war activities, conspiracy, and assassination. Oliver North, with a straight face, on national television, magnificently defended the “right” of the government to lie about covert activities. The only resistance lying gets is when policy offends either the conservative or liberal wing of the interventionists.
Victims of the disease AIDS argue, with no qualms of inconsistency about rights, for crash research programs (to be paid for by people who don’t have AIDS), demanding a cure. And it’s done in the name of rights. Victims demand health care as well and scream “discrimination” if insurance companies claim they have a right to refuse to issue a policy to someone already infected with the AIDS virus. The rights of the insurance company owners are not considered, while legislation is passed forcing insurance companies to provide the insurance demanded by the victims. The individual suffering from AIDS certainly a is victim -- frequently a victim of his own lifestyle -- but this same individual victimizes innocent citizens by forcing them to pay for his care. Crash research programs are hardly something, I believe, the Found Fathers intended when they talked about equal rights.
The Supreme Court, in 1987, ruled that persons with contagious diseases are “handicapped” and are entitled to protection under affirmative action rules. If a person is fired because he has AIDS, typhoid fever or hepatitis, he can now pursue his case in court.
Recently an alcoholic who developed cirrhosis of the liver demanded a liver transplant, in the name of “equal rights.” The state welfare program assumed the obligation to provide care for the man, but insisted he quit his alcoholic ways. The man refused, and the state held up on his liver transplant. For this reason he sued the state, demanding his rights.
With confusion regarding rights, the end of constitutionally protected liberty cannot be far off.
Society is filled with competing interests demanding their “rights.” Since no serious attempt has been made to define rights and limit government’s power to masquerade as economic equality in equal rights, the confusion gets worse every year.
This is a serious flaw in today’s political philosophy and, unless the nature of the problem is identified, freedom in America cannot survive. A lack of a precise standards for describing individual rights will destroy the American way of life -- that gift from the Founding Fathers from which we have all benefited.