Written by Daniel Greenfield
The birth control battle is another reminder that entitlements and freedoms do not coexist well, even if we set aside the economic issues, because entitlements end up intruding into the spaces of freedoms. As the United States undergoes the process that replaces the negative right to be left alone with the positive right to be taken care of in every way possible, these conflicts will only worsen.
Americans are getting a taste of life in Europe where social benefits trump individual freedoms, where artificial rights to various government administered benefits and subsidies, along with the protection of national values and social harmony, serve to eliminate most of what Americans have traditionally considered freedom.
While negative rights create safe spaces from outside intervention, positive rights offer a privilege that is overseen by the government. Positive rights are inevitably concerned with social welfare and harmony. They offer universal benefits at the cost of individual liberties.
Every negative right has a mirror image positive right. Freedom of speech meets its evil twin in the right not to be offended by bigotry. Freedom of religion has its evil twin in the imposition of a state religion. Property rights have their evil twin in wealth redistribution and this right is the wellspring of most of the social problems of the state.
The decay of the educational system has created a state of affairs where many can no longer distinguish between the statements, "Everyone has the right to speak their mind" and "Everyone has the right to a home." The inability to make that distinction marks the death of a free society as the former expresses a freedom relative to the state, the latter expresses an obligation on each person to the state.
When people can no longer tell the difference between the right to be left alone and the right to pay for someone else's home, the firewall between freedom and tyranny has successfully broken down. And the most effective way to devalue freedom is by presenting something more seductive in its place, a system that will take care of your needs, that will balance some remaining freedoms with a necessary amount of intrusion that will maximize the collective benefits and harmony of all.
This balance of negative and positive rights is unsustainable, because each new positive rights diminishes the existing negative rights until there are hardly any negative rights left. Each new gift from the government carries with it an invisible price tag in dollars and cents, and in freedoms lost. This loss is often intangible. Like casinos and whorehouses, the progressive way of government is built on befuddling the people so that they don't notice what they are losing.
Positive rights are presented as social obligations, and social obligations are the source of most of the oppressive legislation that exists anywhere. The society is a vague unit which is not represented by a plebiscite, but by the values attributed to it by an elite. It blurs the line between government and the individual by transforming the individual into a collective entity with collective needs and obligations.
Social obligations are often expressed in terms of values. Values are generally code for an emotional appeal to a position that cannot be rationally defended. The values discussed are never individual values, but the collective values of an intangible society as expressed by its cultural and political leaders.
Authentic social obligations and values are not expressed through the state, but through organizations, including religious groups, that reflect those values. A country can and will have groups whose values are in conflict, which is why the universalization and collectivization of values amounts to the creation of a state religion.
Amish values differ from Catholic values which differ from Mormon values which differ from Methodist values which differ from the values of Orthodox Jews, Baptists, Unitarians, Atheists and the whole host of different religious and irreligious value systems that fill the nation. While many of these groups can and do agree on some major points, they don't agree on others, and even when they do, they often differ on the details.
The Catholic Church is strongly in favor of health care for all, it does not however agree on the nature of what health care is with value systems to the left of it. The current controversy is a clash of value systems. Such a clash is easily resolved in a system built around negative rights that leaves all the parties free not to enter into agreements or obligations that they don't want to enter into. However in a system based on positive rights, a clash of values ends with the government compelling one side to abandon its values.
Such clashes are inevitable and so are their conclusions under a system of positive rights. The more positive rights there are, the more clashes develop. And the more they happen, the government begins functioning as a state church enforcing its own values on everyone.
This phenomenon is familiar enough to Europeans where "The Values of the Republic" often replaced the state church and took on an equally sacred meaning. In Israel, Democratic values is often used to mean the same thing, which is particularly confusing as the values involved are never those which have the support of a plurality of the country. In the United States, the progressive Trojan horse way has been to use "American Values" to mean the same thing.
American Values, as used by the progressives to endorse everything from gay marriage to illegal immigration, exists entirely apart from actual Americans who are lectured on the need to do one thing or another in the name of those values. And when there is a conflict between the Constitution and the construct of American Values, then the Values win out over the law. The progressives have done their best to cloak their transformation of the country as a clash between reactionary positions and American Values. Each of their victories is a triumph for the America that they wish to create.
When the state becomes the source of national values, rather than those values residing in religious or other ethical organizations that seek to act out their beliefs in the public space, then the country has taken a significant step toward fascism. The collectivization of values also represents the militarization of a people's beliefs. Such militarization can be found in Muslim theocracies or in any system where allegiance to the nation requires adopting and acting out the values of the state.
The birth control mandate is an example of the collectivization of national values, and the value that every person should have access to subsidized birth control trumps the religious values of major religions. Similar conflicts occur in every arena where progressives create a positive right that conflicts with religious values. The positive right not to be discriminated against conflicts with the negative right of freedom of religion when it comes to gay ceremonies taking place on the property of a church or synagogue.
As the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association found out when it denied the use of their property to two women looking to get married, was sued and lost the case. As the verdict put it, "As to "free exercise," the LAD is a neutral law of general application designed to uncover and eradicate discrimination: it is not focused on or hostile to religion." But that is the genius of positive rights, they do not have to focus on a thing to be hostile to it, so long as the imposition of its guiding virtue is incompatible with the beliefs and values of anyone else.
The decision went on to say: "I do not believe that the facts pose a true question of religious freedom, but were they go, the matter would not be governed by the high bar of "strict scrutiny", but by a much lower standard that tolerates some intrusion into religious freedom to balance other important societal goals." And that is the progressive tyranny of positive rights in a nutshell which tolerates some intrusion into freedoms for the sake of tolerance and other societal goals.
Similarly for the sake of societal goals, we must tolerate some intrusion into our income, into what we may and may not say, into what we must buy, where we must live and how we must arrange our lives until no safe spaces for freedom actually exist. Only a massive iron wall of positive rights that locks us inside our societal obligations to phantom values that are determined for us by progressive activist groups and the functionaries of the state.
Where does it end? It never does. Values are absolute, they represent ideals and ideals can never be met. To enforce values is to conduct an endless war against all that stands in your way. The wars on bigotry, poverty, greed, bad habits and all the other grave societal ills can never be won. Those wars lead into ancillary conflicts against people who want to hold on to their beliefs and their money, against boys who play with toy guns, the overeaters, smokers and jokers, the cranks who tilt at windmills, economic sharks who take advantage of any situation, and the whole endless list of enemies of the state who stand in the way of its societal goals.
The unwavering pursuit of ideals ends up destroying the very ideal being pursued. Trying to give everyone a home may have damaged home ownership, particularly among the poor and minority groups, for a generation to come. Fighting bigotry has created bigotry and in some cases even turned it into a matter of state policy, as is the case with affirmative action. But that is why the pursuit of ideals by the state are dangerous. A government has too much power and too little flexibility to pursue goals which involve the touchstones of human nature.
When positive and negative rights collide, freedom is the first casualty, and the second casualty is the positive right which over time cannot survive the pressures of the self-destruction of the system that imposes it. Negative rights which require state inaction can be sustained so long as the state does not become too powerful. Positive rights can only be sustained so long as the money and power holds up. Their fate is thoroughly tied to the fate of the system. When the state that enforces them weakens, so do they.
Negative rights put their trust in people. Positive rights put their trust in the state. All states fall sooner or later. Only the people survive.
From NY to Jerusalem, Daniel Greenfield Covers the Stories Behind the News