Rights do not burden others

by | Aug 20, 2007 | Capitol Review, Notes

When we consider drastically altering our expectations of government, we risk undermining the principles on which our country was founded and proving Ronald Reagan’s maxim: "Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction."

Every expansion of government entitlements masquerading as rights — like a "right to health care" — is a dangerous step along this path, no matter how well-intentioned.

The Founders of our country lived more than two centuries ago in a vastly different era, but they understood that certain principles are timeless, such as the corruptibility of human nature and the danger of unrestrained power.

They risked their lives, fortunes and sacred honor because their government was smothering them with taxes, regulations and bureaucrats — not because it failed to provide health care, welfare or education.  They risked future, family, reputation and possessions because they were denied the opportunity to pursue happiness on their own terms.

In the Declaration of Independence, these visionaries unanimously agreed to the "self-evident" truth that freedom comes from a source higher than the state and assures everyone of the right to pursue life, liberty and happiness.  They further agreed that the legitimate purpose of government is "to secure these rights."

Perhaps it’s unfortunate that they didn’t substitute "freedoms" for "rights," but in their day, the two terms were synonymous.  The idea that the people could impose their demands on government — rather than vice versa — was incomprehensible.  This concept of rights leaves no room for entitlements that benefit some at the expense of others.

Authentic rights can be enjoyed without permission from anyone else.  Freedom of speech or religion or the right to keep and bear arms impose no cost on others or government.  Only when competing rights collide must one freedom yield.  In these circumstances, the Founders concluded that the proper balance ought to be drawn by the people whom government serves.

However, there is no right to be free from annoyance or irritation.  That the mere exercise of our rights bothers someone else is an inevitable consequence of freedom.

Freedom also demands that we refrain from interfering in others’ enjoyment of their inalienable rights.  Freedom encompasses not simply the opportunity to make choices but the responsibility for those choices.  Just because one choice seems wiser or safer doesn’t justify using the force of government to require everyone to make the same choice.  Likewise, government shouldn’t protect those who make irresponsible choices from the consequences of their actions or, worse yet, make someone else bear the cost.

Entitlements, on the other hand, always impose a cost and always interfere with someone else’s fundamental freedoms.  Transfer payments — like welfare, Social Security and farm subsidies — couldn’t occur if government didn’t have the power to confiscate our property or assets if we refused to pay taxes, even for causes we would not support voluntarily.

No society has achieved nirvana — with or without government.  Yet, history is replete with the empty promises of politicians — many of whom evolved into dictators – who suggested that a little less freedom would lead to equality and prosperity.

Conversely, history has but one example of a country founded on individual freedom.  Despite its shortcomings and injustices, America remains a beacon to oppressed people around the world.

In his day, Reagan saw the horrors of Nazism and Communism and realized how fragile our freedom could be:  "It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for (our children) to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free."

Our vision for the future should emulate the Founders of that freedom — not the empty promises and repressive systems that so many around the world are dying to escape.


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