You are a modern liberal
… and you don’t believe in natural rights.
Ok … let’s ask some questions which may even seem silly at first, but which, in the asking, will clear away some of the unhappy vagueness we tend to live with out of social politeness or the fear of seeming too radical.
Do you have, let’s say, a right to breathe? If so, where does this “right” come from? An act of Congress?
Do you have a right to be served by others? If so;
Do they have a right to be served by you? If so;
Do they have a right to serve themselves by not serving you?
The questions are too general or abstract or silly or provocative you say? And anyway, it all depends, you say? Alright then, “it all depends”.
In hopes of making some kind of progress, let’s wave away any of the question begging “balancing of rights” or “cultural context” distractions into which you would like segue, and try to press forward instead.
To continue on a slightly different tack.
Do you (yeah you personally) let’s say, have a right to speak freely? If the answer is “yes”, is that “right” merely a contingent legal permission – be it constitutional, statutory, whatever – which you for the time being enjoy? Can you equally well be deprived of that permission in a way which would leave you with no rational cause for complaint to someone else? If you cannot so be deprived without a rational cause for complaint to someone else, do you then claim a more basic right to that express right? If so, how, or upon what, is that claim grounded?
You are a modern liberal; and, let’s say for the sake of argument, that I am not.
And you’re determined that you are not going to “fall for” any of the questions I have asked. A “right” you insist and will boldly maintain, is nothing more than an arbitrarily recognized social permission – that tolerance or support which others are habituated or intimidated into conceding to you. Usually written down if it is to mean anything.
You then as a modern liberal, consistently and without exception or proviso do assert and affirm that the concept of “rights” really renders down to what are in essence, no more than social permissions; having no other objective grounding or reality.
So now, let’s say that you the modern liberal, and I the not-modern-liberal find ourselves on an island. One with no law books.
I’m stronger that you are and … Yeah, yeah, trust me, I am. And, and anyway as I was about to say, although there is enough for both of us to survive, if I kill you now, I can live more than just comfortably. Besides, I find your weakness and whiny-ness annoying.
If I do kill you, have I done anything objectively wrong? If so what is it, and how do you know? Have I thereby, on this law book free island, deprived you of anything that could be called “rights”? Is my killing of you, “unjust” in any sense, even though no judicial writ runs here? If so, then how so; and, how do you know?
Have you any reason to complain over an injustice in my act? Notice I said “reason”; and notice that your utility to me is not an issue here. How would all this be balanced out under a social permission theory of rights?
Well now, I don’t really expect you as a liberal to answer these questions, or to take them seriously, or even to grant that the framing of the speculations is something you would abide or tolerate.
Because of course, these questions are not really meant to change a liberal mind regarding the nature and status of rights by means of pointing out just how incoherent the liberal use of the term rights is, when the term is used in the sense conceived of, and conceded by, liberals.
I know this because I have wasted many hours attempting to get modern-liberals to explain themselves: and their strategy has been, without exception, to either refuse to do so, or to shelter behind the terminology of a moral worldview which they in fact reject.
You liberals, high-minded or low, already know all this too. You know, explicitly or implicitly that you are are spouting clandestinely self-serving rhetoric not reason, and emoting, not deducing, when you speak of “rights”.
So what’s the point?
The point is that: what this exercise is really meant to do is to remind non-liberals that, in the final analysis, modern liberals are motivated by a simple will to power and/or by urges which they themselves don’t care to justify or explore too deeply.
This is a fact of social life which non-liberals need to face, and of which they need to steadily keep reminding themselves.
Liberals are able not only to readily face this view of themselves, they ultimately embrace it; and when pushed to the wall, they will even proclaim it. They see it – entropy, inherent meaninglessness, and ultimate nothingness – as a state of affairs which grants them freedom from ultimate consequences. Insofar of course, as there is a coherent “they” to them, and insofar as “freedom” has any any meaning, insofar as consequences have any significance, and insofar, insofar, insofar …
So, isn’t it about time that conservatives become brave enough to face what it is that liberals are blithely admitting about themselves as liberals?
Its only prudent, after all.