On the Other Hand...

by Jim Davies

Right Rights, and Wrong Rights


Like the monkey with its fist in the cookie jar, just about everyone taking part in the school industry - parents, students, teachers, taxpayers - are dissatisfied with it except for one factor: it appears to be "free" of charge. That one attribute is something of which few if any of those participants will let go, and until they do, no worthwhile reform of education is possible.

The myth that "everyone has a right to an education" is a drug so powerful that one of our candidates for Governor can accuse another of being soft on it, and score a major point; anyone who doesn't believe that is, he implies, not to be taken seriously. It's a kind of shibboleth, a test of sanity.

Fortunately, readers of "On the Other Hand..." can be expected to examine ideas on their merits, rather than on their current popularity; and so may not send me off to an asylum quite that quickly if I question that conventional wisdom.

What's a Right Anyway?

It's a pity that two separate ideas are covered, in the English language, by the same word. No wonder we get confused.

If we look at the "rights" mentioned in the Consititution, we see how wise were our Founding Fathers: every one of them describes the right to be left alone, in one respect or another, and so places no obligation on anyone else to take any kind of action; merely to abstain from taking action, to do nothing.

The right to free speech obliges nobody to do even so much as listen - merely not to stop the speaker speaking. The right to private religion obliges nobody to take part in any - merely to leave alone those who want to practice their arguably bizarre beliefs. The right not to be searched without a warrant obliges government agents only to do nothing, unless properly authorized by an independent jury. And so on, down the list; the only exception might be the right to a jury trial, which seems to imply an obligation upon somebody to serve on the jury. However, it does not say anybody has to be compelled to so serve; the Founders perhaps assumed that there would be an ample pool of volunteers. In a free society, I think they would be right.

So we notice: REAL rights, such as those listed, are ours naturally, by virtue of being human beings, and place no corresponding obligations on anyone else at all, except to leave us in peace. So also the fundamental rights to life, liberty and the pursuit (though not the achievement) of happiness.

Today, though, the same word - "rights" - has come to be used to describe a whole raft of supposed entitlements that DO place massive obligations on other people, notably to pay for them. Now, you can call those what you will, but I wish you would not call them "rights", because that means we'd have rights to each others' property, and then none of us would have any rights to anything.

We could spend a lot of time and space checking off the horribly long list of these pseudo-rights that infest our society - the right to a job (obliging someone to employ us against his will?!) instead of the natural right to OFFER one's labor - the right to free health care (obliging doctors and nurses to become slaves?!) and so on. Some of these awful ideas are still in the proposal stage, many are already implemented. But today, we haven't the space.

The Right to Learn

Whereas all true rights are ours at birth, by virtue of our being human, the pseudo-rights are all enacted or "granted" by government. That's the big difference. And we can see how false the latter are as soon as we notice that fact; for we have to ask of anything the government "grants", where it got it from in the first place.

The fact is, it's far beyond the power of politicians to grant the "right" to a free education, for no possible collection of Pols could ever afford the cost of providing one. When they pretend to do it, they're acting ultra vires. What they are actually doing is to grant one group of people a "right", and simultaneously burden another group of people with an obligation. Utterly different from what the Founders were doing, when they listed our real rights. As even Gerald Ford recognized, "A government big enough to give you everything you want, is big enough to take everything you have."

By nature, all of us have the right to learn - that's part of being human. Not even government schools can take that away from us, though they seem to try hard enough. But none of us have the right to be taught, for that would oblige someone to teach us, whether they want to or not; it would enslave teachers, and then what becomes of their own "right to... liberty?"

The pseudo-right to an education necessarily calls down an obligation, today, on someone else. Few teachers would work without pay, so the obligation is spread around the whole of society, instead of being concentrated on that one group. Instead of requisitioning 100% of the labor of all teachers, so as to grant this pseudo-right, government requisitions a smaller percentage of everybody's money so as to pay each of the teachers a salary.

So instead of one small group being fully enslaved, 100% of us are enslaved a little bit. And then of course the next "right" is granted, and the next, and when you add up all the corresponding obligations we find ourselves all enslaved not by a "little bit" but to the extent of 45% of everything we earn. The whole of American society, today, is 45% enslaved. Fact!

Unpopular though this opinion is, in my view slavery is disgusting. This particular style of slavery is best called Collectivist, or Socialist. When Wayne King accuses Merrill of being soft on the pseudo-right to an education, King is being a Socialist. And when Steve Merrill rejects the charge, he too is being a Socialist. Welcome to United Socialist America.

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