Glenn Beck is invaluable in highlighting the constitutional underpinnings of the republic violated by almost every law enacted by both parties. However Beck’s discussion is generally incomplete (along the lines highlighted in the article “Life, Liberty, and PROPERTY,” where I also readily conceded that “The man exudes goodness and has a visceral feel for freedom”).
If you look at the victories and failures of the civil rights movement and its litigation strategy in the court. I think where it succeeded was to invest formal rights in previously dispossessed people, so that now I would have the right to vote. I would now be able to sit at the lunch counter and order as long as I could pay for it I’d be o.k. But, the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth, and of more basic issues such as political and economic justice in society. To that extent, as radical as I think people try to characterize the Warren Court, it wasn’t that radical. It didn’t break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution, at least as its been interpreted and Warren Court interpreted in the same way, that generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties. Says what the states can’t do to you. Says what the Federal government can’t do to you, but doesn’t say what the Federal government or State government must do on your behalf, and that hasn’t shifted and one of the, I think, tragedies of the civil rights movement was, um, because the civil rights movement became so court focused I think there was a tendency to lose track of the political and community organizing and activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalition of powers through which you bring about redistributive change. In some ways we still suffer from that.
I’m not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts. You know, the institution just isn’t structured that way.
To the president’s telling complaint vis-a-vis the Constitution being deficient in its articulation of negative liberties only, Glenn has retorted as follows: “That’s the way the founders designed it, because they saw what governments do when they are allowed to do stuff for you.”
I’m afraid that’s not quite it. Articulated by the Founders, in the philosophy of classical liberalism and natural law, negative liberties are the only authentic rights. Glenn must articulate more than a utilitarian perspective, which doesn’t do justice to the profundity of America’s Founding Fathers. Glenn is welcome to use the following explanation from “CRADLE OF CORRUPTION,” in my book (buy it), with attribution, of course:
“The only rights of man are the rights to life, liberty, and property. These rights exist irrespective of governments. Rights always give rise to binding obligations. In the case of natural rights, the duty is merely a duty to refrain from doing. My right to life means you must refrain from killing me. My right to liberty means you cannot enslave me. My right to property means you should not take what is mine, or stop me from taking the necessary action for my survival, so long as I, in turn, heed the same strictures.”
“If to exercise a right a person must violate someone’s life, liberty and property, then the exercised right is not a right, but a violation thereof. Because my right to acquire property doesn’t diminish your right to the same liberty, this right is known as a negative right. Negative rights are real or natural rights because they don’t conscript me in the fulfillment of your needs and desires, and vise versa. They merely impel both of us to keep our mitts to ourselves.” [“CRADLE OF CORRUPTION”]
You see, positive liberties are rejected outright in natural law, unless undertaken voluntarily. So, dear Mr. Beck, the reason the Constitution is by-and-large a charter of negative liberties, as the president put it, is because positive, state-minted rights violate the individual’s negative (real) rights.
The Great Glenn in action:
Update (Dec. 18): Sitting in for Glenn, Judge Andrew Napolitano delivers a superb explication of the natural-rights doctrine, joined by Joe Salerno, whose lectures at the Mises Institute I greatly enjoyed, and John Tamny of RealClearMarkets.com. What a shame the Wall Street Journal’s statist extraordinaire, Stuart Varney, now tenured at Fox Business, gets to TALK over the Three Wise Men. I’ve had enough of the Stephen Moores and Stuart Varneys of the world, wrong for decades, yet able to keep lucrative careers going, as they pepper their verbiage with the occasional, non-committal, crudely stated truths (“government needs to be throttled”).
Allow freedom and reality to be heard for a change. Expunge the snake-oil merchants from forums friendly to freedom.
Readers, please send me the YouTube clip of this round table, which should be up very shortly (after all, YouTube is not yet run by the state).