Monday, 18 January 2010

She who entangles men*

Via the lovely Bella we have the gibberings of Cass Sunstein.

"What is unreasonable and, in fact, preposterous is the all-too-familiar conservative rhetoric that flatly opposes individual liberty to the government power to tax and spend. You cannot be for rights and against government because rights are meaningless unless enforced by government."

What is Cass saying here? Well firstly, he claims a large proportion of US conservatives would like to, or at least claim to want to, see the government destroyed in it's entirety in order to preserve liberty.

If only, bonkers idea as it may be it would be wonderful to have such pressure in that direction, the phrase "Beacon of Liberty" springs to mind from this side of the Atlantic. Sadly, this is not the case, conservatives in the US seem to want a great deal of government in their lives albeit for different purposes and possibly slightly less of it than the left.

Secondly he makes a classic lefty logical fallacy:

A is bad, B purports to solve A, therefore if you do not support B then you must want A and be evil.

Guess where you'll be come the revolution? Eh comrade!

Applying that to Cass' statement; the loss of rights is bad, (note the crossover from liberty to rights as if these were exactly equivalent), government purports to protect these rights, therefore you must support the government.

You'll notice there is no consideration that there could be any other support for liberty than "THE GOVERNMENT" and when it comes to Cass that's no great shock:

"Most rights are funded by taxes, not by fees. This is why the overused distinction between "negative" and "positive" rights makes little sense. Rights to private property, freedom of speech, immunity from police abuse, contractual liberty, free exercise of religion--just as much as rights to Social Security, Medicare and food stamps--are taxpayer-funded and government-managed social services designed to improve collective and individual well-being."

This failure to see the difference between positive and negative rights leads inexorably to Cass' warped conclusion on the necessity and extent required of government power. Negative rights, liberties as they are otherwise known, requires very little of government. A minarchist state could comfortably guarantee them, indeed that is the point of having such a state. Positive rights, aka large demands on other's resources backed up by force, require more government. Not as much as we currently have but mission creep and bureaucratic empire building will tend to cause very large government.

However, could it be that Cass has got his central point right? Is the distinction we make between positive and negative rights mere sophistry, (what do you mean "mere"? Ed), given that even negative rights seem to work better with some governmental structure? Well, let's hear from Cass once more:

"What can government do about conspiracy theories? Among the things it can do, what should it do? We can readily imagine a series of possible responses. (1) Government might ban conspiracy theorizing. (2) Government might impose some kind of tax, financial or otherwise, on those who disseminate such theories. (3) Government might itself engage in counterspeech, marshaling arguments to discredit conspiracy
theories. (4) Government might formally hire credible private parties to engage in counter speech. (5) Government might engage in informal communication with such parties, encouraging them to help. Each instrument has a distinctive set of potential effects, or costs and benefits, and each will have a place under imaginable conditions."

Gosh, what a stunning shock this is. Cass is advocating the interference with negative rights by, surprise surprise, the government, the very body that he believes is the only protection for those rights. This is the problem with powerful government, the problem with any massive accumulation of power; power tends to corrupt. The government's motivation is to look after those who are part of the government before and above anyone else and if it decides to trample your liberties beneath it's sandalled feet then there is very little to stop it from doing so.

Here then is our distinction, only government can enforce positive rights, only the people can prevent that same government from destroying liberty.

*If you thought the title was odd it's because Cass is a girl's name, derived from Kassandra the meaning of which is the title.

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