Monday, July 23, 2012

Rights, guns and health care...

One variation on a theme, spotted ricocheting around various social media outlets:
There is something wrong with a constitution that guarantees your right to a gun, but not your right to health care.
That depends entirely upon what one believes the purpose of a constitution to be.

The first problem with that statement is one of definition. The people issuing this lament are taking advantage of a conflation of terms, using the word "right" in two different ways. The "right to a gun" that the Constitution guarantees, and which they do not support, is a restriction on Government action, a "negative" right. The "right to health care" that they wish the Constitution did support, is a call for Government action, the institution of an affirmative or positive right. If the Constitution said the same thing about health care that it says about guns, that would not be good enough. A health care amendment that paralleled the 2nd amendment would read something like this
A healthy populace being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to seek and obtain health care services shall not be infringed.
Which brings us to the second problem with that lament.  There's a reason that the Constitution does not forbid the Government from infringing on the right to seek and obtain health care, and that's because there was no need for it to do so. The framers of the Constitution had no concern that the government would infringe on liberty, and move towards despotism, by taking away people's doctor visits and hospitals. They had good reason to be concerned that a government would infringe on liberty, and descend towards despotism, by taking away people's guns, or taking away the right to freely assemble and criticize the government, or taking away the right to trial by jury, or by instituting excessive bails, or by performing unreasonable searches and seizures. All of those things are explicitly called out as limitations on the power of the Government. None of those are "affirmative" rights, requiring the Government to act - they are all "natural" or "negative" rights, defining the relationship of the Government and the Governed, and enumerating rights which the Governed are presumed to hold naturally, and which the Government must not violate.

If that "health care amendment" I included above were all that the supporters of a "right to health care" meant, then I would agree with their position, because it's self-evidently a legitimate negative right. But that's not what they mean, that's not what they want, and so I do not agree with them. They do not want a "negative" right to health care, in which the Government is enjoined from infringing on that right. They want a social contract that includes an affirmative right to health care, that the Government is required to provide.  That is to say, they wish to assert an obligation on the part of their fellow citizens to provide health care for them.  More than that, many of them believe that such a right is self-evidently an unadulterated good, so much so that those of us who think that such a "right" would lead to worsening the human condition rather than improving it, must be "greedy" and bad people.

And so, as with so many issues, it is almost impossible to have a discussion on the issue.  Those on the left have already made up their minds that the people opposing them are bad, so what they've got to say is irrelevant.  After all, who cares what bad people have to say?  It's the same thing that happens with abortion, and affirmative action, and gay marriage.  Once you've decided that your opponents are misogynists or racists or homophobes, well, obviously it doesn't matter what their arguments are...

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