“Those are my constitutional rights”, is a statement I often hear when discussing the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution of the United States – most often in discussions of the First and Second Amendments.
Every American, whether natural born or naturalized, has God given rights as defined in the Declaration of Independence – the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Those are your rights. Government was created by the consent of the governed solely to protect those rights, to prevent anything, including itself, from trampling on those.
The Bill of Rights did not “give” us anything – because government cannot be the grantor, only the guarantor, of true rights. The Bill of Rights sets forth what the government may NOT do in relationship to the rights bestowed upon a free people by God.
Many of the Founders opposed the inclusion of a Bill of Rights in the Constitution, and with good reason. They argued there was no way to enumerate every right in a free society and if such a listing were attempted, eventually government would try to transgress upon and compromise any right NOT listed by saying “only the listed rights exist”.
America was created as a monument to individual freedom – freedom means being able to do what we want as long as the rights of another individual are not compromised. It is also why there is a constant battle between government and individual. No matter your political ideology, the spectrum always runs between individual freedom on one end and government control on the other. Most often, government uses the guise of “solving” some sort of problem (whether real or imagined) to encroach on those rights and increase their power.
In 1917, H.L. Mencken accurately described the problem with such a concept. He wrote:
“Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem neat, plausible, and wrong.”
Progressives tend to prefer unsolvable “problems” because those are the ones they can fund and “work on” in perpetuity – never fearing being judged on a result. Wrong answers are accepted as a type of progress – a “Well, at least we tried” flavor.
A salient example is found in the words of the progressive icon, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
In his Annual Message to Congress (State of the Union Address) on January 6, 1941, Franklin Roosevelt presented his reasons for American involvement in WWII. This speech eventually came to be known as the “Four Freedoms Speech”. In it he outlined for “freedoms” that were the basis for protecting Britain (and the western world) from the encroaching tyranny – these were the 1) freedom of speech, 2) the freedom of worship, 3) the freedom from want, and 4) the freedom from fear.
FDR masterfully combined two constitutionally enumerated rights, freedom of speech and worship, with two “rights” that were not constitutionally expressed and are impossible to define or obtain – the freedom from want and from fear. These also illustrate the progressives desire to create “positive” liberties instead of the negative ones defined in the Constitution. With freedom of worship (religion) and speech – the Constitution states government power is constrained, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”
Freedom from fear and want are positive “rights” not enumerated in the Constitution. Government must act in some way for these to exist, even temporarily.
Since freedom from fear and want are undefinable conditions at a macro level, government uses those and other similar undefinable conditions to exert their power to “solve” problems for the “good of the collective”. Government attempts to “equalize” liberty by restricting it for one group while allowing special liberty to others. In doing so, the very lack of harmony, happiness, and unity they claim to seek is created, defeating the attempt to solve anything – often making it worse.
This action of picking winners and losers, pitting individual against individual and group against group, guarantees both economic and societal conflict in a so-called “progressive” world. Any ideology adopting this perspective is NOT a stabilizing force – quite the contrary. When “solving” a collective problem means that individuals must be subjected to coercive actions with which they oppose, conflict is assured.
There can only be peace when the individual experiences the freedom to define and resolve his own challenges and is not restricted or disadvantaged by an arbitrary entity.
In that the individual has the true power over himself reveals the difference between conservatives and progressives. It lies in two words – “from” and “of”.
Where modern conservatism is about “freedom of”, as in freedom of opportunity, of self-determination, of liberty; progressivism is about “freedom from “, as in freedom from economic risk, from political risk and from social risk. The former requires minimal regulation and control, the latter requires maximum regulation and control. Where classical liberals (modern conservatives) wish everyone to experience life to its fullest and on their own terms, modern progressives want to use government control to “protect” everybody from life.
It may not be perfect, but since the world is filled with truly unresolvable problems, it is the best opportunity we have to address those problems and remain free.