Rationing a Shortage of Positivist Civil Rights

Those on the left who believe in positive rights but not negative liberties have always confounded me when they claim universalism. Now, I believe in universal human rights, locally (and, ideally, civilly) enforced. But if you believe everyone has a right to health care or education, then your conception of rights is limited to the amount of wealth, the practical possibility of distributing benefits equally, etc., which is why socialist states treat people so unequally—or, at best, everyone is equally miserable.

One interesting area where the contradiction occurs is immigration. Lefties think there’s only so much social justice to go around, and yet everyone has a right to it. But even they often don’t believe the US should let everyone from the world into America and give them all a free lunch. It would simply be impossible, they realize. Yet, if everyone is entitled to freedom from hunger and sickness by some ethical axiom, some moral irreducible, wouldn’t it follow that everyone in the world, regardless of national origin, would have the same claim? The only alternative, within positivist socialism, to international socialism, is nationalist socialism. And, in practice, most lefties are nativists when pressed, believing that Americans deserve a grab bag of welfarist goodies that should be doled out not on the basis of humanity alone, but with national considerations in mind.

Thus do we see a gay activist complaining that the illegal immigrants are having their Civil Rights given to them before homosexual American citizens. Ponder these interesting lines of argument, all based on the unspoken premise that postivist Civil Rights must be rationed out, which hints at the implied admission that they cannot be universalist, human rights, but are rather ones created wholly by the state:

“With several versions of various bills being debated in Washington and hundreds of staged protests around the country both supporting and against extending citizenship and other rights to millions of illegal immigrants, America has forgotten that there are legal, taxpaying, and voting citizens in America who don’t yet have all of their rights. . . .

“It’s a slap in the face to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people to take up the debate on whether to give people who are in this country illegally additional rights when we haven’t even given the people who are here legally all of their rights.

“If we’re going to hold 24-hour Senate sessions using taxpayers’ dollars, let those sessions be used to come up with a comprehensive plan that allows America’s same-gender-loving stakeholders to have the opportunity to have the right to make decisions on a partner’s behalf in a medical emergency or the right to receive family-related Social Security benefits.

“While I agree that immigration reform is an important issue—and perhaps it could become the next leading civil rights movement—we haven’t even finished with our current civil rights movement. . . .

“Immigration reform needs to get in line behind the LGBT civil rights movement, which has not yet realized all of its goals.

“Which is not to say that I don’t recognize the plight of illegal immigrants. I do. But I didn’t break the law to come into this country. This country broke the law by not recognizing and bestowing upon me my full rights as a citizen. . . .

“With all due respect, Mr. President, there can be no guest worker program until we resolve the issue of making sure that all lesbian and gay legal workers have the right to take up to 12 weeks of leave from work to care for a seriously ill partner or parent of a partner and the right to purchase continued health coverage for a domestic partner after the loss of a job.”

As a libertarian, I find it most interesting to see the lefties struggle among themselves when they realize that, given their conception of Civil Rights, there really is only so much justice, as they define it, to go around, and so some minorities and official victims have to be viewed as more equal than others. Only property rights can be universally recognized, and not be contigent on central provision and rationing. Only negative rights guarantee true legal equality. Only libertarianism treats people as people, rather than deepening class problems by entrenching them with state power.

This originally appeared on the Stress Blog and LewRockwell.com. Copyright © Anthony Gregory 2006. Creative Commons License 2.0.

Anthony Gregory is a former Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and author of the Independent books American Surveillance and The Power of Habeas Corpus in America.
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