Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"Rights Talk" Incites, But Doesn't Solve

One of my favorite political columnists, George Will, in his Sunday Oct 11 2009 column "Anger Management Hits a Hump," raises a good point, one you've no doubt run into when you get in an ideological argument with someone.
"If our vocabulary is composed exclusively of references to rights, aka entitlements, we are condemned to endless jostling among elbow-throwing individuals irritably determined to protect, or enlarge, the boundaries of their rights. Among such people, all political discourse tends to be distilled into what Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School calls 'rights talk.'

"Witness the inability of people nowadays to recommend this or that health-care policy as merely wise or just. Each proposal must be invested with the dignity of a right. And since not all proposals are compatible, you have not merely differences of opinion, but apocalyptic clashes of rights.

"Rights talk is inherently aggressive, even imperial; it tends towards moral inflation and militates against accommodation. Rights talkers, with their inner monologues of pre-emptive resentments, work themselves into a simmering state of annoyed vigilance against any limits on their willfuness. To rights talkers, life -- always and everywhere -- is unbearably congested with insufferable people impertinently rights talking, and behaving, the way you and I of course have a real right to....

"Can't liberals play nicely together? Not, evidently, when they are bristling, like furious porcupines, with spiky rights that demand respect because the right-bearers' dignity is implicated in them."

The example Will gives involves his observation of liberals, especially in federal government, but experience tells us that rights talk (sometimes in the form of self-righteousness) infects most of the rest of us too, conservative, libertarian, and decline-to-state alike.

No comments: