03 April 2010

Ortega and Granting Inalienable Material Rights

While considering the current legislative road America is travelling down, and indeed has been travelling down for some time, I happened to begin reading Jose Ortega y Gasset’s The Revolt of the Masses. While he was writing about the early twentieth century, I have found myself underlining a number of passages which make the leap from that century to this. Not surprising, as human nature – regardless of what some would have us believe – does not change from one century to the next, only the guise of its interaction with the world around it.

So, with regard to the current expansion of enumerated “rights” in the United States, I highlighted the following from Ortega:
“The world is a civilised one, its inhabitant is not: he does not see the civilisation of the world around him, but he uses it as if it were a natural force. The new man wants his motor-car, and enjoys it, but he believes that it is the spontaneous fruit of an Edenic tree.”
It would seem that our “new man” (as Ortega might refer to him) wants what is his due, what he is told are his material rights, and cares not where they come from, who id demonized to get them, or what may be wrecked so as to sustain them. The short-term Eden of material rights, like those found in health care insurance reform or forgiveness from home and student loans, are to be his. It is as if life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were not the only inalienable rights; along with them would be health, home, food (as long as it is government approved), and risk-free life as his birthright. Where these expanded, inflated rights come from are of little concern to him, and the cost of their maintenance never occurs to him.

But what is even more worrisome to me about this is that our “new man” is that he seems to not question, let alone lose sleep over, under whose authority these new rights come from. And in his not doing so loses understanding of where his true inalienable rights, as delineated in the Declaration of Independence, actually come from. Thus, if government is in the business of handing out new rights, it may be accepted by the unquestioning “new man” that it was government which granted inalienable rights as well. Or perhaps worse, he begins to consider new material rights as inalienable. And worse still by extension, that man confers inalienable rights upon man. Consequently, man himself becomes the highest authority, supplanting God, that which is truly greater than to which appeal can be made and which is simultaneously immutable by vacillating impulses.

Rank material benefits, government-granted largesse to the electorate, must be removed from our civilization in order for it to survive. While I may be mocked by some for using such a phrase, I do not doubt that it is appropriate, because when citizens buy into the idea that they deserve a set course of life and that such can be provided for by government, then government becomes men explicitly directing the lives of other men. Individual freedom – and the responsibility which comes with it – is sacrificed for individual security. The arrangement becomes, in short, an agreed upon servitude whose wages are thought to be the safe, care-free living of the one in servitude as provided for by the power of the state, the government. It is an utopian vision which, like all utopian visions, will end tragically. Thankfully, it appears that perhaps half of the American electorate is questioning the utopia being sold by big government types. One hopes that enough of the electorate – and those who they elect in the next two cycles – have the fortitude to back away from the utopian vision.

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