09 November 2004

Kerry, the Left, and 'rights', Part II

The Left's Article of Faith as a Matter of Public Policy

From my perspective, the left like to pretend that their's is the "intellectual" position. Disagreement with them--being opposed to their position--is, therefore, "anti-intellectual." One of their positions is that articles of faith ought not to be made matters of public policy. Faith, you see, is an irrational endeavor, not subject to proof. And it is precisely because they are not subject to proof that matters of faith cannot be matters of public policy. Public policy must be based on objective footings; matters of faith, being unprovable, are subjective. It is for this reason that the Left are skeptical of (actually, they are down right mean to) people who wish to make policy decisions based on some revealed word of some revealed God. After all, the existence of God has not been proved. Also, it has not been proved that either the Bible or the Koran, or any other candidate, is the word of God. Furthermore, belief in God, a being whose existence has not been proved, is exactly what marks conservatives as irrational. For surely, it is irrational to believe in the existence of something for which there is no proof. Since the Left, in large part, entertain no such belief, they are the intellectuals among us. (Bear in mind that I am talking about the secular Left. I am aware that there are non-theists on the Right; but this is a critique of the Left.)

Ostensibly then, the Left talk as much as they do about rights because they know that rights exist. And of course they know that rights exist because they can prove that rights exist. Think of what would happen to their position on almost any subject if they failed to prove that rights exist. If rights do not exist, then animals would certainly have no rights. You and I would not have a right to health care; and it would be irrelevant that we are the only advanced nation on earth that does not accord health care the status of a right. If rights do not exist, then it would not matter (assuming it's true) that Bush has presided over the largest job loss in our nation's history, because we would have no right to have jobs. If rights do not exist then it would not matter (assuming it's true) that Bush lied about the reasons for going into Iraq, for no one could have a right against him that we not invade Iraq. Surely, given stakes as high as all this, the Left, who assert that matters of faith (i.e., matters that cannot be proven) cannot be matters of public policy, are able to prove that something called 'rights' truly exists!

Color me skeptical of the Left's ability to prove that rights exist. First, if the problem of rights is considered as an empirical problem, it is difficult to see what sort of evidence would count as evidence of the existence of rights. In empirical matters we use a set of known facts to establish other facts which are in question. If we wish to demonstrate that a man commited a murder although no one actually saw him do it, we may present a set of facts which establishes his guilt, a set of facts which justifies our belief in his guilt. What empirical facts could anyone offer which would justify our belief that rights exist, much less that we have them? Let's take the proposition, "Rights exist" and compare it with the proposition, "Crackers exist." Just immediately I can think of one way in which it could be established that crackers exist, assuming that we agree what crackers are. First, we could narrow things quite a bit by stipulating specifically that "Crackers exist in the pantry." We simply open the pantry door and if we see that there are crackers in the pantry, we know that the proposition, "Crackers exist" is true. (Note: If the proposition, "Crackers exist in the pantry" is true then the proposition, "Crakcers exist" is also true.) But I doubt that we are going to able to go anywhere in the universe, open a door and find rights sitting on a shelf. This, we shall probably want to say, is because empiricism is of no help in establishing metaphysical realities.

Second, since empiricism does not help, we could conceive of the problem as a purely rational one. We could attempt a rational proof that the proposition, "Rights exist" is true. The problem is that a rational proof of the proposition, "Rights exist" (which we shall probably have to treat as a theorem) is nothing more than a proof that the proposition is derived by purely logical means from other propositions (which we shall have to treat as either more fundamental theorems or as axioms). The problem is this: if we demonstrate successfully that "Rights exist" is derived logically from certain axioms, that is not going to mean very much since axioms are by definition not provable. In other words, the proof that "Rights exist" rests upon a "foundation" that is itself without foundation: proven propositions rest upon unproven propositions. That is the way of things in logic. (If this is news to you, then my heart goes out to you.)

In response to this, one might wish to claim that axioms, while not provable, are self evident. This only raises the question, What is it for something to be self evident? Some are coming to the opinion that talk of something being self evident tells us more about the person believing the supposedly self evident proposition than it does about the truth of the proposition (see, e.g., Bradley and Swartz, Possible Worlds: An Introduction to Logic and its Philosophy, [Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1979], p. 145). Also, Rudolf Carnap pointed out long ago that, although many do like to conceive of axioms as being in some sense self evident, there is no requirement that they be and many logicians select axioms somewhat arbitrarily (see Carnap, Introduction to Symbolic Logic and its Applications, [Meyer and Wilkinson, tr. New York, NY: Dover, 1958], p. 171). So, while a rational proof will help us to see just what sort of propositions "Rights exist" may be derived from, this proof will not go very far in helping us to prove that rights actually do exist. So, at this point, no proof that rights exist is available.

In response to all this, the Left could argue that rights exist because they are acknowledged by documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the U. S. Constitution. But reflection upon what those documents assert ought to reveal that these documents assert the existence of rights as gifts from our creator. The Declaration of Independence asserts that we are "endowed by our Creator" with the rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." The rights enumerated in the Constitution, if we think about it, are merely specific examples of the general rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In other words, we have the specific rights to speech, free exercise of religion, assembly, the bearing of arms, and so forth precisely because we have the more general rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness given to us by our Creator. So while the Left may feel free to invoke our founding documents, inasmuch as our founding documents invoke the authority of a Creator in specifying which rights we have, their invocation of these documents strikes me as rather illegitimate. They shall have to go elsewhere to prove that rights exist. They can get little, if any, help from either the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. To point to these documents as proof that rights really do exist would be something like pointing to the Bible as a proof that God exists, especially since the Creator who endowed us with these rights is a matter of faith.

We might try, as an act of desperation, to make something of the fact that most--if not all--humans believe that rights exist. Sadly, we can get no more help from this, even if true, than we could if all humans believed in the existence of God. One hundered percent agreement on the truth of the proposition that "God exists" would not meant that God exists. And so, even if one hundred precent of humans believe that "Rights exist" is a true proposition, that would not mean that rights exist. It's one thing to have our beliefs accord with the truth; it's quite another to have the truth accord with our beliefs.

What does this inability to prove the existence of rights mean? One thing it means is that the existence of rights is a matter of faith. In the absence of empirical evidence or rational proof, the Left believe--ostensibly--that rights exist and that we (who have no right to be here, remember) have them. And they make no bones about making public policy decisions on the basis of this article of faith. Furthermore, they treat as heretics any who disagree with them or question their own brand of (religious?) orthodoxy.

It is a well documented fact that the Left have a problem with people of faith, especially those who make their "articles of faith" a matter of public policy. But since the existence of rights is as difficult to prove as the existence of God, the Left, inasmuch as they believe in rights, are just as much people of faith as any on the Right. And since they attempt to make their articles of faith (e.g., the "rights" to abortion and health care) matters of public policy, they do precisely what they accuse "people of faith" on the Right of doing.

Kerry, the Left, and 'rights', Part I

The Paradox of the Left's Position on Abortion

[With the election over one might think that the matters I take up here are irrelevant. A moment's reflection will reveal otherwise. If not, then file this, and the following two blogs, under "There is no horse so dead that it can't withstand another beating."]

Propositions have implications; it's that simple. One of the implications of denying that a fetus has a right to life is that no one has a right to be born. In other words, none of us has a right to be here. One thing that has bothered me about the Left (Democrats in particular) is that they assert, by implication, that none of us has a right to be here while at the same time asserting that we have rights. I have long wondered how a leftist would answer the question, "How, since no one has a right to exist, can anyone have any rights at all? How can I, who have no right to be here, have a right to--among other things--health care? If I have no right to be alive, how did I acquire a right to anything that preserves my life?"

Pro-life advocates are wont to say that a fetus is a human being from the moment of conception. Humans have rights; therefore the fetus has rights. Among the rights that humans have is the right to life. No problem with the logic there. The problem is with the premise that a fetus is a human being from the moment of conception. But it's not the problem I have taken up here, so I lay it aside. The point is simply that our having any rights at all is not a problem for pro-life advocates. The same cannot be said for pro-choice advocates.

Consider the position of pro-choice advocates: none of us has a right to be born, a right to become human. We have no right to be here. Now consider the position of the Left: we (who have no right to be here) have, while we are here, rights. A woman, who has no right to be here in the first place, has a right to an abortion. One simply has to wonder how we, who have not even a right to exist, no right even to be born, acquire a right to anything at all, much less a right to have an abortion. Even worse than that: if we have no right to exist, no right to be born, no right to be alive--how do we have any of those things that people call "Human Rights"?

I suppose one could say that it is true we don't have a right to be here, no right to be born, no right to exist. However, existence may be such that although we don't have a right to it, we do have rights once we get it. In other words: No, we don't have a right to exist, but existence--whether we have a right to it or not--comes with rights. Having come into existence, having been born, whether we have a right to it or not, gives us certain rights; existence means having rights.

So there it is. Although no fetus has a right to become human, once it does so (i.e., once it is born) it has rights. Being human means having rights. I suppose that works--until you try to account for someone like Peter Singer, who asserts that non-human animals also have rights. Think of it: non-human animals have rights. Question: is not the fetus, before becoming human, a non-human? It is if, as some evolutionists argue, phylogeny recapitulates ontogeny. If so, then a fetus is a non-human animal; and as a non-human animal the fetus surely has rights. Of course, we know that the Left are not about to take away a woman's right to an abortion on the grounds of animal rights. And so we also know that whether or not a fetus is human is irrelevant to the question. For the Left, a woman has a right to an abortion whether the fetus is human or not, whether the fetus is an animal or not: the fetus may be the only animal without rights.

This brings us back to the question I raised above. The fetus--whether human or not, whether animal or not--has no rights. By implication we--as former fetuses--have no right to be here. So then, how do we come to have any rights at all if we've no right even to exist? Where precisely does John Kerry get off lecturing us on the fact that we are the only advanced nation in which health care is not a right? Where exactly is he coming from when he asserts that health care is not only for the rich and the connected, but is a right for every American?

We've already covered the possibility of saying that, although we have no right to become human, once we do so we have rights. This argument is shown for the vanity it is by noting that the same people who assert that animals have rights do not extend rights to the fetus, which is, at the very least, an animal. So, obviously, being or not being human has nothing to do with having rights.

I suppose we could slice the pie into humans and non-humans such that the fetus, although not human, is (as a fetus) not protected even by animal rights, and neither are non-human fetuses. No fetus, of whatever sort, has any rights. Even so, this is still to say, with respect to humans and existence, that we have no right to exist (i.e., since no fetus has a right to develop into a human). So we are still left with the question: How, since we have no right to exist, do we come by any right to anything at all?

The best answer to the question will probably be something like, "Well, we may not have a right to exist, but once we come into existence we acquire rights to those things that preserve and enhance our existence." So, although we have no right to come into existence, once we do come into existence we have a right to continued existence and a right to those things which make our continued existence possible. The problem we have here is in knowing just how we come to have rights. For all their talk about rights, the Left do not spend much time explaining how we come to have rights. (The Right, for the most part, assert that rights are God-given. This is an article of faith, of course, so the Left, if they have any answer at all, probably won't offer this kind of answer)

Here then is a paradox of leftism: We have no right to be here, no right to have made it through gestation, no right to have been born, and therefore no right to exist. By extension we have no rights to those things which make our continued existence possible. Ultimately, the logical implication of the Left's position on abortion, ironically, is that a woman has no right to an abortion. How could she have? Having no right to exist in the first place, she can't logically claim any rights at all.

It will be clear that throughout this essay, I have made a great assumption. (And what else could it be but an assumption?) I have assumed that our not having a right to exist means having no rights. If we have no right to be here, then we have no rights while we are here. In other words, existence in and of itself confers no rights. We could just as well assume the opposite state of affairs: Existence means having rights; to live is to have rights. But now we are making two assumptions. The first is that rights exist. The second is, of course, that we have them. But it is difficult to see how we can have rights if rights do not exist. Our own existence is clear to us, although we cannot prove it. But do rights exist? This will be the topic of my next blog.

Copyright 2004 Philologous Lector. All rights reserved.



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James Frank SolĂ­s
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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