Conservatives should conserve individual rights

By Nathan Fatal

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Last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C. I had the pleasure of joining thousands of individuals fed up with President Barack Obama’s apparent hobby of violating rights.

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The theme of CPAC 2012 was “we still hold these truths” – a tribute to the Declaration of Independence, which established the truth of our rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as “self-evident.”

Many who claim to still hold such truths made impassioned calls for freedom – freedom from economic dependency, freedom from indefinite detention, freedom from a forced brother’s keeper role in every other Americans’ healthcare, or from compulsory purchase of our own, and freedom, overall, from a president who will continue to increase his power at the expense of that of individuals.

Regrettably, their repeated biblical invocations, vague terminology and social conservative platitudes make Republicans’ role as defenders of our freedom a hard sell. A necessary question, then, is does the GOP still hold those truths? Are any of the current candidates in a position to defend the legacy of the founders who they so promiscuously invoke?

To review some of their major short-comings: Rick Santorum claims that the pursuit of happiness harms America – that individual freedom is the essence of a leftist-inspired “me generation” and must be repressed. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman appropriately called a “well-oiled weather vain,” and, I might add, a well-trained parrot, has no clear position on anything, repeating whatever the majority of his desired audience wants to hear.

Newt Gingrich, supposedly a “Reaganite,” is hardly a defender of capitalism, as he incessantly whines about and takes blows at  Romney, the most obviously capitalist candidate, who said “I like being able to fire people.”

And finally Ron Paul rightfully points out the overreach of federal power and the profound threat it poses to individual liberties and insists that states be given power that violates individual rights.

Our incumbent president, the pragmatist in chief, consistently disposes of moral principles – it’s wrong to subsidize oil, but not ‘green energy’ – ‘hesitantly’ signs away my rights, appeases America’s enemies and insists that government “support … every risk-taker and entrepreneur who aspires to become the next Steve Jobs” by imposing a 30 percent tax rate on anyone who comes close. So much for a renewal of “American values” and “founding principles.”

What is it that all of these candidates lack? While some of them come closer than others, none of them have a proper understanding of individual rights or, for that matter, of American values or founding principles. Everyone is familiar with the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But what makes them rights?

Reference to the French Declaration of the Rights of Man of 1789 will be helpful here: “Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights.” A right to life means that one may take any action to continue one’s life which does not prevent another individual from taking such actions beneficial to their own life. A right to liberty means that one is free to do anything which does not impede another’s liberty. A right to the pursuit of happiness means that one can pursue happiness in any way one sees fit, as long as such pursuit does not hinder that of another person. It should be clear, given this formulation, that “unalienable rights” is a redundant term. Rights by their nature are unalienable.

A small number of Republicans have come to understand how liberal policies in the economic realm require a violation of our rights. That is, there is no right to healthcare, a job, an education or a house, because the fulfillment of such a “right” to a physical good or service would require that money be taken from other people.

Regardless of the affordability, desirability or practical implications of using tax money to provide these services, they require a violation of our fundamental rights, since one’s income allows one to continue one’s life and pursue happiness as one sees fit, and as such one must have the liberty to do so. The “rights” promised by the Obama Administration and begged for by swarms of malcontents in tent villages, simply are not rights. One person’s envy for another’s higher income, or pity for another’s poor circumstances, is irrelevant if the guiding principle of public policy is that no one has the right to violate rights.

On the other hand, Democrats have a history of defending the right of gays and lesbians to engage in consensual relationships and marry, as well as that of women to obtain abortions. These are rights because given the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, adult individuals may freely engage in any activity which allows them to enjoy life and pursue happiness.

A woman, as an individual human organism, has a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, while the fetus, as a biological parasite, does not, since such a right, regardless of the status of the mother’s health or the fetus’s ability to feel pain, would come at the expense of her rights. So some Republicans’ dream of a “conservative renaissance” of “Judeo-Christian values” and “family values” denies the right of gays, lesbians and women to the self-evident truths of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

To demand that gay individuals be denied the right to pursue happiness and engage in consensual adult relationships, and to grant a fetus equal moral status to a woman who may only be hosting it as a result of rape, is no more American than to demand the economic slavery necessary to heed protesters’ demands in the Occupy movement for free lunches, free education, free healthcare and free lives.

All such demands do away with economic and social freedom. To champion economic liberty while spurning social liberty that may injure one’s scripturally-informed sentiments, or to champion sexual and reproductive rights but work towards economic equality as a moral ideal, is to answer the question of “do we still hold these truths?” with the intellectually honest but morally abhorrent “sometimes, and for some people.” Anyone who legislates based on that principle does not hold these truths, is not an advocate of freedom or rights and is un-American.

If we ever wish to heed the calls for freedom and social justice, we must run the left out of our wallets and the right out of our bedrooms. A return to the founding principles of our country would grant everyone the right to make as much money as they want in any way and for any purpose without impeding another’s right to do so; it would enshrine the pursuit of happiness for all individuals of any gender, sexual preference, religious preference or victims of sexual abuse as absolute and unalienable. It would defend all of our rights from the intrusion of federal, state and local governments or envious, egalitarian whims.

It is because I still hold these truths that I implore conservatives to understand, conserve and forever defend this proper sense of freedom.

Nathan Fatal is a Collegian contributor. He can be reached at [email protected]