Academics rarely try to explain why the human condition has not improved while they are busily trying to archive the U. S. Constitution and introduce us to a panoply of “rights.”
Take any barometer you care to—the trend line in out-of-wedlock births, divorce rates or homicides. Add in more recent phenomenon such as drive-by shootings and serial killings to say nothing of the poverty rate before and after such spasms of government activity as the New Deal and the Great Society.
“These new group rights were conspicuously not attached to obligations,” Claremont McKenna College professor Charles R. Kessler pointed out in a lecture at Hillsdale College on February 1, 2010. “The old rights—the individual rights of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution—had come bound up with duties.”
“The right to life or the right to liberty implied a duty not to take away someone else’s life or someone else’s liberty. The new rights, on the other hand, had no corresponding duties—except perhaps to pay your taxes. The new rights pointed to a kind of moral anarchy in which rights without obligations became the currency of the realm—in which rights, understood as putative claims on resources, were effectively limited only by other, stronger such claims. The result was, at best, an equilibrium of countervailing power.”
Nor is this a mere academic exercise that students leave behind in their bluebooks in order to graduate. Some of them take it to heart.
One of them is now in the White House. “Implicit in [the Constitution's] structure, in the very idea of ordered liberty, was a rejection of absolute truth, the infallibility of any idea or ideology or theology or ‘ism,’ any tyrannical consistency that might lock future generations into a single, unalterable course, or drive both majorities and minorities into the cruelties [notice cruelty: he’s against it] of the Inquisition, the pogrom, the gulag, or the jihad,” Barack Obama wrote in his memoir, The Audacity of Hope.
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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