The Teaparty advocates of natural rights limit their approval, it seems to me, to the negative rights. They don't want the government to interfere; but they also don't want the government to provide freedoms and entitlements that expand the social contract beyond its early days. The Founding fathers created, first, the Articles of Confederation. That made a hopelessly crippled central government. They replaced the Articles with the today's constitution, where the central government was also deprived of some power. Teapartyers today regard the latter, sometimes, as almost a holy document, while also imagining it to be as weak as the Articles. Now, I'd say that most Teapartyers do want most of the new entitlements, but they have been led to idealize powerlessness by a modern set of anarchists.
Since those early
days, there has been an extensive re-working and re-writing of the
social contract. It was necessary to accommodate 200 years of
history. A. Farmers are no longer 90% of the population.
B. The needs and the ills of urbanization would have torn apart the
country, if there were job entitlements and protections. C. Science
and philosophy created new conditions, and new contradictions; doing
nothing would have violated basic principles of fairness. Major
changes arose or were justified when the Declaration of Independence
was added as a “basic document” of our meaning of freedom and
fairness. The vast increase in the wealth of society is another main
source of evolution of rights and entitlements.
mentions the point, I'm willing to accept that the Constitution
should be re-written explicitly, or at least have some new
amendments, to make it easier for the national government to do what
it it needs to do. Is it really efficient to enforce a national
mandate by bribing the states with federal funding, and coerce them
by threatening to withhold it? But, further, I want to say, If you
don't like the way that the Constitution has been re-interpreted over
the years, what is needed is a set of amendments that formalize the
necessary changes. It is hostile and stupid to try to throw out the
newer 200 years of social contract.
Mitt Romney, in
the infamous May “47%” tape, sneers at people thinking that they
are entitled to health care, food and a roof over their head. As a
wealthy industrial state, do we want to allow people to starve or be
forced to live under bridges? I'd say that the answer is No, but
that is not the consequence of his answer. We have pretty minor
assurances, so far, for health, food, and shelter. We have a longer
history of some other entitlements, like public schools, good roads,
firemen, policemen, safe jobs. There is a shorter history of safe
food, safe water, clean air, but all those are proper expectations of
At the root, the
problem is that “paying for them” is an impediment to one's
private enjoyment of wealth (worship of Mammon?). The overt excuses
are separate and diverse, and never impressive. In some recent
rhetoric, they implicitly class all “government jobs” as
inherently fake-jobs, as compared to “private industry”, so they
favor privatization. Teapartyers in Congress have resisted Obama's
attempts at job creation/preservation following those rationales.
They have opposed federal Recession help for localities to fund
police and firemen, and national building of needed infrastructure as
We need schools.
We have free, public schools, with some standards for education.
Teapartyers prefer home-schooling and charter schools, especially if
they can avoid standards that teachers' unions tend to insist on,
like, decent teaching of evolution, climate science, or sex
education. Teapartyers have lately recorded successes in both
breaking teachers' unions and in funding charter schools (unusually
We have public
roads. Eisenhower justified the national roads system under the
excuse of national defense. I suspect that we will yet see costly
failures from the privatization of turnpikes.
Workers have the
right to decent hours and conditions. – The protection agencies
are among the primary targets of the Teaparty.
Cleveland has the
right to a river that does not catch on fire; Pittsburgh has a right
to breathable air. Generally, fishes should have a right to rivers
that are liveable, and wildlife should have a right to natural
environments. However, the Teaparty faction seems to be broadly
committed to ending the EPA, with no mention of preserving its
Up til Obamacare,
we had a minimal level of health-care entitlement. Ron Paul was not
well received when he presented the Libertarian position, that
emergency rooms should not provide unpaid-for life-saving care.. I
imagine that most Teapartyers do not recognize that this entitlement,
as an enforceable entitlement, only dates to the 1980s, as a
provision for accepting Medicare payments. (Justice Alito sniffed at
a mention of this during the Obamacare case, it was reported, “And
how did that happen?”) Emergency room care (only) for
life-threatening emergencies (only) is inefficient, insufficient for
decent health, and far behind the entitlement offered by every other
Two other aspects
of health entitlement – and social contract – deserve mention.
Parents have duties towards the health of their kids, regardless of
their own personal religious prejudices; children are no longer
dependent property which can be treated howsoever the parents prefer.
Parents cannot avoid certain vaccinations for their children.
Further, they cannot deny care for critically ill children. I have
not seen the Teaparty attack this part of the new social contract,
unlike their visible successes against unions, public schools, and
the right to an abortion.
These rights for
children arose after children were recognized as having independent
rights as human beings. I think it is similar to the rationale by
which wives are no longer as the property of their husbands; they are
independent human beings, with rights of self-determination. I
wonder how many of today's young people know that child abuse
practically did not “exist” before the 1950s, because the rights
of parents were exclusive. We see very rare cases, these days, where
parents justify injuries as the result of (literally) “beating the
devil out of” a child. Teapartyers include these people but I
haven't seen any fight on this issue... except, say, for the revival
of physical punishment in schools (Texas, today's news report).
similarly, it is more recent than that when it was established
(generally, I think, but I am not sure) that a husband could be
charged with raping his own wife. “Ownership” is no longer the
accepted social contract. Here's another place where the Teapartyers
have not been shouting, but their war on autonomy of women leaves me
wondering how far they will go.
Women have a
right to abortion. Women have a right to birth control.... which was
illegal in many states until the Supreme Court expanded on a “right
to privacy” which itself is derivative. These aspects of women's
autonomy are particular targets of the Fundamentalist core of the
Teaparty. This is seen in the last two years in dozens of laws
proposed at the national level, and dozens enacted among hundreds
proposed in Republican states. Several states have enacted the
pre-abortion requirement of “trans-vaginal ultrasonic probes” as
a form of harassment for those using their right to an abortion. And
Romney (following his competitors) endorses a Person-hood Amendment,
as does his formal party platform.
Unlike some newer
constitutions, which are modeled on such things as UN Declaration of
Rights, the US Constitution does not explicitly guarantee these
rights; and it riles some people to see 220 years of the government
taking on new “powers”. Well, the interpretation of the
constitution has evolved. It might be neater if the Constitution did
spell out more federal powers, during this time that the social
contract evolved, and the notion of rights and entitlements evolved.
It does spell out those rights in a series of Supreme Court
The Teaparty has
listened to anarchists and concluded that taxes are bad; therefore
government is bad; and let's get rid of them all. I can't see how
that is compatible with maintaining civilization.