In 1932, FDR stated that under the social contract laid out in the Declaration of Independence, “rulers were accorded power, and the people consented to that power on consideration that they be accorded certain rights. The task of statesmanship has always been the re-definition of these rights in terms of a changing and growing social order.”The entire article is long, and somewhat overwritten, but worth a read for those interested in how we got here.
Unlike the rights described in the Declaration, however, there is nothing natural or inalienable about the ones described by FDR: They’re not yours to begin with, and statesmen and historical changes can always alter, augment, or rescind them.
By 1944, the social order had changed and grown enough for the statesman Roosevelt to explicitly redefine Americans’ rights to include jobs, housing, medical care, education — in short, a “Second Bill of Rights,” all of which “spell security.”
That can’t be the last word, however; the prospect of future changes in the social order causes FDR to urge the recognition of “these and similar rights.”
The governmental right to discover new rights could, for instance, someday lead to the development endorsed by FDR’s National Public Resources Board in 1943, when it called for recognizing the right to “rest, recreation and adventure.”
Who among us would disdain citizenship in that Club Med polity where safaris and sea cruises are guaranteed as a matter of right, where we might awaken any day to find that the changing social order has left us yet another shiny new entitlement in the driveway?
The problem is that it turns out to be impossible to elevate every social-policy goal to a right without reducing every right to just one more policy goal.
In 1994, the Clinton Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) enforcement of the Fair Housing Act was so zealous that it demanded that groups opposed to new homeless shelters or drug-treatment facilities in their neighborhoods turn over to federal investigators (who were seeking evidence of discriminatory motives or attitudes) every article, flier, or letter to the editor their leaders had written, as well as the minutes of every public meeting they addressed.
The HUD assistant secretary called upon to defend this thuggery compressed six decades of liberal rhetoric into a single op-ed, which explained how the department had to “walk a tightrope between free speech and fair housing. We are ever mindful of the need to maintain the proper balance between these rights.” [emphasis added]
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Voegeli On FDR and Rights, Natural and Invented
William Voegeli, author of Never Enough, America's Limitless Welfare State, has a few words of insight about FDR's view of rights.