And now we have not only the FCC's naughty involvement in Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction but also the gross obscenities of binding and gagging displayed in America's campaign finance legislation.(2)
Hamilton said that, in the matter of denying a right, "Who can give it any definition which would not leave the utmost latitude for evasion?" Not even God, if you note the various evasions practiced by believers since Genesis. Hamilton said the true security of our freedom "must altogether depend on public opinion, and on the general spirit of the people and of the government." Each of these can be rotten, and occasionally all of them are. Such an occasion arose just seven years after the Bill of Rights was ratified. The Sedition Act made it a federal crime to publish anything about Congress or the president that would bring them into "contempt or disrepute." In other words, the Sedition Act made it a federal crime to publish anything about Congress or the president.
Fortunately the Bill of Rights is flawed in its treatment of only one type of rights -- opportunities. It doesn't meddle with the other type -- privileges. Perhaps these two categories of rights should be known as "get-outa-here" rights and "gimme" rights or, as they're more usually called in political theory, negative rights and positive rights. The Bill of Rights (and "the idea of Freedom") is concerned mostly with our liberty to say, "I've got God, guns, and a big damn mouth, and if the jury finds me guilty, the judge will pay my bail!" This is a negative right -- our right to be left alone, our freedom from interference, usually from government, but also from our fellow citizens when they want us to sober up, quit yelling, put the shotgun down, and go back into the house.
Politicians, in their hearts, are always tepid supporters of get-outa-here rights. For one thing, any and all legislators are being invited to leave. For another thing, strict adherence to negative rights would leave little scope for legislating, something legislators dearly love to do. Gimme rights are more politically alluring. This is how we find ourselves tempted with positive rights to education, housing, health care, a living wage, food relief, high-speed Internet access, and all the kingdoms of the world, and all the glory of them.
Politicians show no signs of even knowing the difference between negative and positive rights. Blinded by the dazzle of anything that makes them popular, they honestly may not be able to tell. But there's evidence that a confusion of negative and positive rights originally was presented to the public with malice aforethought. President Franklin Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" appear to be, at first glance, as natural, well matched, and tidy of composition as the Norman Rockwell illustrations for them.
1. 1. Freedom of speech and expression
2. 2. Freedom of religion
3. 3. Freedom from want
4. 4. Freedom from fear
But notice how the beggar, number 3, has been slipped in among the more respectable members of the Freedom family. "Want what?" we ask ourselves.
Saying, as Roosevelt did in his January 6, 1941, State of the Union address, that "We look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms" and that one of these freedoms is "freedom from want" was not an expression of generosity. Declarations of positive rights never are. There were six million Jews in Europe who wanted nothing but a safe place to go.