Political Theory RSS feed for this section

What They Should Mean by “Education Is a Right”

This photograph, which appeared in the Providence Journal in the July 20th Sunday edition has been bugging me.  In case you don’t feel like clicking the link, it’s of a group of college-age-looking folks marching down the street.  Four of them are holding a sign that reads:

education is a right!

USSA 

It was apparently taken from a documentary movie called Ivory Tower, about the state of higher education.  Without looking into the movie (or the insinuation behind the letters “USSA”), the meaning of the assertion necessitates the question, What do they mean?  If I assent to the proposition that “education is a right,” what, exactly am I agreeing to?

In terms of the founding documents of the United States, a right is something that cannot be taken away.  It isn’t something that others must provide to an individual.  A right to life doesn’t mean that every American must have free access to the most innovative technology that can preserve even a moment of life.  A right to speech doesn’t mean that every American is entitled to a national podium for anything they might want to say.  Rather, these are things that the government cannot actively prevent citizens from acquiring.  If you’re alive or if you have a national podium, the government cannot act to take it away from you.

So what does it mean for education to be a right?  Progressive activists mean that government schools have a right to confiscate money away in order to provide whatever educational opportunities they declare necessary.

Some activists seem to believe students have a right to absorb a certain amount of baseline information.  This view is typically targeted at the institution of public schools, to force them to prove that they’re providing a baseline education and to invalidate practices (like teacher tenure) that prioritize something else at the expense of students.  But a right to be imbued with knowledge would also imply a right to be forced to become educated, which doesn’t sound like what most people think of as “rights.”

It makes more sense — and will produce a better result, I’d argue — to understand education in the same way as life, speech, and the pursuit of happiness.  We have a right not to have the government thwart us in our pursuit of education.

As a society, we also have a strong incentive to ensure individuals achieve their potential, so we should allocate public resources to the cause.  However, the way we’ve been doing it, by setting up government school systems that have proven to be ineffective and unresponsive, can stand as a barrier to actual education, which is against students’ rights.

Steve Ahlquist, the Oppressors’ Heir

In attacking Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement, Steve Ahlquist gives reason to believe he’d have been a different kind of oppressor in a different time.

Rhode Island Fix a Philosophical Shift; Contra Renn, Part 6 of 6

Ultimately (part 6 of 6) Aaron Renn has to explain why a small group of decision makers have a better chance of success than Rhode Islanders acting on their own initiative.

Rhode Island Fix a Philosophical Shift; Contra Renn, Part 5 of 6

Part 5 of a response to Aaron Renn: What kills the entrepreneurial spirit in Rhode Island?

Rhode Island Fix a Philosophical Shift; Contra Renn, Part 4 of 6

Aaron Renn’s prescriptions for RI. Part 4: Who is the “you” who puts us to use?

Rhode Island Fix a Philosophical Shift; Contra Renn, Part 3 of 6

Countering Aaron Renn’s central planning in Rhode Island. Part 3: What’s unemployment insurance have to do with the price of gasoline in Seekonk?

Rhode Island Fix a Philosophical Shift; Contra Renn, Part 2 of 6

Skepticism about Aaron Renn’s suggestions for Rhode Island. Part 2: shedding pounds by changing location or voting differently.

Rhode Island Fix a Philosophical Shift; Contra Renn, Part 1 of 6

Rhode Islanders’ excitement with the fact that Aaron Renn suggests considering reality when setting public policy should be tempered by skepticism about his suggestions. Part 1: innovations and bandwagons.

Immigrant Children as Political Chips

Progressive historians will one day attribute the Obama Administration-facilitated humanitarian crisis on the border to the racist evils of the United States.

The Retrospective Shaping of History

Leading up to this Independence Day, much talk among conservatives has been devoted to the latest movie by Dinesh D’Souza, America.  This is from John Fund’s review:

For young people, and young adults who were taught spongy “social studies” rather than true American history, the most valuable parts of the movie might be those in which D’Souza tackles America’s greatest sins: its treatment of Native Americans, slavery, the transfer of half of Mexico to the U.S. after the Mexican War of 1848, and its supposed colonialist behavior. Consider his treatment of those subjects as his direct rebuttal to the works of radical historian Howard Zinn, whose textbooks treating America’s history as one of ceaseless oppression dominate many American high schools and colleges.

One of the folks whom D’Souza brings in to articulate the views of the Left is Noam Chomsky, who (by coincidence) I happened to watch last night on an old episode of Firing Line with William F. Buckley, Jr.:

Buckley makes a related point to the above when he says:

Your difficulty, Mr. Chomsky, in my judgement, is you never know where neatly to begin your historical sequence.  … You start your line of discussion at a moment that is historically useful for you.  The grand fact of the post-war world is that the communist imperialists — by the use of terrorism, by the use of deprivation of freedom — have contributed to the continuing bloodshed, and the sad thing about it is not only the bloodshed, but the fact that this seemed to dispossess you of the power of rational observation.

In order to deprive Americans of the ability to appreciate the accomplishments of their ancestors, or to work in the present to advance the cause of real freedom in the world, the Left obscures the broad historical trends up to and growing from American independence (which is odd, if they consider themselves “progressives”) and pick and choose historical facts (heavily revised) and sequences that are convenient to the story that they’d rather tell.  Naturally, the moral of that story isn’t that individuals should be free, inasmuch as possible, to design the society in which they live, but that the ideology of the Left is the One Truth to which the world ought to be made to conform.

A Declaration, Softly, Under the Rain

There was something fitting about reading the Declaration of Independence in the rain, this year, at the Doughboy statue in Tiverton.  A smaller crowd of about twenty joined organizer Susan Anderson to keep up the tradition of taking turns reading from the document on this day each year.

At times, the rain was so loud on the umbrellas that the voices were as whispers — wisps of freedom’s memory in the gathering din of tyranny.  From time to time the stream of words was punctuated with exclamations about the relevance of the Founders’ protests to our government today.

Analysis of the founding documents of the United States of America tends to present the Declaration as the expression of the positive spirit of the nation, with the Constitution providing the structure in which those principles might be maintained.  As raindrops smeared the ink, it emerged that the Declaration does its own work to buttress its principles by describing exactly what the revolutionaries opposed.  Specifics might require translation over time, but in the list of complaints, the signers painted for their progeny a picture of the actions of which to beware.

A Prince, whose Character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the Ruler of a free People.

Through the sunny days of long-established democracy and liberty, a people can forget what the clouds portend, if not for whispers and wisps among friends.

Are Liberals Moderates?

Libertarian researcher/writer Charles Murray wants us to start drawing a distinction between liberals and progressives:

As a libertarian, I am reluctant to give up the word “liberal.” It used to refer to laissez-faire economics and limited government. But since libertarians aren’t ever going to be able to retrieve its original meaning, we should start using “liberal” to designate the good guys on the left, reserving “progressive” for those who are enthusiastic about an unrestrained regulatory state, who think it’s just fine to subordinate the interests of individuals to large social projects, who cheer the president’s abuse of executive power and who have no problem rationalizing the stifling of dissent.

I had just about concluded that I don’t know of many people who could be safely distinguished as “liberals,” versus “progressives.”  After all, when it comes down to a decision, if a person would rather side with those who would blow up our civic system for good intentions rather than those who would preserve the civic system even if they ultimately lose the political debate, then there isn’t much justification for categorizing the person as something other than the first group.  Does a reluctance to persecute your political opponents create a different category of political belief than a simple willingness to do so if that reluctance doesn’t extend to a denunciation of the willing?

It occurred to me, though, that what Murray is describing might be the category whose members mostly would prefer to be called “moderates,” as in my political spectrum:

It could be that Murray is describing people on the Left who still ultimately put their emphasis on the community or collective, and who still look to government as the final arbiter of morality, but who also understand that human nature is such that the world cannot be manhandled onto a path to perfectibility.

I don’t doubt that such people would like to be called “liberal,” if progressives hadn’t sullied the label, but it seems to me a waste of time — at some risk of providing cover for progressives — for folks on the Right to try to salvage the label for them.

10 News Conference Wingmen, Episode 36 (Hobby Lobby, Freedom, & Health Care)

Justin and Bob Plain discuss the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision and the underlying issues of freedom and health care.

Hobby Lobby and the Lack of Church-State Separation

With progressives across the country in a delusional tizzy over the implications of the Supreme Court’s ruling that the federal government (through administrative action) can’t force a company to provide abortifacients (i.e., drugs that kill early-stage human beings in the womb), Jennifer Roback Morse takes a step back and looks at the context in the United States’ current practice of “separation of church and state” (italics in original):

Only after the program was over, did the pattern become fully clear to me: the caller (and the State) will allow the Church to be independent of the State, but only for things they think don’t matter.

We the State, allow you the Church, to have jurisdiction over who gets to receive Communion and Christian burial. That is because we consider those things unimportant.

But we the State, intend to have full authority over everything we consider important, like property settlements and child custody. And, as a matter of fact, if there is anything else we come to believe is important, we will take jurisdiction over that too.

And so here we are, with a relatively favorable ruling from the Supreme Court on the Hobby Lobby case. The Supreme Court has restrained the Administration from imposing upon the Mennonite Hahn family, owners of Conestoga Wood, or the Evangelical Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, in as catastrophic way as they might have. But the State has certainly not given up its authority over religious institutions and religious people, when they deem the subject matter sufficiently important.

We don’t have separation of church and state, in the United States.  We have a thumb on the scale on behalf of statists and the non-religious, who often look to the government as a moral arbiter.  The government is their mechanism for avoiding the necessity of persuading their neighbors to a different position, which can be hard work.  (One suspects the anti-religion statists think it’s impossible work, inasmuch as they see religious people as constitutionally irrational.)

It’s all legerdemain.  As with progressives’ selective adulation of science, they present their opponents’ morality as derived from subjective, superstitious sources, while their morality derives from simple truths about the universe.

To the extent that they succeed in their use of the government toward (what they see as) moral ends, it’s nothing other than an establishment of religion.

Why the Left Can’t Admit Victory

Someday, a thirty-something grad student pursuing joint Ph.D.s in literature and political theory will analyze the trajectory of Ross Douthat’s writing measured by the length of his employment with the New York Times.  In a post that he just put up, Douthat spends a number of paragraphs musing about reasons that American progressives seem unwilling to admit when they’re in the process of achieving their goals.

Some of his points are well taken, generally.  When your political philosophy is built upon the belief that it’s possible to perfect the universe, every victory is but a failure to have gone farther.  For all that his post is an interesting diversion for a few minutes of midday procrastination, though, I think he misses an important consideration.  As a practical matter, it may be the most important consideration.

Namely, progressives’ continued progress relies on a perpetual series of deceptions.  The public can’t know about the end goal, because it would put an end to the experiment.  The Obama Administration has been a six-year illustration of the point.  The statement of one center-right acquaintance back during the 2008 election comes to mind.  He “really believed” that Obama would govern as a centrist.

Consider same-sex marriage.  Ten years ago, advocates declared it absurd to think that a single state’s redefinition of the institution would be translated across the country by judiciary, which process is currently working its way through the courts.  And Obama’s declared support for traditional marriage was always an obvious ruse until opportunity arose to “evolve” all of a sudden.

Consider ObamaCare.  Even beyond “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor,” imagine if progressives had admitted that they fully expected the law to require Christian business owners to pay for abortifacients for their employees.  Now, a narrow Supreme Court ruling that the law cannot do that is declared to be a 100-year setback for women’s rights.

This short post could be a book if I were to catalog examples.  I’d challenge objectors to provide a contrary example.

Libertarian-minded conservatives tend to want the process for change to be cultural and slow; we’ll continue to oppose radical reimagining of our society, but we want the battle to happen with each individual’s making up his or her mind.  Progressives tend much more toward “by any means necessary,” and with no change ever happening quickly enough.

That approach all but necessitates a methodology of promising “that’ll never happen,” followed shortly by “it’s better that it did happen.”

Speaker Mattiello at the Rhode Island Taxpayers Summer Meeting, Part 1


A retro-liveblog of remarks made by Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives Nicholas Mattiello, at this Saturday’s summer meeting of the Rhode Island Taxpayers organization. The areas the Speaker touches on include education, the gas-tax, reducing regulations in RI, and some general ideas about what governing means and how it should be done.

Staley and Hayden’s Representation

In their passing, Harry Staley and Robert Hayden leave behind an explanation and an example for civic participation.

Rep. Frank Ferri’s Disingenuous Objection

Mike Stenhouse, the CEO of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity (the Current’s parent organization), testified in some strong terms against H7819, which would declare a specific structure for the state’s healthcare system and put in place the beginnings of a plan to achieve them:

“This is talk you would expect to hear come out of Communist China, not a legislative body in the United States of America,” said Stenhouse.

I would have gone with the old Soviet Union, because at the heart of the bill is a five-year plan.  For readers whose secondary-school education didn’t manage to impress upon them the significance of that construct, this About.com page captures the essence:

In the name of Communism, Stalin seized assets, including farms and factories, and reorganized the economy. However, these efforts often led to less efficient production, ensuring that mass starvation swept the countryside. …

While all of these plans were unmitigated disasters, Stalin’s policy forbidding any negative publicity led the full consequences of these upheavals to remain hidden for decades. To many who were not directly impacted, the Five Year Plans appeared to exemplify Stalin’s proactive leadership.

The “health care authority” imagined in H7819 would be no different.  It would work to push all healthcare spending in the state through HealthSource RI for the explicit purpose of giving government a monopolistic controlling hand.

Representative Frank Ferri (D, Warwick), who is the bill’s prime sponsor, waited until four more people had testified and Stenhouse was away from the witness table before responding.

By way of partial transcript:

What this says is, “we should come up with a five-year plan.  It’s talking about a plan.  A comprehensive plan.”  …

So what is wrong with having a plan?  It’s not a question.  I just wanted to make a statement, because give us something better and work with us instead of coming here and shouting “Communism” and “death camps” or whatever it is they want to shout.  Why don’t they say, “Let’s get together, and let’s work together on this.”

One thing that jumps out is Ferri’s cowardice, waiting until Stenhouse wasn’t in a position to respond… while asking rhetorical questions that could have been actual questions if Ferri had posed them at the appropriate time.  There’s also a dishonesty underlying his objection.  Ferri’s bill doesn’t establish a framework for everybody to get together and come up with ideas.  It sets a specific policy toward which the authority is mandated to work, and it’s a dangerous one.

Rhode Island Policy: Single Payer Healthcare and Rationing

Legislation to create a “health care authority,” complete with a commissioner with no other duties, is an attempt to crack the door for government-run health care.

Humanities and the Decline of the West

An example at Providence College illustrates how radical politics are stripping the humanities of both their practical and moral utility, and undermining Western civilization along the way.