The Reagan Speech Preservation Society

Positive vs. Negative Rights

Modified: Tuesday, 20 July 2021 21:58 by admin - Categorized as: Podcasts
The following is a collection of the materials used in creating the nineteenth episode of the Citizen Reagan podcast (pending permission from the Reagan Foundation) about the Reagan's Radio Commentaries.





In a previous episode, I discussed the Green New Deal and towards the end, I mentioned the inclusion of FDR's Second Bill of Rights. I stated that at some point, I wanted to talk about this concept and its similarity to a couple other documents. I have Reagan audio to go along with it. However, I don’t want to spoil something, so Reagan's going to have to wait until the end.

Before I start that comparison, it's important to know what the Second Bill of Rights is and why it is so dangerous to the American way of life.

The Second Bill of Rights was proposed by FDR during his 1944 State of the Union address and it is a simple list of those things he felt all Americans were entitled to. Audio of FDR reading the list can be found online, so I'll include it here:

Certain economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. A second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station or race or creed.

Among these are:
  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines throughout the nation;
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  • The right of every family to a decent home;
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
  • The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security.
So, that's our list. Everything in it, except the farmer's right to a fair income, is included in the Green New Deal. It sounds good, right? Who wouldn't want the government to give all that?

But here's the rub. The United States doesn't work that way. Our government doesn't (or, shouldn't) have any rights that we, as individuals, can't loan to it. Can each of us defend ourselves? Sure, but if we loan part of that right to the government, suddenly we "provide for the common defense" and look at what it has meant for the world. We can trade or barter with one another, but it becomes significantly easier if we empower the government to create money on our behalf to serve as a more universal means of exchange.

On the flipside, if you or I can't steal from our neighbor, the government can’t steal from our neighbor either.

That is what the Constitution is about. It's a spelling out of the powers we the people choose to empower our government with. The Bill of Rights, those first 10 Amendments, are an acknowledgment that there are some rights which must, and I cannot stress that enough, must remain in the hands of the people.

They are commonly tied to the idea of Natural Law and Natural Rights, those which belong to every living thing by nature of its existence. To those that are religious, they are those things given to you by God. To those who are not, perhaps this example will help: The Second Amendment is our right to protect ourselves, the same way a bear or tiger has the right to its claws or teeth. You wouldn’t declaw a bear, then put it back in the wild to fend for itself, would you? You have a right to privacy in your own home, well, so does a bear and if you invade that bear’s personal space, it has the right to maul you in protection of itself and its home.

It is, as President Obama once called it, a charter of negative rights because it spells out what the government may NOT do to you... what rights it may not take. Obama, like FDR and I'll speak to this in a second, preferred the idea of a charter of positive rights, meaning those things which government can do for you.

FDR's Second Bill of Rights is a collection of positive rights. It is those rights, and probably more, which he and others believed the government has the power to confer upon you. This puts the government in a place of extreme power... dare I say, Godly power.

It should also be said that a government big enough to give you what you want is also a government big enough to take everything away from you. That is a most dangerous place to put yourself. You never know what the government might decide to use to act against you or a group you belong to. Even if you agree with everything the current government does with these new powers, what happens when a different government shows up? Things change at the federal level every two years.

So, with that background in mind, what are these two other documents that I'm talking about which have common elements with FDR's Second Bill of Rights?? Let me read from them and I'll tell you at the end, maybe along the way, you can guess. This is from the first document:
  1. Citizens of [this country] have the right to work, that is, are guaranteed the right to employment and payment for their work in accordance with its quantity and quality.
  2. This right is ensured by the extensive development of social insurance of workers and employees at state expense, free medical service for the working people and the provision of a wide network of health resorts for the use of the working people.
  3. Citizens of [this country] have the right to maintenance in old age and also in case of sickness or loss of capacity to work.
  4. Citizens of [this country] have the right to education. This right is ensured by universal, compulsory elementary education; by education, including higher education, being free of charge.

And in our second, they include the following language:

  1. We demand that the state be charged first with providing for the opportunity for a livelihood and way of life for the citizens. The State is to care for the elevating national health by protecting the mother and child, by outlawing child-labor, by the encouraging of physical fitness.
  2. We demand an expansion on a large scale of old age welfare.
  3. In order to make higher education – and thereby entry into leading positions – available to every able and industrious [citizen of this country], the State must provide a thorough restructuring of our entire public educational system. We demand the education at the public expense of specially gifted children of poor parents, without regard to the latters' position or occupation.

So, any guesses? Of course not, it's just me here, talking to you.

The first document is the 1936 Soviet Constitution. It also, by the way, included guarantees of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion, but since those rights were given to the people by the government, stripping them away for any arbitrary reason becomes quite easy.

The second document is called the 25-Point Program and it was introduced in February 1920 by Adolf Hitler as the "Program of the NSDAP", the National Socialist German Worker's Party, which we American’s shortened to Nazi Party.

Reagan talks about that Soviet Constitution among other things as he records from London.

The greatest good for the greatest number has a noble sound, but is it constitutional? I'll be right back.

As the foreign correspondents say on the national news, I'm speaking to you from London, England. Now, while here I've had the honor of addressing the Pilgrim Society on the occasion of its annual dinner. The Pilgrim Society was founded many years ago to perpetuate the relationship between the United States and Great Britain and to recognize our common heritage. In view of our relationship you might say the Society is dedicated to bridging a national generation gap. The Society itself has a proud and distinguished heritage which is evident by a glance at its membership roster.

This way of ours, this system of government by the people had its beginnings in England. In drawing up the U.S. Constitution, our founding fathers had very much in mind the Magna Carta as well as much later writings and thoughts of two Englishmen, Edmund Burke and Adam Smith. From this heritage they evolved the constitution which did not go unnoticed by perceptive men in England. One of Britain's greatest statesmen described our Constitution as "the most remarkable political advance ever accomplished at one time by the human intellect." Some 70 years after the adoption of the constitution, lord Acton said of its authors "they had solved with astonishing ease and unexampled success two problems which had heretofore baffled the capacity of the most enlightened nations. They had contrived a system of federal government which prodigiously increased national power and yet respected local liberties and authorities and they had founded it on the principle of equality without surrendering the securities of property and freedom."

I appreciated the opportunity to meet with the Pilgrim Society and to be reminded of things about our nation we tend to forget in the everyday bustle of life. How often, for example, do we remind ourselves that our Constitution is truly a unique document, but we've even let it be weakened chipped away by legislation and court decisions. A few years ago one of our senators possessed of a more erudite education than most of his colleagues dismissed the constitution as quote "designed for an 18th century agrarian society far removed from the centers of world power." unquote. Well he'd better take another look, and so had all of us.

There are almost as many constitutions as there are nations and most of them, I guess include some of the same guarantees we find in ours. the Soviet Union's Constitution, for example, promises the right of peaceful assembly, free speech and so on. I won't go into whether they've kept those promises, but some students looking at this similarity ask, well what's the fuss all about? Why do we think we're different? The answer is so simple it's easy to overlook and yet so great it tells the whole story. In those other Constitutions those guarantees are privileges granted to the people by the government. In ours they are declared as rights, ours by the grace of God. We're born with them and no government can take them away without our consent.

The greatest good for the greatest number is a high sounding phrase, but it's unconstitutional. It means fifty percent of the people plus one can do what they like to fifty percent of the people minus one. Maybe that goes in Russia, but not in the United States.

This is Ronald Reagan. Thanks for listening.

Before closing, I have a touch of history to share. Reagan mentions the words of "one of Britain's greatest statesman" but he does not provide a name. These words come from William Gladstone who served in the British Parliament and 4 times as Prime Minister between 1868 and 1894.

Reagan also mentions, "one of our senators possessed of a more erudite education" who seems to view the Constitution as an old dusty document. That would be J. William Fulbright, senator from Arkansas for nearly 30 years. The quote Reagan shares comes from a speech given at Stanford University in 1961.

Should we be advocating for policies that mirror, even accidentally, the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany? Even if they are entirely benevolent, it would concern me a great deal if we did these things.

ScrewTurn Wiki version 2.0.15. Some of the icons created by FamFamFam.