Saturday, January 15, 2022


In his Georgia speech the President asserted that “the fundamental right to vote is the right from which all other rights flow.” A few months ago Biden told members of the armed services “None of you get your rights from your government; you get your rights merely because you’re a child of God. The government is there to protect those God-given rights. No other government has been based on that notion. No one can defeat us except us.” Jonah Goldberg:
...[N]either the right to vote, nor democracy itself, are the source of all of our other rights.

This isn’t a pedantic point.

Let’s start with the subject of Jim Crow. Extending voting rights to blacks in the South was important, morally necessary, and just. But Jim Crow didn’t end in the South because blacks got the vote. A full 10 years before the Voting Rights Act 196[5] was passed, the Supreme Court—not exactly a very democratic institution—ruled that racial segregation in schools was unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education. More to the point, in at least some Southern states, if segregation had been put up for a vote it would have been sustained by a majority of the voters—even if blacks could vote. The process of desegregation began at gunpoint by federal troops enforcing the Supreme Court’s rulings.

There is nothing inherent to democratic theory that says the people can be counted upon to vote in favor of sustaining their rights, never mind the rights of other people. That’s why the Constitution protects our rights from democracy. The Bill of Rights explicitly makes it hard for government to infringe on our rights because our rights are considered prior to or above the whims of the voters. In a pure democracy, 50.1 percent of the people can pee in the cornflakes of 49.9 percent of the people. ....

One of the central insights of both liberalism and conservatism, rightly understood, is that sometimes the people can be wrong. That’s why the Founders made it hard to change the Constitution. That’s why they envisioned the Senate as a “cooling saucer” that tempers the passions of the House. And that’s why this country has elections all the time. Because the Founders understood that sometimes the people can get riled up, angry, confused, misinformed, petulant, or vengeful. Having lots of elections allows the voters to recognize that maybe they went too far in the previous election. It’s part of the process of democratic self-correction and renewal. There have been plenty of times in American history when the people were in a bad enough mood to vote away various rights if they had the power to do it. ....

.... Then there’s the philosophical argument. This is a bit of a misnomer because it can rightly be called a theological argument as well. It’s pretty straightforward. We are created by God. Our rights derive from this fact, and it is the job of the state to protect those rights. I can spend the next 10,000 words expanding and elucidating this idea, but I don’t see the point.

Some atheists and humanists don’t like this formulation for some obvious reasons (and some exhaustingly obscure ones). But the simple fact is that without the essentially Judeo-Christian view of humans as being equal in the eyes of God, we wouldn’t have the idea of inalienable rights today. This isn’t to say you can’t make an atheistic case for human rights—people do it all the frick’n time. It’s simply to note that the atheists are standing on the shoulders of the people who made the case for rights as God-given. And if you think I’m being too much of a Western chauvinist, that’s fine. All I ask is that you point out to me where in the history of the non-Western world the idea of universal human rights not only emerged (it must have somewhere) but actually took hold. ....

I am open to the idea that our rights don’t come from God, but I thank God every day I live in a culture that operationally believes they do. Because that is the best bulwark against the machinations of populists and politicians who set out to inflame passions for short-term gain at the long-term expense of our rights.

And such leaders are all around us. .... (more)
Jonah Goldberg, "Rites About Rights: Sure, voting is a right. But it’s not the source of our right," The Dispatch, Jan. 14, 2022.

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