Monday, May 07, 2007

A Question of Rights

TOWM quote of the day comes from a commenter on this thread on Samizdata:

Well one thing is for sure, a lot more cars will be sold in France in the coming months if last night was anything to go by. It will be interesting to see if he can do anything to change France at all.

He's referring to this news item. It turns out there was some limited rioting after Sarkozy's election was announced in France - but not so much. About 360 cars burned - nothing on the scale predicted by the leftist media there.

I don't know why I liked this commenter's line so well. It just seems the perfect amount of cynicism about the Socialist mindset without quite giving up hope that Sarkozy will actually change things.

The point is well-taken, though I personally didn't need it pointed out to me. Time and again we see that there is Civilization, there is Barbarism, and then there is this weird in-between sort of thing called Socialism. In Civilization, there are protected invidual rights. People know their boundaries, they stay inside them, and they expect others to respect those boundaries as well. In Barbarism, people just do what they want, without respect for other people or their rights. And in Socialism - well, there is a lot of talk of rights, and people behave as though they were entitled to things by right - but crucially the things to which they fancy themselves entitled aren't really theirs.

Consider what they're burning cars about in France. Essentially - it's because the new president has, among other things, proposed such "radical" reforms as dropping the tax on overtime, thereby making it possible for employers to keep people on the clock longer than the mandated week if that is what the company needs and the worker wants. The mob thinks it has a "right" to taxes on overtime - but of course in reality no such "right" is possible. What they really mean is that they don't want to work overtime but are unwilling to take responsibility for their choice, and so they want the government to continue to keep the option off the table so they don't have to think about it. Another one of Sarkozy's proposed "radical" reforms is removing some of the protections the trade unions enjoy. The trade unions have somehow got it into their head that they have a "right" to strike and to have their strikes be consequential. But in reality, of course, so such "right" is possible. Certainly there is a right among workers to come to a collective agreement to walk off the job simultaneously if they don't like their terms of employment. But there is no "right" to be shielded from the consequences of such a decision. Just like any other business decision, the decision to strike is (or, rather, should be) a gamble. It pays off if the company can't live without you and has to give in to your demands. But if the company can live without you then clearly you are not worth what you were asking, and your right to walk off the job does not in any way diminsish the company's equal right to bid you "adios" and hire someone more reliable to take your place.

The point is that Socialists have some rudimentary understanding of how rights operate (they understand enough to know that they are absolute and that when they are not respected the only option left is to fight), but they do not know how to tell rights from privileges. I've always thought it similar to the difference between morals and manners. That is, politeness operates like a system of morals (in that there is an enumerated code of proper behavior which each side believes it is due and owes the other), but without any real substance behind the reasoning. It's about protecting people's feelings rather than anything essential about what they are as human beings. The rule of manners is "be nice," but of course there is no right to demand niceness from people. Just as the rule of Socialism is "help each other," but there is no right to demand help from other people.

And so Socialism floats somewhere between Civilization and Barbarism. It acts civilized, but it is not at its core.

That is the trouble with fighting it, actually. It's adherents really believe that they are owed civilized treatment from the rest of us, even though what they are in actuality is highway robbers with a very specific method. They do their robbing through the legislature rather than on the road - but the same guns and threat of violence (from the police, in this case) are involved. And yet to them, the government's stamp makes it somehow moral to tell companies whom they can and cannot employ and at what rate and for how long just to keep the majority comfortable. And that makes them intractable.

So I understand where this commenter is coming from. Good luck, Sarkozy, but with that kind of entrenched entitlement mindset - the kind that burns cars just because someone who might take away their privileges-mistaken-for-rights was legally elected (by "the People," no less!) president - it's hard to see how real change will come any time soon. The People must first evolve...


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