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Saturday, July 11, A.D. 2009
Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 32-39

(This is a continuation of my posts on Jame Burnham’s liberalism test from A.D. 1964. You may access the related posts at the bottom of this entry.)

James Panero informs us that questions 32-39 are taken from the United Nations’ Universal Declarations of Human Rights, which was adopted in A.D. 1948.

32. Everyone is entitled to political and social rights without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

I do not believe in rights. See my answer to question 3 for my reasons. Given that, I do acknowledge that human beings have claims upon and duties to one another, but I believe that those claims and duties vary depending on the relationship. Thus, I think that we should treat all human beings with a certain level of dignity, but I do not think that we should treat all human beings equally. I owe much more and expect much more from my kin than from people outside my family.

Moreover, I think that any society may and should organize itself according to the order fitting to its regime, and such organization requires attention to the distinctions previously mentioned. In other words, a society’s constitutional order will grant its members powers, claims, and duties by discriminating on the basis of “race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” It is upon such distinctions that regimes distinguish themselves from other regimes.

33. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and expression.

I have addressed this issue in the answers to questions 2, 12, 17, 23, and 26. My short answer is no.

34. Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Redundantly, I have addressed this issue in the answers to questions 2, 12, 17, 23, and 26. My short answer is no.

35. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government.

What exactly does this statement mean? Popular sovereignty begs the question, “Who are the people?” Were human beings in a society equal and unanimous, then there would not be any difficulty in answering such a question. However, human beings are not equal, and they do not believe the same things, make the same decisions, or have the same insights.

Echoing the Schoolmen, I think that the basis of authority is God as the origin of power and of justice, though men share in that authority collectively inasmuch as they incarnate the divine law in themselves. If all men were virtuous and wise, they would flawlessly appoint the best among them to orchestrate communal power to maximize the common good. However, such is not the case, and the varying types of legitimate regimes attempt to approximate good government. Depending on the circumstances, certain regimes achieve this approximation better than others. So, I would argue that the worldly basis of authority resides in a regime’s ability to follow the principles of justice and to rule for the common good. On a practical level, though, such a view does not differ that considerably from Hobbes’ position where a state justifies its own legitimacy by providing and keeping order. I differ, though, in that I would more strenuously support a prolonged counter-revolutionary struggle following a disruption of traditional rule that was not sufficiently incompetent in justice. For revolutions almost always bring about worse regimes.

36. Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security.

See my answers to questions 3 and 7. My short answer is no, but I do think that a well constituted society looks after its weak members in ways that do not weaken the society or encourage dysfunctional behavior.

37. Everyone has the right to equal pay for equal work.

Market forces determine value in an exchange economy, and no other mechanism yet discovered comes closer to organizing a society’s production and consumption so efficiently. In that production and consumption are free, voluntary acts among free men, I do not see the justification for the state’s interference in such free association. An employer should be free to offer the salary and benefits that he wishes, and an employee should be free to accept or to reject that offer. As I state below, I also have no problem with guilds and unions who collectively regulate and represent workers in a trade.

38. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions.

I come closer to agreeing with this proposition than with any other on the test. A trade union is another form of association, and unless such association undermines the regime, it should be permitted. I dislike the reality of contemporary unions, but I have no objection to them on principle. My only possible disagreement, though I am not sure of this opinion, is that state workers should not have unions. Such organizations seem to be seditious by definition; for they exist within the state to force the state to do their bidding. That said, the corruption and lawlessness that characterize most unions ought not to be tolerated.

39. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Let me repeat my answer to question 36: See my answers to questions 3 and 7. My short answer is no, but I do think that a well constituted society looks after its weak members in ways that do not weaken the society or encourage dysfunctional behavior.

Links to this series of posts:

“Are You a Liberal?”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Prelude”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 1-6”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 7-12”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 13-18”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 19-24”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 25-31”
“Burnham’s Liberalism Test: Questions 32-39”

Posted by Joseph on Saturday, July 11, Anno Domini 2009
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