Sanders Socialism and the Peril of Positive Rights


Why understating the difference between positive and negative rights is essential for the maintenance of freedom.

sandersfdrSenator Bernie Sanders’ recent win in New Hampshire reveals that, regardless of whether his current success leads him to the Democratic nomination this summer or not, his ideas have taken root in a significant portion of the American electorate. This is particularly among millennials, who support socialism at a rate of 30% according to research conducted by YouGov. This signals a dangerous shift coming in the political climate of America as millennials continue to come of age. Yet these destructive views aren’t even really his original ideas as you might have guessed. They harken back to Franklin D. Roosevelt of whom Sanders praised his “second bill of rights” at a Georgetown rally late last year. Now, what is FDR’s second bill of rights?

  • Employment
  • Food, clothing and leisure, via enough income to support them
  • Farmers’ rights to a fair income
  • Freedom from unfair competition and monopolies
  • Housing
  • Medical care
  • Social security
  • Education

Those eight points above were laid out in FDR’s state of the union address in 1944. They are the pinnacle of positive rights and, therefore, the antithesis of the pro-liberty bill of (negative) rights to the American Constitution. For those of you who don’t know the difference between the two: a positive right is a right to be subjected to an action of another person or group; positive rights permit or oblige action, while a negative right is a right not to be subjected to an action of another person or group; negative rights permit or oblige inaction. Here’s an example:

Negative right: You have the right to not be infringed on in your pursuit of the purchase of healthcare.

Positive right: You have a right to guaranteed healthcare provided by the government.

Positive rights are the forced redistribution of resources justified by the assumption that others are entitled to them. Such justification usually comes in the packaging of “basic human rights”, a phrase that has no concrete definition. Therefore, in reality, a hollow phrase meaning nothing, yet, sadly has the ability to thus then apply to anything.  These are the rights that Sanders and FDR before him supported, and in doing so have forsaken the negative rights of classical liberalism and America’s founding documents.

You have a right to life, liberty, and property. You have a right to bear arms, a right to assemble freely, and a right to practice your religion freely. Not the right to make someone buy you a shotgun, rent you a convention center, or make someone be a practicing Jew. That is something that seems common sense to almost everyone when it’s logically applied to these situations, but that logic seems to get lost in the mist when it becomes promises of free healthcare and college.

But that is what we must change. We can’t let this logic be lost on people. So make sure next time you talk to your friends of your family who are feeling the Bern that you ask them if they know about the principles of positive vs. negative rights. If they don’t, then let them know. Also don’t forget to explain that by supporting Sanders and his list of goodies, you fundamentally betray the founding principles on which our western liberties have been built. If you can’t, well, let’s hope a co-pay free doctor’s check up and that gender studies degree of theirs is, for them, a worth while trade-in.

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Bric Butler