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Samizdata quote of the day

But in the post-war period, rights have been transformed from negative freedoms to positive goods for the individual, such as education and employment, and then to positive goods for groups, including the protection of identities. With each step there has been a move away from holding the authority of the state to account, towards empowering the state over goods which it is increasingly difficult to guarantee. The result is that the state has become more coercive in its attempts to deliver those goods.

Don Trubshaw

16 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Julie near Chicago

    Yes, I think that’s quite correct. The more X does for Y, the easier it often becomes for Y to assume that it’s X who will, and who should, see that Y’s next need or desire is met. And of course X will expect gratitude, and loyalty, from Y, and that these will require X to try to please Y by doing as he’s told.

    Except, of course, for those X’s who find gratitude overriden by resentment of the donnor, because now they feel bound to Y and beholden, and sometimes diminished in Y’s eyes and sometimes in their own. (Dammit, I should have taken care of that myself! The last thing I wanted was help from that jackass!) I think it was Dorothy Sayers who had somebody, probably Harriet Vane, say something along the lines of “I absolutely hate feeling gratitude to somebody. It makes me want to bite.”


    I do wish we could stop referring to liberty rights — the right of self-determination, the right of freedom from manipulative or physical coercion or outright theft — as “negative rights,” as distinguished to so-called “positive rights” to things that must in the end be supplied by others on demand, should the claimant be unable or unwilling to provide them for himself. These are not positive “rights,” but rather positive wrongs, To be supplied on demand by somebody else, if need be, or if the person finds it difficult or inconvenient to supply them himself, whether or not somebody wants or is voluntarily willing to gratify the need or wish.

    Liberty rights (to life, liberty, and self-supplied property) are positive rights, the ones that don’t interfere with other people’s similar liberty right of self-determination. What people call “positive rights” are just statements of the things that they think Society or the State should guarantee that they are provided with, by Society or “the State” — in other words, that it can force some poor schlub or schlubs to provide.

    And the only way that can be done is for Society or the State to extort individuals and groups to supply the desired goods and services. As ever more goods and services are added to the list of extortables, naturally the list of laws requiring compliance of individuals to supply them grows.

    And if you’re willing to twist words just the teeniest bit, you can show that any given thing or service can be seen as a legitimate need that others must supply if the person is unable or unwilling to supply it himself, either through his own labor or by bargaining with somebody else to do it, either through monetary purchase or by barter.

  • The result is that the state has become more coercive in its attempts to deliver those goods.

    While I would not accuse the state of being as uninterested in delivering “these goods” as Theresa May is in delivering an actual Brexit, I think the quoted sentence up to ‘coercive’ is more indisputable than the quoted sentence after that word. The state’s evolution is a mixture of attempts to deliver, excuses for power, and post-hoc acceptance of the position they’ve blundered into.

  • Runcie Balspune

    The underlying problem is not positive goods per se, but the expectation that as a right these should be free. I don’t have a problem with a “right to food”, but a “right to free food” is another matter entirely.

  • Paul Marks

    It has happened before – for example the reverse side of Imperial Roman coins still often carried the word “libertas” (liberty) but it was illustrated by a loaf of bread. Yes the transformation was that crude – freedom transformed into free bread for the mob. The regime in power in Scotland would love this.

    Or Franklin Roosevelt with his demand for a new “Bill of Rights” made up of |”welfare rights” – having (most likely) a brain tumour, Mr Roosevelt could not see that his new “Bill of Rights” was not an addition to the real Bill of Rights it was in FLAT CONTRADICTION to it. Rights as goodies from the government – rather than rights as limitations on government power.

    God damn the people who are destroying civilisation – God damn them to the eternal fires of Hell.

  • Bilwick

    Tell it to Buttigieg. I saw a video on YouTube of “Red Diaper Buttsky” being interviewed by Seth Meyers about how the GOP has co-opted the word “liberty,” but forgotten that the State actually furthers “liberty” by paying for your health care, etc. In other words, Red Diaper Boy believes in a liberty that is obtained by forcing the taxpayers to pay for it. Brilliant.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Runcie, I’m afraid I disagree with you. (For one thing, I was talking about so-called “positive” rights, not “positive goods,” but never mind that.)

    The very first difficulty has nothing to do with the price of the good or service, but the fact that if X has a positive right to it, to food for instance, it means that “society” — which means one or more individuals have a positive duty to provide it. In that case, if no one or no group is willing to provide it voluntarily, at any cost, then someone is going to have to be forced to provide it.

    This is, of course, a thought experiment at the extreme end of the continuum of possibilities. I suppose that on the ground, there’s very little that you can’t find someone who’s willing to do it, for a high enough price. Still, if I have a “positive” right to life, and I’m the sole survivor of a plane crash in the arctic and will freeze to death if I can’t find warm enough clothing, for instance, then I have a right to kill the first eskimo I can catch so as to take his parka and so forth.

    Or to kill my neighbor and eat him, if the conditions of famine are severe enough — as has happened in various instances over the millenia, so I hear, and as a particular f’rinstance, in the case of the Ukrainian famine….

    Survival was a moral as well as a physical struggle. A woman doctor wrote to a friend in June 1933 that she had not yet become a cannibal, but was “not sure that I shall not be one by the time my letter reaches you.” The good people died first. Those who refused to steal or to prostitute themselves died. Those who gave food to others died. Those who refused to eat corpses died. Those who refused to kill their fellow man died. Parents who resisted cannibalism died before their children did.[49]


  • Julie near Chicago (April 15, 2019 at 8:17 pm), this contrasting quote about the Ukraine famine comes from ‘The Harvest of Sorrow’ by Robert Conquest. From memory:

    “In one hut, there would be something like a war, with each member of the family jealously guarding their food and watching the others. In another, love would rule till the end. And people noticed that, where love ruled, people lived longer.”

    (though in the end, Conquest notes, love alone did not save anyone).

  • Runcie Balspune

    which means one or more individuals have a positive duty to provide it.

    I was implying that is the case, as we all acknowledge that nothing is “free”, so “positive duty” is just another nice way of saying “doing it for free”, like recycling, for example.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Niall, Runcie — Maybe I’m not firing on all cylinders, but —


    Niall, thanks for the quote from Robert Conquest. It’s an interesting observation (one is hardly amazed), but I don’t see how it’s in “contrast” with the Wikipedia quote.


    Runcie, I’m afraid I’m missing your point. I don’t see how recycling is in any sense a positive duty, whether of the Humean type (“you ought to do it, just because!” — i.e., it’s your Duty, period; though this would not be a “positive” duty in a sense analogous to the idea of a “positive” right) or of the human-law type which is more analagous to a positive right (recycle or it’s pokey for you, bro). The law (the force of the government) doesn’t require you to do it, at least not in the U.S. — although your Neighborhood Narc, the not-really-much-of-a-lady next door, might call the cops on you.

    If by “nothing is free” you mean that nothing is gotten, by either man or fish or amoeba, without some sort of “effort,” then that’s true, but I don’t see how it applies in the sense our context implies.

    You don’t, for instance, have a “positive duty” to eat; you can choose to starve yourself to death, unless somebody’s force-feeding you.

    But maybe I’m just being dense. Anyway, I’m not “fussed” about the point, one way or the other. :>)

  • Julie near Chicago, April 16, 2019 at 6:04 pm, I thought that “where love ruled, people lived longer” contrasted with ”The good people died first”. I’m not suggesting either quote is simply wrong. Sometimes, cannibals lived where others died; sometimes they died earlier than others. Towards the end, in March 1933, the party turned against its own low-level enforcers in the villages, stole their grain and wiped them out. And in the purge in the later 30s, one of the things that increased the statistical risk was being a low-level worker for the NKVD, informer or similar.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Thanks very much very much for the explanation, Niall. Now I think I see:

    I think the difference is that I took the second part of the quoted Snyder* paragraph as a generality and not a strict categorization (i.e., it wasn’t meant to imply that “Those who survived longest only did so because they succumbed to cannibalism — and they were not the ‘good people'”). But if he’d introduced his list of examples with such a phrase as “Generally speaking,” he’d have taken away from the emotional force of it.

    So people in loving families might have lived longer because the shared love helped them not to prey on each other. To you, this is the more forceful fact; to me, it only means that they were among the exceptional “good people” who survived longer.

    Or so it seems to me. And thanks again. 😀
    *From the Foot’s footnote [49]:

    Timothy Snyder. Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. Basic Books, 2010, pp. 50–51. ISBN 0-465-00239-0. Ref gives link to book:


  • Julie near Chicago

    Oh for pity’s sake, I just figured out the Short Form:

    You see the two statements as contrasting, whereas I see them as complementary.

    😀 😎

  • Julie near Chicago (April 17, 2019 at 12:57 am), in the words of the Grand Inquisitor of Barataria, “That’s a very nice distinction!” Clearly we agree in our meaning while disputing furiously over the terms in which it is best expressed. 🙂

    Does a complement contrast with its complement? Always, necessarily, contingently, … ? Does samizdata have more urgent topics to discuss? Do I have a day job to do? (Do I still have a day job?) …

  • Julie near Chicago

    Ah, that I cannot answer, Niall. You will have to consult the Great Frog on your employment status yourself, in person.

    I will admit that I have too often found It/Him/Her a bit disinterested in the petty problems of us, Its/Her/His creation. Most discouraging.

    Suggest we take a break from our furious dispute and adjourn for sandwiches and a bottle of bubbly in some likely-looking roadside spot. Perhaps we can entice the spirits of Lord Peter and Miss Vane to join us. 😀

  • staghounds

    Julie near Chicago, the entire existence of civilisation, and everything we call decency, may be an artefact of having enought to eat- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minnesota_Starvation_Experiment

    Which is to say that the
    “positive rights” may not really be burdens forced (by themselves) on the productive, but burdens chosen because hungry, sick, illiterate, people carry a cost to those who aren’t.

    Maybe the state has become more coercive in its attempts to deliver those goods because the people NOT getting the goods want to shut those goods-getters up, down, and out.

    I don’t believe that’s all of it, but it’s there. Housing projects prove it, to me.

    Sure we’ll feed and clothe and house you- on the reservation….