Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A different way of thinking, 1776 edition

...it is their duty to obey, just so long as it is their interest, and no longer.

--From A Fragment on Government--

This is Bentham talking about the social contract, where citizens agree to follow the rules set down by their government so long as their rulers govern well. But we don't seem to talk about our system of government in terms of a social contract anymore. Instead we talk about rights and responsibilities.

Which got me to asking: do rights come with responsibilities, as we are always told? Yes, but I suspect the idea is something of a fraud. When we talk about rights and responsibilities we are only thinking about getting citizens to conform to the rule of law. We never think to question whether the government is fulfilling its obligation to govern well.

It's as if rights are a commodity and responsibilities are the price we have to pay for them. But if someone were to have complete control of a commodity and charge exorbitant prices wouldn't we call that a monopoly and try to break it up?

So, the next time someone says, "rights come with responsibilities," ask yourself if you're being asked to pay too much.

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