Whether he knows it or not, last Tuesday President Obama made the case for enslaving Justin Bieber. He headed to Osawatomie, Kansas in a desperate attempt to recreate Teddy Roosevelt’s 1910 New Nationalism speech – in which Roosevelt put forward the same Bieber-enslaving arguments.
In that speech, Roosevelt makes the point several times that individuals only have rights as long as they benefit his vision of the common good:
“It is not even enough that [great wealth] should have been gained without doing damage to the community. We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community.”
Later he says:
“The essence of any struggle for healthy liberty has always been, and must always be, to take from some one man or class of men the right to enjoy power, or wealth, or position, or immunity, which has not been earned by service to his or their fellows.”
Roosevelt is all about taking property away from people when he thinks they don’t deserve it. What he never gets around to explaining though, is where he gets the authority to do that. It certainly isn’t in the Constitution.
But even if it were, what logical foundation would Roosevelt have for confiscating property from law-abiding citizens?
Imagine that a buyer and a seller willingly get together. The buyer firmly believes that the product or service that the seller is offering is well worth the asking price, so they engage in a business transaction.
Why in the world should Roosevelt be able to confiscate the seller’s profit just because he doesn’t believe the sale was in the public interest?
Take Justin Bieber for example. He willingly creates a product and the people who buy his music believe it’s well worth the money. But can anyone honestly argue that what he does is a “benefit to the community”? All Bieber does is turn 12 year old girls into overly emotional basket cases and annoy the crap out of almost everyone over 25. Does that mean the government should send someone to knock him down and take his money just because his music sucks?
Of course not – that would violate Bieber’s God-given right to property. He is the one who created that wealth and he did it without violating the rights of anyone else. So who else should have a claim on that property but Bieber?
Roosevelt’s approach would easily lead to the conclusion that it would be a good idea to violate Bieber’s property rights as long as it is in the best interest of the public. In other words, he believes it’s acceptable to subordinate the rights of one person to the benefit of someone else in society.
But by that logic, why is slavery wrong? After all, slavery is a violation of a person’s rights for the benefit of someone else.
It wouldn’t be hard to argue that all of society would be better off if we completely banned Bieber from making music and instead forced him to work as slave labor in a factory that produced toys for underprivileged children. If that arrangement promotes the common good, then why would it be wrong?
As great as enslaving Bieber might sound to any parent that has been forced to sit through one of his concerts, obviously slavery is always wrong. But it should be just as obvious that it is always wrong to violate a person’s rights.
Some people will say, “That example is over the top! Using slavery as an example is way too extreme.” Oh. So Roosevelt’s plan is ok because it only violates someone’s rights a little bit. In other words, the problem isn’t that slavery violates one person’s rights for the benefit of another… it’s how much.” Got it. That should work well. Who gets to decide how much is too much?
That is exactly why policies should never be made based on what’s in the public interest. The purpose of government is to protect and enhance the rights of individuals. Whenever decisions are made based on what is best for society, it always leads to these creepy justifications for who’s rights can be violated and when.
Once one justification has been made it is then much easier to make another, and before long the government has an incredible amount of power to impact everyone’s daily life. In the end, what was sold as just a minor violation of one person’s rights could open the door to the destruction of freedom for all.