“Human Rights,” According to the Obama Administration

Washington Post editorial:

[Secretary of State Clinton] offered an innovation: The Obama administration, she said, would “see human rights in a broad context,” in which “oppression of want — want of food, want of health, want of education, and want of equality in law and in fact” — would be addressed alongside the oppression of tyranny and torture. “That is why,” Ms. Clinton said, “the cornerstones of our 21st-century human rights agenda” would be “supporting democracy” and “fostering development.”

This is indeed an important change in U.S. human rights policy — but the idea behind it is pure 20th century. Ms. Clinton’s lumping of economic and social “rights” with political and personal freedom was a standard doctrine of the Soviet Bloc, which used to argue at every East-West conference that human rights in Czechoslovakia were superior to those in the United States, because one provided government health care that the other lacked. In fact, as U.S. diplomats used to tirelessly respond, rights of liberty — for free expression and religion, for example — are unique in that they are both natural and universal; they will exist so long as governments do not suppress them. Health care, shelter and education are desirable social services, but they depend on resources that governments may or may not possess. These are fundamentally different goods, and one cannot substitute for another.

(H/T: David Boaz)

Biographers tell us that Clinton was once an Ayn Rand fan.  Perhaps she should read this essay [for its explication of the principle of so-called “negative” rights]–not that one has to be an Ayn Rand admirer [as I’m sure the Post editorialists are not] to be appalled at Clinton’s (and therefore the Obama adminsitration’s) abandonment of longstanding American liberal (in the philosophic sense) tradition in favor of the sort of thing you might see put more succinctly on a graduate student’s bumper sticker in Madison, Wisconsin.