Commissar Sebelius isn’t the only one interested in “striking the appropriate balance” between individual liberty and state compulsion. Everyone talks like that these days. For Canada’s Chief Censor, Jennifer Lynch, freedom of expression is just one menu item in the great all-you-can-eat salad bar of rights, so don’t be surprised if we’re occasionally out of stock. Instead, why not try one of our tasty nutritious rights du jour? Like the human right to a transsexual labiaplasty, or the human right of McDonald’s employees not to have to wash their hands after visiting the bathroom. Commissar Lynch puts it this way: “The modern conception of rights is that of a matrix with different rights and freedoms mutually reinforcing each other to build a strong and durable human rights system.”
That would be a matrix as in some sort of intricate biological sequencing very few people can understand? Or a Matrix as in the illusory world created to maintain a supine citizenry by all-controlling government officials? The point is, with so many pseudo-“rights” bouncing around, you need a bigger and bigger state: Individual rights are less important than a “rights system” — i.e., a government bureaucracy.
This perversion of rights is killing the Western world. First, unlike real rights — to freedom of speech and freedom of religion — these new freedoms come with quite a price tag. All the free stuff is free in the sense of those offers that begin “You pay nothing now!” But you will eventually. No nation is rich enough to give you all this “free” stuff year in, year out. Spain’s government debt works out to $18,000 per person, France’s to $33,000, Greece’s to $39,000. Thank God we’re not Greece, huh? Er, in fact, according to the Senate Budget Committee, U.S. government debt is currently $44,215 per person. Going by the official Obama budget numbers, it will rise over the next ten years to $75,000. As I say, that’s per person: 75 grand in debt for every man, woman, and child, not to mention every one of the ever-swelling ranks of retirees and disabled Social Security recipients — or about $200,000 per household.
So maybe you’re not interested in philosophical notions of liberty vs. statism — like Danica Patrick, tens of millions of people are happy to “leave it up to the government to make good decisions.” Maybe you’re relatively relaxed about the less theoretical encroachments of Big Government — the diversion of so much American energy into “professional services,” all the lawyering and bookkeeping and paperwork shuffling necessary to keep you and your economic activity in full compliance with the Bureau of Compliance. But at some point no matter how painless the seductions of statism, you run up against the hard math: As those debt per capita numbers make plain, all this “free” stuff is doing is mortgaging your liberty and lining up a future of serfdom.
I used to think that the U.S. Constitution would prove more resilient than the less absolutist liberties of other Western nations. But the president has calculated that, with Obamacare, the First Amendment and much else will crumble before his will. And, given trends in U.S. jurisprudence, who’s to say he won’t get his way? That’s the point about all this “free” stuff: Ultimately, it’s not about your rights, but about his.
— Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is the author of After America: Get Ready for Armageddon. © 2012 Mark Steyn