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Sometimes Wrong but rarely in doubt!

11 May 2009

Mislabelling Politics

A acquaintance of mine, a Canadian living in the US, once made an argument for me being a liberal, a small L liberal. His thesis was that given that I support a freer and more liberal society I really was embracing the tenets of classical liberalism which is akin to modern libertarianism. Classical 19th century liberalism is the liberalism of Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence and my friend made a good case that under the 19th century definition of liberalism I would be very liberal. Under today's liberalism I would be anything but a liberal.

Today's liberals seem to me to be a case of movement evolving to become the antithesis of what it originally was. Liberalism in Jefferson's day meant that people had innate freedoms (liberties) such as freedom of expression and economic freedoms. President Obama certainly demonstrates that today modern liberals feel the economic rights of individuals are not innate rights. Remember that a corporation is, under the law, an individual with rights and obligations. Obama's dictatorial treatment of GM and Chrysler clearly demonstrates that modern liberals don't enshrine the economic rights that Jefferson would have respected. Frankly it's a no-brainer but I should show some evidence.

Now in California we have a Linda Sanchez a Democrat impinging on freedom of expression:

Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication, with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person, using electronic means to support severe, repeated, and hostile behavior, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both….

["Communication"] means the electronic transmission, between or among points specified by the user, of information of the user’s choosing, without change in the form or content of the information as sent and received; …

["Electronic means"] means any equipment dependent on electrical power to access an information service, including email, instant messaging, blogs, websites, telephones, and text messages.

For me, Democrat equals modern liberal for values of modern liberal.

From we have the following quote:

Rights are Compossible. Can rights conflict? In the classical liberal conception, a conflict of rights implies a contradiction. Consider two claims:

  1. Joe has the right to do X.
  2. Tom has the right to interfere with Joe's doing X.

The first sentence implies that Tom has an obligation not to interfere with Joe's doing X, whereas the second sentence implies that he has no such obligation. Hence, there is a contradiction.

In order to be logically consistent, therefore, rights cannot conflict; which is to say, they must be compossible. Compossiblility means that each person's rights are compatible with everyone else having the same rights. This is the feature behind the adage "Your right to act ends at my nose," and vice-versa. Take the claim that each person has a right to liberty. Compossibility implies that when any one person is exercising her liberty she is not violating other peoples' right to liberty.

This does not mean that people cannot compete to achieve mutually exclusive goals. It does mean that the competition must be in the context of rights. Put differently, there may be conflicts among people (e.g., they may be pursuing conflicting goals) but there cannot be conflicts of rights. Also, the statement that rights are compossible does not imply that there cannot be arguments and disputes about what those rights are (which is why we have courts of law). But the presumption of a legal hearing is that even though the disputants may disagree, there are objective, non-contradictory rights for the court to discover.

My half-formed knee-jerk opinion on modern liberals is that they've lost sight of the fact that we need to accord individuals liberty rather than groups and that in their rush to add rights they've lost sight of the Compossibility of rights, or they've simply been co-opted by socialism.


  1. I always thought of my own view as being compatible with 'classical' liberalism and have similar concerns about the modern liberalism.

    On the other hand, I would like to see anyplace in a legal document that identifies a corporation as an individual. I believe this statement is incorrect.

    A corpoation may have responsibilities and be accorded legal protections, but that does not equal an individual in my books. The confusion between the individual and the corportion and the conflating of the two has led to many of the worst corporate practices and the worst corporate shenanigans in the last 20 years.

    Individuals have, in my own view, inalienable a priori rights. Corporations do not - they have legal protections granted by individuals or society depending on your particlar conjugation.

    The idea corporations are like an individual and therefore like some form of living entity with some sort of soul and life has resulted in the worst sins of corporatism and the abuses of the actual living, breathing individuals.

  2. I'll have to dig out my law text to get the actual reference but foggy memory says to me that it is established in case law. I'll check though.


    Pertinent part is that "Despite not being natural persons, corporations are recognized by law to have rights and responsibilities like actual people."

    They cite the south african constitution but in Canada a corporation may be created by provinical or federal charter.


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