The uproar on the left over the Hobby Lobby decision has an explanation. That explanation is that we have allowed our understanding of what is meant by rights and liberties to become badly degraded. In fact, to simplify, the common understanding of rights has gotten into a condition of extreme labefactation. So to speak.
The left tends to think of political rights in terms of stuff — the right to affordable housing, the right to health care, the right to contraception, and so on. Conservatives tend to think of political rights in terms of non-interference — the right to free speech, the right to assemble, the right to worship God freely, and so forth.
Now rights always imply corresponding obligations. If I have a right to life, others have an obligation not to shoot me. If I have a right to keep and bear arms, others have a responsibility not to take those arms away from me. If I have a right to peaceably assemble, then others have the obligation not to disrupt my peaceful assembly, and so on.
In a similar — yet strikingly different — way, if I have a right to free chocolate milk, then somebody has an obligation to provide it for me. If I have a right to free health care, then someone has an obligation to provide free health care. If I have a right to free contraception, then someone must buy it for me.
This different conception of rights is why the right and left reacted in completely different ways to the Hobby Lobby decision. The left paraded placards that said they wanted their boss to stay out of their bedroom. But they sure wanted their boss’s wallet in the bedroom. If they have a right to free contraception, then their boss has an obligation to follow them into the bedroom with that free contraception. They cannot demand this, and then object to his presence there.
But they do object. They object because they are depending upon the “give me stuff” conception of rights, while still trying to utilize the old rhetorical power of the “leave me alone” conception of rights. But this is trying to have it both ways — and we have gotten way past the point where you can have it both ways.
Keeping the boss out of your bedroom is similar to keeping the government out of it. The government out of the bedroom, aye. This, from people who want the government to dictate how far apart the sheetrock screws in the bedroom wall have to be, how flame resistant the mattress is, how big the window is for an escaping adulterer’s ease of egress, or perhaps because of fire, and whether or not one can buy an incandescent light bulb for the lamps in that bedroom.
Because the government does not generate stuff, but can only take it, if the government becomes the guarantor of rights in the sense that the left demands, then it must become a predatory state. If the government respects rights in the sense that conservatives want, the government does so by not doing things. The government can leave you alone and remain small. In fact, being small helps. The government can stay out of your business, and operate within biblical boundaries for government.
But if every citizen has a right to be given something, and if the government is the guarantor of rights, it doesn’t matter how small the object to be given is, the government that gives it must be huge. If every citizen has a right to be given one toothpick annually, this is a trivial thing individually, but the government that ensured such a thing would have to be enormous.
And this brings us back to the central difference between the left and regular folks. The left loves coercion. They love making things mandatory. They love the sense of power it gives them, and this is why they insist on government of the fussbudgets, by the fussbudgets, for the beleaguered.