Joe the Plumber “Your dead kids don’t trump my constitutional rights”

Posted on Posted in Ethics, Kant, liberal/conservative, libertarianism, Political Philosophy, Politics, Uncategorized

Joe is right, but Joe is also very very wrong.

Joe is right that individual rights are inviolable. Just because there has been a mass killing it doesn’t mean that we can ignore individual rights. As Robert Nozick and more importantly Immanuel Kant have said individual rights are inviolable and we cannot make exceptions in the name of utility or the common good.

But libertarians like Joe are wrong about what their rights are. They tend to assume their legitimate rights and legitimate individual freedoms are much greater than they actually are. They assume they have the right to not pay taxes or to own whatever type of gun they choose, etc. without concern for the rights of others.

However if you understand the most basic features of social contract theory, which is the foundation of the all notions of individual rights and civil liberties, you understand that a person’s individual rights are limited. That is the most basic point of social contract theory. When we choose to enter into a social contract we are choosing to give up our unlimited right to everything! And we agree to limit our rights in a way that benefits everyone. That is what individual liberty is all about.

What mass killings like the recent one in Isla Vista help us do is to rethink our understanding of what rights people have. It is not that in the wake of such a tragedy we decide individual rights don’t matter, as Joe the plumber is suggesting.

In the wake of such tragedies we realize the need recalibrate our understanding of what the basic civil liberties are. And in the wake of all the recent tragedies we need to realize that the basic right to self-defense needs to be balanced with the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness of all members of society.

And even brief reflection on the two sets of rights makes it clear that we are off balance, that our current gun laws based on a right to self-defense infringe on the rights of all people to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

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