Life, Liberty, and Whatever

Instapundit subtly points out that the NYT editorial writers (and their overseers) need to go back to school and re-take U.S. History 101.
THE NEW YORK TIMES' EDITORS think that the phrase "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" is in the Constitution. But then, they believe many things that are demonstrably untrue.
Imagined NYT response:
"Constitution, Declaration of Independence...whatever. You are taking my words out of context, and missing the bigger point....blah, blah,blah."

Further down in the editorial (on Army suicide prevention), where they actually use the hallowed phrase, they propose the following:
"It is an eminently good thing that the anti-suicide measure would require medical specialists to keep track of veterans found to be high risks for suicide. But that’s to care for them as human beings, under that other constitutional right — to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
My only question would be, how does having government "specialists" tracking people that they consider to be "high risks" fall under the category of "Liberty"? Hmm? Just so long as were are not tracking people with terrorist ties via the Patriot Act, right NYT? Only the stressed out soldiers need to be tracked as risky.....

But as Glenn Reynolds likes to say....They told me if Bush was re-elected, people would lose their civil liberties... Heh!

Now I need to go back and see how the NYT's version of the Constitution defines "high risk"....

UPDATE:  Welcome fellow Instapundit disciples!  Please make yourselves at home and read around....


submandave said...

The real irony is that while the rate of suicide in the Army has gone up, the difference is not statistically significant and is still below the national average for non-military Americans. But since I didn't see any bill to screen everyone for suicide signs I guess we want to deny them their constitutional rights too.

JeanneB said...

Ha! How rich is that?!

The NYT implying that the "...right-- to LIFE..." is in the constitution. LOL!

Todd said...

"Just so long as were are not tracking people with terrorist ties via the Patriot Act, right NYT?"
So let's just say hey, they're not terrorism suspects, they're SUICIDE RISKS!
That's brilliant. Everybody wins!

Craig said...

I think Glenn's being a bit literal. A bit more literal than I think is required by the text that he's interpreting. Try on this for an alternate response:

The Times editors nowhere indicate that they think the phrase "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" is in the constitution. They consider this a constitutional right. They say, and I quote, "But that’s to care for them as human beings, under that other constitutional right — to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Notice, no quotes around that phrase in the editorial.

Now then, Thomas Jefferson, writing not long before our Constitution and first ten amendments came into being, told us that the founding generation considered it self-evident that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were unalienable rights endowed by the Creator. Can anyone seriously imagine that the Constitution and Bill of Rights, composed about 13 years later, failed to protect those rights? The entirety of the Bill of Rights could be considered to be the embodiment of the protection of the right of the people to pursue happiness without the interference from the federal government.

In my estimation, then, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness ARE constitutional rights in spite of the fact that the phrase isn't contained in the text. Neither is the phrase, "separation of powers" but does anyone suppose that the Constitution does not embody that?

Max said...

Why do so many people have so much problem with basic rights theory? Craig, I (and the people who wrote the US Declaration of Independance and US Constitution) believe the Constitution in no way embodies the rights to life, liberty &c. The issue actually did come up during debate of the Bill Of Rights, however since those rights come from one's status as being a person and the Bill Of Rights covers rights granted as being a subject of the US government it is moot whether the US Constitution covers them are not.

It has been a while since i bothered to read the US Declaration Of Independance, however it is noteworthy that the writeres of that document distingushed with thier list of grievances against the British crown between those usupations of rights granted as british subjects and rights as people (granted by the creator or act of crreation). While one can certainly argue for alternative formulations ( all human rights are inalienable or rights only exist insofar as granted by the government, being two extremes) one cannot reasonably argue that a document written in the shadow of the Declaration Of Independance would use an alternative rights theory. The documents about the debates over the US Bill Of Rights supports this, with great problems arising from people considering several of ennumerated rights to be inalienable rights instead of rights of the subject of government. At the end of the day however the rights granted under the Bill OF Rights accrue to people by virtue of being subject to US governtment and the inalienable rights accrue to person by virtue of being people - simple enough?

Craig said...


I take your distinction between rights that one has because one is a human being and rights one has as a citizen (or legal alien resident) of a realm. However, I don't understand how you can say that the Constitution does not embody the rights to "life, liberty &c." The text of the Bill of Rights actually forbids the federal government to take life or liberty (as well as property) without due process. That just leaves pursuit of happiness. If it was moot whether the Constitution mentioned them or not, why mention them? I would argue that the reason they are mentioned is that government has not only the power (in raw terms) but also, under certain circumstances, the need to infringe upon them in the execution of one of its expected and legitimate purposes: law enforcement. Because the framers were creating a more powerful central government from that in the Articles of Confederation, they had to be concerned that such a powerful entity could and would, if not checked, trounce upon the rights (even the natural, Creator endowed, unalienable rights) of the people. So then, I am not arguing that there are two different theories of rights in the same document. I am saying that the framers created a document that created a government that had no authorization to infringe upon the rights of the people to pursue happiness and would, therefore, have recourse in the courts when the government did do that improperly.

In other words, the framers created a government that would not be empowered to infringe upon self-evidently unalienable and Creator endowed rights unless they could show that they were doing so for legitimate purposes. Hence, the "due process" clause.

But perhaps one reason that there is so much confusion about basic rights theory involves the fact that there is no longer one, universally accepted theory of rights but, rather, many, even among constitutional legal theorists. It is no longer enough to say, "These are rights because the Creator has endowed them." The Atheist says, "What Creator?" Some theists might say, "Which Creator?" with the implication that, given the variety of theological doctrines of the divine among the various sects, the answer to the question, "Which Creator?" might materially effect which rights might be legitimate to discuss within a theory of rights.

Say that one's theory states that whatever a human being can do (assuming a person not handicapped in any way) without infringing upon another person's rights, is a natural right. Human beings can both think and communicate and, therefore, one of those rights that we have as human beings is the right of free expression and press. Now it may be moot that those are also protected by enumeration in the Constitution but the framers thought it important enough to enumerate it because it knew that human beings in power will be sorely tempted, once in power, to infringe upon the natural right of the people to criticize those in power. Therefore, they embodied the natural right, the right that we have as human beings, into the Constitution through enumeration to prevent the government from thinking it can stop people from criticizing it's policies, for example. That doesn't mean that the Constitution uses two different theories of rights; it means that the framers recognized that certain rights needed to be specified explicitly so that the people would have legal recourse against a government that might infringe upon the rights that people within the realm have as human beings.

What I'm saying is that they protected the right specified in the preamble of the Declaration as one of those self-evidently Creator endowed, unalienable rights -- the pursuit of happiness -- within the very structure and philosophy behind the Constitution itself, namely, the government cannot do anything the people have not explicitly empowered it to do and then explicitly protected that via the tenth amendment which states that powers not explicitly granted the federal government are retained by the people or the states.

I'm saying that a natural, human right can also be a constitutional right. At least that's my thinking.