Thursday, November 29, 2007

Why Huck Scares Me

***UPDATE, 11:10PM: Having re-read this post per my commenters, I find it deeply lacking and way off the mark. I took the quote a bit out of context, and read way too much in it to come to the conclusion that he was implying (even if unintentionally) that rights are derived from society rather than being inherent in the individual. To that end, consider this a retraction of the post.

However, I do still find the concept that a condemned man is executed "by all of us" to be troubling. I'll admit I'm still having a hard time articulating it, but my problem centers more on the concept that all citizens are committing the execution, regardless of whether they think the execution is morally justifiable.

The original post is reprinted below

Acknowledging that Huck comes across as a nice guy who honestly believes what he says, his response on the death penalty question should have been extremely illuminating to anyone who values the principles of individualism. Before I get into this further, I want to say this much for Huckabee: I do not doubt the sincerity of his words. Unlike the times Bush was asked death penalty questions in 2000, Huckabee actually seems to realize that, innocent or not, the death penalty extinguishes a human life. Unlike Bush, Huckabee seems genuinely ashamed that he signed the death warrants of so many individuals (still far, far fewer than Bush), whereas Bush frequently seemed unconcerned, almost proud of the death warrants he had signed, and with no doubts whatsoever that maybe there was a difficult moral question involved. In retrospect, Bush's response to the death penalty questions should have been the first indication of the type of President Bush would be.

But Huckabee's rationale for prohibiting abortion while permitting executions is, to the individualist, extremely disturbing:

"Because there's a real difference between the process of adjudication, where a person is deemed guilty after a thorough judicial process and is put to death by all of us, as citizens, under a law, as opposed to an individual making a decision to terminate a life that has never been deemed guilty because the life never was given a chance to even exist." (My emphasis)

What is scary about this statement is that it implies that there is no such thing as natural, individual rights. Instead, it implies that an individual has rights only insofar as society, social norms, and more importantly, the state, choose to grant rights to the individual. Thus, society literally has the right to decide whether an individual lives or dies.

Under this view, society has all the rights, and the individual essentially has none. If all rights are vested in society, then every action one takes, no matter how personal or private, is subject to regulation and government intrusion.

I can see the appeal of such a view to religious fundamentalists. But for anyone who values their individualism, Huckabee's statement is deeply troublesome and scary.