Cal Poly’s College of Liberal Arts sponsored an event in honor of Constitution Day last Thursday. Dartmouth College government professor Dr. Sonu Bedi lectured on his book, “Rejecting Rights.” He argued that rights are the traditional way to protect basic freedoms, but that this fails to realize liberty and democratic thought. The goal of his lecture was to reframe how people view limited government and have them realize the value of speaking in reasons rather than rights.
“We do best not to speak in the language of rights, rather we ought to limit democratic government by limiting the reasons or rationales on which the state may act … We need to further democratic debate and secure liberty by rejecting rights,” Bedi said.
Basically, Bedi believes that rights are not a proper way to rationalize laws. He argued that reasons provide better grounds for democratic deliberation. In his lecture, Bedi presented two serious case studies to prove his principle: same sex marriage and abortion.
In the discussion of same sex marriage, he said that those who are gay fight for equal rights. This is not true because it is not equal rights, since minors don’t have the right to marry. There is also the argument on whether being gay is by birth or by choice.
If you look at rights, “it is illegitimate, because there is no good reason to reject the rights of gays, just like there is no good reason to reject whether someone prefers chocolate or vanilla ice cream,” Bedi said.
According to the speaker, there is no reason to prohibit one group of marriage. It doesn’t matter if it’s a choice or not. Bedi says that some may argue that marriage is traditionally between a man and a woman, but tradition is not a reason since slavery was also a tradition.
In the second example of his presentation, abortion, there is an argument in this country on whether abortion is a right to life, right to privacy or a right of women.
“Rights pose the wrong questions,” Bedi said.
He argued that if a woman is not allowed the choice of abortion for the sake that it saves the life of a baby, isn’t this similar to being a Good Samaritan? If there is only one person who can save someone’s life, for example, if someone is drowning in a lake and you are the only one around, then are you obliged to save the person?
Bedi brought up the point that there are only six states with forced Good Samaritan laws, and the penalty for not being a Good Samaritan in Vermont is a mere fine of $100. He asked, then why is abortion looked at differently?
Bedi closed his lecture with words from Alexander Hamilton, who objected to having a Bill of Rights in No. 84 of the Federalist Papers. Hamilton felt that rights were things granted by kings and not needed in a democracy. If you have reasons, you should not be confined to rights.
“This lecture was great. Dr.Bedi is very knowledgeable and brought up some important points. It is a debatable matter, but he argued it well. It makes you think in a different way,” Badr Hussain, an environmental horticulture science senior, said.
Political science senior Erin Mellon agreed, adding that this is a topic that most people only look at in one way.
“I thought it was interesting. It flips what you originally thought into a whole new concept,” she said.
For a more in-depth argument, Dr. Sonu Bedi’s book, “Rejecting Rights,” is available.