From Merriam-Webster Online:
Entitlement \-ˈtī-təl-mənt\ n. 3: belief that one is deserving of or entitled to certain privileges.
The word entitlement is popular today, appearing often as the Tea Party and right-wing attempt to refashion its use in our society. There is an existing model for it: the word liberal being successfully redefined to mean socialist several decades ago, apparently to provide the right with an excuse to distance themselves from their roots (remember George H.W. Bush accusing Michael Dukakis of being liberal? I wonder how David Hume would have reacted to that.) However, as I have written in the past, words matter, and we can’t possibly understand the political process if we don’t understand the manipulation occurring behind the scenes.
In April of this year I asked the question, “Is the Right conservative?” I concluded that the right-wing in America resembled the French Jacobins more than any other group; French Rousseau liberals who believed that natural law provided them equality with the aristocracy, a radical notion at the time. Which brings me to the above definition.
The Tea Party meme is about taking back the government, creating a wave of populism, and ejecting the ‘elites’ from power. It’s about electing Christine O’Donnell – a woman with no political experience – to the United States Senate. It’s about replacing knowledge with common sense. While these are all fascinating ideas that have merit, it is important to note that there is nothing conservative about any of them. They represent a radical deflection from current political momentum.
But don’t take my word for it, there are centuries of political theory defining conservatism. Edmund Burke – the father of conservatism – believed that civilized society required classes of people, and that equality only existed in front of God, not within the realm of man. The notion that a common man with an internet connection might feel empowered to influence public policy without gaining the necessary expertise and knowledge was simply radical. Actually, it still is.
So, the next time someone rants about entitlement, point out to them the irony of their position. In American society, it’s pretty hard to avoid the presupposition of entitlement in our arguments. From Manifest Destiny to Christine O’Donnell, Americans have boldly taken what is ‘rightly ours’ in the name of God and freedom and righteousness.