WASHINGTON -- Consider nature. Not the placid nature that Constable painted, but nature as Tennyson saw it, "red in tooth and claw." To glimpse a state of nature as Hobbes imagined it, where human life is "nasty, brutish and short," visit the Whole Foods store on River Road in Bethesda, Md. There, and -- let the political profiling begin -- probably at many Whole Food stores and other magnets for liberals, nationwide, you will see proof of this social equation: Four Priuses plus three parking spaces equal angry anarchy.
Anger is one of the seven deadly sins. Therefore advanced thinkers are agreed that conservatives are especially susceptible to it. As everyone knows, all liberals are advanced thinkers and all advanced thinkers are liberals. And yet ...
If you think the health care town halls in August cornered the market on anger, come to Bethesda and watch the private security force -- normal men in an abnormal situation -- wage a losing struggle to keep the lid on liberal anger. When parking lot congestion impedes the advance of responsible eaters toward the bin of heirloom tomatoes, you see that anger comes in many flavors.
You also see the problem with founding a nation, as America is founded, on the principle that human beings are rights-bearing creatures. That they are. But if that is all they are, batten down the hatches.
If our vocabulary is composed exclusively of references to rights, aka entitlements, we are condemned to endless jostling among elbow-throwing individuals irritably determined to protect, or enlarge, the boundaries of their rights. Among such people, all political discourse tends to be distilled to what Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School calls "rights talk."
Witness the inability of people nowadays to recommend this or that health care policy as merely wise or just. Each proposal must be invested with the dignity of a right. And since not all proposals are compatible, you have not merely differences of opinion but apocalyptic clashes of rights.
Rights talk is inherently aggressive, even imperial; it tends toward moral inflation and militates against accommodation. Rights talkers, with their inner monologues of pre-emptive resentments, work themselves into a simmering state of annoyed vigilance against any limits on their willfulness. To rights talkers, life -- always and everywhere -- is unbearably congested with insufferable people impertinently rights talking, and behaving, the way you and I of course have a real right to.