Theodore Dalrymple on rights and moral imagination

Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Theodore Dalrymple (Anthony Daniels) makes the following observation:

When the supposed right to health care is widely recognized, as in the United Kingdom, it tends to reduce moral imagination. Whenever I deny the existence of a right to health care to a Briton who asserts it, he replies, “So you think it is all right for people to be left to die in the street?”

When I then ask my interlocutor whether he can think of any reason why people should not be left to die in the street, other than that they have a right to health care, he is generally reduced to silence. He cannot think of one.

Dalrymple opens his piece by noting that “concrete benefits in pursuance of abstract rights, however, can be provided by the government only by constant coercion.” The obsession with “abstract rights” is not just confined to modern liberals and socialists. This kind of metaphysical thinking about rights is just as prevalent among libertarians and neoconservatives.