In the same letter, White makes some other statements worth consideration.
\”There is, I believe, a very real and discernible danger, to a country like ours, in an international covenant that equates human rights with human desires, and that attempts to satisfy, in a single document, governments and philosophies that are essentially irreconcilable. I do not think it safe or wise to confuse, or combine, the principle of freedom of religion or the principle of freedom of the press with any economic goal whatsoever, because of the likelihood that in guaranteeing the goal, you abandon the principle. This has happened over and over again.\”
\”A right is a responsibility in reverse; therefore, a constitutional government of free people should not ward any “rights” that it is not in a position to accept full responsibility for.\”
The relevant passages come from a letter, which I\’ll include here, from White to Margaret Halsey on April 23, 1953. It appears in the Letters of E.B. White, collected and edited by Dorothy Lugano Guth (Harper and Row, 1976).
In turn, White\’s letter refers to an essay written by Halsey about taking her daughter to the public library, and I\’ll include a bit of that essay below (the full essay is available via JSTOR). Also to provide context, Halsey was writing in response to an editorial that White had written in the New Yorker on April 18, 1953. I\’ll include a slice of that below as well.
Here\’s the letter from White to Halsey:
April 23 
Dear Miss Halsey,
I had just read your piece in the ALA Bulletin about taking your daughter to the public library, where she liked “the little chairs and the books about fierce things,” when your letter arrived protesting the editorial in the April 18th issue about human rights. Since I am the author of the offending remarks, it is up to me to answer your complaints.
The New Yorker isn’t against freedom from want and didn’t attack it or minimize it as a goal. But we’re against associating freedom from want (which is an economic goal) with freedom of speech (which is an exact political principle). There is, I believe, a very real and discernible danger, to a country like ours, in an international covenant that equates human rights with human desires, and that attempts to satisfy, in a single document, governments and philosophies that are essentially irreconcilable. I do not think it safe or wise to confuse, or combine, the principle of freedom of religion or the principle of freedom of the press with any economic goal whatsoever, because of the likelihood that in guaranteeing the goal, you abandon the principle. This has happened over and over again. Eva Peron was a great freedom-from-want girl (specially at Christmas time), but it also happened that La Prensa died and the Argentinians were left with nothing to read but government handouts.
If you were to pack croquet balls and eggs in a single container, and take them travelling, you would probably end your journey with some broken eggs. I believe that if you put a free press into the same bill with a full belly, you will likely end the journey with a controlled press.
In your letter you doubt whether the man who wrote the editorial had given much thought to the matter. Well, I’ve been thinking about human rights for about twenty years, and I was even asked, one time during the war, to rewrite the government pamphlet on the Four Freedoms — which is when I began to realize what strange bedfellows they were. A right is a responsibility in reverse; therefore, a constitutional government of free people should not ward any “rights” that it is not in a position to accept full responsibility for. The social conscience and the economic technique of the United States are gaining strength, and each year sees us getting closer to freedom from want. But I’m awfully glad that the “right to work” is not stated in our bill of rights, and I hope the government never signs a covenant in which it appears.
My regards to your daughter, who (human rights or no human rights) is my favorite commentator on the subject of public libraries.
The essay by Halsey to which White is referring is called \”The Outdoor Reading Room,\” and it appears in the ALA Bulletin, Vol. 47, No. 4 (April 1953), pp. 150, 166. Halsey begins:
Every Saturday morning my husband and I take our little girl, aged four and a half, down to the Children\’s Room of the local public library to change her books. This is a fixed routine in our household, and if anything hap pens to interfere with it, my daughter reacts in a way which gives grim promise of future juvenile delinquency.
Speaking rather idly, I asked my daughter one day what it is she likes about the public library. \”The little chairs,\” she answered promptly, \”and the books about fierce things.\”
After a moment\’s pause, she added, \”And the librarian with the long brown hair.\”
As a matter of fact, one of her first gestures toward freeing herself of the maternal apron strings–this was way back a year and a half ago, when she was three–was her insistence that she should take her books into the Children\’s Room by herself. Furtive lurking by the parents outside the door was not encouraged. She made us wait in the street. We did not, of course, know what transpired in the Children\’s Room; but as she never emerged with VASC to WEB of the Encyclopedia Britannica, we concluded she had found out how to cope.
In these days of radio and television, I suppose the public library is not the enormously important source of entertainment that it was to my husband and me when we were growing up …
I do not know if Halsey\’s letter to White is available somewhere. But here is the short editorial in the April 18, 1953 issue of The New Yorker, from the \”Talk of the Town\” section, to which Halsey was responding: