Tuesday, March 06, 2012

What gives you the right?

One of the changes in the last five decades is that we are inundated with the language of rights, civil rights and human rights. Rights have gone viral. And, IMHO, haywire.

One of my thoughtful commentors recently asked me about where rights come from. I am afraid that's a bit above my pay grade. I know enough to know that it is not a simply answered question. It requires elucidating views about human nature, human communities, history, the world and God.

On the homepage of the Dominican Order, its justice-and-peace devotees have articles up like this one: Brazilian street orphans and education: a human rights perspective. Without reading beyond the headline, you know that they will argue for a rights-based duty on the part of the Brazilian state to provide education for these kids. For most of the folks who speak the lingo of human rights, anything they think a person needs becomes a positive right. In America, we are now asked to believe that free health care is a human and civil right. (And that balking at "free" aka paid-for-by-someone-else contraception amounts to a "war on women") Where does it stop? Jefferson's deeply ambiguous phrase about a right to pursuit of happiness is now heard as a right to happiness itself.

With a HT to Canuckistan curmudgeoness-in-training Kathy Shaidle, a critique of the "human rights" regime and industry in far-advanced Europe by Luke Samuel:
But there is a more fundamental reason that liberals should be sceptical of human-rights law: because it makes us all less free. Human rights are not ‘rights’ in a liberal sense at all. They bear no resemblance to the ‘rights’ fought for by the radical liberals of the English Civil War, or the French and American revolutions, which sought to limit the power of the state and protect the autonomy of citizens. Instead, human rights treat people as fundamentally vulnerable and in need of state protection. This view of human vulnerability, in the eyes of the human-rights lobby, justifies the granting of absolute power to the state to set the boundaries of freedom.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg recently advised the remorphing Egyptian State not to use the old and limiting US Constitution as a model for their new make-believe democracy.  Her suggested models were the new-fangled and much more high-minded versions found in Canada and South Africa. She was right, but for the wrong reasons.

Since she was part of the Kelo decision, it probably does not bother her that the shiny Trudeaupian Charter of Rights and Freedoms lacks any recognition of the right to property. Or that no matter what kind of armchair glories the South African paper might describe, it does nothing to prevent world-class rates of robbery, rape and race-revenge murder*, to say nothing of the tribalism and corruption endemic to Third World countries (which Black "Truth-and-Reconciliation" South Africa now is). Anyway, we all know how respectful Arab Muslim states are when it comes to constitutional fidelity, so Ginsberg's advice is just pissing in the wind...(can females do that?)
*More White farmers have been slaughtered by Blacks there since St Nelson Mandela's ANC victory in 1994 than all the Blacks lynched in the US since the Civil War.
My point is that the American Constitution, while a product of both the English Protestant temper and the (AngloScottish) Enlightenment, was uniquely adapted to the peoples it was designed for: the Original Thirteen States. It stood on massive cultural, social, philosophical, economic and religious assumptions and on very particular political grounds. It was not the French Revolution's grandiose Declaration of the Rights of Man (parent, of course, to the UN's verbose paper frauds). Most of it was designed to create a limited government, a structure of purposeful inefficiency which would attempt to thwart or at least to slow the natural drift of any State toward tyranny. The Bill of Rights was a set of  amendments.

What strikes me more and more is that while democracy and human rights and dignity is touted around the globe as the unquestioned currency of civilized discourse, even by the Roman Catholic Church, it is as strange to human nature as it is rare in history. It is an opus contra naturam, requiring the skill, dedication and discipline of an alchemist searching for the gold hidden in the lead.

Mr Samuel puts his finger on the root difference between the once-robust and now fading-into-history American sense of rights and the Eurotopian version: ours assumed that the what people most needed was protection from the State. On the Old Continent --and its backwash here-- it's protection by the State.

A world of difference.

And as our demographics become more and more disconnected from the culture that gave birth to us, it is likely that, regardless of what the Dead White Men's document says, the collectivism deep in the human psyche will triumph. To say that we are a Creedal Nation, not an Ethnic one, is as much a deception as imagining that either Nature or Nurture have power unconnected to the other.

The group most likely to carry on the American tradition of rights, as opposed to the European, is the group most like the one that created it: White Christian Males. And that group is like the duck in Peter and the Wolf. The groups who naturally fall into the arms of the Statists, shown clearly by their voting patterns, are urbanites, women, Blacks and Hispanics, gays, Jews and Catholics. And we all know how much more White and rural the country is becoming.


Anonymous said...

I dunno. If ex cathedra balks at providing a logos of »human nature, human communities, history, the world and God« that could account for "rights," then who will stand up and speak for Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, which did provide the self-evident foundation for the American system?

Straussians go on and on in public about how statesmen should always avoid indicating first principles, as did Machiavelli, for instance. Whenever possible, that is, political speech should be unserious flimflam that rhetorically makes any substantive divisions and problems and conflicts seem to melt away.

In emergencies, they say, a statesman may allude to first principles, but only obliquely, as did Lincoln, during the emergency of the southern secession and the war to preserve the union. If this means pervading the message that the war was for the liberation of slaves, then so be it. What constitutional harm could follow from a pervasive cultural misunderstanding of the purposes of the union? For example, government and even war are fitting instruments for major social reform.

Yes, Lincoln was depending upon cultural commentators and clergy and so on to dissolve the unstated but definitely rely'd upon message that the war was fought for the abolition of slavery, that is, for the sake of the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of the slaves (and then curiously follow'd up by the wars of Indian extermination, expropriation and relocation effected by the union armies). ... To this day, owning slaves isn't a disqualification from American herodom, as indicated e.g. by the figures selected for American coinage and currency.

But isn't the situation today an emergency that validates or rather obligates statement of first principles? Evidently jumping up and down about the danger of domination by Io stato isn't rhetorically sufficient to preserve Locke and Montesquieu and the Framers' system.

Pointing to recent executive orders compelling Catholic employers to provide indirect prescription coverage for contraception isn't terrifying enough to rally the population to limited government.

"We the people" don't really believe there's evil in the heart of man. Lincoln balk'd at mentioning the Biblical doctrine as much as any Transcendentalist. Calvin is a horrifying fuddy-duddy for us the people. (We all can name the one person he is responsible for executing. Calvin is that evil! And accordingly we the people perceive we musn't learn from him. We incomparably prefer social-justice Catholicism -- the Catholicism that Catholics eagerly built in the culture. Killing Servetus, who was in Geneva because he was on the run from the Inquisition, is the final truth of Calvin, whereas everything cruel or oppressive or otherwise Calvin-like in Catholic history is some kind of intrusion into social-justice Catholic teaching. In every important respect, Thomas Aquinas is a Calvinist. Dorothy Day has voted democrat in every election since whenever (she's still on the voter rolls in Chicago).

Anonymous said...

Accordingly, calls to keep government limited are surely only a smoke screen for those whose material and prestige interests are served by limited government. The only freedoms we care about are lifestyle freedoms, and obviously the executive orders don't force Catholic bishops to use contraception, so what's the objection?

It's like restrictions on hate speech. They're restrictions only on those who want to misuse the first amendment for false and offensive speech: one has no more "unalienable right" to find fault with Islam as such, or to publish demoralizing crime statistics, as to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theatre.

Formerly, the courts felt that restrictions on obscenity weren't real restrictions on speech. They were wrong. Freedom of "expression" is more important than freedom of logos. (Maybe logos is intrinsically hate speech?) But the point is well taken: there's always been restrictions on freedom of speech, and restrictions on hate speech are the restrictions that make most sense and serve the cause of lifestyle freedom or expression freedom better than any other restrictions.

If you have something worth saying or expressing, restrictions on hate speech won't restrict your expression.

In sum, as long as the state isn't control'd by white males of a certain kind, we the people have no valid reason to fear the state as such, any more than we have reason to fear man (human) as such. ... What really was the problem with Nazi totalitarianism? The totalitarianism or the Nazi programmes that the totalitarianism was used for? If the Third Reich was for the sake of lifestyle freedoms, we wouldn't have to be constantly learning about how bad Hitler was on the History Channel.

... Formerly Anglo-Saxony's "Whom Are We Kidding?" mediating institutions dispel'd the flimflam of political rhetoric, for instance, that the Civil War was fought for the sake of the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of the slaves, or that the First World War was fought to make the world free for democracy, or that the Second World War was fought in order to shut down Hitler's death camps.

But desublimation requires that correcting the flimflam cease in the post_war_ aion, for after all, if repression and sublimation aren't essentially necessary and even more than necessary, then government too needn't be repressive but can be affirm'd and repurposed as a lifestyle enhancer.

Or, more to the point, if there is no need for primary repression and sublimation, then one can't explain classic liberalism. The liberal is reduced to the libertarian, arguing abstractly that the individual should be left free (but why?) and that government should appropriate, control etc -- even if in fact the individual can't subsist on his own but needs government, and it may seem to some, that an extensive system of governmental institutions is preferable to extremely limited government.

If Locke, Montesquieu and the Framers had been libertarians, there never would have been a Revolution of 1776, the Constitution of the United States, etc. Locke et al didn't balk at explanations of God and nature and man. ...

Anonymous said...

Tremendously pleased to receive the crystalline peals of your words on rights after my inquiry.

Where rights are from is a worthy question. What rights are at all is tough too, and what I'd wait a thousand years to hear you pronounce upon.

You answered the best question, though: what sort of rights do we need to not have (how have 'rights' been over-applied).

- Thoughtful Commentor

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