Rights, Responsibilities, and Communitarianism
For the wages of sin is death.
From wealth (khrémata) does not come virtue (areté), but from virtue comes wealth and the whole of other goods (agathá) for men, private (ídios) and public (demósios).
Socrates, Plato's Apology of Socrates, 30b
We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness -- That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it...
Thomas Jefferson, "The Declaration of Independence," 1776
Was the government to prescribe to us our medicine and diet, our bodies would be in such keeping as our souls are now [i.e. under a State religion 1]. Thus in France the emetic was once forbidden as medicine, the potato as an article of food.
Thomas Jefferson, "Notes on Virginia," 1784
A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded....Prohibition goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to
control a man's appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes.
Everybody has asked the question. . ."What shall we do with the Negro?" I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are wormeaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! I am not for tying or fastening them on the tree in any way, except by nature's plan, and if they will not stay there, let them fall. And if the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone!
Frederick Douglass, "What the Black Man Wants"
The State...stands between me and my body, and tells me what kind of doctor I
must employ. When my soul is sick, unlimited spiritual liberty is given me by the State . Now then, it doesn't seem logical that the State shall depart from this great policy...and take the other position in the matter of smaller consequences -- the health of the body....Whose property is my body? Probably mine....If I experiment with it, who must be answerable? I, not the State. If I choose injudiciously, does the State die? Oh, no.
Mark Twain, in "Osteopathy," 1901
While the Opium Registration Act of December 17, 1914, may have a moral end, as well as revenue, the court, in view of grave doubt as to its constitutionality except as a revenue measure, construes it as such.
United States Supreme Court, United States v. Jin Fuey Moy, 1915
Against individualism, the Fascist conception is for the State; and it is for the individual in so far as he coincides with the State.... Liberalism denied the State in the interests of the particular individual; Fascism reaffirms the State as the true reality of the individual. Benito Mussolini, Fascism: Fundamental Ideas
The greater the readiness to subordinate purely personal interests, the higher rises the ability to establish comprehensive communities.... This state of mind, which subordinates the interests of the ego to the conservation of the community, is really the first premise of every truly human culture. (emphasis mine)
Adolf Hilter, Mein Kampf, Chapter 11, Ralph Manheim translation
What matters is to emphasize the fundamental idea in my party's economic program clearly -- the idea of authority. I want the authority; I want everyone to keep the property he has acquired for himself according to the priniciple: benefit to the community precedes benefit to the individual. But the state should retain supervision and each property owner should consider himself appointed by the state. It is his duty not to use his property against the interests of others among his own people. This is the crucial matter. The Third Reich will always retain its right to control the owners of property. Adolf Hilter, 1931
If we are to go forward we must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline, because, without such discipline, no progress is made, no leadership becomes effective. We are, I know, ready and willing to submit our lives and property to such discipline because it makes possible a leadership which aims at a larger good. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, First Inaugural Address, 1933
When we got organized as a country and we wrote a fairly radical Constitution with a radical Bill of Rights, giving [sic] a radical amount of individual freedom to Americans, it was assumed that the Americans who had that freedom would use it responsibly... that they would work for the common good, as well as for the individual welfare... However, now there's a lot of irresponsibility. And so a lot of people say there's too much freedom. When personal freedom's being abused, you have to move to limit it.
Bill Clinton, April 19, 1995,after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, two years after the massacre of the Branch Davidians at Waco
A decent society is not based on rights; it is based on duty....Our duty to one another...To all should be given opportunity; from all, responsibility demanded.
Labor Party Prime Minister Tony Blair, elected 1997[Washington Post, November 9, 1997]
The aim of untold millions is to be free to do exactly as they choose and for someone else to pay when things go wrong. In the past few decades, a peculiar and distinctive psychology has emerged in England. Gone are the civility, sturdy independence, and admirable stoicism that carried the English through the war years. It has been replaced by a constant whine of excuses, complaints, and special pleading. The collapse of the British character has been as swift and complete as the collapse of British power. Theodore Dalrymple, Life at the Bottom, The Worldview That Makes the Underclass [Ivan R. Dee, Chicago, 2001], p.5
Sometimes so many people seem to be screaming about their rights, while neglecting to answer to their responsibilities, that many of us may become completely disgusted with the whole discourse of "rights." A whole movement exists, billing itself as "Communitarianism," that promotes an effort to restore the notion of responsibility and to establish a balance both between rights and responsibilities and between individuality and community. There has actually been talk of building a "Statue of Responsibility" on the West Coast as the counterpart of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor. The movement is spearheaded by sociology professors Robert Bellah, in Habits of the Heart, and Amitai Etzioni, in The Spirit of Community. Their viewpoint is shared by many others, including historian Garry Wills; and it is reflected in the title of Hillary Clinton's book on the responsibilities of government in child rearing, It Takes a Village. Communitarians, however, promote a certain view of rights and responsibilities that is quite different from that of John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, etc. It is more in the tradition of G.W.F. Hegel, where the community, or the state, is more real than the individual and the individual who does not fit in with the social norms or the law is objectively irrational. Hegel has been regarded, justly, as the father of modern totalitarianism. How different these attitudes are comes out in the Communitarian treatment of things like seat-belt and motorcycle helmet laws. Etzioni would deny to the automobile or motorcycle rider the right to decide for themselves whether to wear seat-belts or motorcycle helmets because, if they are injured, the public is liable to end up paying for their injuries. Thus the riders have a duty to protect themselves in such a way as to not impose a burden on the public through their injuries.
This is interesting reasoning, for the denial of the right of choice about seat-belts and motorcycle helmets is really predicated on the concession of another right: that the injured riders have the right to be treated at public expense. The claim of that right is then used to deny the other . The question is not even asked: do those who don't want to use seat-belts or motorcycle helmets really want their liberty curtailed for the privilege of their injuries being treated at public expense? Evidently they are not even asked. The consequence, then, is not that Communitarians want to balance rights and responsibilities; it is that they want to deny certain rights in favor of certain other ones, without asking whether that is the particular choice other people really want to make. The rights that Communitarians seem to prefer curtailing are what traditionally are called "liberties," and the rights they seem willing to sacrifice those to are what traditionally are called "powers" or "privileges." A "right" can mean a number of things.
Monday, April 26, 2010
Rights, Responsibilities and Communitarianism by Dr. Kelly Ross
I spent hours last night working out a new article for the Tea Party, but I just couldn't find the tone I wanted to set. So I'm on a borrowed pc looking for articles to inspire me and ended up back at this article by Ross. I hope he doesn't mind that I'm reposting the beginning here.