For most modern Americans, the issue of “rights” is talked about in spiritual terms, more than practical or legal terms. The concept of Natural Rights has lost all meaning to the modern person, even though our laws depend upon the concept to a great degree. This is not entirely wrong. As Western societies have evolved since the Enlightenment, the concept of rights has expanded and evolved as well. Today, what we think of as “our rights” fall into three general areas, civil, political and social.
For Americans, the concept of civil rights has been tangled up in racial politics, mostly because Baby Boomers continue to carry on as if Martin Luther King died last week. As a result, three generations of Americans have been steeped in the mythology of the Civil Rights Movement, thinking it only applies to blacks. Putting that aside, we expect equality before the law and due process. The law should apply to everyone equally and the administration of the law should follow a transparent and predictable process.
While civil rights is equality before the law, political rights are about equality in formulating the law. That means having an equal shot to participate in the political process of selecting representatives, the crafting of laws and deciding how it is accomplished. Equality before the law is not worth a lot if your enemies have a monopoly of political power or the exclusive right to dictate the law. The real change in the Civil Rights Movement was in the political realm. Blacks are now fully included in the nation’s political process.
Oddly, as civil and political rights have expanded, social rights have contracted. The right to live your life unmolested by other people or institutions is increasingly difficult. It used to be a given that a man had a right to anonymity. That’s just about impossible today. More important, it is increasingly difficult to hold opinions and beliefs that are outside of the narrow range of acceptable. Half a century ago, people dreamed of a colorblind future, but today, people dream of not getting fired for posting FBI crime stats on FaceBook.
This relentless intrusion on our social rights is in the news on a daily basis. This story from Tampa is representative example. Here we have a woman, hounded by the religious authorities, because she holds unapproved opinions. You can be sure that the ululating fanatics will be badgering her school system to fire her from her job. We now live in a society in which thinking things that were commonly understood a generation ago, is used to ruin a person’s life, making them unemployable and a pariah in their own community.
This erosion of social rights is not just in the public sphere. If a group of people holding unapproved thoughts wants to have dinner or get together for some socializing, the religious authorities will seek them out and call down the rock throwers on them. This story from Michigan is a typical example. These people are going to great lengths to avoid drawing attention to themselves, yet the local Progressives are hunting them down, hoping to prevent them from having dinner together. Iran has more social liberty.
Of course, the war on social rights is just the start. The orchestrated assault on the nation’s oldest political rights organization is one example of the effort to extend the denial of social rights to the denial of political rights. The ongoing legal effort to deny Americans their civil rights, based on their failing to adhere to official dogma, is another aspect to this subversive war on our general liberties. The plaintiffs are asking the court to create a new legal status for heretics, that denies them the rights and privileges of citizenship.
Now, the reason Western societies evolved political systems that respect civil rights and allow for near universal participation in politics is to promote stability and reduce political violence. When the working class can organize around the candidates of their choice, they don’t have to stage bread riots. When minority groups can expect equality before the law, they don’t have to make war on the majority. Participatory democracy, in theory, gives everyone a stake in the system and a reason to defend it against subversion.
What’s happening today is not just an organized effort to defeat ideas or fashion majorities against those ideas. It is a unilateral declaration that a growing list of opinions and ideas are off-limits. Anyone that embraces them, or is suspected of embracing them, is outside the sphere to which civil, political and social rights apply. These outside people become fair game, as they have no legal avenue to seek redress. A person who loses his job because he agrees with what his grandfathers thought, is a man without a country.
In this Tucker Carlson profile, Carlson makes the point that he lives in a great neighborhood with smart wonderful neighbors. It’s America as it was in 1955, so naturally the people living there are deeply satisfied with their work as a ruling elite. The reason for that is they have no idea what’s happening out in the hinterlands. They avoid the consequences of their preferred polices. If hordes of migrants show up in their schools or they start losing their jobs to cheap foreign imports, they will not be so self-satisfied.
The same logic applies to what’s happening in this social war being waged against political dissidents. The people hounding school teachers out of their jobs can feel self-satisfied, because they get to avoid the same treatments. The people harassing companies to break ties with the heretics, have no skin in the game, so they are free to over indulge in righteous indignation. At some point, this asymmetry becomes the focus of those being systematically excluded and they start thinking about how to remedy it.
That’s why the current climate is so dangerous. Nature supplies more men with nothing to lose than any society can need. A political system that systematically marginalizes large swaths of young men, telling them they have no place in the world, is a society begging for political violence. Rebecca Klein of the Huffington Post may be feeling smug, for having “outed” a bad thinker, but she is not going to be so smug when her Prius blows up when she tries to start it. That’s where this war on our social rights is heading.
In the Civil Rights Movement, there came a point where the people in charge faced a choice. They could let reasonable men on both sides find a reasonable accommodation, or they could let the unreasonable men on both sides fight it out. Today, the people in charge have that same choice. They can put their unreasonable people on a leash and deal honestly with the reasonable people in dissent, or they can continue to wage this social war and invite the war into their streets and their neighborhoods.
This will not end well.