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Is the protection of civil rights inherently a government responsibiliy?

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The question, as it is worded, is moot. "Civil" rights, by definition, are those rights conferred upon citizens of a political entity by the government of that entity. The protection of those rights is usually one of the organizing principles of that political entity (at least on paper).

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Damn. Okay... let us rephrase the question. Instead of civil rights, how about human rights or natural rights.

 

 

Arendt would say yes, Malcom X would say no.

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One of the main purposes of the government is to protect our fundamental rights. This idea was critical to the foundation of our country. Look at the First Amendment.

See also Social Contract

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Arendt would say yes, Malcom X would say no.
What an odd juxtaposition, my brother. Any particular reason you picked these two and not folks who are more noteworthy political philosophers? (And I'm not sure how you get that Malcolm would say no. Perhaps if we're talking about a SPECIFIC government that is behaving badly, but Malcolm was a separatist, not an anarchist. He understood the need for order and rights protections; he just felt the African-American community could do that task better if left to its own devices...)

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If it's a government founded by the people, then yes. And if the people want to keep their rights, then the obligation to keep those rights sacred also falls upon them.

"A house divided against itself cannot stand."

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What an odd juxtaposition, my brother. Any particular reason you picked these two and not folks who are more noteworthy political philosophers? (And I'm not sure how you get that Malcolm would say no. Perhaps if we're talking about a SPECIFIC government that is behaving badly, but Malcolm was a separatist, not an anarchist. He understood the need for order and rights protections; he just felt the African-American community could do that task better if left to its own devices...)

 

Well, because once during a class I took a while back entitled "Rhetoric(s) of Human Rights" we had a long discussion about the difference between civil rights and human rights. We used Arendt's discussion from the third volume of Totalitarianism where she discusses that Human rights are useless without a nation state (this ends up becoming very important for Agamben later, and is one of the major points of contenstion between Agamben and Ranciere on the point of human rights, which is the paper I am working on with Kevin Cummings from mercer to present), because everyone had to read that for a junior core class, and I'm not sure why Malcolm X was used. Someone in the class really really wanted us to read the Ballot or the Bullet, anyway there is a discussion in there about civil rights needing to become human rights, so that we remain trapped in the sphere of only "Uncle Sam", which I guess remains in the sphere of government, just not the nation-state. Which despite my Negri Love, tends to be what I think of when people say government. So we'll change Malcolm X to a lot more predictable response from me "Foucault would say no."

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One of the main purposes of the government is to protect our fundamental rights. This idea was critical to the foundation of our country. Look at the First Amendment.

See also Social Contract

1) Why should we value the First Amendment?

2) Why should we value the Social Contract

3) Which Social Contract are you referring to (there's more than one theory)?

 

I'm not saying this to try and discredit you (although I could). I'm merely looking for clarification of your argument.

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Well, let's put it this way:

 

If we accept Lockean theory, which I do, then a good government is the one that does not infringe upon life, liberty, and property; one that does not can be--no, SHOULD be--overthrown. However, Locke lived in the late seventeenth century, long before the development of the corporate structure. Now, THAT structure is at least as likely to make intrusions onto those rights as the government. Since, upon reflection, we realize that we don't want ANYBODY infringing on our rights, we can provide a corollary to Locke--a government which does not infringe upon life, liberty and property also has the right and duty to ensure that life, liberty, and property are not infringed upon or denied by anyone else, implicit in the social contract by which it is allowed by the general will of the people to govern. We find, however, that most of these are already protected: the right to life is covered by laws that prohibit murder; the right to property by the prohibitions of stealing, fraud, and embezzlement. The only right which is not typically protected is liberty, which is not the best of ideas, but what alternatives are there?

 

As for other natural rights--they are all subsets of the other rights, aren't they? However, I would say that all governments do have an obligation to protect the specific natural rights of all people within their jurisdiction, because they are, as I said, NATURAL RIGHTS, and your citizenship status doesn't count for jack shit with these. These rights, are, to wit: freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of association, freedom of religion, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, freedom from cruel or unusual punishment and/or treatment, the right to speedy and public trial, the right to nonincrimination, the right to an attorney, and many others.

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Okay, a couple of things here:

 

First, I would argue that conceptually, "natural rights" do not exist. The concept of "right" is a normative (moral) concept, and morality tells us how things ought to be. Nature only deal with how things are, and not with how they should be. In addition, where are you getting this idea of "natural rights" from? Because John Locke says so? If that's the case, the moral concepts Locke creates are just that, created. They are not natural. Because the idea of "rights" is a normative concept (created by humans), it cannot exist naturally.

 

Even if you don't agree that natural rights are non-existent, many people differ on their claims concerning natural rights. Some argue that they have a natural right to a standard of living, some claim that they have a right to know who their mother is, still others claim that animals have natural rights. Then, there are people who disagree with all of these claims. So, how do we know who is right? There's no way to decide because there's no way to gather evidence about what natural rights there are. It's just one person's word against another.

 

Furthermore, I would argue that the concept of natural rights is nonsensical. As philosopher Jeremy Bentham observes, "Natural rights is simple nonsense: natural and imprescriptable ["inalienable"] rights, rhetorical nonsense, - nonsense upon stilts." I say this for two reasons: 1) the claim that life, liberty, and property cannot be taken away is obviously false because they're often taken away by oppressive governments, and 2) the claim that life, liberty, and property ought never be taken away is implausible because it's necessary for the government to tax citizens and restrict liberties in order to function. Now, Bentham argues that the government should grant restricted rights, but not because rights are in any sense natural, but merely because doing so increases utility.

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What you don't understand about this is that these rights are not GRANTED by the government according to constitutionalist political theory. The idea that the government must obey the law, logically implies that there must be a law higher than the government. That law is the general will of the people, and the people have these rights inherent to them. Rights are granted by the people to the state, NOT the other way around. I will grant that "natural" rights is a bit of a misnomer, but that isn't really particularly important. The fact remains that these are rights which it has been societally agreed upon for a very long time, at least implicitly, that they might as well be carved in stone; of course, this is not to say that the stone can be broken, but to do so would imply that you're trying to set up some sort of absolutist or totalitarian state, which are efficient but unpleasant.

 

Nor does anyone contend that there are no legitimate intrusions on the rights to life, liberty, and property--remember, that the full concept is that government may not infringe on life, liberty, or property without due process of law. Taxation and some restrictions on liberties are acceptable, because they are inherent in the constitution and the laws which the people have agreed the government can make pursuant to that constitution. That is due process of law by any definition of the term.

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What you don't understand about this is that these rights are not GRANTED by the government according to constitutionalist political theory. The idea that the government must obey the law, logically implies that there must be a law higher than the government. That law is the general will of the people, and the people have these rights inherent to them.
My problem here is 1) you fail to explain how these rights are as a result of the general will, 2) why we should accept the general will, and 3) how that makes them inherent. Look to my first argument where I explain that these concepts are merely made up by humans. Unless you can normatively prove that these rights were divinely handed to us from God, then there's no intrinsic worth to these rights. Furthermore, it seems as though your argument about the general will is merely an appeal to democracy. Plato was a greatly opposed to democracy, first because the general public cannot be trusted to make decisions regarding their own self-interest, and second, because the people who will do that job best are people specifically trained for the job (i.e. politicians).

 

The fact remains that these are rights which it has been societally agreed upon for a very long time, at least implicitly, that they might as well be carved in stone; of course, this is not to say that the stone can be broken, but to do so would imply that you're trying to set up some sort of absolutist or totalitarian state, which are efficient but unpleasant.
Your argument here essentially is that if something is agreed upon for a long time, it should become law. So then, if society agrees that slavery is okay for a long time, by your analysis, that would be okay. The reason your exception at the end doesn't protect this is because if you look to my second argument, I tell you that there's no way to know what rights are, in fact, right. That subjectivity alone rules out the possibility of you trying to prevent totalitarian regimes.

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Now, THAT structure is at least as likely to make intrusions onto those rights as the government.
Really? When was the last time you heard about a CEO shooting someone at an airport? When was the last time you heard about a corporation locking up people who wouldn't buy its products? The government has the power to sieze your property without your consent, imprison you, and even end your life. All of these things it does LEGALLY. How can anyone with even a couple of brain cells still firing say corporations are REMOTELY capable of similar depradations?

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haha depends on what country the corperations are operating in, look at delmonte in guatamala. neocolonialist multinationals are THE DEVIL mkaaaay

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AHH! People jumping on me with a bunch of questions!

  1. We assume these rights to be a result of the general will because we can assume that people will do whatever makes them feel secure and happy. We know from experience that people feel secure and happy when they can have some guarantee that life, liberty, and property are protected from unreasonable intrusion by the government or pretty much anyone else, for that matter.
  2. We accept the general will because this is a constitutionalist government;it has a final and supreme Law, to which all--even the government--are beholden. This constitution requires the government to abide by its word; I'll explain in more detail later. If we had a king who ruled absolutistly and by "divine right" (or so he says), than it would not be the case that the government must defend the rights of the people.
  3. Perhaps they are not, in truth, inherent rights of the people, but the Constitution recognizes them as such; it is the very basis of the law. And that is the topic at hand: Is the protection of rights an inherent responsibility of the government. And it must be, because the very idea upon which the government is founded assumes that the people have them, and that government must not touch them.

The argument here is not really philosophical so much as legal. And the law is clear. If the law was different, it would be a whole different ballgame.

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The argument here is not really philosophical so much as legal. And the law is clear. If the law was different, it would be a whole different ballgame.

Then I challenge the validity of the law. Why should we value it, for its own sake? It's just a piece of paper commanding us to do something or not to do something. Without an conceptual understanding of why these laws were passed, the law itself is bunk. Furthermore, the law is not infallible. Keep in mind that is what the law that suppressed the rights of African-Americans, Japanese Americans, women, and homosexuals. I could easily go on. My point here, is that the law is not sovereign. To base an entire argument on it is not the smartest thing because the law is corruptable and it's fallible.

 

We assume these rights to be a result of the general will because we can assume that people will do whatever makes them feel secure and happy.

Look to Thomas Jefferson's objections to the general will/popular sovereignty. Of this, he observes, "Democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where 51% of the people may take away the rights of the other 49." Simply because people think an action makes them feel secure and happy doesn't make it the right action to do. If I feel more secure in myself by keeping women in the kitchen, it doesn't make my opinion justified. Furthermore, I would also contest your claim that people will do what's in their best interest. Look to California, where the most liberal state in America elected Arnold Schwartznegger as their governor. This, clearly, wasn't in their best interest.

 

We accept the general will because this is a constitutionalist government;it has a final and supreme Law, to which all--even the government--are beholden. This constitution requires the government to abide by its word[/Quote] This STILL doesn't disprove any of the three original arguments I made about this concept of rights, and it doesn't give us a reason to actually abide by the law. What you're essentially contending here is that the Civil Rights activists of the 1960s were unjustified in their movement because they violated law. That is absurd.

 

Perhaps they are not, in truth, inherent rights of the people, but the Constitution recognizes them as such; it is the very basis of the law. And that is the topic at hand: Is the protection of rights an inherent responsibility of the government. And it must be, because the very idea upon which the government is founded assumes that the people have them, and that government must not touch them

The problem here is that you confine the topic solely to the U.S. government (or democratic governments). The question at hand makes no such limitations, and thus, we are not confined to arguing the responsibilities of democratic governments. Look back to my argument earlier about how oppressive governments actually take away rights. My argument here is not that they are justified in their curtailments. Rather, my point is that due to the vast types of governments, their responsibilities are subjective and ambiguous. You can't normatively claim that governments have an obligation to protect rights because many governments don't believe in that concept.

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It's more that government has an obligation NOT to do things which infringe rights, but yes. I agree with those who have cited Lockean theory here.

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Strangely, I now turn to James I for an example.

 

In The True Law of Free Monarchies, King James I of England argues that while the King has the God-given right to violate the law, it is the mark of the good king that he does not. According to James, the King has the right to murder his subject in order to extract his taxes; however, a good king, on principle, would never do this.

 

Likewise, a government theoretically can do whatever it wants, and it would be acceptable for it to do so (though it would also be acceptable for the people to rise up and revolt if it became unbearable). However, a GOOD government is DEFINED, in part as a government that recognizes and defends the people's rights. If you look back on all of the governments in history, we would find that the ones remembered as "good" governments were almost all marked by recognition of the liberties of the people that was, while never complete, unusually high for the time.

 

To answer the question of the thread: Of governments in general? Not necessarily. Of good governments? Definately.

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