Rights And The State

Rights And The State: Rights so discussed seem to imply a State and an individual which strike a balance between their mutual claims. This is, in fact, to state the problem of rights in a fashion too narrow to express with accuracy the environment we encounter. For it is not merely as a member of the State that the individual has rights. His personality expresses itself in a hundred other forms of association.

Whether men are banded together to perform a task that is part of the common welfare the body so formed has rights as real, and as compelling, as the rights of the State. The community, so to say, is a federal process and the division of power is achieved by the natural expression taken by man’s gregarious impulse. To limit his rights to the single category which membership of the State involves is to destroy his personality and not to preserve it.

The Roman Catholic Church must live its life unhindered by the State because invasion of its sphere means the destruction of the quality it brings into the life of its members. And nothing is gained by urging that the rights of the State as such are superior to those of other associations. Any such decision is a pragmatic one  it must be made in terms of the particular conflict that has arisen.

It must be made, further, in the background of the knowledge that when, and if conflict comes the individual will, whatever the law, choose his own course of action. Throgmorton will decide one way and Howard of Effingham another. The sphere of rights to be enjoyed by any corporate body can not be determined in a priori fashion. Their powers must be set in the light of our knowledge of how those powers will be used.

This is not to dethrone the State from the position it now occupies Of the co-ordination factor in the community. But it is at least to indicate the way in which its power of co-ordination should be used. The State cannot, for instance, allow a religious association to determine the belief of those who do not belong to its communion but it has no moral, and therefore at least ideally, no legal right to determine what the members of a given association are to believe.

The spectacle, for example, of the House of Lords settling the religious doctrine of the Free Church of Scotland is a ludicrous one, it is an invasion of rights for which no justification can be attempted. , It is a survival of the period when the Church had ceased to be a State, but when men had not yet seen that a State cannot at once realise itself and retain the character of a church.So, too, with a trade union. If the members of such a body decide that political representation is a function they should seek to support, the remedy for those of their members who dissent from that policy is not in the courts of the State but in resignation.

Within the ambit that it seeks to cover, any fellowship is, to the degree that it is real, as original and as compelling as the State itself. To make the powers of the State supreme over all other bodies is possible only when we have the certainty that the rights through which alone the individual can realise his best self are amply secured to each member of the community.

This is to suggest, of course that there is differentiation in the manner in which rights are now secured. It is to imply that men do not share equally in the gain as well as in the toil of living. If we may say broadly that the personality of men can now hope for a larger expression than at any previous time, it still remains true that the number of those to whom happiness is open in a creative sense is still pitiably small.

The State, in other words, is biased in the emphasis it places upon the attainment of rights. It does not adjudicate impartially between its members. Its decision is weighted on behalf of the actual holders of power. It tends to identify the thing that is right with the thing to which it has grown accustomed.

It does not distribute equally the means especially knowledge and economic power to influence the policy that is adopted. The older views both of liberty and of order can hardly be said to benefit the masses of men. The wealth of the community increases, but it does not in a critical way relieve their wants. Our knowledge increases by leaps and bounds but those who have genuine access to the intellectual heritage of the race are still but a fragment of the people.

Religion, doubtless, has  brought to its devotees immeasurable comfort but it has not, in a vital sense, affected the substance of the social order The rule of the rich, whether of landed men or of those who owned industrial capital, has been devoted firstly to the accumulation of wealth, and secondly to preventing its diffusion.

The whole character of Social life and, therefore, the whole character of the State, is above all determined by its division into a small number of wealthy persons and a large number who dwell upon the margins of subsistence. We enjoy security and order. But the security we enjoy means the protection of most in their impotence, and the order is, very largely , the safeguarding of the few against the demands of the many for a richer and a fuller life.

The prescriptions of the State are never, therefore,final prescriptions. The guide to our conduct is not the voice of authority, save in so far as the results of authority go to the realization of ideal right. A State must give to men their due as men before it can demand, at least with justice, their loyalty. And it may be urge that in a period when active citizenship is coincident, badly speaking, with the adult population, the test to which the State is submitted becomes more serious than at any previous time.

Merit who are granted political power sooner or later become insistent that the result of power be rights. They will seek the institutions through which the substance of rights can be best secured. They will either universalist privilege, or else abolish it. They will insist that liberty and equality are inevitable corollaries of a democratic system. They will seek the diffusion of those notions through the whole fabric of the community, at least to the point where the power of the State is placed with approximate fairness at the disposal of all.

In the end, resistance to such demands is difficult for, as Acton pointed out, there is a reserve of latent power in the people which few minorities have either the strength or the cohesion to overcome. The State, therefore, which seeks to survive must continually transform itself to the demands of men who have an equal claim upon that common welfare it is its ideal purpose to promote.

We are concerned here, not with the defense of anarchy, but with the conditions of its avoidance. Men must learn to subordinate their self interest to the common welfare. The privileges of some must give way before the rights of all. Indeed, it may be urged that the interest of the few is in fact the attainment of those rights, since in no other environment is stability to be assured. Russian aristocrats who earn a precarious livelihood after being the spoiled children of fortune have learned, like the emigres of 1789, the penalty that is ultimately paid when the mass of mankind is deprived of access to its inheritance.

The guarantee of a stable civilization is that men in general should have at least that minimum without which they cease to be men. Rights are ideas more strongly armed than the most efficient despotism and they are, above all most powerful in a democracy where the universal character of their application is the assumption upon which they are built. It is possible it is perhaps even desirable to maintain degrees of freedom and equality in a democratic civilization. But it is certainly necessary that the minimum amount of freedom and equality shall be such as ,to ensure to each citizen the full opportunity of personal development.

There is too rarely that opportunity now. Mean environments beget mean children, and the fruit rotten as it ripens. The protest evoked by modern conditions is the natural challenge of men who are deprived of the things that make life worth living , and nothing is really gained, as Burke pointed out, by the ascription of popular violence to agitation or conspiracy.

Man is in general too little of a public creature, the force at the disposal of any government is, as a rule! too powerful for either agitation or conspiracy to make its way unless there existed an atmosphere of frustrated impulse, which made for their reception. The demand for the realization of rights only secures a hearing when the absence of those rights is felt as injustice. The demand may be postponed it may suffer temporary defeat but any demand that is genuinely related to the basic impulses of men must, sooner or later, be given response. To reform if we would preserve is, as Macaulay said, the voice of great events.

This contention is not answered by the argument that in a democracy the people have power and that whatever legal rights obtain the people wills their existence. There is all the difference in the world between a power informed and conscious of its strength and a power so latent and suppressed that its holders are hardly aware that they may exercise it. People as ignorant as the modern citizen body is left by our social system make of it a picture for themselves which deludes them in their search for the causes of their misfortune.

They are not trained in the relation of cause and effect. They are not educated to see that institutions are historic ideas the utility of which dies with the cessation of the circumstances which gave them birth. They are, for the most part, brought up in an atmosphere of inferiority. Subordination to their lot is the one creed in which they are trained to believe.

Myth and legend surround them on every side and it is no part, as yet of modern educational effort to confer the ability to be sceptical upon those who are born within its ambit. The disparity of influence between those who defend and those who attack an existing system is, therefore, immense. The one can appeal to a solid and tangible reality the others ask for a leap into a dark hinterland which requires effort and imagination to be understood. The members of a democracy cannot be truly said to possess their power until. they have been deliberately trained to use it. We are still far from such a time.

That is why the formidable centralization of the modem State is so great an enemy to an ideal system of rights. For only where power is distributed widely is there any effective restraint upon those who wield it. To multiply the centers of authority is to multiply the channels of discussion and so promote the diffusion of healthy and independent opinion. But, to this end, it is necessary to regard the social order as a whole. We cannot attempt the democratization of political authority and leave it there.

Adequately to work the instrument we have created,-we must democratize whatever auxiliary powers affect that instrument in any important way. Any thing, that is to say, which is directly related to that minimum basis of rights we have been discussing can never be left to the control of a few. A man clearly must have the opportunity to share in the disposition of whatever makes him, at least in an intimate way, a member of the citizen body liberty and equality, therefore, are at the very base of the political system.

We shall discuss in detail later the implications of liberty and equality. Here it is enough to emphasis two things, Neither of them is an unchanging notion. Each has a special perspective which relates it to the special environment of any given time and place. Liberty in the France of the later sixteenth century meant, above all, the power of a citizen to worship God in his own way, as liberty in the seventeenth century in England meant, above all, the absence of arbitrary taxation by the monarch.

What seems to be of the permanent essence of freedom is that the personality of each individual should be so unhampered in its development, whether by authority or by custom, that it can make for itself a satisfactory harmonization of its impulses. In this perspective the thing of importance is that the harmonization should be self effected. The rules laid down by the State should not bar the way to any individual as distinct from another.

They should leave room for trial and error. They should not, as now, unduly penalize the individual because he has not been careful in the selection of his parents. Equality, in other words, seems to mean the minimization of the handicaps our present social order imposes. We cannot offer identity of opportunity.

On the average, the son of Charles Darwin will have a better chance of displaying an interest in science than the son of a stock broker or a tailor. But at least we can seek to make it generally possible that the son of a stockbroker with scientific leanings should not be driven to sell bonds. We can make it possible for each member of the State to try out what he believes to be his special faculties. Most, doubtless, will be more than content with security and a routine. Our task is to assure what pioneers we have the avenue to inventiveness.