Dec. 23rd, 2012

Perhaps a metapolitical post?...

The Declaration of Independence is a document many of us are familiar with. What some may have not noticed was that, as a resolution of the only effective government of the Assembled Thirteen Colonies at the time, this was a *law* and not just a philosophical and practical statement. The duration for which this was in force as a law is open for discussion, but that's not really relevant to this post, as I'm actually going the political philosophy route.

http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html ... in case folks want a ready reference.

The "We hold these truths to be self-evident..." sentence is well known. The "unalienable rights" include but are not limited to the ones enumerated. But the kicker is what's next: "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,..." I'll stop there, at least for now.

This concept was not unique to folks in The Thirteen Not-Colonies-For-Much-Longer -- European writers had been playing it up for quite some time already. But it had mostly failed to gain traction in the highest political echelons of European nations, save perhaps for Iceland and the Helvetic Confederation (colloquially Switzerland). It was a pretty radical idea at those levels: that government exists to protect the rights of individuals, and that while there are certain "protections of individual rights" which pretty much need a government/state to implement effectively, that doesn't invalidate in any way the basic premise of the state subservient to individuals, and not the other way around.

I've seen it argued in other fora that Europe (and even Canada) subscribe to the opposite view, that the state is paramount. That may be the case, or maybe not; I'm not going to try to deal with that in this post. The logical follow-through to that view, however, is that individual "rights" are not unalienable: they are actually privileges, and they are whatever the state decides they are... no matter how admirable nor heinous a given state's definition might be. For now it is left as an exercise for the reader to provide to oneself examples of how that could go very very wrong.

(WORK IN PROGRESS; TO BE CONTINUED AND/OR MODIFIED LATER. All comments initially screened.)

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damont

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