"If love closes, the self contracts and hardens: the mind having nothing else to occupy its attention and give it that change and renewal it requires, busies itself more and more with self-feeling, which takes on narrow and disgusting forms, like avarice, arrogance and fatuity."
Charles Horton Cooley (18641929), U.S. sociologist. Human Nature and the Social Order, chapter 5 (1902).
"Justice begins with the recognition of the necessity of sharing. The oldest law is that which regulates it, and this is still the most important law today and, as such, has remained the basic concern of all movements which have at heart the community of human activities and of human existence in general."
Elias Canetti (190594), Austrian novelist, philosopher. Crowds and Power, "Distribution and Increase" (1960; translated 1962).
"We have to ask ourselves whether medicine is to remain a humanitarian and respected profession or a new but depersonalized science in the service of prolonging life rather than diminishing human suffering."
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (b. 1926), Swiss-born U.S. psychiatrist. On Death and Dying, chapter 2 (1969).
When I read conservatives or right-wing libertarians discussing individual rights, it seems that the only rights that they are actually interested in supporting are so-called natural or "God given" rights. Those rights which they disapprove of always fall into the category of what they refer to as positive or legislated rights, which people are entitled to only because of the fiat of government, not because in the right-wing mind they are deserved or actually exist.
By its nature conservative, the "Authoritarian Dynamic" (which Karen Stenner wrote of in her eponymous book) invariably relies upon a hierarchical structure where everyone knows their place: any attempt by the less privileged "lower classes" to change that structure is justifiably met (in the eyes of the authoritarian conservative) with armed force by those in charge in order to reestablish the status quo. If God, or Fate, or Nature grants individuals rights, it is logical in their minds that God, or Fate, or Nature grants his/her favorites superior rights and privileges over other mortals. This is essentially the argument of John Calvin for his idea of "God's Elect," as well as every other elitist philosophy going back at least to the time of Marcus Tullius Cicero.
Legally, natural rights have no standing under the law. Natural rights are a fine concept for discussions of ethics and philosophy, but they are not a practical concept in our daily lives, because of their lack of standing in a court of law. Courts recognize only positive rights: this was Jefferson's genius when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson went from rights that were "self-evident" under natural law, to securing those rights as positive rights by their institution in the form of a government among men.
Without that recognition of a specific set of rights by the government, it is impossible to enforce those rights equally. Rights which are neither enforced nor enforceable equally across the broad spectrum of a society regardless of race, creed, color, economic class, gender, sexual orientation, place of origin, etc., have ceased to be rights, but are instead privileges.
The authoritarian conservative apparently has no problem in promoting certain privileges as "natural rights," or even promoting their status to positive, legal--although, if viewed dispassionately, immoral--rights for the sake of maintaining the societal status quo, no matter how morally wrong or outdated that privilege might be. The "Jim Crow" laws that were created and enforced after the Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) are the most blatant examples of this sort of privilege masquerading as a right.
A related area is what I would call "apositive rights," which is to say a right that exists for some, but not all, of a nation's citizens. In the American Constitution, the best known of these apositive rights is the requirement that "No person except a natural born Citizen"of the United States"shall be eligible to the Office of President."
An apositive right can also be created from whole cloth, or one man's hypothesis, as the sole justification for the denial of rights to an individual or group. This is what is behind the "birthers," and their argument that Barack Obama cannot be President even if he was born in Hawaii in 1961, because he is not a "sovereign citizen." In reality it is nothing more than a feeble attempt to apply the "Jim Crow" laws to the Office of the President of the United States.
Under American law, there is no such thing as a "sovereign citizen." This term was a creation of Swiss jurist and law professor Emmerich de Vattel in the mid-Eighteenth Century, and has neither precedence nor standing under American law. A "sovereign citizen" is one, according to de Vattel's Law of Nations, who was not only born in a particular country, but both of whose parents were born in that country as well.