Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Two Extreme Threats to Human Rights

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary." - James Madison in the Federalist #51
Almost everyone agrees that a valid function of government is to protect individual rights. Indeed some would consider it the primary or even solitary legitimate function of government. Even people who have different ideas about what one's "rights" are or the what the outer limits of how they ought to be exercised might be can still agree that protecting the rights of the individual is a valid function of government.

Those on the far anarchist/voluntaryist end of the spectrum might say that it is the persistent tendency of government to abuse and move beyond this solitary function which makes government's existence more trouble than it is worth! Yet even they would say that if a government has any business at all existing, it would be to protect individual rights.

 While the rise of the post-modern central state has shown the state itself to be the biggest threat to the rights that it is supposed to protect, were there no government at all it does not mean that violations of our individual rights would vanish altogether. Rather, it would mean that private threats to our rights would gain a freer hand.

As a Localist, I understand that there are two sources of threats to individual rights- Public Threats and Private Threats. Public Threats to rights include government oppression (frequently in cahoots with private interests). Private Threats are extra-legal threats to individual rights, i.e. - crime or invasion from outside groups.

Which category of threat seems the largest to you is mostly a function of your environment. If you live among gentle and intellectual types in Suburbia or small-town USA, you likely have known little of the gross deprivation of rights which is suffered from Private Threats in areas where there has been a break down of civil government. If you are such a person, then you likely have the freedom and intellect and curiosity to take note of the ongoing, serious, and systemic Public Threats to individual rights. To you, Public Threats are the greatest and most immediate danger.

 There is no serious Private (extra-legal) threat to your liberties from a foreign government if you live in America. We have been the lone super-power in the world for at least 30 years. Many of us are surrounded by people who are prosperous enough that they don't have to rob and steal to survive, and by habit and moral training would resist such an inclination anyway.  Though we are not exactly angels, it is easy to see why, from such a viewpoint, no government would be necessary. If we live in a near-bubble, protected from external Private Threats and surrounded by other individuals like ourselves who are not much of a Private Threat, then we might not see government as anything but a threat to rights.

My point is that if you come from such an environment you are likely to understate the Private Threat to our liberties, and develop a philosophy of government which reflects that deeply affected risk assessment.  If you live in Somalia or inner city Detroit, you see a general breakdown of government.  Private Threats to your individual rights would abound.  Private gangs, not government gangs, rob and kill.   A person in such a situation would be more like almost all persons were before the rise of the modern central state- one who viewed Private Threats a great danger and government power as a protector and defender of individual rights.

Ultimately, a moral population will not need much government.  They have little use for it.  For an immoral population, even a harsh and repressive central government might protect rights better than having no government at all.  Thus the best defense against big government is a virtuous population.  The closer men get to angels, the less they need rulers.    But for right now, we live in a world with both good and bad people, and where even usually good people can do bad things.    We live in a world where there are both Public and Private threats to liberty.  One or the other may seem dominant to you, depending on your life experience and view of history, but either threat can become the dominant one depending on the ebb and flow of one's circumstances and public morality.  A workable philosophy of government is one that accounts for both Public and Private Threats.

Localism is the balanced position. That is, it is in the center.  From there it can defend against the loss of individual rights which tend to occur when either of the two extremes rule a society. The extreme statism currently practiced by central governments around the world leads to various sorts of Public Threats to individual rights. The extreme anarchist position results in gross Private Threats all but the most decent and civil people on earth are without government. Anarchy creates conditions where most people cry out for even a dictator.  They will accept a loss of freedom for the promise of restored order!    I am a Localist because this is the philosophy which best avoids the threats to human rights posed by the extremist positions of the state-ists and the self-ists.


  1. I don't quite follow. Traditionally, enemies are categorized as foreign or domestic. Sub-categories might be government and private.

    Are you referring only to these two sub-categories?

  2. No sir. Domestic threats can come from private sources- like a criminal robbing you. But domestic threats can also come from government sources- the state can rob you, or oppress you, or kill you. Threats from your own government are PUBLIC threats. Threats from outside your own government- including foreign actors or governments, are private threats. They are not from YOUR public sector.