Saturday, October 29, 2016

10/29 Equal Rights

In the last class we looked at the idea of civil liberties through some of the most famous champions of liberty in American history. In this class we are now looking at the idea of rights. 

The idea of rights itself is more complex than it may first appear. In today's reading by Marshall we can see that we consider to be "rights" has a civil, a political, and social aspect. Rights are connected with the idea of citizenship. To be a citizen means that you are entitled to certain things, and it suggests the equality of all members to these entitlements. Part of the confusion over rights comes because, as Marshall, says at one point all aspects of rights were combined, but that in modern times the idea of social rights conflicts with a capitalist economic system. In modern times, there has been a separation and it is important to understand the differences between the three. Marshall is writing about England, but the argument about the three dimensions of rights can be applied anywhere, that, and the fact that so many of American ideas and institutions are influenced by English institutions makes it easy to compare the idea of rights in the U.S.

Of course in the U.S. we have the Bill of Rights, but the concept of rights, sometimes grouped together as "human rights" has found expression in other sources as well. The best example is the United Nation's International Bill of Rights, composed of three separate documents the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESER, signed by the U.S., but not ratified). Some argue, that the concept of "human rights" conceals Western and secular biases, but supporters argue these rights make up only general statements that everyone can agree on. Islamic feminist scholar Riffat Hassan, for example, argues that despite calls for Western bias, the notion of human rights is compatible with Islam.

Civil rights refer to certain protections each individual is granted, and where they are free from any kind of government interference. In Western political philosophy, the idea of civil rights can be summed up by what John Locke referred to as "natural rights": life, liberty, and property. Locke was a profound influence on Thomas Jefferson, and most of the founders, who rephrased it "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration of Independence. Marshall shows that civil rights, although it is inherently against the idea of slavery, by itself, is fairly limited in what it means, and serves to justify denying social protection to people :
The explanation lies in the fact that the core of citizenship at this stage was composed of civil rights. And civil rights were indispensable to a competitive market economy. They gave to each man, as part of his independent status, the power to engage as an independent unit in the economic struggle and made it possible to deny him social protection on the ground that he was equipped with the means to protect himself.

Of course, we are familiar with the "civil rights movement" for equality. The very denial of these rights for so many years, and the hypocrisy of American rhetoric explains why Douglass cannot join in the celebrations of Independence Day, and also reminds people that the meaning we give to events is influenced by our values and perspective. But, many of aspects of the civil rights movement also contained a demand for greater political participation as well as social protections. After civil rights were established the next demand came in the form of greater political participation, the right to vote and hold office. Unlike pure civil rights which poses no threat to the capitalist system, extending the right to vote to the whole population could lead to a greater demand for equality by passing laws to that effect:
The political rights of citizenship, unlike the civil rights, were full of potential danger to the capitalist system, although those who were cautiously extending them down to the social scale probably did not realized how great the danger was. They could hardly be expected to foresee what vast changes could be brought about by the peaceful use of political power, without a violent and bloody revolution.

The extension of political rights then leads to the demand for social rights:
But the normal method of establishing social rights is by the exercise of political power, for social rights imply an absolute right to a certain standard of civilization which is conditional only on the discharge of of the general duties of citizenship. Their content does not depend on the economic value of the individual claimant.

The idea of social rights then speaks to the idea that everyone is entitled as he says "to a certain standard of civilization" meaning that people are entitled to the things necessary for a healthy and productive life. Political struggles for these rights only increased during the 20th century. In the U.S. the greatest period for the extension of social rights occurred between the 1930s and 1970s beginning from the New Deal to the civil rights movement. When Dr. King was assassinated in 1968, he was in Memphis for a sanitation worker's strike, and he even renamed his movement, the "poor people's campaign" showing that he saw his struggle as something evolving, first to eliminate legal segregation which did consist of the government interfering in the lives of black people by telling them where they could eat, work, etc., to a movement that struggled to secure the basic necessities of life for all people.


Since the 1980s, and especially after the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, there has been a dramatic scaling back and reduction of the idea of social rights which has only increased as time has gone on.

Marshall argues the demand for social rights really begins with the idea of public education. If civil rights literally means only that the government cannot interfere with you, then on that basis alone there is no clear right to provide education for all the people. Same with political rights and the right to vote. It is of course a commonly accepted value that everyone is entitled to go to school, at least primary school, but this is only because we accept the idea of education as a kind of social right that everyone needs. In today's politics, things like healthcare would be considered a social right. This however makes it clear, that not everyone agrees on the idea of social rights. When it comes to healthcare most other countries have accepted it as a social right, this is still something debated in the U.S. With education there is a continuing effort to privatize education and de-fund and eventually shut down many public schools.

Next class, we begin discussing Congress and the different branches of the federal government.






Assignment: Choose a passage from the Marshall or Douglass write it out. Then, explain the meaning of the quote. And then explain why you chose this quote.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

10/22 Civil Disobedience

In this class, and the next we will be focusing on civil liberties and civil rights, both important concepts and inseparable from the idea of citizenship. This class we will focus more on "civil liberty," which stresses areas where the government restricts the rights of citizens, and talk about "civil rights" (and other kinds of rights) next class which usually suggests the government taking a more active role to protect its citizens. In this class we will look at the idea of civil liberties through the writings of three of the most important figures in American history, all known as fierce champions of liberty and ready and willing to call out the abuses of a government which restricts the liberty of its citizens.

Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), wrote, the famous essay "Civil Disobedience." The idea of civil disobedience is peculiar to democratic societies. It means breaking the law and thus challenging the authorities, but usually in a non-violent fashion. In Thoreau's case he refused to pay his taxes in 1846 because he believed the money was being used for an immoral purpose, and he was put in jail. He was bailed out the next day by his friend and famous poet Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882). Supposedly, there was an exchange between the two, where Emerson questioned Thoreau on why he was in jail. Thoreau allegedly responded "why are you not in jail?" In other words, the idea behind civil disobedience is that  morality requires you to disobey unjust laws. To passively accept a corrupt society, Thoreau would argue, makes you almost as morally guilty as the people who actually oppress others and do violence to people. It is even worse in a democracy because here the citizens actually have some ability to alter the course of laws and government.


This idea is also a core component of the civil religion, and refers to the higher authority that is referred to in the Declaration, as "endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights," in other words, a form of law based on natural rights higher than the laws of political states. The basis of civil disobedience can be found in the Declaration itself which explicitly authorizes disobedience to the extent in which government departs from protecting the rights of its citizens.

Thoreau sees the natural law and human law as antagonistic and separate from each other, as he says: "Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first and subjects afterward" (p. 222).

Thoreau was very conscious in which respect for laws or traditions and mores can easily turn into a mechanical and unthinking submission to whatever the authorities may be:
The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army; and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgement of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens (p. 223).

Government is only as good or bad as the people who run it. It is not evil in itself nor is it good in itself, or as  he says, "But, to speak practically and as a citizen unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government. Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it" (p. 222). In other words a government closer to the ideas of equality and justice that we are entitled to according to the Declaration.

He is very clear on the source of his disgust for the current government, "I cannot for an instant recognize that political organization as my government which is the slave's government also" (p. 223) (referring to the slave owners not the actual slaves)

In The Federalist we discussed how the ideal of government was supposed to function like a machine and thus create an impersonal system of control that is not under the control of any one person. As long as the machine functions properly and maintains justice in society but what happens if the machine is creating injustice:
If the unjustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth––certainly the machine will wear out. If the unjustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank,  exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say break the law. Let you life be a counterfriction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn (p. 226).




Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), and Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) were all active members of the abolition and women's rights movements, which originally were united, and who used the idea of civil disobedience that Thoreau spoke of, as a means to agitate the political system, to initiate radical reforms, and ultimately to win full citizenship. 
Elizabeth Cady Stanton


Susan B. Anthony
Stanton and Anthony were leaders of the Women's Rights movement which since the 1840s had been organizing to win for women the right to vote. They shared leadership of the movement, with Stanton being more of a writer, and Anthony being more of an orator. Stanton's Declaration of Rights and Sentiments is modeled after the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights..." (pp. 231-32). 


Douglass in his fourth of July speech, points to a glaring gap in the creed of America, which according to Chesterton is embodied in the Declaration of Independence. Douglass here indicates an essential contradiction in all universal ideologies or beliefs. Every belief that claims to include all of humanity (and can be said to be universal) always in reality excludes somebody, and that these exclusions are concealed and made invisible:
Frederick Douglass
But such is not the sate of the case. I sat it with a sad sense of disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeather by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, towering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrevocable ruin! I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people! 
What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-- a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour. 

In his other writing, Douglass distinguishes between various forms of the abolition movement that in his eyes are inadequate. He refers to the Free Soil Party founded in 1848 of former Democrats and some radical abolitionists. The party failed to win any presidential elections, but helped transition anti-slavery democrats to the   Republican Party, originally formed as an anti-slavery party in 1854 and supported by papers like Horace Greeley's New-York Tribune.


The Democratic Party at the same time which was so powerful in the South and New York has become the party of slavery. However, in Douglass' view the Free Soil movement does not go far enough because it only wants to restrict the further expansion of slavery, not to abolish it where it already is. Although scientific reason was opposed to slavery it did create the "cautious" attitude that you do not do things too radically––this is a good example of that mentality. Douglass is equally opposed to the Garrison Abolitionists, named after William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879), a New England journalist who became one of the most well known abolitionists. Garrison favored total abolition, but he was apolitical, in other words he thought the best way to fight slavery was not to deal with it or people who benefit from it. Douglass saw this as little better than closing your eyes to a problem, and like the Republicans, favored political involvement, but like Garrison, wanted total abolition.


Besides their ideological strength, they were skilled organizers and were able to create a network of political institutions composed of voluntary associations, small political parties, and specialized newspapers. All were involved early on with the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS) which was supported by newspapers like The Liberator or the National Anti-Slavery Standard. Frederick Douglass published his own abolitionist paper The North Star, which later merged with the newspaper of the abolitionist political party, the Liberty Party to form Frederick Douglass' Paper. Anthony published her own women's rights paper The Revolution which was the official paper of the National Women's Suffrage Association (NWSA) formed by Stanton and Anthony in 1869. The NWSA was formed after the breakup of the earlier American Equal Rights Association between 1866-1869, which split over the issue of granting voting rights (suffrage) to women and freed slaves. The text of the 15th amendment to the Constitution (1870) shows clearly that the right to vote cannot be taken away because of a person's race or color, but it does not specify gender. Women would not win the right to vote in the country until 1920 (after Stanton and Anthony had died) with the passage of the 19th amendment. 

Today, the network of organizations, media, and activists is known as civil society, but the development of civil society was supported by the beneficial economic advantages of the U.S. including relative economic equality, as well as a highly literate population that was better educated on a whole than Europeans. We can see here also that civil liberties which, of course, include freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press actually serve to strengthen the republic and revive it when suffering from periods of stagnation when one group wields power for too long, in part by allowing criticism of the government and the way in which society is being led. A vibrant and robust civil society provides the circulation of different groups and interests which contribute to a stable political order, one that can also adapt to changes.

Anthony was arrested in 1872 after attempting to vote in New York. The same year women's rights activists Victoria Woodhull ran a presidential campaign under the the Equal Rights Party, with Frederick Douglass as Vice-President (Douglass never responded to the nomination), though they received no electoral votes and a very tiny amount of the popular vote. The excerpt here is from the closing statements of the trial United States v. Anthony. Anthony is skillfully able to turn the trial itself into a trial of the American system by pointing out the obvious hypocrisies and contradictions in a political system based on the idea of citizenship and equality but that excludes almost half the population from being a real citizen, which she notes emphatically is impossible without real political rights including of course the right to vote:
All my prosecutors, from the 8th Ward corner grocery politician, who entered the complaint, to the United States Marshal, Commissioner, District Attorney, District Judge, your honor on the bench, not one is my peer, but each and all are my political sovereigns; and had your honor submitted my case to the jury, as was clearly your duty, even when I should have had just cause of protest, for not one of those men was my peer; but native or foreign, white or black, rich or poor, educated or ignorant, awake or asleep, sober or drunk, each and every man of them was my political superior; hence, in no sense, my peer. 
The 14th amendment to the Constitution explicitly states that all people born or naturalized within the United States are citizens of the United States and are entitled to all the protections of the law and all the rights and privileges that come with citizenship. Anthony argues quite clearly that her arrest and trial clearly contradict her rights as defined by this amendment in the Constitution.

As important as the formal rights in the Constitution are, the preservation of these rights, depends on certain political institutions and an open society that provide the space for this. However, culture is equally important, and it is the culture of freedom and tolerance in the U.S. that make actions like this resonate with the public. In other words, seeing a woman get arrested for trying to vote would make most people think this is an abuse of authority. But, people would only think that way in the first place, if they already had strong cultural values or "mores," (mÅ“urs), of freedom. Even if mores can sometimes prevent change as they become dogmatic, because of the struggles of people like this and its origins in the Declaration of Independence, civil disobedience itself is an established mores in American political culture, in other words somewhat paradoxically, a tradition of opposing authority.

Assignment: Choose a passage from Thoreau, Stanton or Douglass. Write out the passage, then explain what the author is saying and how it relates to the themes of the lecture, and then explain why you chose this quote.