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. Despite these setbacks, social rights still make up 2/3 of the government budget in the form of benefits paid out through programs like Medicare and Social Security (the other 1/3 being almost all spending on military and homeland security).
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.