Individual Rights versus The Good of Society

…which one is more important?

America is built on a foundation of individual rights. This all stems back to the Declaration of Indenpendence, in which Jefferson said that humans have certain inalienable rights, such as life, liberty and the pursuit of hapiness.

However how important are these rights when it causes suffering? Abolishing the right of privacy could help stop many a crime. Many riots where countless died may have been avoided without the right of free speech.

Abolishing rights may lead to a society much like some famous dystopia, such as “1984.” However, it could also lead to a utopian society as Rousseau imagined it centauries ago. His ideas scared many people in his time and today, but there is a certain positive side in a society where all men are equals, in property and life.

The tradition of the philosophy of John Locke (m.d. Qad) is that you cannot have good community without liberty. I don’t think that any good philospher took utopias seriously, they were only to illustrate ideas. When you have riots and sustained breaches of the peace that tends to invite martial law, which is a usurpation of power. Ursurpation should be understood as exercizing a power legitimately held by another. The Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore was technically a usurpation of the people’s authority to have their votes counted when the Scalia Five substituted their own. Now supose that the usurping martial authority starts doing things like torture suspects or prohibit private conversations with attorneys. That is a tyranny because no one has the authority to do that.

Which is more important? Individual rights. Simply put, Rousseau’s vision of individual rights is impossible because whatever safeguards you put in place, some individuals will rise to positions of power and find ways to control the rest of society. A free press, for example, is necessary for the people to keep tabs on the government and verify that no one person is gaining too much power. As long as individual rights are preserved, we have the ability to band together and fight back against the spread of tyranny.

I don’t think it is possible to say that either is more important. Both must be respected, and I doubt if anyone really subscribes to a theory under which one always trumps the other. Exactly where to draw the line and how to strike the balance is the tricky question.

If you start out with the primacy of individual rights, you will derive a society and its “good”, because individuals need one and will seek after the advantages of one, and they will want to to treat them well and also to be functional and dependable. If, however, you start off with the primacy of the “good of society”, you don’t by any means necessarily derive a system with the maximum support for individual freedom or happiness unless possibly that is how you defined “good of society” in the first place.

No contest.
Of course, I’m an anarchist, so what kind of answer did you expect?

Not unless the first and only concern of the people in charge is the welfare of the people. The moment oyu get people in power who decide they have a right to fine-tune society to their whims(whichwould be almost inevitable), things get very ugly, very fast.

OK, pal, I’m getting tired of the way you just waltz into every thread I want to comment on, and state my views before I ever get there. :slight_smile:

AHunter’s comments are exactly right on (and I’m no anarchist). It’s a false dichotomy – Individual liberty is the FOUNDATION of the public good. The two are not exclusive, but depend upon each other.

As Thomas Paine wrote in Common Sense (a pamphlet which helped to ignite the Revolution):

Society and government exist to serve the individual, not the contrary. And the current times are a demonstration of government taking precautions and passing laws that offer to us the greatest expenses (liberty and privacy) and the least benefit.

That said, we live in a society and as such have to conform at times to the greatest good. Also, when exercising the right as an individual, you then trample on the rights of another individual. You want to drive, then you need a drivers license and insurance. Is that impacting your individual rights? Or you should be able to drive regardless of ability, and follow only the drving codes you want to use?

I’ve lived in Asia most of my adult life. Most countries here the rights of society are stressed over the rights of the individual. One could certainly make the arguement that China with 1.3 billion people simply can not have the same amount of individual rights as in America for example. There just aren’t the resources for it. One clear dilema that China has which does not exist in the US, is freedom to reproduce. China simply has to limit population. How to do that in a way that respects as many individual rights as possible is open to debate, but it’s clear to me at least that there has to be a form of state sponsored birth control. For the individual rights camp, would you say that the chinese should be able to have as many children as they want even if that means mass starvation in the future along with a whole host of other problems?

**China Guy ** - I thought you might post on this one… :slight_smile:

Singapore is an interesting example of this, which recently (a few years back now) issued a statement which defined Singaporean culture.

One of the core definitions of Singaporean culture is that the society come ahead of the individual.

Singapore is a country (more a city-state) which has as its only asset its citizens, yet it is highly successful economically. It has a very highly educated populace. It has (more or less) democratic institutions (I won’t go too far down that path - its the subject of current controversy following the recent election, and Lee Kuan Yew’s interference in the judicial process in the past has been abominable). Its a nice city - its green with a nice balance of colonial and modern architecture (some people complain that its sterile), and the people are friendly.

How has Singaporeans suffered as a result of putting society ahead of individuals? Not at all - in fact the individual sacrifices of Singaporeans have made the city what it is, for the benefit of the many.

As much as I personally respect individual rights, liberties and freedoms, I don’t think its a given that these are a necessary pre-requisite for a “good country” or a “good society”.