SUPREMACY OF INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS: Erik over at Brainville takes a rather absolutist view of individual rights that I admit is rather appealing given the socialist/collectivist view of freedom that permeates much of the world; however, in his zeal I think he has moved too far to the other end of the spectrum. As with nearly all things, moderation is the key. Individuals rights should certainly reign supreme in the natural order, but as members of society we voluntarily abridge some of our rights in order to live together peacefully and securely.

For instance, I believe very strongly that individuals bear the primary responsibility for their own defense, and that the right to keep arms towards this end is fundamental and essential to human dignity and liberty. However, given the requirements of a functioning society, I do not believe that this right should be entirely unlimited. The question is, how limited should it be? It's easy to draw a bright line and deal with the world in black and white -- there should be no limits on private weapons. Indeed, in the natural order of the world this would necessarily be the only acceptable view. However, society is artificial and we do not exist in a "natural order"; I do not believe that unlimited freedom to keep every sort of weapon is the optimal strategy for my own security and prosperity. For instance, I am very strongly in favor of laws that prevent my neighbor from constructing a nuclear weapon in his basement, even if he is doing so to protect his family or to resist a potentially tyrannical government. Similarly, I do not believe that felons or psychotics should be allowed to possess weapons.

Free speech should also be limited to some degree. Britain's libel laws are far too restrictive, but ours in America are not particularly burdensome and I have no problem with them in general. Likewise, threatening speech should not be permitted, nor should fraudulent advertising. Drunk driving should be illegal for the same reasons that it's illegal to fire a gun into the air in the middle of a city.

It is emotionally and intellectually satisfying to believe that no one should sacrifice or abridge any of their natural rights under any circumstances, but I don't think that this perspective is practical or optimal for either the individual or the community. We are right to be concerned about the potential erosion of our liberty, but it's a matter of degree -- and not every slope is slippery. It is possible for me to voluntarily yield my right to own a nuclear weapon without later yielding my right to possess a handgun or a rifle or (for that matter) a tank. Society is built on compromise, and some freedoms can safely be surrendered in exchange for security, comfort, and prosperity. The trick is in finding where to draw the lines.

I do think that our current system has moved too far towards the collectivist viewpoint and that many of our fundamental rights are being slowly taken away by people who hope to shape society into their version of utopia wherein the elite few "guide" the mindless masses of sheeple in the direction that is "best for them". In particular, the right to possess the means to protect oneself from violent assault is overly restricted here in California. However, it would be possible to go too far in the other direction, as well. Who then should possess the power to determine the limits of our rights?

Why, we outselves, of course! That's the beauty of democracy. We have the power to reclaim our rights; our system is not hopelessly flawed and we do not require violent revolution, we simply need to state our positions clearly and disseminate them as broadly as possible, and then allow the people to decide. Unlike the socialists, I am not afraid to let the populace determine our destiny. As it is, we have already decided that certain rights are outside the power of the majority, and I am not advocating strict majority rule. Our tradition, history, and founding documents outline the rules of the game, and I trust the majority to deal with the specific details.



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