There are several regulars among the writers of letters to the editor in our local paper. Regulars, I have discovered, are highly focussed on a particular world view and political outlook expressed in volatile language so predictable that one has only to skim for any sign of a new thought. They are on the left and on the right. Among them are several who adhere to something I call Christianized Libertarian Paranoia.
It is Christianized in the sense that almost every letter asserts the writer’s own Christian imprimatur while condemning any contrary view as anti-Christian. Beyond that it’s hard to tell what they believe in or how Christ might be a part of it. It is Libertarian in the sense that they have little regard for government at any level, and are certain that the nation would be better off with a federal government limited to the bare essentials, although what those bare essentials are is unknown. They are paranoid in the sense that they are convinced that the current administration is stripping them of their freedom, that the Constitution has been abandoned, and that everything the government is doing is part of a deliberate scheme to deliver the nation into the hands of (insert favorite bogeyman here). The level of anxiety expressed in their letters is palpable. It’s sad, and I imagine that they live in a frighteningly dark world.
One recent writer asserted that the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution, does not establish a single right but only recognizes a set of natural rights that are individually and universally ours. I understood him to mean that they are not related to any sense of the collective welfare. The idea of collective welfare is anathema to him. The individual is supreme, and it’s each person for her or himself. We are only individuals living in proximity to one another, working out whatever relationships are needed to do that with an acceptable level of assurance of the means of securing one’s personal safety with the fewest restrictions possible. It goes without saying that this paradise of individuality also needs a military force to prevent outsiders from invading.
I’m not sure why he took on the Bill of Rights to make his point, but is there anything in them that might give us a clue? Let’s take a look.
Arguments from natural law philosophy are evident in them, but it’s hard to see a connection between that and his understanding of natural law as something rooted in extreme individualism that would be self evident to a reasonable person living a normal life. It seems to me that they are all centered on the need for, and importance of, identifying and protecting the collective rights of a free society as those rights are expressed in the lives of persons.
The first amendment prohibits congress from making any law to establish or prohibit the exercise of religion. It also prohibits the abridgment of freedom of speech, the peoples’ right of peaceable assembly and to petition the government.
The second recognizes the need to have well regulated militias to protect the security of the state, and, therefor, the right of the people keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
The third, prohibits the government from peacetime quartering of soldiers in private houses without the owner’s permission, and in wartime only as prescribed by law.
The fourth prohibits searches and seizures except by a duly authorized warrant issued only on probable cause.
The fifth says that no one can be tried for a capital offense except through indictment by a Grand Jury, that they cannot be tried twice for the same offense, that they cannot be forced to testify against themselves, and that one cannot be deprived of one’s property without just compensation.
The sixth establishes a right to a speedy trial, to be confronted by one’s accusers, to be able to compel witnesses for the defense and to have the assistance of counsel.
The seventh guarantees a right to a trial by jury in civil cases.
The eighth prohibits excessive bail, fines, and cruel and unusual punishment.
The ninth says that these and other rights enumerated in the Constitution are not exhaustive, and there may be others retained by the people (which is not the same thing as saying they are retained by individual persons).
The tenth states that powers not delegated to the federal government by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states, or to the people.
There are, of course, another seventeen amendments, but these are the ten that make up the Bill of Rights. They both empower and restrict the role of the federal government, but most of all they are about freedoms that accrue to a society of people living in a nation of laws and under the authority of a republican form of constitutional democracy. They are not definitions of rights that belong to individuals just because they are persons regardless of the society in which they live.
The universality of rights such as these has been recognized by the United Nations, but who can trust that agency of the antichrist’s One World Government?
1 thought on “A Few Thoughts about the Bill of Rights”
I often skip those letters to the editor:) It keeps me calmer than when I read them.