Rights, not Virtues

by Kirill Sakharov

Discussion of what society should give rights or virtues.

Virtue, by anyone’s standard, is a hard thing to obtain. Society usually either has virtues or it doesn’t. What virtues a society possesses, has nothing to do with whether it is a democracy. The general quality of people in a society and the virtues they possess is an extremely hard thing to qualify and control. The rules, laws, actions, and rights the government decides for its people are things much easier to control. Any society, to be a democracy, simply needs to give its citizens the option of deciding for themselves, what they think lies in their best interests. If a society gives all its citizens the right to pursue their self interests, the right to victimless action, and the right to vote and involve themselves in society’s general decision making process, then the said society is democratic. Unfortunately it is nearly impossible to guarantee those rights to everyone, and hence it hard to categorize what particular qualities make for a democracy.

The rights to pursue one’s own self interests and to victimless action are the two rights hardest to secure. Self interests usually conflict and overlap for the members of a society, not only that, but the course of action necessary to take to reach what is best in a society’s interests is often disagreed upon. Since everyone keeps their own agenda, what is seems best for the society varies from agenda to agenda, person to person since even though the society’s best interests are on everyone’s mind, what those best interests are differs for everyone. A pure democracy theoretically will let everyone vote on any issue that concerns them. Yet no such society exists or has ever existed due to the fact that if everyone had to choose the decisions a society made, even if the best interests of the society are always in mind, the direction to achieve those best interests would always vary. And the best interests of the society are not always in mind of the voters, as most of the time, people vote in their self interest. Another complication is that the average IQ of the society’s members is 100; hence to have everyone vote on every issue is equivalent to letting a person of 100 IQ make all a society’s decisions.

Because of all the complications, pure democracies do not exist and instead modern democracies are usually republics. Instead of giving its citizens a say in all decisions, the society has a small power structured group of elected people who make all the decisions. The right to participate is slightly curbed but the decision making process is made more efficient. It is the responsibility of this small group of people to make sure that the rights to pursue self interest and victimless action are guaranteed to every member of the society. This small group, usually referred to as the establishment or government, is usually charged with mediating the overlaps of interest between its members through laws restricting action that encroaches upon others’ right to pursue their self interest.

To put all of this in perspective, the United States chooses its most powerful decision maker every four years, usually the choice is limited to two candidates, who, in turn are picked by primaries which in turn are decided by the portion of the US populace that wants to involve itself more in the decision making process. The bilateral Congress is elected at different intervals by a more localized vote. The third, judicial, branch of government is not even chosen by the general public but by the other two thirds of the government, executive and legislative. Hence the average US citizen has very little say in what decisions the US makes. Theoretically the right to participate in the government is there but the actual ability to do so is incredibly curbed. Nonetheless, the US is considered a model liberal democracy throughout the world.

“The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” was the founding premise for the US. As long as those rights are guaranteed, society will be functioning, and instead of fully letting everyone participate in the decision making process, that right is curbed a bit, so that the establishment can make sure the aforementioned rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness are fairly distributed between everyone. It is considered a model democracy because even though not everyone makes every decision, everyone theoretically has a right to run for a position to make the decisions. The final problem in maintaining this democracy is making sure this selected group of people called the government does its job and no virtues are necessary for that.

It is in the government’s self interest to do its job due to the final right that is necessary for a modern democracy, the right to rebel and establish another government. If a current government is acting in its self interest instead of the interest of the society, such a government is not going to stay in power if the last right exists and is acknowledged by everyone in the society. Hence all democracies need the right to be scrapped and reworked if government is faulty.

It all leads to the fact that with those rights, the right to pursuit of self interests, the right to liberty and any victimless action, the right to participate in the overall decision making process and the right to change government is everything it takes to make for a functioning democracy. Everything else falls into place. The rights simply need to exist in order for a society to create a government that sustains these rights as fairly as possible. In order for the government to sustain these rights, the rights need to exist in the first place and it needs to curb the right to participate in the government. Since the right to participate is the most democratic right to have, this situation creates two dilemmas, how are all these rights sustained as fairly as possible for government to be formed that sustains them more fairly and efficiently. Since government has been around for much longer than democracy, it is fair to say that these rights originated out of government.

The Soviet Union is a perfect example of how a government just gave its people a greater right to pursue their self interests, by giving them more specific rights during the Glasnost, and that led to the society becoming more democratic, even though the country’s virtues did not change a single bit. The only things that changed were rights and the people in government.

Britain, in its slow transformation from a non democratic monarchy to a democratic constitutional monarchy did not change its virtues at all. The US did not change its virtues overnight as the Declaration of Independence was signed, and it was transformed to a society that changed its government from a monarchy and parliament that ruled it from overseas, which was not democratic to the colonies at all, to a government which is more democratic. The only things that changed were the rights people had or proclaimed they had. None of the societies that exist today and are considered democracies have ever gained in virtues and because of that, it became a democracy. Neither do all of the modern democracies share some virtues, which none of the non democracies possess, and due to which they all made a transition to democracy. Such virtues simply don’t exist.

Initially submitted at Oct. 9, 2006; 19:12

Dec. 1, 2017; 16:09 EST

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