[The following is excerpted from a larger work.]
At issue here is a common misunderstanding of the nature of laws and rights. One must first appreciate the reality that the society has dominion over the individual. No matter the degree to which the individual’s ambitions and works transcend the state of the society, one remains indebted to it. The society owns the individual, and the individual always owes the society — even in spite of one’s pretensions.
Since the society actually commands the power of life and death over the individual, it should be clear that any conception that confers upon one a license to act at one’s liberty without the obligation of accountability to one’s fellows is mere fantasy. Yet, for some reason, we are often wont to believe that society might respect such a license — and further, that society might even consider there to be a certain inalienability that the individual enjoys in the pursuit thereof. The truth is that although we each might avoid accountability to some extent, for some period, sooner or later the bill comes due.
Throughout the history of the United States, various people’s movements sought to secure liberties of a certain type. Invariably, they petitioned the government for rights that, even when granted, did not result in any true extension of their liberties. Rights have nothing to do with liberties; instead, through the passage of the laws in which they’re codified, they define limits on how far the boundaries of the existing system will be extended. Liberties, on the other hand, represent the abolishment of external constraint.
Understood in this light, rights granted in response to contests to an unjust regime are merely the result of self-preserving compromise on the part of the governing body. Such acts of capitulation by those in power have the effect of assimilating the spirit of credibility that fueled the success of a contesting movement back into the formerly oppressive program of limits — by extending its boundaries ever so gingerly. Once assimilated, that spirit is later dissipated — and the movement thwarted. The hallmark of the credible (and thus, usually successful) people’s movement is the demonstrated ability of its constituents to exercise disciplined command while enjoying those liberties for which legal recognition is sought. Only after witnessing such a demonstration might a governing authority even begin to consider its credo to be vulnerable…and thus amenable to extension.
Laws, and the rights conferred through them, serve to define that which is permissible within the context of the society. However, liberties can only be defined in terms of that which is correct or incorrect…and they actually transcend any given societal context. The enjoyment of liberties requires of the individual (or larger body) the strictest exercise of discipline and integrity — concomitant with accountability within the societal context. Only then might correctness in one’s responses to challenge be attained. Only through correctness can one successfully stand behind one’s position when it is otherwise seen as being wrong in the eyes of society.
Usually, a movement’s bid for a grant of rights will undermine its process of developing and refining within itself the tools for liberty.
Nevertheless, such a bid serves a worthwhile purpose, despite the danger it poses to the furtherance of one’s true cause. The successful attainment of rights serves to distract the granting system from its oppressive posturing…but, only momentarily. Undoubtedly, it will resume its oppressions in short order.
The individuals who comprise the movement must assiduously maintain a course of disciplined correctness despite the promise of easement that is suggested through an external grant of rights. If such a demonstration of correctness has the power to wrest compromise from an oppressor, then it has the power to change the hearts and minds of those who benefit from the oppressive regime. Oppressors know this — and they are also aware that the odds are against individuals’ long-term maintenance of discipline in a climate of permissiveness. For the oppressed to not act to thwart these odds is for them to instead slowly welcome the oppressor into their own hearts.