Lee Wrights: Group rights are a dangerous illusion

“If mankind minus one were of one opinion, then mankind is no more justified in silencing the one than the one – if he had the power – would be justified in silencing mankind.”
– John Stuart Mill

By R. Lee Wrights

BURNET, Texas (June 12) – It is popular and expedient in politics to champion taxpayer rights, state’s rights, patient rights, gay rights, people-with-disabilities rights, even animal rights. Name any group, or make one up, and undoubtedly someone will advocate for that group’s “rights.” The problem is – there is no such thing as “group rights.” Group rights are an illusion conjured up by politicians and special interests to increase their influence and power.

The simple, basic truth is that all rights belong to the individual. You are born with your rights and no power on earth can take them away from you. You cannot give your rights away. They end only when you die, and not a split-second sooner. Individual rights cannot be divided or multiplied; and, individual rights are superior to any other claimed rights.

Individual rights mean you can adopt whatever culture you want and live any lifestyle you choose to live. We have the individual right to worship or not worship whatever god we want without interference from anyone else, so long as we do not interfere with the rights of other individuals to do the same. It is the fundamental and universal concept recognized by our nation’s Founders. As a result of this recognition, the superiority of individual rights became the foundation of the United States government.

The view that our rights are granted to us by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights is equally incorrect and dangerous. As important and eloquently written as these two documents are, they grant us nothing. America’s founding documents merely recognized, and seek to guarantee the recognition, of the individual human rights shared by all of mankind. The Bill of Rights does not declare human rights are valid from a set date forward. The Bill of Rights is a proclamation to the world of something that has always been… the sanctity, superiority and supremacy of individual human rights. The Constitution is to serve as a warrantee of those rights, not a grant of privilege that allows us to embrace and enjoy them.

Individual rights are the “self-evident truths” Thomas Jefferson wrote about when he penned the words in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” He was not expressing any new ideas or concepts. He was telling people something that had always been. Individuals have rights by birth that cannot be given or taken away.

Two people, 200 people, 2 million people, even the world’s populations combined do not have more rights than one person. There are no such things as “state’s rights,” there are only human rights possessed by people individually from birth. A “state” may have more influence, more power, and theoretically, a greater ability to protect individual rights. There is certainly strength in numbers, as they say. Labor unions have proven that numbers mean power in politics. But no group of individuals has more rights than any one individual, nor do groups acquire special rights by being organized.

Power and rights are simply not the same thing. The individual right to freedom of association allows people to band together to protect their individual rights. Such associations can become agencies designed to control, limit, restrict or even abolish the individual rights of people who don’t belong to that group. However, even if they are successful, any law that suppresses the rights of individuals can be nullified by the people.

As Jefferson wrote, “…law is often but the tyrant’s will and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.” It makes no difference if that tyrant is a single person or a group of people united under common cause. The rights of the many are never greater, can never be greater, than the rights of the few, or even the one. If we accept the illusion of group rights, we also accept the legitimacy of tyranny. That is why when it comes to human rights, no number is greater than one.

R. Lee Wrights, 53, a libertarian writer and political activist, is seeking the presidential nomination because he believes the Libertarian message in 2012 must be a loud, clear and unequivocal call to stop all war. To that end he has pledged that 10 percent of all donations to his campaign will be spent for ballot access so that the stop all war message can be heard in all 50 states. Wrights is a lifetime member of the Libertarian Party and co-founder and editor of of the free speech online magazine Liberty For All. Born in Winston-Salem, N.C., he now lives and works in Texas.

Lee Wrights for President
Contact: Brian Irving, press secretary
press@wrights2012.com

919.538.4548

23 thoughts on “Lee Wrights: Group rights are a dangerous illusion

  1. Kimberly Wilder

    I find this statement and study in group vs. individual rights very interesting. I have come across similar ideas from Libertarians before.

    It would be interesting to study how “injustice”, either rightly or wrongly, tends to throw people into the mindset of needing identity politics or needing group rights.

    For instance: I would like to see someone apply this theory to the 1950’s and 1960’s, when there were water fountains that said “blacks only”.

    In order to overturn that injustice, was it wrong to start considering “black rights”, and seeing blacks as an oppressed group who needed a separate struggle. In an ideal world (and/or an idea Libertarian world), how would someone being to remedy that situation.

    Also, I have been a “disability rights” advocate. That is another interesting study. I would say that people specifically organize for that group, because some of the folks in that group cannot stand up for their own rights, and need a little nudge, or if they have no voice, need a champion in the realm of politics. So, how would the theory of only focusing on individual rights help?

    I have thought about the idea that we would not need identity politics and group rights, if people quickly dived in and stopped any injustice of a government against a person, or the strong against the weak. If people were constantly aware and brave, and willing to set things right, we would not need all these little struggles.

    But, until we get to that place, I think that these groups and identities are a needed way to give people support and a fighting chance.

    Would be interested in more discussion.

  2. Kimberly Wilder

    Separate Point re: Group Rights:

    As someone who is not mostly a Libertarian, I also have a kind of outsiders view question about the above (and similar issues):

    If someone in politics believed that the stance of simply protecting individual rights would solve problems of racism, sexism, etc. that now exist, than I would ask: What has that person done in his or her life to support specific people of color or women?

    Since I know that things are still unfair for women or people of color, I would want to know that someone has not just given themselves a philosophical excuse, and then turned away from a very real problem, I would want to see how that person was helping the problem under their own philosophy.

    For example, on Long Island, it is so obvious that school district lines are drawn so that there are pockets of minority neighborhoods left out of white school districts. There is so much housing and schooling segregation that is easy to prove with glaring statistics, and anecdotes of unfair, government decisions.

    Now, I realize that an idealized Libertarian view may be no public school.

    But, take where we are now. A realistic solution for current suffering and oppression.

    If Libertarians truly care about injustice, they just don’t want group identity rights, then what are Libertarians doing to address this problem on Long Island.

    I mean, are Libertarian activists informing black families of ways to sue to go to a different school? Are Libertarian candidates, electeds, or activists finding unfair school registration criteria and forcing the school/state law to rewrite laws so that they are fair to individuals? Are Libertarians setting up charities to donate school books to schools where the district lines makes the tax base poor?

    I would like to see less talk and more action when someone is saying that we do not need the current method of organizing against and addressing injustices.

  3. George Phillies

    An inauspicious turn of phrase. The Republican bigot — but I repeat myself — lying point ‘special rights’ is IMHO too close to the phrase ‘group rights for this to be a safe libertarian argument.

    When African-Americans were denied their right to vote by Southern Democrats, they were denied it en bloc, and what was denied was a right of a large number of people to vote because they were viewed as being part of a group.

  4. John Jay Myers

    Kimberly, we can not give blacks or women rights, they already have them. What we can give them is a fair chance by not making laws (or allowing laws) that harm them.
    For instance a law saying that they can’t drink out of a certain water fountain. That would be an unconstitutional law.

    The role of government is not to give people things, it is to protect the rights they have. You can not force people to like people, or want to hire people, it is not the role of government to do that.

    When you do things like that you normally harm that minority, in particular blacks, when you make laws that give people things, you develop groups that become dependent on being given things.
    Those things in our society that are valued, like education, hard work, discipline etc… go right out the window, because you will be given what you need… why worry about those other things?

    Your heart is certainly in the right place, but it seems to me that as you fight for these things we start driving down the road to “idiocracy” if you haven’t seen that movie, you should. (Horrible movie, great point).

    In all things “government” there is no room for discrimination, public water fountains, our city hall, or the voting booth etc.

    But there is a line, and that line is all things private, in private we all discriminate, as we should, I have a rule: I don’t hire stupid people. That is discrimination. I also don’t hire people who wear their pants so that their underwear are showing, again, I discriminate.

    But I have a right to, there are people in Dallas who want to make laws against people who wear their pants to low (Mostly black law makers), I solve the problem by not hiring them and telling them why.

    In regards to schools, we shouldn’t even have traditional schools anymore, we pay $12k a kid to send them to public schools when we could spend 7k a kid sending them to private schools. But, the truth is we shouldn’t even have schools as they exist today, right now in front of you as you read this is a box, this box is capable of sharing every single piece of information you will ever need to know.
    It is time we start thinking of alternatives to our school systems. They only exist to perpetuate their own broken education model.

    But you were right in regards to districting, it’s a horrible mess, and should be done by computer, not by bureaucrats. Which would solve much of what you want to solve.

  5. Robert Capozzi

    kw, great feedback. Reversing in some cases centuries of injustice is something for which many Ls don’t have a really great answer.

    OTOH, unless the districts on LI have changed a lot, the one I grew up in was certainly not drawn with any racial agenda. Connetquot was just all white. Most of the other adjacent ones were that way, too. Is there really conscious gerrymandering going on with LI districts?

    So, sometimes, making charges about insidious, race-motivated line-drawing doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Looking for ill motives often leads to finding them.

  6. Kimberly Wilder

    Dear Robert –

    Thank you for continuing the discussion.

    I will say, that you should rethink and study how school district lines have been used on Long Island to draw lines and keep people out.

    It sounds like you believe that your old neighborhood just happened to be all white. But, have you truly studied the situation? Or, are you just kind of guessing, based on your observations as a young person inside the system?

    The place I know a lot about is the Town of Babylon. My husband and his family did politics here for a long time. So, one story is a judge who brags that years ago, he decided a court case based on the neighborhood lines where his nephew went to school. Abuses like that probably happen all the time. But, only the insiders know.

    In the Town of Babylon, there is horrible segregation. And, it is very easy to see how districts are created around certain neighborhoods. And, then, how school districts make ongoing decisions about which out-of-district kids they will allow to make exceptions to cross lines. I am in the North Babylon school district. I went to a board meeting where they were considering some applications for families to cross lines and attend their district. I saw first hand that it can be a subjective process.

    One place to study the facts, figures, and even maps more is Erase Racism, an organization out of Nassau County.

    It is easy to believe that what we see just happened. But, in the suburbs, it is not so. The way neighborhoods are is based on years of injustices, such as neighborhood associations saying “no Jews” and/or “no blacks” in their filed documents, years of school districts harassing people about residency if the people are minorities, and years of layers of governmental privilege to whites, and prejudice against black people and Hispanic people.

    If someone truly wanted every child to have his or her individual rights in school districts, a person could fix subtleties in state law and/or force school districts not to create misleading registration forms. (The ACLU in NY has done some of this research, collecting school registration forms and showing how they tended to scare away certain families — homeless, renters vs. homeowners, immigrants, etc.)

  7. Kimberly Wilder

    Aha! Thanks for the discussion. I think I have a good example of a way that everyone who believed in fairness and individual rights let the world down — without even understanding it.

    How about this scenario:

    It took until something like the 1960’s or so for people to even realize gender-bias in language.

    So, for years, our government would write documents that would say something like… acitizen has a right to vote if HE lives in a certain district… There was always he/him as the default language.

    All those years, government documents –nearly subconsciously, absolutely structurally — ignored and disrepsected women. Women were not named, not given attention, not “assured” as much as men. Every time a woman read something, she had to re-process and re-think so she kind of believed that the “he” or “him” meant her.

    Did anyone who believed that everyone deserves equal treatment and equal rights notice that or fix that?

    It took feminist and groups of women to realize the injustice, name the injustice, and start to correct it.

    That to me is an interesting example of how it is naive to think that someone from an enlightened, “individual rights” majority is ever going to suddenly correct injustices that exist against oppressed groups.

    There is something missing to just say individuals should all have the same rights, so never organize things, or label things, or correct things, according to identity or groups.

    The theory that individuals are all equal, so government and the law only deals with individuals, only seems to work if you start from a zero line where everything is already fair.

    Also, I do not think that the government usually does make laws that gives things to identity groups. I would like to hear more about that. I think that the law mostly assumes that everyone has equal rights. And, then, people or groups who feel discriminated against use the court system, and legal precedent to force their case.

  8. Kimberly Wilder

    Also, re: Robert Capozzi at 5:

    Also, why do we have these school districts, if part was not to discriminate, or subtly serve certain communities?

    Why do we have Connequot and Sachem? Since the school districts are a government function, why shouldn’t the lines have been drawn according to towns or villages? Drawing lines by existing government boundaries would have been easier and more logical, and would allow people to directly appeal to a whole other set of elected officials if things were unfair.

  9. Jill Pyeatt

    As of one week ago, my family has successfully survived the school system. The high school my son graduated from is a public high school, the only one in a very old, small city that a suburb of Los Angeles. Our house is on the third block out of a town called Arcadia–an affluent community that is apparently advertised in Hong Kong for its excellent schools. Our house looks like an Arcadia house, same foothills, same bears coming to visit, but my house cost probably $150,000 to $200,000 less than it would have in Arcadia because it has a different school system. Is that discrimination? Are real estate agents only showing Arcadia homes to Chinese people? I don’t know, but I don’t think so. That’s just what happened.

    BTW, I far preferred the school system in my town, and that’s a reason I selected to live here. Monrovia is a community with some very wealthy people, and quite a few apartment dwellers. I think the student body is 40 % Hispanic, and otherwise has a good mixture of others (curiously very few, if any Chinese) kids. I suspected my son had leadership qualitites, and felt he’d learn to be a better leader if he knew many different types of people, so a multiethnic community with varied demographics was highly desirable to us.

  10. Robert Capozzi

    kw: Also, why do we have these school districts, if part was not to discriminate, or subtly serve certain communities? Why do we have Connequot and Sachem?

    me: It’s a good question. As a L, I’d like to separate school and State as soon as practicable. As for the motives for lines between Sachem and Connetquot, I don’t assume it was nefarious. I’m pretty sure it was lines between Islip and Brookhaven townships drawn at a time when the area was rural and sparsely populated.

  11. Kimberly Wilder

    Robert Capozzi,

    At #10: You have such a sever lack of curiosity, and a desire to suppose the best of the system and the people who created it.

    It is a big question about why schools are in districts that do not correspond with towns. Not a small question. You should study it and try to find more of the answer.

    Also, as a politico, you should be used to spotting “gerrymandering” and odd shapes. If you have a moment of time, and a bit of concern, to reflect on the place you grew up, you might want to get out the district maps and look at the area school districts. I will bet that you find some odd lines around certain neighborhoods and blocks.

  12. Tom Blanton

    If you look for bias, wherever there are humans you will most likely find it. If you look at Family Courts, you will find bias against males. Is there bias against males at colleges where female students outnumber male students? What about elementary schools where boys are required to take Ritalin because they have behaved like boys? Bias is everywhere.

    We have a Black president and a large number of fully assimilated Hispanic and Asian people in the upper middle-class. There are many Black mayors in America.

    There will always be racism to some degree and it isn’t clear what government can do to eliminate it entirely outside of creating thought crimes.

    Rights are also a nebulous thing in a political system that is run by elites for elites. It is no secret that the smallest minority of all, the wealthy and powerful, are treated as if they are more equal than the majority.

    Politicians aren’t concerned with group rights or individual rights. They will only give lip service to these issues if it is in their best interest to do so for political reasons.

    To expect fairness, equal treatment under the law, and the equitable distribution of government services is a fantasy. Struggles go on for years to obtain good government and there is no guarantee of success.

    Maybe the best solution is to lower expectations of what government can do and instead rely on ourselves, in a decentralized society, to take care of our own needs without the elites managing our finances and our lives.

    In a country of about 330 million people, there just isn’t any way to make everyone happy. To allow any degree of self-determination, massive decentralization needs to occur. Some people may organize in groups that do things we consider stupid, immoral, or self-defeating. On the other hand, do you want those same groups imposing their agenda on you through political means?

  13. Michael H. Wilson

    RC writes; “OTOH, unless the districts on LI have changed a lot, the one I grew up in was certainly not drawn with any racial agenda. Connetquot was just all white. Most of the other adjacent ones were that way, too. Is there really conscious gerrymandering going on with LI districts?

    Up until a few decades ago the
    FHA ‘s (federal housing admin) policies encouraged racial discrimination. Just because we think we live in a tolerant neighborhood doesn’t mean the FHA was helpful.

    American married women were often denied the right to own property until sometime in the 60s in most states.

    This Lib was out collecting signatures at a Gay Pride event to end discrimination against cannabis users this weekend, especially the younger ones. And for the record I do not use the product. Maybe I should I am told and then I wouldn’t worry about the buttheads in politics.

  14. Robert Capozzi

    13 kw: You have such a sever lack of curiosity, and a desire to suppose the best of the system and the people who created it.

    me: Hmm, I’m not sure I agree that I lack curiosity, but thanks. I don’t doubt there there has been gerrymandered school systems. Connetquot…I don’t think so, since it’s pretty much a big rectangle filled with farms and woodlands when it was established, with almost all white people until I left in the 70s. Babylon…very possibly.

    Regardless of the local conditions, I prefer to transcend the current morass of “public education.” It’s no surprise to me that special pleaders rig government-run systems, sometimes for racist reasons. The people hurt most by government force are those least able to opt out of it. In my estimation, the best path to fix this mess is to maximize choice and undo the forced, top-down approach we currently have.

    Fixing gerrymandering is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. I prefer the life boats myself.

    I s’pose I

  15. Tom Blanton

    American married women were often denied the right to own property until sometime in the 60s in most states.

    I don’t think this is correct. I can’t speak to all states, but this has never been the case in Virginia. In fact, married women have been allowed under statute to own real estate as their “sole and separate equitable estate” (aka femme sole) where their husband would have no statutory or common law interest in the property after her death, leaving her the ability to devise it to whomever she wished. Men were not allowed to own real estate as a separate equitable estate until modern times! Discrimination!

    Married women have always owned real estate in Virginia without their husbands.

    I have even seen deeds to Blacks (identified in deeds as “colored”) prior to the civil war recorded here in Richmond.

    Even children have been able own real estate in Virginia, although they can’t sell it without a guardian until the reach the age of majority.

  16. Michael H. Wilson

    Tom I have read that they were denied that right. I am not saying that I am correct. Just repeating what I have read in books and we know the problems with that book learnin’. stuff. Fill your head with strange ideas.

  17. Marc Montoni

    MHW @ 15:

    THANK YOU Michael for being a productive participant in the struggle for liberty. You consistently earn the right to have an opinion.

    Others here, the guys who monopolize seemingly every thread — the talkers… not so much.

  18. Michael H. Wilson

    I tend to quote websites with some reluctance, but here is one that has a comment about this issue.

    “Women enjoyed few rights in Anglo-America. This was especially true of married women, who in many ways ceased to exist as legal or public beings. Married women had no authority to sign contracts. Any real estate she owned before getting married became her husband’s to manage, and any personal property she owned became her husband’s outright.”

    http://www.dhr.history.vt.edu/modules/us/mod03_rev/context.html

  19. Deran

    I find this sort of libertarian capitalist talk abt individual rights that some how have always existed through out huan history somehat quasi-mystical. It seems to me that individul/human rights are manifested when humans band together and agree to each other having such rights, and that the compact will cooperatively defend each other’s individual rights.

    And by the by, what the heck is Captain Parliament doing prattling on an actual news thread?

  20. Tom Blanton

    I find this sort of libertarian capitalist talk abt individual rights that some how have always existed through out huan history somehat quasi-mystical.

    Well, I’m not a “libertarian capitalist”, whatever that may mean, but I think the quasi-mystical rights in question are sort of based in the idea of natural law and are thought to pre-exist government – see the Declaration of Independence.

    It seems to me that individul/human rights are manifested when humans band together and agree to each other having such rights, and that the compact will cooperatively defend each other’s individual rights.

    That is why the government was formed, according to the aforementioned Declaration. Here’s the problem. What if a majority decide they have the right to own other human beings? Then you have a government with a monopoly on violence enforcing the right of some to own others.

    Back to square one. Rights are nebulous things. But as soon as your rights are violated, you’ll know it.

    That’s why I believe government is too dangerous to bother with. The bad exceeds the good.

  21. Robert Capozzi

    23 tb: But as soon as your rights are violated, you’ll know it.

    me: Expand on what you mean here, please.

  22. AroundtheblockAFT

    I think Ms. Wilder’s larger point is that the LP needs to be active in local communities to stop the denial of individual rights. The Institute for Justice certainly does this to the extent possible.
    The LP needs to work hand in hand with other groups to defend against denial of IR and defeat measures which lead to the same. By reaching out to these non-libertarian groups on single issues, LP will win respect and recognition.
    Such grass-roots activism will do more to spread libertarian principles that yet another presidential campaign that wins 500,000 votes and no lasting success.

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