I have just reread an op-ed article by George Will in which he states “Government, the framers said, is instituted to improve upon the state of nature, in which the individual is at the mercy of the strong. But when democracy, meaning the process of majority rule, is the supreme value – when it is elevated to the status of what the Constitution is basically about – the individual is again at the mercy of the strong, the strength of mere numbers.”
Later in the article Will states, “The protection of rights, those constitutionally enumerated and others, requires a judiciary actively engaged in enforcing what the constitution is 'basically about', which is making majority power respect individuals’ rights.”
This is the issue: The needs of the society versus the rights of an individual, which I have been speaking about.
Of course, Will is referring to the Preamble to the Constitution which as you know states “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
The 9th Amendment states “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”
Thus the question of what is a right and to what degree, and when can that right be restricted for the betterment of the whole society?
My view is that when the question arises, the rule of 'help v. harm' must be invoked.
If the help to the society (society’s government) is greater than the harm to the individual, the individual’s right can be restricted.
There are the obvious situations of invoking the draft in case of war and obeying a traffic signal; and the argumentative question of taxes or the recent dispute over the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act also serve as recent situations.
If we are to be a maturing society, a more civilized peoples' government too must have rights.
Let me cite a couple of quotes from speeches by Abraham Lincoln (naturally, these were in speeches about slavery, but the reasoning can be referred to any topic):
“It may be argued that there are certain conditions that make necessities and impose them upon us, and to the extent that a necessity is imposed upon a man he must submit to it. . . . It does not destroy the principle that is the charter of our liberties. Let that charter remain as our standard.”
Lincoln continued to state, “They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society which should be familiar to all: constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people everywhere.”
The goals expressed in the Preamble, in the 9th Amendment, and in Abraham Lincoln's speeches must be a constant.
Let's make them a reality.