The Wrongs of Rights 2: Civil Rights

Civil rights are for citizens alone.

We live in a world turned upside down where the obvious is elusive and where common sense is disdained as ridiculous.  Perhaps the most blatant example of this phenomenon arose two years ago with the mass protests of "the undocumented" - or, as they are more properly known, illegal aliens - which produced this sign.

There are two clear conclusions we can draw about the person holding it and others of similar view: first, that they believe that there exists a set of rights they don't currently have, and secondly, that they believe they ought to have them.

This view is half right.  Yes, there does indeed exist a collection of rights that does not apply to illegal immigrants.  What they refuse to admit is that they don't have those rights for a perfectly good reason: they are not entitled to them.

Not All Rights Are Equal

In the first article in this series, we explored fundamental human rights.  These are the rights of "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness" which apply to all people simply by virtue of their being human.

Over the decades, American presidents have called for these rights to be honored all across the globe, by and for people who have never been to the United States and never will.  Reagan called on Gorbachev to honor the human rights of the Russian people; both Bushes called for Saddam Hussein to respect human rights in Kurdistan; many, many politicians have criticized Red China's attitude toward the rights of their own people; and today, we see the Iranian people attempting to stand up for their own rights to speak freely in the face of theocratic oppression.

Human rights apply to everyone everywhere, including illegal immigrants.  An illegal immigrant has the right to free speech; most likely one is exercising that right in holding up that sign.  They have the right not to be shot out of hand, the right not to be tortured, and so on.

Think about what we just said:  Human rights apply to everyone.  Governments do not grant our natural human rights; they can only take them away, and usually ought not to.  These rights are well known, and include freedom of speech, religion, assembly.

But that's not what we're talking about here.  Civil rights are something entirely different.

Civil Rights - Not For Everyone

The rights demanded by illegal aliens are not human rights - they already enjoy those.  What amnesty protests demand is civil rights.

What is a "civil" right? hits the nail on the head with its very first definition of civil: "of, pertaining to, or consisting of citizens" - and continues on in that vein.

The history of America includes quite a few controversies over exactly who gets what rights.  At first, only men over 21 who were property holders enjoyed the right to vote, and in some states only white men.  The property restrictions were removed over the years; the Civil War removed the color bar legally, though it wasn't until the 1960s that facts changed on the ground.  Women had voting rights in some states, but not in others, until the 19th Amendment passed in 1920; in 1971, the 26th Amendment extended the franchise to 18-year-olds.

Now, you can argue over who exactly should be able to vote, but the right isn't granted to everybody by their Creator the way the Founders considered core human rights to be.

Does a toddler have the right to vote?  We've decided that makes no sense.  Am I some sort of totalitarian if I argue that the voting age should be put back to 21, or even raised to 25?  No; you might disagree, but that particular question doesn't violate any natural law.

As with human rights, civil rights too can be voided by a person's actions, followed by a proper conviction under due process of law.  Most states bar prisoners from voting; many states forbid the vote to convicted felons even after they're let out of jail.  Despite the views of certain Supreme Court nominees, there is no Constitutional problem here.  Felons received a penalty as prescribed in law after the required due process.

Why are civil rights not for everyone?  Because unlike the natural rights, they are not free; there is a cost involved in providing them.

The Cost and the Compact

Civil rights are not something that you enjoy in a vacuum by being left alone.  Consider the best-known civil right, that of voting, and remember our "noble savage" enjoying his natural rights.  Does he have the right to vote?  Of course not, nor does he have anyone to vote for, any place to do it, or any reason to care.

Only when you have a group of people - a civilization - do civil rights become relevant, and they only work when everybody agrees to them.

We see this in totalitarian regimes that stage "elections" which are really nothing of the kind.  The people may want an election, but the overlords have already decided what the result will be and dummied things up to achieve the desired result.  Iran's people have discovered this and seem quite unhappy about it; they've had their nose rubbed in the fact that their supposed civil rights actually don't exist, because the powers that be, that is, the guys with the guns and the muscle, don't agree to let them exist.

When the Pilgrims arrived off the coast of Massachusetts, they were presented with a problem: since storms and navigational errors had dumped them somewhere other than Virginia where their governing documents applied, technically they were in a no-man's-land with no government.  Some of the less religious types on board seized the opportunity for anarchy, saying they "would use their own liberty; for none had power to command them..."  In a hostile wilderness, the Pilgrim fathers knew this was a recipe for disaster.

So they created the first governing document signed on American shores: the Mayflower Compact.  In two paragraphs, they did "Covenant and Combine ourselves together into a Civil Body Politic."  That is, they all mutually agreed and promised to each other to establish an organized self-government and to respect its laws.

The Mayflower Compact was a social compact writ small: I promise to follow the rules, and so do you, which benefits us both.  Somebody who does not honor the rules is outside of the compact; he doesn't belong, and has no claim on the rights or privileges it grants.

Do I have the right to vote in England?  Of course not; I'm not English.  Is this a violation of my rights?  To say so would be ridiculous; not being an Englishman, I have not joined the social compact of that land, and have no just cause to demand civil rights there.  Now, should I happen to visit England, I would expect my human rights to be honored.  But civil rights, no.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., led America's blacks in claiming to their civil rights because they were freeborn Americans just as much as any white man.  They did have a just claim to those rights; they had been unjustly denied them for many years, somewhat as the people of Iran are being denied their birthright by their own government.

When Dr. King made the argument for equal rights, it was compelling because of its obvious truth: they were born here, they are Americans, they are subject to American laws no matter how much some of them may express high regard for Africa.  There were and are no legitimate grounds to bar black people, or Americans of any color for that matter, from the rights and privileges of citizenship.

Illegal immigrants are another matter.  America has an established method for foreigners to become members of our social compact: obtain a visa, live lawfully in the U.S. for some years, apply for naturalization, take the oath, and then become a citizen, after which you are the equal of all other citizens.  By going through this process, prospective new Americans demonstrate their willingness to respect both the social compact and the equal rights of all other Americans.

By willfully refusing to obey the laws, illegal immigrants demonstrate their rejection of the social compact, of legal authority, and of America itself.  Far from claiming rights that ought to be theirs, they are already exercising a right that is not theirs - their stolen "right" to walk on our soil.

Again, do you or I have a right to simply prance into Mexico, Germany, or Japan without their permission?  No - their country, their rules, and if we want the privilege of entering their country, we've got to respect their way of doing things.

A great many Americans are confused about this.  For example, the New York Times said:

As they wait for a legalization bill, they are suffering under unjust laws, corrupt policing and a detention and deportation system that routinely suppresses their rights. [emphasis added]

The Times doesn't claim that illegals are being murdered - that would, indeed, be a wrongful suppression of their human rights.  The rights the Times is talking about are civil rights such as the right to join a labor union.

The Times forgets that these people are criminals - they broke our laws getting here.  They're in America illegally and have no civil rights.

They have human rights, of course, so we can't just gun them down, but we have every right to summarily send them home.  Illegal immigrants are human beings, but they are not citizens - they deserve core human rights only.

The Times also said:

The American people have been far out front of the politicians on this issue, overwhelmingly supporting comprehensive reform. [emphasis added]

That's true in a way.  Americans do want comprehensive reform, but they are very specific about what they mean by this: when this issue last surfaced, overwhelming majorities of Americans wanted the system reformed so that illegal immigrants would be sent home.

Not shot, not tortured, not abused in any way - just peacefully and in an orderly manner placed on ordinary buses headed south.  The American people understand the difference between human beings and citizens; it's our politicians and liberal elites who appear to be mixed up.

One-Sided Claims

Let's sum up the difference between human rights and civil rights.

Human rights are intrinsic to each and every human being; they are not granted by a higher authority, but are inherent simply by virtue of being human.

Civil rights, on the other hand, are the result of a societal agreement - a mutual benefit pact that makes life smoother for everyone, but which people must agree to in order to deserve the benefits.

The problem we see today is that there are whole categories of people who try to claim the benefits without agreeing to the pact.  Most recently, we see the appalling spectacle of terrorists - sworn to destroy the United States and kill Americans wherever they may be - making the same preposterous claim.

Nobody could be more unworthy of civil rights than a foreign terrorist.  Why, then, are we granting them?

In our next article, we'll explore the concept of positive rights, and the devastation of true rights which it has wrought.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Immigration.
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