I read a quoted passage a few weeks ago that’s been swimming in my consciousness ever since. I read it on The Smallest Minority, but it’s originally from a post on Musings of The Geek With A .45 called “Non Sources of Power….” Here it is:
A generation before the American Revolution, the English philosopher John Locke dug a deep well from which the waters of liberty are drawn, laying out the manner in which explicit, finite, enumerated Powers can be delegated by the People to government, while reserving all other prerogatives to themselves.
A generation later, the French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau poisoned, pissed and shat into that well, restating the social compact with key bits sabotaged to support collectivism and the oppression of the individual by the allegedly infallible democratic will of the people.
The refutation of this point is a simple question: “Is there any process of democracy that will justly allow you to rape another against their will?”
If the answer is no, then there are limits to what the democratic will of the people can justly enable, and the remainder of the argument is about where those limits are, and by what process/axiom/principle they are discovered or established.
If the answer is yes, I don’t want to know you, it’d be best for you never to encounter me.
The answer is no. Democracy is not the entire political process or every one of us will find ourselves subjected to the tyranny of the majority in short order.
This passage comes to mind when I think of the huge controversy about the Islamic community centre to be built two blocks from ‘ground zero’ in Manhattan. Some want the president or the mayor to step in and stop it. Neither will do so as they’ve both publicly commented on the right of those who wish to build the centre to do so. The builders have purchased the land, filed all the necessary paperwork, and done everything legally required of anyone planning to put up a community centre in New York City. Yet many people want them to be stopped.
I make a clear demarcation between their legal right to build the community centre and any other concerns. They have the right. There’s no doubt about it. It may be unwise for them to proceed, given their location, but I’m still dumbfounded that people look to their elected leaders to stop these individuals from exercising their legal rights simply because they don’t like what they’re doing. The rights we all enjoy aren’t worth shit if the cries of a large enough group is all that’s required to deny these rights to an individual.
I’m not religious and I’m certainly not Muslim, but I don’t see how otherwise logical people can imagine they’re doing a good thing by denying others their fundamental rights. I understand that people are upset, but the Constitution of the United States does not protect anyone against being upset. Are people so willing to do away with freedom of religion and property rights over a single building? Or is it a matter of ‘freedom of religion…except Islam’? It doesn’t work that way. If everyone is free to practice their religion except one group, the whole thing comes tumbling down.
If I were to get into an earnest dialogue with someone who thought the community centre should be stopped, I’d ask by what means. Legal? If so, what laws is it violating? Further, if two blocks isn’t a sufficient distance, what is? Three? Five? Ten? It boggles my mind. I understand you have feelings. They may be very strong, but for goodness sakes, think a bit about what you want to happen based on those feelings.
President Obama said,
Muslims have the same right to practise their religion as everyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community centre on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.
Some took this to mean he supported the building of the community centre. He then clarified:
I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right that people have that dates back to our founding.”
I think he’s absolutely right. If some others don’t like what you do, it doesn’t follow that you should be stopped. If you keep within the boundary of the law, you may do as you please. Of course there are always consequences to our actions.
On one hand, I don’t think it’s wise to build the Islamic community centre at that location. They’re creating hard feelings that may come back to bite them in the future. It is their choice, however. On the other hand, those against the community centre’s location are not doing themselves any favours by calling on the mayor and president to swoop in and stop the people behind the plan. All they’re doing is showing that they really have no idea how their government works, and even worse, they don’t have a clue about the principles on which their country was founded.
N.B. You’ll note that I did not call it the ‘ground-zero mosque.’ It’s not a mosque and it’s not at ground zero.