Thursday, April 19, 2012

George Will goes to bat for "individual sovereignty"

I’ve written a lot on these blogs about “personal autonomy” and “individual sovereignty”, and today (April 19, 2012, an unfortunate anniversary), George F. Will has an important piece in The Washington Post on “The right to rule oneself”, p. A15, link here.  Online, the title is “The constitutional right to be left alone”.

Will writes that the Constitution does not confer rights but “secures” pre-existing rights, and that the “fundamental rights concern the liberty of individuals, not the prerogatives of collectivity”.  He also warns that in common conservative parlance “individuals’ self-governance of themselves is sacrificed to self-government understood merely as a prerogative of majorities.”  Even my own father used to say “the majority has some rights.”

The socially conservative part of the GOP, most of all with now “self-suspended”  GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum, is critical of “no fault freedom” and supportive of the idea of shared goals and common good. Even with an emphasis on individualism, there can be a proper emphasis on earning wha one has without too much dependence on the unseen sacrifices of others.

Social conservatives have repeatedly complained about "court made law" when it ratifies individual self-ownership.  Such claims suggest that such persons believe that a command of the loyalty and perhaps subservience from others is an important prerequisite for their "doing what they have to do" for the "common good". 

Yesterday, of my GLBT blog, I wrote a post re-echoing the majority opinion in the 2003 case “Lawrence v. Texas”.   Under due process, an individual fundamental right, if not conferred down to the level of a specific “act” even under the parameters of consent and privacy, still exists whenever there is any meaningful psychological context at all relative to the world of the individual. Remember, the "right to be left alone" had been mentioned in impassioned dissent in Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), which Lawrence "largely" oveturned. 

Social conservatives, including the “natural family” crowd, may have a political bedfellow with the climate change movement, and also with the seemingly distant concern over care of elderly family members.  Both problems suggest that it’s important for the individual have personal stakes in members of other generations beside his own. That sounds like sharing goals relating to collective good defined by the majority.  But these ideas can rise and take on moral importance competitive with usual notions of “personal responsibility”, sometimes, at least in areas of “choice”, contradicting them.  I grew up with a lot of these ideas in the Cold War 50s.  Today, the “socially conservative” Right has to deal with its own ideological internal contradiction, the idea that all government (even if applied to global problems like climate change) is bad.  The linking idea seems to be that government is less necessary when people learn to take care of each other locally, mostly in nuclear and extended families.  But that requires social structures that can undermine individual choices, on the theory that common challenges won't get successfully met unless "everybody has to share the burden". 

It’s interesting, to me at least, that the last two words of Will’s piece today are “individual sovereignty”.


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