Articles

The Newer Context of Civil Liberties

In democracy, human rights on December 5, 2009 by Gautam Tagged: , ,

A colleague recently asked me to start looking at civil liberties from a standpoint that was not restricted to the State-Individual paradigm of liberties. This was something I considered and kept away for a while before I actually stumble onto a context that would relate to such a situation. An article by Ilya Somin here helped me think on these lines.

Ilya Somin is of the opinion that nationalism/patriotism is one of the greatest evils of modern politics, second only Communism. My agreements with her opinion on Communism notwithstanding, I’ll explain why her take on nationalism is very seriously flawed. For this purpose, I will refrain from borrowing from continuing dialogue between the author and Jonah Godlberg in the National Review.

The author has held nationalism responsible for Repression, Mass murder and a few less colorful things like prejudice against cross-market capitalism. This is probably the State-Individual paradigm that I was asked to look beyond.

The point is therefore that while State actors maybe held responsible for restrictions on civil liberties in most situations, after a point- and as regards a particular set of civil liberties- we absolutely have to look beyond the ‘State’ to understand Rights. Gender inequality and racism for example impose very significant curbs – though veiled, on one’s civil liberties even though most State practices specifically prohibit it. Gender inequality permeates into a very long history of subordination and oppression that, even though proscribed by the State, continues to affect us, and ironically this prejudice ends up getting reflected through State institutions. The issue then is not so much against the State. Go one step further and extrapolate the relationship between the individual and the State; one would notice that the greatest violations of civil liberties have been perpetrated by Autocratic State Actors. That the State is sometimes responsible for curbing civil liberties is true, but after a point – since the modern political framework prescribes democracies- it is not really the State that is the enemy.

While Mr.Somin’s views were put forth in a different context altogether, her references to the Nazis and Fascist regimes, especially her remark on the ‘modern political scenario’ made me go a step further in understanding what this dear friend advised me of.

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