The Rites of Power

(an addendum to Section 4 of Democracy STRUGGLES!)


Ink marks on parchment cannot provide or guarantee rights just as no law enforces itself.

Embedded in the traditional civic religion of US citizens is the idea our forefathers fought for and won the rights enshrined in the Constitution. But any semi educated veteran of the American War for Independence would very likely raise his eyebrows at such an assertion. Instead, they would tell you they had fought to preserve rights they were entitled to by virtue of being born as Englishmen. They may never have thumbed, much less read, a copy of the English Bill of Rights. But no matter how many or how few of those rights they could enumerate, they cherished them all in the same way Americans tend to sanctify a Constitution they may have barely skimmed.

The human propensity to seek enchantment is what makes us transform seminal documents into potent talismans capable of generating enough power to change the circumstances of public and private life for good or evil. Rights are the kinds of talismanic protections and powers we humans fight for and cherish.

Perhaps it is a more enlightened view of rights which prompts some to assert extending them to others is the best way to guarantee them for oneself. Perhaps it is more primitive to believe restricting rights to the “deserving few” is the best way to preserve their power and value. And perhaps the second view is most likely to become dominant in times of want, stress, or insecurity.

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