A Sample Declaration of Rights
By Alex Sparrow at Aug 10, 2010
My friend and I have a website, Philosophyhelmet.com, where I discuss various issues related to democracy, ancient and modern, in philosophy, political and social science, and economics. Our website is intended for a general audience, so the material may seem rather tame for Z folk. Feel free to visit though!
The Bill of Rights is dead. The Bill of Rights, and the Constitution of which it forms an afterthought, died a slow and painful death over the course of American history with the development of vast corporations and bureaucracy. Though we know that these are instruments of bougeois power, they can be, and have been, powerful tools in the hands of popular forces. Slaves, labor unions, civil rights movements, and so on, have used the language of the Constitution to motivate and legally protect their movements towards liberty and equality. Much of this is due to the myth of "the living Consitution," the idea that the Constitution can be interpreted to provide rights, liberties, and powers that it does not explicitly grant. But that's all done now. The reactionary and anti-democratic forces of the bourgeoisie have also discovered the power of this myth, and have used it to destroy any semblance of law that the United States might have enjoyed. When you can find a "right to privacy" in the Constitution where it doesn't say anything about it, you can also find material to support a "unitary executive," whatever that is. To be clear, there should be a right to privacy in the governing constitution; the current one just doesn't say anything about it. Pretending the Constitution says what it doesn't has given us rights, but it also has empowered the Supreme Court to interpret them away.
However, writing down the law for all to see is a powerful means by which the people can assert their powers and rights against abuse. All the progress of Latin America is bound up in the popular legislation of new democratic constitutions, by which people make further demands of the state. So its time to discuss what ought to be in a new Declaration of Rights for the United States, and how to form the constituent assemblies necessary for its adoption. For this purpose, I have drawn up a sample declaration (the link takes you to another website). For some reason, offering concrete ideas for further discussion is dismissed as some form of authoritarian demand for obedience to one vision. However, though the document is long and detailed, its purpose is to generate further thought.
This sample declaration of rights has several groups of rights, powers, and liberties. The document includes all the rights that are supposed to be guaranteed to us by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and all subsequent, related international conventions. First, it guarantees vast political rights, including not only the right to vote, but also the right to directly legislate, and to effectively participate. The first article emphasizes the state's duty to make liberty and equality "real and effective," not merely a pretense.
Second, the declaration provides for the usual civil rights, the freedoms of speech, assembly, association, religion, and so forth, but specifically denies limitations, such as the censorship of expression, or the control of public assembly. Third, it provides economic rights, such as the rights of labor, of consumers, and of property. Property is dealt with circuitously; I don't want to provide any fundamental protections to private property, but I do want absolute protections for personal property. Owners of factories ought to be able to be expropriated, but persons should not be able to be removed from their homes. Thus, the distinction made here. I think that this is a distinction that would occur naturally to most people once made. Making this distinction removes a major stumbling block to further future socialism - people genuinely believe that socialists are going to take their stuff.
The sample declaration also provides for the typical social and cultural rights, and to environmental rights, which have only yet been formulated in Latin America, in the new constitution of Ecuador.
The document has an extensive portion devoted entirely to the civil rights related to criminal justice, including law enforcement, court procedure, and the rights of the convicted and the victims. I have attempted to specify rights against all the current violations that are ongoing in the United States, so you can see why it might be lengthy.
The sample declaration of rights also deals with the rights and duties dealing with conducting military affairs. This might be inappropriate to a Declaration of Rights though, come to think of it. The document further reiterates absolute prohibitions on certain conduct that is "evil in itself," including torture, aggression, and er, killer robots (well, they're out there!). I end on the enshrining the right of the people to revolution, vital to the further transformation of the polity beyond the short term.
So is this a worthwhile pursuit, the writing of a new Declaration of Rights, and new constitutions? I believe that it is. The American people labor under the perception that their fundamental political institutions are inevitable and irrevocable. No wonder that Americans are so hard to motivate to political action. We need to reclaim our constituent power over a dead, and deadly, political order, if we are to have any social transformation.