Tuesday, September 6, 2011

States Rights and Human Rights

Andre Carson's recent rant on the Congressmen supported by the Tea Party is just a continuation of the liberal narrative that slanders the conservative populist movement as little more than a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.

A couple of months earlier, Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. made a more subtle argument along the same lines.

In the video, Jackson at least notes one substantive position of the Tea Party Movement: the return to the federal system under which the federal government confines itself to the specific enumerated powers given it in the Constitution. All other power the Constitution reserves for the states, as is reinforced by the Tenth Amendment.

He asserts that "if slavery is as state right, then state rights can never and will never be human rights.”

He adds, “Someone needs to tell the Tea Party that state rights are not human rights.”

Someone needs to tell Jesse several things.

First, he adopts the erroneous slaveholder and segregationist language. States do not really have rights. They have powers. These powers are defined in each state's constitution. Only people have rights. Some of these are natural or human rights; others are civil rights.

Second, even if one concedes the language issue, Jackson appears to commit an informal logical fallacy called the fallacy of composition. It occurs when one applies the attribute of one member of a class to all members of that class. Contrary to Jackson's claim, just because we agree that slavery was not a human right, it does not follow logically that no other rights reserved to or protected by the states are human rights.

Third, if we correct the language problem, Jesse forgets that the federal system and the Tenth Amendment, or states rights, were designed to protect human rights. Many Americans in 1787 feared the powers delegated to the new federal government. All the amendments, including the Tenth, were designed to protect natural rights more fundamental than property in humans. (The next post will show how.)

Finally, Jesse forgets that slaveholders not only asserted “states rights” to protect their property in humans, but also--when their interest demanded it--asserted federal power. When it came to enforcing the federal fugitive slave laws that empowered federal law enforcement officials to capture and return runaway slaves, slaveholders quickly threw “state rights” out the window

That's a lot of history forgotten by a man invited to dedicate a museum devoted to our collective historical memory.

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