Kill or Be Killed

Can your rights be protected while the rights of others are violated? Many hold that false belief. For example, on college campuses we see the absurd spectacle of some students demanding that the right to free speech be curtailed for others while asserting their own right to free speech.

Selectively granting a right to some but not others has consequences. Rights selectively granted will soon vanish.

The founding fathers understood this well. In the Federalist Paper # 10 Madison explains what a faction is:

By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

Madison was concerned that factions which “are…in the nature of man” would try and violate the rights of others. Madison saw that factions are a threat to liberty and “incompatible with personal security”:

From this view of the subject it may be concluded that a pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.

Understanding this, the founding fathers put strict limits on the scope of government. Our government was not intended to be a system where one group could violate the rights of others because they had won an election.

With this in mind, let’s consider the turmoil in Egypt. Supporters of the ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi feel that their elected president was unfairly ousted.  Egyptian citizens have been killed for merely protesting his ouster. At the same time, supporters of Morsi have also engaged in violence, including large mobs burning down Christian churches.

Supporters of the Egyptian military are yet another faction. They feel that the only way to ensure their own rights is to rid themselves of the Muslim Brotherhood. Last year, under Morsi, Egypt implemented a new constitution which “states that the principles of sharia, Islamic law, are the main source of legislation and that Islamic authorities will be consulted on sharia.”

How can this cycle of “kill or be killed” end in Egypt? Sadly it won’t end until all factions respect the fundamental rights of others. Freedom to practice religion is not the same as freedom to impose religion on others.

Compounding Egypt’s problem is a largely centrally planned economy that creates desperate poverty and stifles opportunities.

“Killed or be killed” is part of the ego’s creed of seeing the world through a win-lose lens: either I have rights or you have rights. In contrast, a true understanding of the nature of rights leads to a win-win solution. Everyone has inherent rights—to engage in any activity as long as doing so does not violate the rights of others—and it is only our respect for the rights of others than guarantees our own rights.

We see through the win-win lens only when we shift allegiance away from our ego’s win-lose view. In 1820, Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to William C. Jarvis:

I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.

In other words, no law or constitution will protect rights if the population doesn’t believe in them. Cleary, solutions don’t begin with the pronouncements of politicians, either American or Egyptian.

The 15th Century German theologian Thomas à Kempis put it this way: “Many favor peace but not many favor the things that make for peace.” There is no external cure for the Egyptian people for a problem that begins and is solved in their own hearts and minds.

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