Intermediate Form

Two Fundamental Rights

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Over the past few days, the existence of several student clubs promoting democracy have come to the attention of the blogosphere. An example is the Oxford Democracy Forum, whose principles I've linked above.

The existence of these groups has gotten me to thinking about the fundamental political rights that all people should have. I've come to the conclusion that there are two such rights. Only one of these rights is made explicit in those principles, while the second (while perhaps implicit) is not stated.

My fundamental political rights are:

  1. All competent people have a right to, on a regular basis, have an equal say in choosing the leaders of their government.
  2. There should be no limits on political speech.

When I say "competent" in the first right, I mean only to exclude people such as actual criminals who have abdicated their responsibility to society. I also can see excluding children who are not competent to participate in the process. While some other exclusions could be permissible, they should be narrowly defined. In no circumstances should the right to vote be based on a person having a particular political view, nor should the pool of candidates be constrained in any way.

The goal of the second right is to promote the existence of a marketplace of ideas. This is, I think, fundamental to a functioning democracy. I don't think that the exchange of political ideas should be limited, except by the public's interest. (Actually, I can see some restrictions on what can be said on fundamentally shared media, like radio or television. But these restrictions should be focused on increasing the number of ideas that can be shared, rather than stifling dissent.) While I may think that European-style state socialism is generally destructive, I support the rights of people to encourage those ideas.

(Ditto the anti-war crowd. I oppose them, but I support their right to protest. I just wish they would think before they march.)

I don't think that there's a country in the world that perfectly implements these principles. The United States, for example, has the electoral college, which makes some votes worth about three times as much as others. While I think that, in the 2000 election, the electoral college rendered a much better decision that the popular vote, I must come to the conclusion that a system that treats people unequally due to something like geographical system is flawed. I just don't see geographical location as a sufficient justification for reducing the relative weight of a person's vote.

Finally, let me point out that these two rights only speak of the political rights of people. I think people have quite a few individual rights, but I don't really want to enumerate them here. The bill of rights is probably a good start.

- Tom | permalink | changelog | Last updated: 2003-02-11 22:03

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