In truth, there is no such thing as a right.
The last three centuries or so of European history developed the concept and fixed it in our minds as something real and many modern states have enumerated lists of rights, but, in the limit, the concept of rights has no force behind it.
Words on paper mean nothing when those with real power in your society decide that the words are only that, words. Judges have no power to direct where the society’s power is unwilling to cooperate.
Apart from what has happened at various times in a number of European countries, the ability simply to switch off rights has been demonstrated many times in America’s history, and there can be little doubt that dimming down and gradually switching off rights now has become a central activity in American society.
Nothing so effectively trumps rights as government claims of emergency situations, such as civil war and now the so-called war on terror. For the foreseeable future, rights in Western countries are going to increasingly be limited or ignored, if not even proscribed.
This is certainly the case in the United States where construction of a national security state is well underway, the template being that of Israel, a state which despite a stage show of democracy is quite literally more of a security state than the former East Germany, more because technologies now are vastly more effective and penetrating than anything the Stasi had and because the proportion of military and security services in society is far greater in Israel than it was in a supposed absolute state.
Establishing such a vast state apparatus anywhere is never without consequences for human freedom and rights, although Israel has never pretended to establish defined rights, it being an impossible task to do so for a “democracy” where only one kind of person is welcome and where millions are literally held against their wills and where the state apparatus feels free to seize anyone’s property at any moment.
So it is a very ominous model towards which America is working. The work has proceeded gradually since 9/11, so that there is no sudden panic in such a large general population, but it proceeds inexorably, with new steps announced periodically limiting this or that activity. Of course, it just so happens that the project serves the establishment’s own power interests, effectively securing continued and increased authority.
The events used to excuse the project and make it acceptable, those of so-called international terror, were themselves natural outcomes, reactions to the establishment’s abuse of authority in a long series of attacks and wars to reshape the Middle East and its endless tolerance of an intolerable human situation in Israel. The establishment’s behavior created international terror.
In the end, the unpleasant truth is that only might makes right, and sentiments and fine words count for very little. We truly have made small progress since the days when a French nobleman’s coach could run down a peasant in the roadway without consequences. We are still ruled by wealth, and the security services, servants of wealth, gain added and unaccountable powers almost daily.
After all, that is how America governs much of the rest of the planet today, isn’t it? Why should home be any different?
John Chuckman is former chief economist for a large Canadian oil company. He has many interests and is a lifelong student of history. He writes with a passionate desire for honesty, the rule of reason, and concern for human decency. John regards it as a badge of honor to have left the United States as a poor young man from the South Side of Chicago when the country embarked on the pointless murder of something like 3 million Vietnamese in their own land because they happened to embrace the wrong economic loyalties. He lives in Canada, which he is fond of calling “the peaceable kingdom.” John’s columns appear regularly on Intrepid Report, CounterPunch, Media Monitors, Politics Canada, Baltimore Chronicle, Intrepid Report, Scoop (New Zealand), Asian Tribune, Aljazeerah.info, Smirking Chimp, Dissident Voice, and many other Internet sites. He has been translated into at least ten languages and is regularly translated into Italian and Spanish. Several of his essays have been published in book collections, including two college texts. His first book has just been published, “The Decline of the American Empire and the Rise of China as a Global Power,” published by Constable and Robinson, London. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.