Liberalism vs. Individual Rights
By Andrew Bernstein (Salt Lake City Tribune, April 1, 2001)
Most Americans think slavery ended with the 13th Amendment in 1865. It did, in the United States. But it is alive and well today in the Sudan and Mauritania. In these African countries, blacks suffer at the hands of Arabs, who ransack villages, kill the men and sell the women and children into slavery. The Arabs use black slaves for labor, sex and breeding. In 1994, Human Rights Watch/Africa labeled Sudan's record on rights "abysmal," and the situation is little different in Mauritania.
The facts are readily available from such organizations as the American Anti-Slavery Group (www.anti-slavery.com), yet the public hears nothing about this abhorrent practice. Where are the liberals? Where are Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy and Jesse Jackson? Ostensibly, liberals profess concern for human rights. Why do they not speak out on behalf of the slaves in Africa?
That they remain silent regarding slavery while decrying "sweatshops" provides a clue. American-owned factories in Asia and elsewhere employ local workers in jobs whose conditions and salaries do not approach those in the United States. The liberals demand that such "exploitation" cease. But workers accept these jobs voluntarily, because they offer better opportunities than the alternatives available in those primitive economies. In endorsing policies that would effectively close these factories, the liberals violate not only the rights of the employers, but also the rights of the workers to accept employment on the terms offered.
Why object to voluntary employment but remain silent regarding slavery? It looks like a terrible inconsistency. But is it? A closer look shows that liberals consistently endorse the violation of the rights of the very people they profess to protect.
For example, at home, too, the liberal claims to be a defender of workers, but in fact negates the individual rights of each worker. Liberals uphold such laws as the minimum-wage requirement, which abrogates the freedom of a low-skilled worker to accept the kind of employment offered to him. Since someone whose work is worth only, say, $5.00 an hour to an employer will be unable to find work at a higher wage, the predictable result of minimum-wage laws is higher unemployment among lower-skilled workers. By eradicating a worker's freedom in this regard, they deny him both employment and the chance at on-the-job training that would upgrade his skills.
Similarly, liberals champion the political power of labor unions. But unions deny the right of individual workers to make their own agreements with the employer on the terms of work. Time and again, striking unions use violence to prevent workers from crossing a picket line. The liberals say nothing as such victims are physically harassed and even beaten. In the name of "workers' rights," liberals nullify the actual rights of the individual worker to choose for himself what conditions of employment to accept.
Nor is it merely the rights of the workers that liberals abrogate. For instance, though they claim to defend the elderly, they oppose the privatization of Social Security. This means they negate the right of each individual to use his own money to plan for his own retirement. They negate the right of the individual to take responsibility for the course of his own life.
Why do liberals pay lip service to supporting the poor, the elderly, the worker--while invariably endorsing the violation of the rights of those very individuals? The answer is that liberals repudiate the principle of individual rights in favor of collectivism. Only groups exist in their thinking, and only "group rights" are valid. They see life only in terms of collectives--the rich versus the poor, the young versus the elderly, the whites versus the blacks. Individuals have no reality and no meaning to them.
Therefore, liberals blithely violate the rights of individual workers whenever they believe that "labor as a whole" will somehow benefit. Similarly, they ignore slavery in the Sudan and Mauritania, because they believe that to criticize any groups in Africa is to undermine the cause of ethnic minorities in the West (and in Israel). The interests of enslaved black individuals are thus sacrificed to the liberals' vision of a greater "collective good."
These injustices will continue until the liberals' collectivism is rejected in favor of the principle of individualism. Only when it is understood that each and every individual has inalienable rights can mankind eradicate the egregious violations perpetrated by the liberals or sanctioned by their silence.
Andrew Bernstein, author of The Capitalist Manifesto, is a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif. The Institute promotes Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand--author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.
For more articles by Andrew Bernstein, and his bio, click here.