47 Years of Civil Rights?

Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed 47 years ago today. While most of his accomplishments are attributed to civil rights, precisely a year before his death he made a speech against the Vietnam War. He astutely pointed out that “men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war.”

The rights of man, according to the Declaration of Independence, are “endowed by their Creator” and unalienable. That is, no government may lawfully or morally restrict a person from engaging in peaceful acts. Throughout the years, governments of all descriptions and across the entire face of the planet have continuously chipped away at the freedom of man.

On this anniversary of the death of MLK, let us remember that civil rights are a global issue and that every human has equal right to these liberties. It is far too common to view coercion by democratic republics to be somehow less reprehensible than coercion by totalitarian despots. To this, I say let us remember the prophetic words of Herbert Spencer when he reminds us that “the substitution of a benevolent despot for a malevolent despot, still [leaves] the government a despotism.”

In other words, we need to consider the state of freedom from the perspective of the individual rather than the intent by or participation within government. “As certainly as the despot is still a despot, whether his motives for arbitrary rule are good or bad,” he continues, “so certainly is the [statist] still a [statist], whether he has egoistic or altruistic motives for using State-power to restrict the liberty of the citizen, beyond the degree required for maintaining the liberties of other citizens.”

The rights of man are equally eroded whether curtailed by a despot or by his alleged participation within a democracy. Thus, “the real issue,” according to Spencer, “is whether the lives of citizens are more interfered with than they were; not the nature of the agency which interferes with them.”

Ultimately, we may simplify the ultimate concern for human rights to a single dichotomy: coerced cooperation versus voluntary cooperation.

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