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Individual Rights versus Common Good Essay

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Updated: Mar 5th, 2019

It has been a common practice by most governments and institutions to impose actions forcefully in the pretext of a common good. Examples of these include, rising of income taxes which has resulted to unrest in most countries, government funding directed towards unnecessary projects, and passing of unreasonable laws.

Some governments have gone to the level of taking individuals’ property and giving to others while claiming to increase the revenue from tax. Some include destroying peoples’ livelihoods while claiming to protect endangered species or expanding roads for the good of the public. There has also been a common practice of infringing the privacy of individuals, free market interference all in the name of a common good (Howard, 2002).

Many rights have been curtailed and in some cases done away with for good of the public. Individual rights which do no harm to others must be protected by the governments, institutions or organizations at all costs. The government is for instance not justified to harm or even steal from people while trying to benefit a few individuals or groups.

The liberty of an individual should not be interfered with provided that his/her liberty is not harmful to others. The laws that govern a people should not forcefully bring about differences both socially and economically just to gratify a few people who are in power or in higher positions. In the book: The Civil Society Reader, it is noted:

“Among these powerful elite, the crisis of civic membership is expressed in the loss of civic consciousness, of a sense of obligation to the rest of society, which leads to a secession from society into guarded, gated residential enclaves and ultra-modern offices, research centers, and universities.

Its sense of social covenant, of the idea that we are all members of the same body, is singularly weak. What is even more disturbing about this knowledge/power elite than its secession from society is its predatory attitude towards the rest of the society, its willingness to pursue its own interests without regard to anyone else” (Hodgkinson, 2003).

There are several incidences where governments and regimes have abused individual rights for the common good. Take for instance the case where people who are prone to the danger of attack are disarmed for the common good. They are then prone to danger; some are attacked and killed, “for the common good.” Some utilitarian regimes barn certain types of music, they suppress freedom of speech and association all for the common good. Some regulate people’s believes for the common good (Murphy, 1990).

There has to be a balance between the very important individual rights as well as their freedom and the needs of the society at large. In the cases of totalitarian societies, people tend to insist more on getting more individual liberty. On the other hand, in most of the western democracies, there is increased individual self-indulgence and the element of community self responsibility is lacking. In fact, people tend to criticize communitarian ideas.

There ought to be a balance between the two. Hodgkinson and Foley in their book: The Civil Society Reader, note that; “Every state is a community of some kind, and every community is established with a view to some good; for everyone always acts in order to obtain that which they think good. But if all communities aim at some good, the state or political community [polis], which is the highest of all and which embraces all the rest, aims at good in a greater degree than any other at the highest good,” (Hodgkinson, 2003).

There are some cases however when the rights of an individual could be curtailed for the sake of the public. Take for instance a case where someone becomes a nuisance to others as in the case of playing loud music in the places where noise is not tolerated or during odd hours.

Other cases would be when one touches other people inappropriately which could even amount to sexual violence, destroying other people’s property at will or infringing on their property. One could easily perceive talking on the phone while driving as an individual right. It could however amount to endangering the lives of others as it could easily lead to an accident (Rousseau, 1978).

It may at times be necessary to interfere with an individual’s right if the freedom that that person enjoys could put his/her own life in danger. Take a case where an individual decides not to fasten a safety belt while in a vehicle, such a person could be endangering his/her life just in the event of an accident.

The law enforcers are therefore justified to hold that person to account over such an action. As long as one is living with others, that persons freedom must be limited to the level where he/she does not violet the rights and freedoms of others (Microsoft Corporation, 2007).

All in all, it seems as though the current society is witnessing excessive erosion of people’s individual privacy. It is for instance possible that one’s neighbors will listen to that person’s conversation over the phone. An employer is now able to get access an individual’s mailbox and read the employee’s emails and his/her medical records.

It has become easier for a reporter for instance to access ones record of the online transactions and other personal online operations. People have been pressing for new laws that should be geared towards protecting them from data rape.

It could only be necessary to access one’s private computerized data if the activities that that person is engaging in are suspicious and are geared towards defrauding others or even harming them. Such data could help employers in choosing their employees carefully. Such information could also help I tacking drug lords and other illicit drug activities. Someone’s medical history could be submitted to a health registry that is universal and computerized.

This would help in ensuring right diagnosis for a patient’s illness. Privacy is not absolute and it may have to be infringed in the cases where there is need to curb the spread of an infectious contagious disease. The intrusion of one’s privacy should however be minimized and it should be the last resort after all other possible ways fail. Those who test infected patients are not supposed to use the same data to discriminate individuals on the basis of their medical record (Singer, 2008).

It would be more helpful to carry out moral dialogues where individuals can resolve their value differences. Rationalistic deliberations that do not give values the attention they deserve or culture wars may not be of any importance in this case. Excessive press for individual rights can be of no importance if that freedom or right does not add up to the freedom of others as well. In the book; The Civil Society Reader, it is noted that:

“The highest task which nature has set for mankind must therefore be that of establishing a society in which freedom under external laws would be combined to the greatest possible extend with irresistible force in other words of establishing a perfect just civil constitution…Man who is otherwise so enamored with unrestrained freedom is forced to enter this state of restriction by sheer necessity.

And this is indeed the most stringent of all forms of necessity, for it is imposed by men upon themselves in that their inclination makes it impossible for them to exist side by side for long in a state of wild freedom” (Hodgkinson, 2003).

In summary, ones individual freedom should not be an excuse for infringing the freedom of other. At the same time, the pursuit of the common good needs not to be a way of terrorizing the civilians, denying them of the right to privacy and other basic rights as well as taking their property all in the name of protecting the interests of others. If this happens, the society will be paralyzed due to the fear of legal action they may undergo by doing anything that could be perceived as going contrary to the common good.

The authority that exist should be geared towards honoring individual rights and at the same time protect the public. None of the two should overshadow the other. Any legislation that is passed should be aimed at serving people and not necessarily people being slaves of the laws that are passed.

Reference List

Hodgkinson, V. F. (2003). The Civil Society Reader . Lebanon: University Press of New England.

Howard, P. K. (2002). The Collapse of the Common Good. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Microsoft Corporation. (2007). Liberty (freedom). Washington: Microsoft Corporation.

Murphy, M. C. (1990). The Common Good in Review of Metaphysics. The Common Good , 16.

Rousseau, J. J. (1978). The Common Good. Questia , 77.

Singer, D. (2008). Individual Freedom and The Common Good. London: Macmillan.

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