"Individual civil rights should never be sacrificed, not even for the alleged common good." Is this statement true? Discuss with close reference.it consists 12 marks

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auntlori's profile pic

Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Individual rights are second only to the common good in terms of societal safety.  If "common good" is redefined to mean everyone must be equal and same, individual rights must prevail.  Look at this story to see what can happen when they don't. In the end, it all depends on who gets to decide what the common good is.  It's individual rights which help ensure all other rights.   

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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If we define rights as those outlined by David Hume in his discussion of "natural rights," there should not be any curtailing of a person's rights in a free society.  For, it is not a "right" to harm anyone else.  People must be careful to distinguish between freedom and license.  The infringement upon others' rights occurs when people take license to kill, or harm others. Individual civil rights should never be sacrificed for the alleged common good.  For, history proves that once sacrificed, they have not be restored.

It is a testimony to Kurt Vonnegut's vision that we are agreeing to relinquish our rights for the sake of safety in the wake of 9-11 or for the "good of others." None of these First Amendment rights have been restored.  For instance, the FBI only needs to "suspect" a person to invade his personal information in his/her computer, etc. whereas before 9-11 the Bureau have to have some proof and "probable cause." So often in past history movements towards totalitarian control were insidious at first; being done for the "good" of others.  The No Child Left Behind bill was done for the "good" of some, but it obviously has handicapped the advancement of others.  Clearly, Vonnegut was ahead of his time.

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teachertaylor | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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I agree with the second post.  The key word in the proposition seems to be the word "alleged."  Who determines what the common good actually is?  In "Harrison Bergeron," the government determined that the common good was based on having absolute equality for all.  But was that really "good" and in the best interest of the entire society?  It is obvious that not all the members of that society agreed that having equality for all was a good and beneficial ideology, so Harrison rebelled.  I suppose this would be the case in any other consideration of individual rights versus the "alleged" common good.

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emratica | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

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Moderation in all things.  Yes, some rights must be give up in order to create an organized society.  Much like the previous post stated, at some level, there must be a curtailing of rights.  However, when too many of these rights are given over to a greater power, we lose our individuality and power to control our own existence. 

"Harrison Bergeron" and the novella Anthem, have similar themes in this way.  The people in "Bergeron" have given up their rights to the government in order to create equality amongst all men.  The people of Anthem give up their rights to each other in order to create equality.  They even go so far as to remove the word "I" from their vocabulary to show that no individual is better than their brother.

The idea that things could go so far is terrifying, but possible.  That is why moderation is a good thing.  If we give up our rights too much, we lose our chance to be heard - but if we don't give up any rights, than anarchy takes over.  Moderation in all things is really the only way to go.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Indeed, the previous post makes some excellent points.  However, with regards to the short story, I would posit a different answer.  Examine how Vonnegut looks at the notion of individual rights being sacrificed by the institution of government.  He suggests that through justifying the curtailing of individual rights, those in the position of power can do great damage to the fabric of personal liberties.  Writers like Vonnegut, and many in the Science Fiction genre, were animated by the ideas of what would happen if individuals were willingly complicit in the forgoing of individual rights to the state apparatus.  Despotism and such measures are easier to justify if individuals are willing participants, and using ideas like "common good" or "curtailing of rights" could be a form of code to allow this to happen.  In the story, examine the instances where this happens, where individuals are willing participants in the actions of the state which seek to consolidate control and power through the vitiation of individual liberties.  Indeed, at some level, there has to be a curtailing of rights.  An individual's right to free expression ends at another's nose and the most stringent protection of free speech would not allow a person to yell "Fire" in a crowded theatre.  Any speech that constitutes a clear and present danger is not free speech.  Yet, having said that, when individuals begin the process of curtailing their own personal liberties in the name of "social good" or "common good," it makes it easier for those in the position of power to do the same. In this sense, the pendulum has to swing the other way in a zealous defense of individual freedoms and liberties.

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krishna-agrawala | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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Use of expression like "sacrificed" and "alleged common good" makes the statement emotionally charged against restrictions on individual rights. However reality is that societies grants and protects rights to individual to promote the common good. It is possible for some individuals to promote their individual goods by hurting the interest of others, but it is not possible to provide good of all the individuals in a society, when the society as a whole suffers.

Therefore i do not agree with the proposition in the question. What we need is individual good. Individual rights with misery for all is of no use. As a matter in a situation the society has no power to prevent some individual to trample on rights of others. Thus, when society gives unbridled rights to individuals it actually results in reduction, rather than improvement in individual right and liberty.

For example if right to free speech is used by some to insult, harass, and malign others with malicious intentions, and there are no legal means to put an end to such behavior, some individuals may cause harm to many others. The result will be net reduction of right of individuals to live peacefully and with dignity. Whereas a reasonable restriction on right to speech can insure that this right is not used to harm others unjustifiably.

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