The question of the rights of Individuals versus the rights of the Majority won’t be answered in our lifetime, but finding the perfect balance seems to be the eternal purpose of our country’s existence.
George Will provides a discussion of this conflict that the staff here finds hard to argue with. Natural rights of humans exist without a government to spell them out. Governments do not exist to grant those rights to the governed, the rights existed before any government was ever formed. Governments exist to delineate the boundary of where individual rights bump up against the rights of the majority.
Hence the Declaration “sets the framework” for reading the Constitution not as “basically about” democratic government — majorities — granting rights but about natural rights defining the limits of even democratic government.
Government, the framers said, is instituted to improve upon the state of nature, in which the individual is at the mercy of the strong. But when democracy, meaning the process of majority rule, is the supreme value — when it is elevated to the status of what the Constitution is “basically about” — the individual is again at the mercy of the strong, the strength of mere numbers.
The problem (not addressed in the article) is how and when you define ‘the majority’. Why does it seem so hard for people to see powerful corporations and special interests as majorities infringing on the rights of individuals? Should a majority such as the Koch Brothers’ dirty coal powered energy machine have the right to poison the individuals and the environment which they so clearly have the right to live in? Looked at another way does an individual have the right to profit when doing so poisons the majority? Refer to McDonald’s and the Troika of Evil (ADM, Cargill, and Monsanto). It would seem then that Conservatives would accept that a natural function of government should be to protect the liberty and safety of the governed over the right of a corporation to profit when doing so clearly infringes individual’s natural rights.
This is something for the staff here to remember:
Merely invoking the right of a majority to have its way is an insufficient justification.
With the Declaration, Americans ceased claiming the rights of aggrieved Englishmen and began asserting rights that are universal because they are natural, meaning necessary for the flourishing of human nature. “In Europe,” wrote James Madison, “charters of liberty have been granted by power,” but America has “charters of power granted by liberty.”