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Liberty and its limits.

Liberty and individual rights are powerful ideas that have shaped the values of people in Western countries, especially the United States, and have given us a way of life that is unique among world cultures. The ideal of individual liberty is an important element in the humanist impulse toward emancipation and self-realization. But there is more to humanism than the achievement of unfettered liberty, which by itself would simply promote a nihilistic culture bereft of values--a charge that is already made against the West by Islam, our greatest cultural rival. We hear the same charge here at home from the religious right, which blames humanism for the breakdown of traditional values. The charge is, of course, a bum rap. It is true that our living patterns are changing and that there has been a general loosening of the bonds of traditional religious belief But it is time that we humanists got out the message that our agenda has only begun to be addressed. True, we want a secular and more rational society--but our real concern is with values.

An essential and defining quality in the humanist outlook is its ethical concern--for learning how we human beings can live together in peace and mutual harmony. Often ignored in discussions of individual rights is the fact that they are usually conflicting--especially in the social context. For example, it is increasingly obvious that the right to bear arms is incompatible with our rights to personal safety and security of property; or, the increasingly acknowledged right of all citizens to decent health care is incompatible with the claimed right of insurance companies to operate freely in the marketplace. Thus, our politics are really concerned with choices between perceived rights and such choices are concerned with values. In our lead article, Steven Hill discusses this question of individual rights versus social responsibilities in the interesting context of the tensions within the feminist movement between liberationists and lib, ertinists.

As Barbara Dority continues her "Civil Liberties Watch," she raises the discussion of human rights to a different level, making the case that health, housing, education, and decent living standards should all be regarded as human rights. Many would no doubt subscribe to the higher social standards for which she calls--and be willing to pay the price, including higher taxes if necessary, in exchange for the increased freedom for everyone that would follow from living in a safer and healthier society in which the pursuit of happiness could become a reality for all its citizens.
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Title Annotation:ethical issues surrounding civil rights and freedoms
Author:Page, Don
Publication:The Humanist
Article Type:Editorial
Date:May 1, 1993
Previous Article:Against the grain.
Next Article:To choose or not to choose: a politics of choice.

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