Civil Rights, Chivalry, the Golden Rule, and Morality
At first glance, many would think that these four principles listed in the title are the same, or at the very least, similar and often compatible. However, I would like to discuss here whether this is actually the case.
Obviously, such a discussion would be worthless without defining these terms, so I will address each of them in turn. I also am aware that these definitions are very subjective, but terminology with no definition has very little meaning. Hence, these terms will be defined within the confines of this discussion.
Civil Rights shall be defined as the rights given to any citizen under a Liberal Democracy. These include the right to vote, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the right to choose one’s own partner, sexuality, interests, career etc. These are listed in full in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 (UDHR 1948), and one of the United Nation’s main responsibilities is to ensure these are upheld by every member nation. I do not intend to discuss how poorly the UN actually achieves this here.
Morality is defined as the code of conduct which is the most effective in upholding the greater good. The greater good in turn is the attempt to maximize the happiness and minimise the suffering of mankind. So in effect, morality is the best code of conduct to bring about the maximum well-being of mankind. Opposing morality shall be defined as immorality .
The Golden Rule is simply the requirement to treat others as you wish to be treated yourself. Most (but not all) orthodox religions have this notion contained within them.
Chivalry is a code of conduct meant to bring “fairness” to any conflict or dispute. Attacks using “dirty tricks” and such like are considered immoral, and only an open contest or resolution under strict rules and guidelines is to be commended.
Whereas I do not expect all readers to agree with my definitions, I would expect those readers to at least agree that my somewhat simplistic definitions are certainly not unorthodox from a Western standpoint, and are representative of some people’s perception of these principles.
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Many Civil Rights groups certainly are in agreement with these principles. They want to bring about the highest level of well-being for mankind (morality). They believe that the most effective way of doing this is by ensuring that everybody has granted to them the Civil Rights mentioned above (Civil Rights). As they wish to keep their own Civil Rights, so they want everybody else to be granted such rights as well (Golden Rule). However, such goals should not be pursued by aggressive means, as the West should be seen as a model of conduct (Chivalry).
In order to see how well these four principles actually stand together, we shall add another ingredient — intolerance. Let us suppose that, in a fit of criminal negligence, the leaders of a liberal democracy let millions of adherents of an intolerant, cruel, militant and imperialistic religion to settle in that democracy. Furthermore, those adherents wished to change the culture, politics and civilisation of the host nation to their own liking. How would these four principles hold up together in this situation?
From a Civil Rights perspective, the new ideology’s advances must be stopped, as the Civil Rights enshrined in the liberal democracy would be in jeopardy if it were to gain much influence. However, in order to treat all religions fairly and equally, you would have to grant the intolerant fanatics the same Civil Liberties that everyone else was granted, even if this made the struggle against them harder.
The Golden Rule would also indicate that you must forward the same Civil Rights to the intolerant fanatics as you yourself would want to be treated in the same circumstances. Chivalry demands the same thing, as it would be unfair to oppose people without affording them the same rights as the other citizens.
Morality would, however, demand that the advance of the fanatics must be stopped, and as long as the measures employed do not cause more suffering in the long term than what the fanatics themselves would cause, then it is right and just to oppose them by whatever means necessary. This could very much include not granting them any civil liberties at all, so it could be easier to deport the fanatics back to their country of origin etc.
As we can see, however, there is now a clash between Civil Rights, the Golden Rule, Chivalry (which all agree with one another), and the well-being of mankind (Morality). We now have to make a choice between granting Civil Rights to all peoples or sacrificing the well-being of the population of the liberal democracy.
An insight into the apparent conflict of values here can be seen when examining what Karl Popper said in his book, “The Open Society and its enemies”:
“Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.”
The notions of Civil Rights, the Golden Rule and Chivalry are all indirectly tolerating intolerance by forwarding to the fanatics Civil Rights that will actually make it harder to succeed in any legal or military action to remove them from the Liberal Democracy in question. Only Morality is demanding that tolerance should not be tolerated, and that the intolerant must be fought or expelled.
Karl Popper continues:
“ I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.”
It is clear then, that the pursuit of Civil Rights for all by many Civil Rights groups today in some instances actually opposes morality and tolerance, and supports intolerance, though this is not the intent. The same can also be said for the Golden Rule and the notion of Chivalry. In order to amend this situation, these three notions need to be changed so that they are only afforded to people who actually agree with those notions in the first place; for example, freedom of religion should only be extended to those religions which actually accept freedom of religion within its own teachings. Otherwise, they should not be protected in a liberal democracy, as they oppose the values of those democracies with regards to religious freedom. It should therefore be a great concern in any liberal democracy if this logical step is not on the radar of its politicians, as this ignorance could lead to greater immorality and intolerance, but will be justified by those politicians under the guise of morality and tolerance.
Furthermore, it should be noted why Civil Liberties were written into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR 1948) in the first place. It was done to try to ensure the well-being of citizens of the member nations of the UN, by safeguarding them against totalitarianism and tyranny. In effect, then, they were introduced to further Morality, and their attainment is not the final goal in itself. However, with many Civil Rights groups today, Civil Liberties seem to have transcended Morality, and their preservation is the ultimate goal, to be achieved even by sacrificing the well being of mankind.
The best example of Chivalry opposing Morality is the “proportional response” argument, where a force, despite being able to defeat its opponents quickly and decisively, is expected to only use minimal force against its opponents to make the conflict more “fair”. The fact that this could drag out the conflict longer than would otherwise be the case and cause more casualties and fatalities is neither here or there. Furthermore, some forces have been expected to do this when it is quite clear their enemies would not use proportional force if they could win a dispute quickly! With regards to the Palestinian conflict for example, would Hamas ever use a “proportional response” if they could defeat the Israeli military decisively?
In any event, Chivalry usually hinders Morality more than it helps it, as in any conflict, it is usually the side upholding Morality that will uphold chivalry, as the forces opposing Morality will normally not have the same moral qualms about their conduct as the forces representing Morality.
The Golden Rule also has a fundamental flaw in its application. Following this rule, somebody who wants to live under full Sharia Law would work to install Sharia Law everywhere, as he/she would like everybody else to be treated as he/she would like to be treated. The issue here is that very few values are actually universal, but the Golden Rule does not account for this, and assumes that everybody wishes to be treated in the same way. Indeed, it is a common flaw of people from a liberal democracy to project their values on to other cultures, and assume that everybody wishes to live as they do. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
In conclusion, it is my view that liberal democracies are susceptible to attack by intolerant forces through flawed applications of Civil Rights, the Golden Rule and Chivalry. As a consequence of this, Morality, and in turn, the greater good will suffer in those democracies. How bad these consequences will be is yet to be realised, though the current indicators show no sign of a better understanding of these matters by our political elite and the mainstream media, who currently presume to instruct us on these matters without feeling the need to study these areas at all.