During the early part of the decade of the 1980’s, I wrote a series of articles entitled “Freedom and Government” for the Bahamian Review Magazine and subsequently for the Freeport News. As was the case, in the early part of the decade of the 1980s, this treatise is still relevant to the basic understanding of the relationship between government and the governed. This being the case makes this work relevant to this present decade and beyond. It is my fervent hope that this series of six articles will provide all, who read and study them with the tools that are necessary to protect their fundamental rights and freedoms which are entrusted to those whom we allow to govern us.
One of the greatest issues in modern times is whether government is to be the master or servant of the people. For the greater number of Bahamians this issue was supposedly settled some thirty years ago with the “quiet revolution” and the ushering in of Black majority rule. For some, perhaps the issue was settled in 1992 when many Bahamians felt that “deliverance” had become a reality. For many others, the issue has not been settled at all. Whatever your view-point, I am sure, you would agree when I say that any Government that is formed by the people, of the people and for the people, is the servant and not the master of the people.
Freedom and Government III
Individual Rights and Responsibilities
On December 10, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal declaration of human rights. The preamble to this most historic and important document in part stated:
“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”
The “human family” as mentioned in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights includes all Bahamians as it does any other peoples of the world. In view of the fact that Bahamians are members of the “human family,” we must recognize that the principle of individual rights is the indisputable and indispensable basis of our society. The morality of any individual lies in the concepts of rights, i.e., individual rights.
John Stuart Mill, one of Britain most prominent economist and political theorists in his essay “On Living” said:
“The only purpose for which power can rightfully be exercised over any member of a civilized community against his will is to prevent harm to others.”
To identify the many different things, which he intended to include, he added:
“His own good either physical or moral is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because in the opinion of others to do so would be wise or even right.”
Mills’ statement brings home the point that in the rights of the individual lies his morality. The foundation of any free society is anchored in the rights of the individual members of that society. Society is nothing more than an aggregate of individuals. There is some truth in the saying that the “whole is equal to the sum of its parts.”
What, then, is a right? A right may be defined as a just and proper claim. To take this concept a step further, it might be stated that a right implies not only freedom of action in the total absence of coercion, but it also implies that freedom exists in the presence of coercion. It should be understood that a right is freedom of action morally without having to obtain permission. In any society, where the individual has to ask permission of another, be it the government or any other group, to remain moral, that individual is in a state or condition of privilege. On the other hand, if the individual may act without permission, then he has a right.
The theory of natural rights had its beginnings in the seventeenth century and was developed by John Locke. With regard to natural rights, Locke said:
“The state of nature is a state in which men are equal and free to act as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature. But it is not a state of license, for though in it man is free from any superior power on earth, nevertheless in it he has the law of nature as his rule. From this Natural Law, he derives certain natural rights, right to life, liberty, and property. His right to liberty is his right to do whatever he wants so long as it is not incompatible with the law of nature.”
It was not until the eighteenth century that this concept became a part of the political documents of the New World. This concept of natural rights stated our basic human rights. Let us examine some of the documents and happenings in our history upon which the liberty of the Bahamas rests.
The Burma Road riot in 1942, which in this writer’s opinion, was the beginning of the political struggle for majority rule, even though those who rioted were making a statement for equal pay for equal work regardless of skin colour. They saw equal pay for equal work as a symbol of their rights, which was just as important and similar to the voting system. Many other observers saw the action of the workers as one taken to relieve an economic hardship. As a result of the Burma Road riot, a Commission that was impaneled to study the cause of the riot recommended the following:
1). Agricultural and marine education for seafaring and agricultural people; and
2). Improvement of general education.
Even though these recommendations fell on deaf ears, the point was made and the struggling masses in the Bahamas would never again be content with their lot in life.
The formation of the Progressive Liberal Party in 1953; the General Strike of 1958, and the subsequent visit to the Bahamas by the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the continued agitation of the Progressive Liberal Party struck a blow for Bahamian liberty by implementing, according to Doris L. Johnson in her book “The Quiet Revolution,” the following:
1). Four additional seats for New Providence;
2). Abolition of the company vote
3). Cessation of voter’s privilege to vote in every constituency;
4). Limitation of the plural vote to two, the second requiring a property qualification in another constituency; and
5). Universal adult suffrage.
In 1961, women’s suffrage became a reality by the passage of an act by the legislature. This act gave women the right to vote as of the 30th June 1962. In the election of 1962, women voted for the first time. The events leading up to “Black Tuesday” and the subsequent visit to the United Nations by representatives of the Progressive Liberal Party in 1965 also struck a blow for Bahamian liberty.
The general elections of 1967, because of the support given to the Progressive Liberal Party by the Independent and Labour members of Parliament, majority rule became a reality. It is the writer’s view that the observance of majority rule should be observed nationally and not appear to be the domain of any one political party.
The preamble to the constitutional change of September 28th 1966 reads:
“And whereas, the people of the Bahama Islands, having marched the dark journey through slavery, piracy, and deprivation, now stand at the daybreak of freedom; determination and orderly development, look forward to the full dawn of nationhood.”
The split in the Progressive Liberal Party in 1970 created by the “Dissident Eight” and the subsequent formation of the “Free Progressive Liberal Party” which later was dubbed the Free National Movement in 1972 were singular in their contribution to democracy and the liberty of the individual in the Bahamas. Its real impact and import was felt as a result of the elections of 1992 and 1997. The preamble to the constitution of the Bahamas, July 10, 1973 reads:
“Whereas four hundred and eighty-one years ago the rediscovery of this Family of Islands, Rocks and Cays heralded the re-birth of the New World, and whereas the People of this Family of Islands recognize that the preservation of their freedom will be guaranteed by a national commitment to self-discipline, industry and loyalty, unity and an abiding respect for Christian values and the Rule of law; Now know ye therefore:
We the inheritors of and Successors of this Family of Islands, recognizing the supremacy of God and believing in the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, do hereby proclaim in solemn praise the establishment of a free and democratic sovereign nation founded on spiritual values and in which no man, woman or child shall ever be slave or bondsman to anyone or their labour exploited or their lives frustrated by deprivation and do hereby provide by these Articles for the indivisible unity and creation under God of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas.”
Our basic documents of liberty and historical happenings clearly define or demark our rights. The commonality in all of these documents and happenings can be summarized by Chapter III, Section 15 of the Bahamian Constitution of July 10, 1973, which in part states:
“Whereas every person in the Bahamas is entitled to the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, that is to say, has the right, whatever his race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, creed or sex, but subject to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and for the public interest, to each and all of the following, namely: –
a). Life, liberty, security of person and the protection of the law;
b). Freedom of conscience, of expression and of assembly and association; and
c). Protection of the privacy of his home and other property and from deprivation of property without compensation.”
From all that has been said in the preceding paragraphs, it can be concluded that the individual has three basic rights. These three basic rights are all sacred from the arbitrary interference of government: the right to life, liberty and property as mentioned earlier. These rights are not guaranteed by any historical happening, declaration or constitution; these documents are but mere codification of ideals and principles. In order for these ideals and principles to have significant meaning, Bahamians must be prepared to test them at the bar of individual rights. If these ideals and principles that are presented in our basic documents are not tried and tested by the people, they become nothing more than scraps of paper. As a matter of fact, their ideals and principles would not be worth the paper upon which they are written. The key to real freedom lies in the practice of the ideals and principles that are embodied in the basic documents of our society.
To give a man his life, but to deny him his liberty, is to take from him all that makes life worth living. To give him his liberty, but to take from him the property, which is the fruit and badge of his liberty, is still to leave him a slave.
Much has been said about the rights of the individual and rightly so. However, in the words of Robert Hughes in Time magazine there has arisen:
“A juvenile culture of complaint in which Big Daddy is always to be blame and the expansion of rights goes on without the other half of citizenship: attachments to duties and obligations.”
William E, B. Dubois opined that:
“Liberty trains for liberty. Responsibility is the first step in responsibility.”
William Butler Yeats stated that:
“In dreams begin responsibility.”
John Davison Rockefeller, Jr. stated it best when he said:
“I believe that every right implies a responsibility, every opportunity, an obligation, every possession, a duty.”
The conventional wisdom in all of the above quotations guides the rational Bahamian to the premise that: For all the rights we claim there is a concomitant responsibility. As Bahamians, then, we cannot lay claim to those rights that are given to us by natural law or any other law until we are prepared to equally accept the responsibility that comes with them.
Every citizen of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas has a responsibility with regard to being knowledgeable as to how laws are made. Responsible citizens take very seriously their right to register and to vote their conscience in all elections that are called in their country. In so doing, they by their vote, endeavor to elect to public office those persons who are best capable of leading and governing the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. This writer understands that sometimes, votes have grave difficulties in exercising their responsibilities in this regard for various and sundry reasons. Responsible, concerned citizens should urge, where possible, that their representatives, vote for the enactment of laws that reflect the wishes and the welfare of all Bahamians. In this regard, responsible citizen make their elected representatives accountable to them. Citizens, who are responsible, work with other responsible, interested citizens to establish strong, vibrant public opinion on those issues of national importance and, in this way, force government to be responsible to the citizenry that it serves.
Responsible citizens keep abreast of what is happening around them. In order to accomplish this they read all of the local and national newspapers; listen to and watch the news on radio and television. Responsibility, for the citizenry, entails, where feasible, attending the regular meetings of the Senate and House of Assembly; so that they are kept informed with regards to any new laws, amendments to existing laws and the repeal of old outdated laws. This should be done, so that when they go before the courts, they do not plead ignorance. After all, pleading ignorance is no defense. In this regard, responsible citizens should demand that their elected officials hold regular meetings (not just for those who claim they voted for them, but all citizens who live in a particular constituency) to keep them informed about their stewardship and about the laws of the country in general. If responsible citizens feel that a law is unjust, they should demand that it be repealed.
Citizens, who are responsible, take a keen interest in their environment and do all within their power to keep it clean. Responsible citizens encourage others to be cognizant of the importance of a clean and healthy environment. It is a part of their responsibility as citizens to work with the various agencies, be they governmental or private, whose responsibility it is to assist in keeping our environment in such condition so that all of the citizenry can enjoy it.
Citizens, with a strong sense of responsibility, endeavor to obey the laws of the land and work harmoniously with law enforcement agencies to deal with those persons who are irresponsible and would break, with impunity, these laws. By their example, the responsible citizens encourage their children and all other young citizens to be responsible and obey the laws of the land. In the same vein, it is the responsibility of all citizens to take a keen, healthy interest in the education, socialization and development of young citizens. Those of us, who are parents, must realize that our responsibility, in this regard, is even greater than that of citizens who are not parents. The future, of any country, is molded by the sense of responsibility that is engendered in and practiced by all of its citizens, both young and matured alike.
The responsibilities, of the citizenry of any country, are spawned by the many liberties that are enjoyed – the more liberty; the more responsibility. It was once said that the price of freedom/liberty is eternal vigilance. I say the price of freedom/liberty is a strong sense of responsibility and eternal vigilance by every citizen, and then we can proclaim with conviction the words of John Davison Rockerfeller Jr.:
“I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty.”