Where Your Rights End and Mine Begin

-By Nancy Salvato

As a child, I used to play with the neighbors across the street in one of the coolest sandboxes one could imagine. It was built into the landscape, with giant boulders lining the back and sides. Five kids could easily play in it, building sandcastles and manipulating bulldozers and dump trucks to their hearts content. Hours could go by before being called home to dinner. There was only one problem… neighborhood cats considered that magical place as their personal giant sized litter box. We were often told, sadly, that we could not play in it because of this ongoing problem.

These past few months, renting a home in a beach community has allowed my dog and I the opportunity to take a daily walk along the shore, where I hunt for shells, watch for porpoise, and occasionally exchange niceties with the fisherman who set up their poles in the sand, and with the locals who are also enjoying their surroundings. Every day, I thank my blessings that I’ve been given this chance to live in such surroundings but my happiness is often interrupted by dogs roaming the beach, unleashed, in violation of the rules which are clearly posted at each entrance. Not only do these dogs defecate on the sand but often they are not well behaved, running at leashed dogs, children, solitary walkers, and anyone within their proximity.

I do not fault the dogs. I am a dog lover and I understand that dogs are social creatures. My problem is with the owners who clearly do not consider that some dogs may respond aggressively to such provocation, children and adults may be afraid of their beloved pets, and some beachcombers may not want to worry about stepping on dog feces, let alone experience being showered by a dog shaking out its wet fur, when their intention is to savor the sand and water running between their toes. The worst offenders do not attempt to corral their dogs around other people and assume because their dogs are friendly, all is well with the world. They do not comprehend the compromise which allows both dogs and people to enjoy this pristine environment.

The Framers understood the importance of balance, which is clearly needed to allow for maximum individual rights but at the same time allows for people to live together in a community. They believed that factions or groups of people should not be able to impinge on the rights of others. James Madison explained in Federalist 10,

“… that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.”

Madison understood that factions are inevitable.

“From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results; and from the influence of these on the sentiments and views of the respective proprietors, ensues a division of the society into different interests and parties.”

In a republic, the good of all needs to be taken into consideration over the individual rights and liberties of people if the sacrifices made for the common good are for the purpose of maintaining these individual liberties.

Getting back to the beach, there are two factions whose interests are represented through compromise. If the dog walkers without leashes had their way, I would be taking my daily stroll on a dog beach, not a public beach which makes allowances for dog walkers. If people who disliked dogs had their way, I would be walking on a private beach which only allowed members to enjoy it without dogs. Instead, I walk on a beach which allows both factions to enjoy it, provided that each faction respects the individual preferences of the other and follows the rules created to respect the individual rights of both types of individuals to the greatest extent without infringing on each others’ rights.

In our Republic, there should never be laws which favor the individual rights of one group over another. As part of the system of checks and balances, the Framers intended to have the will of the people somewhat filtered through the electoral processes, i.e. Electoral College and United States Senators being chosen by the individual state’s legislatures. Madison saw the difficulty for factions to impart their will on the people as a good thing…a natural check on their power in an extended republic. Madison felt that in a republic that the goal of its elected leaders should be to maintain the authority of the Constitution, which of course gets its authority from the people living under its laws. He would have expected the leaders in such a republic to work toward maintaining the liberty insured by the Constitution and to have a higher sense of purpose when interpreting the needs of the people.

Members of a community agree to make sacrifices for the greater good. This means abiding by the rules to which everyone agrees and by which everyone can maximally benefit with minimal individual sacrifice.
Nancy Salvato is the President of The Basics Project, (www.Basicsproject.org) a non-profit, non-partisan 501 (C) (3) research and educational project whose mission is to promote the education of the American public on the basic elements of relevant political, legal and social issues important to our country. She is also a Staff Writer, for the New Media Alliance, Inc., a non-profit (501c3) coalition of writers and grass-roots media outlets, where she contributes on matters of education policy.

One thought on “
Where Your Rights End and Mine Begin”

  1. I’ve seen people with a plastic bag picking up their dog`s waste on the floor, I’ve also seen droppings that didn’t get picked up. An English mastiff came up seemly aggressively to me while the woman owner tried to hold it, fortunately, it didn’t go beyond a little scare, she was no match for the mastiff. I am a dog lover. We are gregarious people, therefore we need institutions that hover over society and rules on it, so the majority of us can live and share the space. Of course those of us who believe in Democratic Judeo-Christian values and in moral principles, those that contains rights and duties. The right to have an animal and the duty to be responsible and care for it.

Comments are closed.

Copyright Publius Forum 2001