John G Bell


Fall '03 - Gomez & Unsel

Week 7 – Critical Integrative Comment

Through Long Years: Southern Redemption and the End of Reconstruction

I posed a question in seminar last week that I think was misunderstood, but has been coming up for me over and over. The question was, in essence, why we, as a country, don't extend the rights we claim for ourselves to non-citizens and beyond the borders of this country. This was taken to mean that I advocated the use of the military war machine to impose the constitution and bill of rights on other countries, such as could be said of George W. Bush's mission in places like Iraq. However, this is not what I meant to imply. My intent was that as a country we agree to treat everyone with at least as much respect and as if they had the rights we claim to possess in our constitution, a kind of self-imposed etiquette of internation relations. This is not to say that we nation build, but that there's a commitment to a level of mutual respect that is a least the level of respect we desire for ourselves.

Goldman offers that “... one can argue that one of the great themes of American politics and law is the gradual extension of the franchise to those who had been denied it.” [Goldman ix] The classes of people in this country that have been enfranchised include the Native Americans, the African Americans and women. However, as an example, we still have non-citizen migrant workers in this country and there's significant controversy about them in places where they are integral to the economic system. Further, in the race to the bottom, many companies have exported jobs to countries where the protections, quickly being eroded even here, for labor are not recognized. The actions of the Coca-Cola Company in Central America are an example where labor is coerced by lethal force.

Clearly, there's a de facto national and global caste system at work here. However, although the constitutional project is not complete, there is a notion that the constitution “knows nor tolerates classes among its citizens.” [Goldman 127] These two ideas are in conflict unless we realize that the constitutional project is not complete, but rather a constant striving for an, as yet, unrealized goal. There were attempts to extend protection beyond just the citizens, as mentioned John Bingham's intention for the 14th amendment was to protect even non-citizen immigrants, to “citizen and stranger alike.” [Irons 193]

There's a troubling trend in words like those from Rehnquist saying “... distinctions that might not be permissible between classes of citizens must be viewed otherwise when drawn between classes or aliens.” [Rehnquist 210] This is a mixture of xenophobia and exclusion that characterizes much of the political and social attitude toward not only foreign countries, but to the population within our borders or under our control in places like Guantanamo.

When it comes to the way that America is viewed around the world, people point to the arrogance of this countries exceptionalism: treaties only apply when they are in our favour, foreign sovereignty is valid only when it doesn't conflict with our national agenda, war crime tribunals are only acceptable if the US has immunity. If we really want to have peace in the world, as George Frisbie Hoar said in another context, “You have tried everything else [...] try justice.” [Goldman 134] The making of the United States has been a “gradual extension of the franchise to those who had been denied it.” [op. cit.] The logical continuation, taking a lesson from the Golden Rule, is to treat the world like we wish to be treated, to extend the courtesies we expect for ourselves to those to whom we've previously denied an offer of reciprocity.