My wife tells me that in high school a teacher explained to their class the concept of individual rights and their limits. He would say that their individual rights ended at the end of his nose. He would explain that this meant that they could swing their arms as much as they wanted to in public (outside the school), but that the minute any part of their anatomy made contact with his nose, their individual rights would end. Of course, this was one way of explaining that every individual right has its limit, and most often its limit is when it begins to impact other people.
That is a simplistic explanation, but a reasonable one. Our society has carved out some niches in which individual rights triumph, even if they impact other people. For instance, the right of the press to express unpalatable opinions, provided they do not intentionally libel. The right of individuals to worship in other ways than the expected norm in the area in which they live. The right for some people to carry concealed weapons even if it makes other people nervous, and so on. Our society has also carved out some niches in which societal right triumph over individual rights. For instance, most people did not realize until Ebola hit that all states have some legal right to forcibly quarantine you to prevent contagion of the populace. But, by and large, it is a reasonable summary of the way this culture views life to say that most people would tend to allow you to engage in some behavior, as long as it does not affect them.
The problem is that all too many people want to express the concept of individual rights in the context in which the Founding Fathers wrote their original texts. At that time there were no superhighways, no traffic lights, no Facebook, etc. On the darker side, there were no revenge porn sites, no international drug rings, no pedophilia websites trading in misery. Technology and growth have affected what it means to impact other people. Globalization has affected what it means to have free choice (think of the darker side items I cited). As the world has changed, our concepts of the balance between societal rights, government responsibilities, and individual rights has changed. This does not mean that one of those three concepts has won over the other. It merely means that the balance has changed. Look at some of the current debates.
For the sake of fighting terrorism, do societal rights to safety take precedence over your right to have a purely private telephone conversation? Hmm, phones did not exist at time of the Founding Fathers. So, is a telephone conversation a fully private or a partially private act? If you talked next to an open window in the 1700’s and you were overheard, that conversation did not have a right of privacy, even if you were overheard by someone hiding outside your window. But, to secrete yourself inside the home to overhear a conversation was clearly not permitted. How does that apply to conversations going out over the open air? Radio is a clearly public conversation and it is out over the open air. In fact, you can listen in to shortwave radio conversations between individuals by merely tuning your shortwave radio to their frequency.
I could go on and give you many other examples, but you begin to see the difficulties. Many modern parts of culture and much of modern technology simply did not exist at the time of the Founding Fathers. What all of us are doing is trying to figure out how to apply principles that had to do with a situation that no longer exists to the current situation.
This is why I have problems with those who constantly speak of going back to the Founding Fathers. They assume that every founding principle of government and individual liberties can be transparently applies to every situation. Now, many of them can be. But, many others cannot be. If you look at the practice of jurisprudence, you will see that there have been various times when the courts have ruled that they cannot make a ruling because it would be a stretch to try to apply an old law to new circumstances. Actually, if people were true strict constructionists, they would be advocating for courts to more consistently rule that they could not make a ruling because there was no enabling legislation.
In fact, most strict constructionists are not truly strict constructionists. They are not advocating for courts to not rule unless there is clear enabling legislation. They are asking for the courts to rule in the spirit of what the Founding Fathers intended. But that is not strict jurisprudence, that is nothing more than conservative interpretation or even conservative judicial activism by the courts. Those who are progressive advocate for exactly the same thing, but wish to receive a progressive/liberal interpretation and to have liberal judicial activism by the courts.
In the current measles epidemic, we see the clash of the old with the new. Those who are claiming individual liberty are speaking of a day when a measles epidemic would have been hard to spread to an entire country because the population density was significantly smaller. The big cities of the East coast might have been hit, but much of the inner countryside might not even have known much about a measles epidemic back East. Even then, the big cities would have at least applied quarantine law, and restricted the individual liberty of those infected. I sincerely doubt that they would have given those infected the liberty to go where they would. Today, with the possibility of a rapid spread comes the societal responsibility to restrict or stop that spread. Ebola was a warning clang; measles is the alarm bell ringing. In this case societal responsibility must trump some individual liberties, in my opinion.
On a broader note, we will need to have future conversations as a country. When can society compel something? Where is the end of my nose that you must not touch? Let me give you another, clearly different example. Does a motorcyclist have to wear a helmet; do you have to wear seat belts? Well, if I end up responsible for your care, I want to make sure you have protected yourself. If I get to leave you to die by the side of the road, or to bill you for the cleanup, the ambulance ride, the treatment, etc., maybe the freedom to be a narcissistic idiot does not matter. But if you insist both on your freedom and my responsibility for me to pay for all your care, even if you have no insurance, then are you not beginning to poke my nose, and do I not have the right to make some rules that lower my out-of-pocket expenses (by way of taxes, insurance rates, etc.)?
You see, it is not a simple subject, is it?