What's Wrong With Rights?

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From Chase Madar: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/blog/whats-wrong-with-rights/

Excerpts:

We Americans know our rights! At least we talk as if we do, almost incessantly. The language of rights is how we discuss, and perceive, almost everything in our political life. But what guidance do the Bill of Rights or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights offer when it comes to proper healthcare policy, financial and immigration reform, and where and whether to go to war? Is our national “rights dialect” really the best way to talk about the problems we face?

Mary Ann Glendon is not so sure.

Rights are essential and they are good, Glendon argues, but they have come to dominate our public discourse in ways that are not healthy. We tend to throw down rights as if they were absolute trumps. But they are not, and must be measured against competing rights, values, and obligations. Rights are by nature individualistic and frequently unable to deal with non-individualist struggles in our social dimension. Rights are legalistic, and the spurious law talk they carry with them has corrupted public debate outside the courtroom, from the town hall to the kitchen table. (Glendon, a bit of a self-loathing lawyer, laments our culture in which public discussion takes law and legalism as the highest authority.)

But the main drawback of rights talk is that it has crowded out other modes of political thought, debate, and even action. Glendon points out how rights-based claims have been powerless to turn back or even slow the dislocation and destruction of formerly thriving communities by both de-industrialization and so-called urban renewal. When a Youngstown coalition of unions and religious groups tried in 1980 to fight further plant closures by haltingly asserting a “community property right” in federal court, the sympathetic judge had no choice but to dismiss their case out of hand and tell them to try the national and state legislatures. A similar coalition in Detroit failed to save the Poletown neighborhood from eminent-domain confiscation, as they could find no rights-based legal claim on which to hang their case.

Reading Rights Talk, we realize how virtually every political tribe in America across the left-right spectrum is in thrall to the rights dialect. The Tea Party tends to reduce politics to property-rights fundamentalism whereas liberal technocrats create new “positive” rights—to housing, to healthcare—for an expanded welfare state to service and manage. To envision a politics that isn’t rights-based almost seems as difficult as fishes dreaming of fire.

Coalage1
Joined:
Mar. 14, 2012 7:11 am

Comments

What are you envisioning as a 'politics without rights'? Is the to be a 'politics of competing interest groups' despite any personal and individual rights such organizations may be allowed to politically impose? Is that to be a 'politics of those who can claim a past or present victimhood' against those who now are made responsible to cover those claims whether they, personally, had anything to do with that person's past or present victimhood--or whether they can or cannot claim a persecution on themselves over it? 'Rights' are a political construct that I believe recognizes that we all have 'selfish causes (and interests)'--whether that be how to run our own lives or who to have relationships with or how a political imposition is to be justified against any one of us. There is nothing else in the panoply of political options available to any authority that is to limit--and require direct justification--of any imposition it is to offer other than 'rights'.....if they are removed, almost by definition, oppressive, suppression and subjugation will be the order of the day--sometimes 'for the best of reasons'....but, will any of those reasons in any way represent 'freedom and justice for all' as good as 'rights' do? I sincerely doubt it.....

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Kerry
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Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm

Coalage is like a little Johnny Appleseed, Kerry. He comes here and sprinkles the board with articles, planting little trees with that bear the fruit of knowledge, you know, like what Eve ate. He's been doing it for years. I'm not sure he actually "envisions" the way the article writers do. Can't tell.

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.ren
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Apr. 1, 2010 6:50 am

Good observation Ren. I post excerpts from certain articles that are of interest to me, whether I believe the premise or not, to see if it provokes any interest from the perusers of this forum. Some do, some don't.

Coalage1
Joined:
Mar. 14, 2012 7:11 am

You see, Kerry, the article is about Mary Ann Glendon, Learned Hand Professor of Jurisprudence at Harvard Law School and one of George W. Bush’s ambassadors to the Holy See, and more specifically about her public intellectual discourse criticizing the overly dominant reliance on a language of "rights" in public discourse, as well, apparently, as in the law:

Quote Chase Madar:

But the main drawback of rights talk is that it has crowded out other modes of political thought, debate, and even action. Glendon points out how rights-based claims have been powerless to turn back or even slow the dislocation and destruction of formerly thriving communities by both de-industrialization and so-called urban renewal. When a Youngstown coalition of unions and religious groups tried in 1980 to fight further plant closures by haltingly asserting a “community property right” in federal court, the sympathetic judge had no choice but to dismiss their case out of hand and tell them to try the national and state legislatures. A similar coalition in Detroit failed to save the Poletown neighborhood from eminent-domain confiscation, as they could find no rights-based legal claim on which to hang their case.

Even as rights-based claims fail us more and more, they have proliferated in our public discourse. So many relatively new rights, like the right to privacy, derive from property rights, through reasoning that Glendon finds iffy. More specifically, they spring from a peculiarly Anglo-Saxon conception of property rights that runs from Locke to Mill and amplified by Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, whose immense prestige throughout U.S. legal history Glendon finds baffling. Rare among U.S. intellectuals, Glendon is not overly worshipful of, or even particularly impressed by, the Anglo-American tradition of liberal political thought, which she calmly points out is not the only game in town.

Instead she casts a longing gaze on the Romano-German traditions of the Continent, where Rousseau and Kant fashioned political theories that acknowledge our species’ fundamentally social character, not just our possessive individualism. The governments and legal systems that draw on this tradition in, say, Germany, are more likely to see rights as balanced against other rights and obligations, including the needs of that non-contracting party called “society.” There is a tighter social contract between capital, labor, and the state, and the civil fabric generally has a closer weave.

By now it should be clear that Mary Ann Glendon is no libertarian. For this thinker there most certainly is such a thing as society, and our courts and legislatures would do well to take it into account. But unlike most of her fellow communitarians—a label Glendon does not embrace—she dares to take her analysis where most of us spend half our waking hours: the workplace. Glendon faults the U.S. as being practically unique among developed nations in not having any legislation to deal with the social consequences of plant closures and economic dislocation.

That ought to tickle your fancy. Especially these lines from the third paragraph:

"Instead she casts a longing gaze on the Romano-German traditions of the Continent, where Rousseau and Kant fashioned political theories that acknowledge our species’ fundamentally social character, not just our possessive individualism."

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.ren
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Apr. 1, 2010 6:50 am

Yeah, I know, everyone of 'communitarian interest' is against the English political philosophers. However, if I may be so bold to assert, the 'social' consequences of plant closures and economic dislocations aren't so compelling unless, and until, they present with personal results that everyone can understand. It's like how someone asked the question: 'Why does it take something like the killing of Trayvon Martin to get us to recognize there is a problem?' It's because, as 'socially-natured' as we are, we understand by personal experience and judgment--not by 'hierarchial decrees' (of any sort).

On his radio program concerning the Trayvon Martin case, Mike Malloy quoted Stalin as saying 'One death is a tragedy, a million deaths are just a statistic'--in that regard, numbers don't always mean that we relate to--and understand--how they 'count'.....until we--each one of us--can see it for ourselves....in that regard, from a political perspective, 'rights' do make a difference--and perhaps the only difference--from oppression, suppression, and subjugation.....I really do believe our English political philosophers were 'right' in that regard....

Besides that, from how I envision the 'religious roots' behind such philosophers, as I've constantly discussed against DRC, 'communitarian causes' against 'personal (individual will) interests' have my mind go to the political distinctions offered between Original Sin and innocent until proven guilty--and how each confines or expands the individual will (and judgment), accordingly.....

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Kerry
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Jul. 31, 2007 3:01 pm

I'm sure she'd love to discuss it with you.

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.ren
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Apr. 1, 2010 6:50 am

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