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Redefining "rights"
Posted by: McQ on Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Melanie Phillips discusses the trend in Britain (and Europe), driven by the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights to redefine "human rights".

I think her argument has some merit. First she differentiates the differing concepts of rights she's talking about:
Real human rights — such as the equality of every human being and the intrinsic value of human life — are indeed universal and should be unarguable. The problem, however, comes with the "rights" that are enshrined in human rights law. These also claim to be universal and unarguable. But they are not. Indeed, the very act of codifying them makes them eminently contentious and divisive.

This is because almost every "right" in the convention is balanced by a rival "right". Judges have to decide between them. The way is therefore open for ideological, tendentious or prejudiced views to be set in judicial stone.
Human rights, as most understand them, mean equality in the ability to exercise their inherent rights without interference. They also understand that to enjoy those rights they have a responsibility to others to reciprocate and observe the same rights for them. Most libertarians define those inherent human rights as the right to life, liberty and property. They see them as inalienable rights, which exist because of the nature of our existence as rational actors.

And most see the function of government as an institution formed for the job of protecting those rights from force or fraud. That is best done by treating everyone as equal under the law.

But what Phillips is pointing to is an entirely different interpretation of rights which is both a misinterpretation and a pernicious attempt to create an class of government delivered entitlements under the guise of "equal rights".
The emergence of a culture of hyper-individualism has given rise to a radical egalitarianism of lifestyles and values. Morality has been privatised, and all constraints of religion, tradition or cultural taboos have come to be seen as an attack on personal autonomy.
Libertarians are sometimes accused of being "hyper-individualists" because of the nature of their belief in individual rights and autonomy. But what Phillips is talking about is quite a different thing. Where the individual rights libertarians believe in are rights we all enjoy equally, the hyper-individualism Phillips is speaking of is really special interest or minority rights (and her hyper-individualism label confuses the issue) gone extreme. In fact, they're "hyper-rights", granted to one portion of the population and obligating the other portion to their fulfillment.

Bolstered by the courts and this new interpretation of rights, government now has a new mission as well:
Where, in a previous era, ties of obligation bound individuals to each other and to the state, the new culture of entitlement imposes, instead, an obligation on the state to deliver the demands of interest groups. Since these are presented as universal "rights", such groups become a victim class to be championed against a majority that has denied them their entitlement.
Her first point is key. The "ties of obligation" she mentions were between individuals and the concept of universal inherent rights with reciprocal responsibilities. The state, as mentioned, had an obligation to protect those rights and individuals equally under the law from force or fraud. Nothing more, but nothing less. That was how equality manifested itself.

Now, as she points out, the state is shifting from the obligation to protect our inherent rights to that of delivering entitlements which are being redefined as "rights". Health care. Retirement. You name it. It is nothing more than radical egalitarianism, a form of Marxism, which is finally winning out.

The "rights" the courts declare impose obligations on others, to fund them or to realize them. But most libertarians understand that "rights" per se, do not impose obligations on one group of individuals to benefit another. In fact, the set of rights libertarians recognize as inherent universal human rights are known as negative rights. In reality, a universal right, to be truly inherent, must be a negative right. A negative right "merely obliges others to refrain interfering with someone's attempt to do something" unless what they're attempting infringes on the other person's rights. However, this new class of "rights" are positive "rights", which are defined as rights which "imposes a moral obligation on a person to do something for someone with a positive right."

To believe that "human rights" might be positive rights is to believe that one part of humanity must be obligated to another because of some arbitrarily defined need or want enforced by the state. Taken to its extreme, that describes a philosophy which would easily embrace slavery as a viable state, depending on the obligation defined.
The ideas that rights in Britain depend on human rights law is grotesque. England, after all, is the cradle of Western liberty as a result of English common law, which held that everything was permitted unless it was prohibited. Now, only what is codified and court-approved can be allowed.

[...]

Human rights law has nothing to do with true liberalism. It is instead a judicial delivery system for cultural Marxism.
I couldn't describe it any better myself. And it is slowly building its presence here as well. It is a grotesque twisting of the concept of real "rights" and it is a perfect example of the phenomenon Dale discusses below. My guess is we'll get to see some examples of 'talking past each other' in the comment section.
 
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How long before the disgusting Erb comes creeping around this post?
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
The British definition of “rights” is a case of reductio ad absurdum. When the Government, through it’s judiciary dictate what a “free people” can do or say based on relative morality. There is no freedom.

This abomination is being pushed the America’s judicial system, the 9th circuit seems instanced with it. We are seeing those who know how we should live try and push this neo-Marxist agenda through the courts.

We have an advantage over Britain. The “cradle of western civilization” lacks our Constitution and it’s Bill of rights. In addition we are not part of the EU and don’t have to pay attention to their absurd definitions.
 
Written By: James E. Fish
URL: http://
The only "equality of every human being" you will ever see is in the grave. We are only equal in that we all face death. Which is probably exactly what they are pushing.
 
Written By: T
URL: http://
We have an advantage over Britain. The “cradle of western civilization” lacks our Constitution and it’s Bill of rights.

It really does boggle the mind just how far ahead of everyone our founding fathers were at the time in these respects (and still are actually)
In addition we are not part of the EU and don’t have to pay attention to their absurd definitions.
At least for now, until some Supreme Court judge thinks otherwise
 
Written By: shark
URL: http://
Really Billy, however much we may disagree with Scott Erb, he has been nothing but civil in his posts and arguments. It seems very petty and counter productive to preemptively taunt someone for simply disagreeing with you.
 
Written By: ChrisB
URL: http://
In addition we are not part of the EU and don’t have to pay attention to their absurd definitions.
At least for now, until some Supreme Court judge thinks otherwise
Can you spell I M P E A C H M E N T? A failure of Congress to take this action will doom us to the serfdom that Europe is moving towards. Considering the direction being taken by our government I doubt Congress would have the “huevos” to impeach such an idiotic judge.
 
Written By: James E. Fish
URL: http://
Really Billy, however much we may disagree with Scott Erb, he has been nothing but civil in his posts and arguments. It seems very petty and counter productive to preemptively taunt someone for simply disagreeing with you.
Thank you for joining me in trying to bring civility to this discussion. The attacks against Erb are unconscionable, as is the use of personal invective against any one. I suspect those using this tact are just on an ego trip, they can’t believe their actions will have any effect. BTW I would have e-mailed this to you instead of posting it, but you e-mail is invalid.
 
Written By: James E. Fish
URL: http://
"It seems very petty and counter productive to preemptively taunt someone for simply disagreeing with you."
"Simply disagreeing"?

Let me ask you a question: how long have you been reading that crumb?
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
Here’s a first, I almost AGREE with Billy Beck...
Let me ask you a question: how long have you been reading that crumb?
*LOL* You’ll not agree, Mr Beck, but they are right, still emotionally I side with you.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
The only "equality of every human being" you will ever see is in the grave. We are only equal in that we all face death. Which is probably exactly what they are pushing.


T,

So the Soviets really were working towards true equality.

One bullet in the back of a head at a time . . .


 
Written By: Don
URL: http://
"One bullet in the back of the head at a time..."
"It turns out that in that terrible year Andrei Yanuaryevich (one longs to blurt out ’Jaguaryevich’) Vyshinksy, availing himself of the most flexible dialectics (of a sort nowadays not available to either Soviet citizens or electronic calculators, since to them yes is yes and no is no), pointed out in a report which became famous in certain circles that it is never possible for mortal men to establish absolute truth, but relative truth only. He then proceeded to a further step, which jurists of the last two thousand years had not been willing to take: that the truth established by interrogation and trial could not be absolute, but only, so to speak, relative. Therefore, when we sign a sentence ordering someone to be shot we can never be absolutely certain, but only approximately, in view of certain hypotheses, and in a certain sense, that we are punishing a guilty person. Thence arose the most practical conclusion: that it was useless to seek absolute evidence - for evidence is always relative - or unchallengable witnesses - for they can say different things at different times. The proofs of guilt were relative, approximate, and the interrogator could find them, even when there was no evidence and no witness, without leaving his office, ’basing his conclusions not on his own intellect but also on his party sensitivity, his *moral forces*’ (in other words, the superiority of someone who has slept well, has been well fed, and has not been beaten up) ’and on his character (i.e., his willingness to apply cruelty).

Of course, his formulation was much more elegant than Latsis’ instructions. But the essence of both was the same.

In only one respect did Vyshinsky fail to be consistent and retreat from dialectical logic: for some reason, the executioners’
bullet which he allowed was not relative but absolute."
(Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, "The Gulag Archipelago - An Experiment In Literary Investigation", 1973, Harper & Row, Inc., Vol. I, Part I, "The Prison Industry", chapter 3, "The Interrogation", pp. 100-101, all emphases original)

One blazing irony in all this is that A.S. is describing the trial of Nikolai Bukharin in 1938: one of the Soviet golden-boys got to live [hah!] the dream, in the murder-cellars.

Another (peripheral) note: I once popped this cite on The Maine Mosquito in re: all his "socially constructed reality" crap. It sailed right over his head like a rocket-powered frisbee, and my relations with the boy were never the same, afterward. I concluded that he is an unparalleled fraud and have never stopped completely despising him for even one second, and he never stops inviting me over for tea and crumpets.

I will never understand how anyone could be so completely craven. It’s just ghastly and appalling, but, as one astute observer once pointed out: "Weebles wobble but they won’t fall down."

 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
Let me ask you a question: how long have you been reading that crumb?
This is the kind of Bovine Scatology, I object to.
 
Written By: James E. Fish
URL: http://
Even life, liberty and property can conflict.

Property can conflict with liberty in regards to slavery. Specifically depriving slaveholders of their property in the name of their slave’s liberty. (Less applicable in the US now, since no one in the US own slaves.)

Property can conflict with life in regards to land ownership or food ownership. If a monopoly, or near monopoly on food production and land to produce food were achieved, life could easily be deprived in the name of property. Yes, this is an exreme example but here is a less extreme one: liberty to travel and airline/rail monopolies. (Or roads if those were privatized.) Monopoly management/prevention is more than "protection from force and fraud", even hard-core conservative economists acknowledge it’s necessary at some level.

Yes, some of these examples are extreme, but even with the basics you get conflicts. Even with a hierarchy of those three basic rights, you still get conflicts and unintended consequences.

So, while I agree with you that the arbitrary creation of "rights by majority vote" is scary, just going back to the basics still has a lot of issues.
 
Written By: Tito
URL: http://
"This is the kind of Bovine Scatology, I object to."
I’m sure that’s all very regrettable.

I object to Erb. Endlessly.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
Property can conflict with liberty in regards to slavery.
If you are the only legitimate owner of your life, how can there be a conflict?
If a monopoly, or near monopoly on food production and land to produce food were achieved, life could easily be deprived in the name of property. Yes, this is an exreme example but here is a less extreme one: liberty to travel and airline/rail monopolies. (Or roads if those were privatized.) Monopoly management/prevention is more than "protection from force and fraud", even hard-core conservative economists acknowledge it’s necessary at some level.
Unless airline/rail monopolies existed to amuse their owners with empty aircraft and cars, or food producers with rotting heaps of produce, I’m not sure I understand your point?

Context is important in even these sorts of discussions, Tito.

Yes, rights come into conflict, and a conflict resolution system is helpful when they do no one is denying that. And that system should be based on what I mentioned in the post: a system of laws in which everyone is equal before the bench.

 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
If a monopoly, or near monopoly on food production and land to produce food were achieved, life could easily be deprived in the name of property. Yes, this is an exreme example
Yes, this is an exreme example”. No it is not, ask the people of the Ukraine and the 30-million starved during the collectivization of the Soviet Union.
 
Written By: James E. Fish
URL: http://
I object to Erb. Endlessly.
Billy, I am surprised you are willing to let Scott Erb control your life. Erb hasn’t spoken and you are foaming at the mouth. Erb writes and you have a conniptions. You are letting Erb control you through your emotions. Gee, I wouldn’t even let someone I agree with control my life, and you are letting your opponent control yours.
 
Written By: James E. Fish
URL: http://
You ain’t seen "foaming", and he’s not in "control" of anything. If you don’t like it, then just scroll your ass past it, but get off it.
 
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—four.net/weblog.php
Billy has it nailed spot on. Erb is the proverbial school yard crack dealer. He can only function in the safe classroom environment were his subjective narrative reigns supreme. All you have to do is read his writings to realize the level of hypocrisy and absurdity in erbworld.
 
Written By: coaster
URL: http://
Good stuff, McQ.

 
Written By: David Shaughnessy
URL: http://dsthinkingloud.blogspot.com/
"he has been nothing but civil in his posts and arguments"

Lately.

"The attacks against Erb are unconscionable, as is the use of personal invective against any one. I suspect those using this tact are just on an ego trip,"

I second Mr. Beck’s response;
"Let me ask you a question: how long have you been reading that crumb?"

I also note that you do not answer the question.


 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Good stuff, McQ.
Seconded.

I’ve always had the best luck with leftists positioning the issue thusly: "A right to any type of material sustenance requires giving everyone in society a "right" to the fruits of the labor of a class within that society. Are you okay with that? If you are, why? What do you call it when someone’s labor is claimed by someone else not due to an honest debt, but as a birthright?"

I’ve even created a few libertarians with the question. t challenges not their argument but their premises. But whatever you do make sure you use "fruit of the labor of others" and not "property" unless you want to hear some rediculous harangue about the evils of private property.

yours/
peter.
 
Written By: peter jackson
URL: www.liberalcapitalist.com
People toss about the word "right" far to glibly. I posit two characteristics of a right: 1) It must be able to be exercised without let or hindrance, and (2) it can obligate nobody else.
 
Written By: The Gonzman
URL: http://

 
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