A Political Theory of Rights

A Political Theory of Rights

A Political Theory of Rights

A Political Theory of Rights

Synopsis

Rights are basic building blocks of the contemporary state and yet their rigorous justification is notoriously difficult. This book provides a thorough analysis of this central topic in modern political discourse. The book challenges the orthodox view that rights are a type of property claimin one's body. Drawing on the tradition of the social contract as well as the wealth of recent work in political theory the book argues for a different conception of rights. Rights are conceived as a certain type of political claim, justified by a Kantian ideal of autonomy. Moreover, that justification provides amoral basis for rights that, while independent of law and custom, is also tied to an image of citizenship particularly suited to the pluralistic nature of contemporary liberal society.

Excerpt

The theory criticized in earlier chapters gives an account of rights as properties of individuals. We have seen that the theory fails to fit certain well-entrenched beliefs about what rights people have. It denies welfare rights and is unsound on self-determination. Its basic defect is that it fails to take seriously the question of justifying its economic constitution to those who are to live under it. So while paying lip-service to the value of autonomy as the interest rights are to protect, the grounding of self-ownership in autonomy is not sufficiently explained. No satisfactory account is given of how various aspects of autonomy are met by proprietary rights. Indeed the various aspects are not brought into view. Chapter 5 sought to remedy the latter omission by characterizing autonomy in a way that displays its normative force and fits the central range of freedoms we associate with democratic citizenship.

As I observed in the previous chapter the strategy of picking on autonomy as the basis of rights is dictated by our political interest in finding a shared starting point for constructing political arrangements for citizens who have diverse moral traditions and substantive ideals of human flourishing. Autonomy as the basis of consensual rights in a pluralist democracy is a locus of needs which we accept as good reasons for making claims on each other. Its elaboration into the various aspects of personal and political freedom should allow us to sort out what kinds of claims it is appropriate to make and how conflicting claims are to be adjudicated. With this in mind we may say that to have a right is to have a justification founded in autonomy for holding others to be under a duty to secure,

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