Civic Virtues: Rights, Citizenship, and Republican Liberalism

By Richard Johnson Dagger | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
The Right of Autonomy and the Bonds of Community

Any appeal to human rights must in some way act as a solvent on more particular or parochial loyalties and attachments. Those who appeal to human rights, and particularly to the right of autonomy, should certainly expect to find themselves criticizing and opposing social and political practices, at home and abroad, that violate these rights. So the question must arise: Are we giving up too much when we accept a fundamental right of autonomy? Are we surrendering an equally fundamental belief in the importance of belonging, of membership in a particular group or community or society -- a belief that seems essential to a republican liberalism?

In this chapter I approach this question by considering a widespread intuition or belief that grows out of the conviction that shared membership is of great value. This is the belief, as Henry Shue has put it, that "compatriots take priority." 1 Myclaim is that this belief, at least when it is suitably qualified, is consistent with the right of autonomy. If it is, then it follows that human rights and communal ties need not be hostile to each other.

Communities take a variety of forms, of course, and so do communal ties. As the connection with "patriot" suggests, compatriots are people who believe that they share a common home- or fatherland or think that they belong to the same country. What a person takes to be his or her homeland or country need not match the political boundaries of a state, however. Two people may therefore regard themselves as compatriots even when they are not, in the legal sense, fellow citizens. Conversely, two other people may be fellow citizens but not, in their own eyes, compatriots. To avoid these complications, I shall focus here on shared citizenship as a communal tie and ask whether our fellow citizens should indeed take priority. 2

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