"The philosophical foundations of these rights are flimsy and jerry-built. There is no credible theory in which the particular freedoms of deregulated capitalism have the standing of universal rights... In truth, rights are never the bottom line in moral or political theory -- or practice. They are conclusions, end-results of long chains of reasoning from commonly accepted premises. Rights have little authority or content in the absence of a common ethical life. They are conventions that are durable only when they express a moral consensus. When ethical disagreement is deep and wide an appeal to rights cannot resolve it... Looking to rights to arbitrate deep conflicts -- rather than seeking to moderate them through the compromises of politics -- is a recipe for low-intensity civil war." -- John Gray, False Dawn


  1. This is very good.

    One of the tendencies I find very odd - not just among libertarians but in a lot of Western political philosophy - is this tendency to think about rights as the building blocks or the ultimate test of a social or political philosophy. We either build our philosophy up from some right or we test it for its consistency with rights.

    Really, rights are constructed as much as any other element of a political or social philosophy. The task is to determine the constellation of rights that are consistent with our objective - whether that is "justice", "liberty", "progress", etc.

    Instead many people do the opposite and define these goals in terms of a certain understanding of rights. For libertarians, liberty is the non-violation of status quo property rights. For leftists, equality is the equal right to certain ultimate conditions in life. I'm afraid the actual task of political theorizing is both harder and less determinant than that.

  2. Agreed. But how can anyone evaluate any "political output" without some sort of ideology?

    My question seems very similar to the statement "How can anyone evaluate any action ethically without some sort of religion?".

    I can't answer any of these questions. I'm philosophically stuck.

  3. "But how can anyone evaluate any "political output" without some sort of ideology?"

    How can anyone evaluate any relationship without a "relationship ideology"? How can anyone evaluate any piece of music without a music ideology?

    The answer is practical wisdom.

  4. Or just accept your ideology. It's legitimate to say "I value a system where rights are such and such", then of course the arrangement of rights consistent with that system are easy enough.

    Other people will say "I value a system that balances liberty and equality", and there may be many rights arrangements consistent with that.

    By all means - work off of an ideology. But don't act as if rights are given.


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