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'Rights' do not fall from the sky, the call for 'rights' preposterously ahistorical

Rights do not fall from the sky. People who are fortunate enough to be a British citizens through birth or choice are richly endowed with rights thanks to a long historical struggle to establish legal, then political and finally social rights. These rights are made real by institutions including parliament, courts, the police and the welfare state over hundreds of years.

Much of today’s human rights rhetoric is preposterously ahistorical. It also individualises rights, disguising the degree of interdependence that underpins them. 

Rights are connected to obligations and duties, some rights, such as the right to equal treatment if you are gay, are just the enforcement of widely accepted norms. But in many cases the right claimed by one person, especially rights that require funding such as the right to education or decent housing, creates a corresponding obligation on another person to supply the wherewithal to make the right possible.

The rhetoric of rights entitlement is usually directed at the state but the state, in this case, is just other citizens. A strong sense of one’s rights as a citizen can empower and protect but in recent years there has been a ‘rights disconnect’: a declining willingness of those called upon to fund, through their taxes, the rights of others. Behind rights often lies redistribution, and that requires the willingness of the strong and affluent to feel some connection to and sympathy for the weak and the struggling. And that in turn requires some sense of shared citizenship and space.


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