Uncivil Rights

"It is better that some should be unhappy, than that
none should be happy, which would be the case in a
general state of equality."

—Samuel Johnson

The best way to corrupt a value is to maximize it. That is one of the fundamental lessons of liberalism in the postwar period. Take rights. Push one person's rights too far and the result is the emasculation of someone else's rights. Elevate rights to the status of an absolute and the result is the destruction of other values. Expand the definition of rights to include all desirable ends and the result is a diminution of interest in those rights that really matter. Extend the idea of rights to every conceivable animate and inanimate subject and the result is a depreciation of human rights. In short, attempts to maximize rights insure their minimization.

In the midst of the contemporary confusion over the meaning of rights comes the volume entitled Rights by philosopher Alan R. White. He lays bare the similarities and dissimilarities between rights and such notions as duty, obligation, ought, liberty, power, privilege, and claim. By doing so, he provides a welcome antidote to the muddled thinking on this subject that has prevailed on both sides of the Atlantic for the past 20 years. We have become so accustomed to thinking about rights as if they were a game. one in which the rules and participants...

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