Similarly, Marx held that the much-celebrated individual right toliberty reinforces selfishness. Those who are ascribed the right to dowhat they wish so long as they do not hurt others will perpetuate aculture of egoistic obsession. As for equality, the achievement ofequal rights in a liberal state merely distracts people from noticingthat their equality is purely formal: a society with formally equalrights will continue to be divided by huge inequalities in economicand political power. Finally, these so-called “natural”rights are in fact not natural to humans at all. They are simply thedefining elements of the rules of the modern mode of production,perfectly suited to fit each individual into the capitalistmachine.
Communitarians (Taylor, Walzer, MacIntyre, Sandel) sound several ofthe same themes in their criticisms of contemporary liberal andlibertarian theories. The communitarians object that humans are not,as such theories assume, “antecedently individuated.”Nozick's “state of nature” theorizing, for example, errsin presuming that individuals outside of a stable, state-governedsocial order will develop the autonomous capacities that make themdeserving of rights. Nor should we attempt, as in Rawls's originalposition, to base an argument for rights on what individuals wouldchoose in abstraction from their particular identities and communityattachments. There is no way to establish a substantive politicaltheory on what all rational agents want in the abstract. Rather,theorists should look at the particular social contexts in which realpeople live their lives, and to the meanings that specific goods carrywithin different cultures. This communitarian critique continues by accusingliberal and libertarian theories of being falsely universalistic, ininsisting that all societies should bend themselves to fit within astandard-sized grid of rights. Insofar as we should admit rights intoour understanding of the world at all, communitarians say, we shouldsee them as part of ongoing practices of social self-interpretationand negotiation— and so as rules that can vary significantlybetween cultures.
I use SeanHannity as the poster child for right-wing pseudo-Christians because he oftenbrings up his Catholic faith as the basis for his views, and, I'm most familiarwith him. Whatever I say about Sean Hannity can, I would venture to say, alsobe applied to most other right-wing pseudo-Christians.
In starkestterms, right-wing pseudo-Christian ideology tells us in "trickle-downeconomics" that we shouldn't help the poor directly. What we should doinstead is, take measures to make right-wing pseudo-Christians and all theirfriends more wealthy than they already are, and that will help the poor!
Another deleterious consequence of rights talk that Glendon picks outis its tendency to move the moral focus toward persons asrightholders, instead of toward persons as bearers ofresponsibilities. This critique is developed by O'Neill (1996,127–53; 2002, 27–34). A focus on rightholders steers moralreasoning toward the perspective of recipience, instead of toward thetraditional active ethical questions of what one ought to do and howone ought to live. Rights talk also leads those who use it to neglectimportant virtues such as courage and beneficence, which are duties towhich no rights correspond. Finally, the use of rights languageencourages people to make impractical demands, since one can assert aright without attending to the desirability or even the possibility ofburdening others with the corresponding obligations.
The contest between will-based and interest-based theories of thefunction of rights has been waged for hundreds of years. Influentialwill theorists include Kant, Savigny, Hart, Kelsen, Wellman, andSteiner. Important interest theorists include Bentham, Ihering,Austin, Lyons, MacCormick, Raz, and Kramer. Each theory has strongerand weaker points as an account of what rights do forrightholders.
There are two main theories of the function of rights: the will theoryand the interest theory. Each theory presents itself as capturing an ordinaryunderstanding of what rights do for those who hold them. Which theoryoffers the better account of the functions of rights has been thesubject of spirited dispute, literally for ages.
The will theory captures the powerful link between rights andnormative control. To have a right is to have the ability to determinewhat others may and may not do, and so to exercise authority over acertain domain of affairs. The resonant connection between rights andauthority (the authority to control what others may do) is for willtheorists a matter of definition.
As an analysis of the everyday concept of a right, Mill's assertionwould be weak. Through history many have asserted, for example,that God has the right to command man; yet presumably no one assertingsuch a right would maintain that society ought to defend God in thepossession of anything. Indeed there seems nothing incoherent in thethought that individuals have a right not to be protected by society;yet this thought could not make sense on Mill's characterization ofwhat rights are. (On Mill see also Hart 1982, 100–04.)
However, the will theory's account of the function of rights is unableto explain many rights that most think there are. Within the willtheory there can be no such thing as an unwaivable right: a right overwhich its holder has no power. Yet intuitively it would appear thatunwaivable rights are some of the most important rights that we have:consider, for example, the unwaivable right not to beenslaved (MacCormick 1977, 197). Moreover, since the will theoristholds that all rights confer sovereignty, she cannot acknowledge anyrights in beings incapable of exercising sovereignty. Within the willtheory it is impossible for incompetents like infants, animals, andcomatose adults to have rights. Yet we ordinarily would not doubt thatthese incompetents can have rights, for example the right not to betortured (MacCormick 1982, 154–66). Will theories also havedifficulties explaining bare privilege-rights (such as in theHobbesian state of nature), which are not rights of authority overothers.
However, the interest theory is also misaligned with any ordinaryunderstanding of rights. We commonly accept that people can haveinterests in x without having a right to x; andcontrariwise that people can have a right to x without havinginterests sufficient to explain this. In the first category are“third party beneficiaries” (Lyons 1994, 36–46). Youmay have a powerful interest in the lottery paying out for yourspouse's winning ticket, but you have no right that the lottery paysout to your spouse. In the second category are many of the rights ofoffice-holders and role-bearers (Jones 1994, 31–32; Wenar2013b). Whatever interest a judge may have in exercising her legalright to sentence a convict to life in prison, the judge's interestscannot possibly justify ascribing to her the power to make such adramatic change in the convict's normative situation.
At first this survey might remind one the proverb of the blind men andthe elephant. However, we should distinguish between two differentaims that a theorist might have when he make a statement of the form“All rights are x.” A theorist maybe attempting to analyze the meaning of our ordinary conceptof rights, or he may be stipulating a definition of“rights” within her own ethical, political or legaltheory.