« Too cynical? | Main | Blogging, good or bad, or wait a minute, what was the question again? »

More on rights

Felicia R. Lee has an interesting article in this morning's Times about the process of writing new constitutions for new nations (including new nations built on the ashes of old nations, such as South Africa, Eritrea, or Lithuania). It's a sobering business.

There is an interesting point made about the definition of rights in constitutions, which honestly had not occurred to me before. The rights enumerated in such a document are likely to be protections of those abuses that got up the people's noses under the previous government structure.

I know this is not a topic we've come to an agreement on here, but at least in part, rights are protections from government abuse (or, if Chris prefers, rights are just demands that the state secure certain things—I'm not convinced yet, but for the purposes of this note, it comes to the same thing, more or less). Thus, as a practical matter, those rights which get delineated in a Bill of Rights (warning: link is to a very big jpg file) or a UN Declaration (warning: contents are crap) are, most likely, those protections which came to mind most easily, having been recently abused.

Yes, I suppose that the prominence of philosophically trained legislators in the US Congress, along with a delay of some years, led to a better list than most. But the lesson I take is that the conversation we were having—What are rights? How do we make a list, and how do we make our list complete? How ought they be secured?—is important to have, nationally, when the constitution is not changing, when the crises are not immediate.

Thank you,