May 13, 2004

More thoughts on rights

I was thinking more about the concept that rights should, maybe, recognize limits and I read a very interesting article by Theodore Dalrymple in the Spectator last week. Dalrymple is a brilliant man and a great writer. He works as a shrink in a big, inner-city hospital in one of the large, decaying cities in England. His articles are always a treat to read and, among the topics which concern him, is the fraying fabric of British society. One of his points is that the concept of "it's my right" has not been met with growth in the concept of "it's my responsibility" with a deplorable result:

"Considerations of rights, which are deemed by much of the population to be inalienable, unconditional and metaphysically unassailable, drive out considerations of kindness, decency, tolerance, mutual obligation and so forth: all the considerations, in fact, that make civilised or dignified existence in a crowded society possible. Everyone becomes an atom of an inert gas in a vacuum, whose rights act as physical forces to prevent him from combining sociably with other such atoms.

Thus a man in a tower block believes he has a right to play his music at all hours of the day and night; his neighbour, on the other hand, believes he has a right to peace and quiet. How is this conflict between two absolute but opposite rights resolved? Trial by baseball bat, since the vaunted protections offered by the legal system do not exist in cases such as this. Hell hath no fury like a man who believes his rights are being violated.

The idea of human rights, then, when extended beyond a few very general and negative rights, does not liberate us; it turns us into feral egotists who are at the same time dependent. This effect can be seen in our schools, where children do as they please because, with the native cunning of youth, they have realised the permissive possibilities inherent in the notion of their rights. I can only say how relieved I am that I shall not be around to see the full flowering of the human-rights culture in the years to come."

A provocative thinker. I highly recommend his book, "Life at the Bottom: the Worldview that Makes the Underclass.

Posted by Random Penseur at May 13, 2004 08:42 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?