Rights, Rules, and Rebellion

Rights, Rules, and Rebellion

Taking Rights Seriously, by Ronald Dworkin. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. 293 pp.

The Practice of Rights, by Richard Flathman. Cambridge, London, New York and Melbourne: Cambridge University Press. 250 pp.

Everyone believes in rights. Everyone believes that rights should be taken seriously. But what precisely are rights, and what does it mean to take them seriously?

Take the simple assertion: I have a right to do (or not to do) X. Is this a legal or a moral claim, or both?

H. L. A. Hart and the reigning school of legal positivism opt for the first alternative: a right is whatever a valid law says it is; and the validity of a law is determined not by the rightness of its moral content but by the fact that a properly constituted authority enacted it. Jeremy Bentham and certain of his disciples would judge such legal claims by a moral standard, but since their moral standard is utilitarianism (the greatest happiness of the gre...