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Author Topic: Liberties and rights
Babbler # 478

posted 19 August 2004 02:22 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Call me slow, but it is only recently that I have sort of grasped that many people think that rights are not exactly the same thing as liberties, and that we have moved from an age of faith in classical civil liberties into an age focused on rights.

Has this struck anyone else?

Does this puzzle anyone else?

Can anyone explain to me the difference between rights and liberties, or why the classical notion of civil liberties cannot encompass current thought about rights?

From: gone | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
Babbler # 4523

posted 19 August 2004 03:44 PM      Profile for DownTheRoad     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
It can be puzzling. As I understand it, a right involves a claim on others whereas a liberty does not. Examples of liberties might be freedom of concience or freedom of expression. Examples of rights might be the right to vote (a claim on the state) or a right to a non-discriminatory work environment (a claim on one's co-workers).
From: land of cotton | Registered: Oct 2003  |  IP: Logged
Babbler # 1402

posted 19 August 2004 09:51 PM      Profile for nonsuch     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Rights concern things you can do and are allowed to; liberties concern what others can do to you, but are not allowed to. ? A right is freedom to and a liberty is freedom from.

It seems to me that a right to the kinds of things others do for you would be very difficult to enforce, because it might call into question the availability of the necessary others, their ability to do what's required, their right to refuse, infrastructure, funding, and so on. The "right to a speedy trial" doesn't say much if the courts are booked for the next three years. The "right to a safe work environment" is absurd, if the employer manufactures TNT.

I would prefer to call those obligations: the government is obliged to provide enough courtrooms, lawyers and judges to handle all the cases its law-enforcment officers prosecute. The employer is obliged to provide protective gear and reduce risk as much as possible. Obligations are usually contractual: each party promises to do certain things, or they lose the job, lose the next election, lose their license... whatever.

On the other hand, leaving you alone is within everyone's capability and thus, relatively easy to write into law and enforce. Thus: liberties are simple; rights can be complicated.

[ 20 August 2004: Message edited by: nonesuch ]

From: coming and going | Registered: Sep 2001  |  IP: Logged
Babbler # 478

posted 20 August 2004 10:23 AM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
And I take it that it is a newly militant conservative position that claims validity for only the freedom from (liberties), that fears the pursuit and state enforcement of various freedom tos?

I have to think about this. I see the more social nature of rights; but I have such a hard time keeping the boundaries between the two solid.

From: gone | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
Babbler # 4758

posted 20 August 2004 12:05 PM      Profile for praenomen3        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
...if they were smart, they'd frame it as freedom to be free from.
From: x | Registered: Dec 2003  |  IP: Logged
Babbler # 1402

posted 20 August 2004 07:38 PM      Profile for nonsuch     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I've never really understood any political position on rights and freedoms... even when they put it in a charter, the distinction is often unclear.
A good government defines citizens' rights as something it (the government) guarantees. This means setting up social agencies, building schools, limiting the power of law-enforcement personnel and whatever else it takes. The citizens, in turn, recognize the government's authority, contribute their share of the cost and use proper channels to challenge legislation when they disagree. There are very few good governments, so it all gets sloppy, complicated and confrontational.

In a simple social structure (say, a family) where there is no elected governing body, rights and liberties are pretty clear.
A liberty is something that each member is allowed to do that doesn't hurt the others (like keeping one's room messy or not eating kale); a right is something that has to be earned with an equal weight of responsibility (like driving the car, if one washes and fuels it, or inviting friends over, if one keeps them quiet and cleans up after them). Then, there are prerogatives, earned by the performance of extra duty and loss of some liberty (like first choice of tv programs for the mother who works to pay the electric bill) and indulgences instead of rights for the weak and dependent (like, an infant being fed before anyone else.) Everything in social interaction is a trade-off.

From: coming and going | Registered: Sep 2001  |  IP: Logged
Rand McNally
Babbler # 5297

posted 20 August 2004 09:18 PM      Profile for Rand McNally     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
From the RCMP:

"What is the difference between a right and a freedom?" The distinction is simply this. A right guarantees intervention by the state when protection is required. A freedom, on the other hand guarantees no intervention by the state when an individual exercises that freedom.

[ 20 August 2004: Message edited by: Rand McNally ]

From: Manitoba | Registered: Mar 2004  |  IP: Logged
Babbler # 490

posted 22 August 2004 10:20 PM      Profile for DrConway     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Conservatives are indeed trying to narrow the scope of "rights" to mainly freedoms that don't involve claims. In this light what they are trying to do is break the natural linkage citizens feel to their government as part of their consciousness of being part of a nation.

After all, if the declaration goes "you are free from 'excessive taxation'", then that simply involves a rollback of government and lessens the consciousness that government can intervene to safeguard one's rights.

By contrast, if a declaration goes "you are free to say anything you want as long as it does not harm public safety", then the government has a duty to protect you in order to allow that right to have force.

Sam Smith has written about how modern politicians have created a new, and in his opinion very specious, dialog when they make the claim that rights must be "balanced" by responsibilities.

While it is fine to claim that citizens have responsibilities to each other and to the state as a condition on their being citizens, what this dialog is doing is creating code-words and code-language for the limitation of Constitutionally guaranteed rights. This, in itself, is unconstitutional because it presupposes that rights guaranteed in the founding charter of a nation can be taken away or modified at will, simply by invoking 'responsibilties'.

"Citizen responsibilities should be kept separate" is how I interpret Sam Smith's wording.


Another useful distinction has been the language of "positive rights" versus "negative rights". In this dichotomy, conservatives heavily emphasize negative rights and de-emphasize positive rights because the latter are perceived to not involve claims by anyone on anyone else or on the state.

(A negative right is the freedom of speech while a positive right is the freedom from unemployment)

Again, conservatives are interested in narrowing and circumscribing the expectations that citizens can and should have of their leaders and governments.

This trend must be countered at all times.

[ 22 August 2004: Message edited by: DrConway ]

From: You shall not side with the great against the powerless. | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged

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