Assertions of rights are a persistent and important feature of contemporary politics. Consider, for example, the various debates that have been triggered by claims concerning children’s rights, animal rights and workers’ rights. Or, think about the various controversies concerning how we should interpret the rights to free expression, to privacy, or to marry. Rights are claims with a special normative force, which Ronald Dworkin captured by comparing them to ‘trumps’ (Dworkin, 1984). By this, Dworkin did not mean that rights are absolute, only that they outweigh routine political considerations and themselves are only outweighed by considerations of special urgency. For example, consider situations in which upholding an individual right could jeopardise the pursuit of another goal, such as when the right to free expression is believed to jeopardise social peace. The metaphor of rights as trumps suggests that a society which values rights must place limits on how it is to pursue its various ambitions.
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