Rights and obligations   
The American Declaration of Independence eloquently sets out the rights with which we are born:
  "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
But a close encounter with an alligator in the Everglades will soon show that our Creator forgot to tell it about man's inalienable right to life. To say to a woman living in Darfur that she was born equal, with a right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness would be met with a look of despair rather than hope. The reality is that we have ‘rights' only if we as voters decide that the law of our country should give them to us and then only to the extent that they can be enforced against those (including governments and alligators) who would try to take them away. Rights are not somehow intrinsic to our lives. There is no gene for human rights. In the absence of an enforceable law, ‘rights' are, at best, aspirations - a rallying cry. And sometimes they are an imperfect formulation of what we want to be the case. I cannot see for instance the justification for the recent decision that a life prisoner, in the name of a right to family life, should have access to artificial insemination facilities so that his wife can become pregnant. Prison should bring with it the natural results of physical separation.
There is a considerable difference between the view of the majority of people and liberals as to how others should be treated. Amongst readers of the Guardian and the Independent, human rights legislation is seen as obviously ‘a good thing', whilst readers of the Express, the Telegraph and the Daily Mail are far from sure. Liberals would consider it completely unacceptable to deport an illegal immigrant back to a country where he would probably be tortured or killed. Most others, by contrast, would look at what the person had done and, if he had committed a serious crime, would be likely to say ‘tough' and send him back anyway. Their view would be that receiving humanitarian treatment is dependent on compliance with your obligations as a ‘guest' here. Both views are, of course, merely assertions incapable of justification on purely logical grounds. All cows eat grass, this is a cow and so therefore it eats grass is not a formulation which can be used to settle this particular issue. There are no premises which would be universally accepted as true from which a deduction could be made.
If logic cannot be used, then we have to look at the claims of morality. But the rights set out in the 1950 European convention on human rights or in the 1948 United Nations Declaration do not come from a generally accepted source of moral authority, such as the Church or the Mosque or even from the founding fathers of a new country or as a consequence of a revolution against an oppressive regime, such as in France. And so for most people in this country they have no religious or emotional force. Indeed, the fact that we have adopted the ‘European Convention on Human Rights' makes it even more suspicious, even though eminent British lawyers had a leading role in writing it after and because of the atrocities committed in the second world war. It is now seen simply as an unconvincing attempt to create a secular morality out of nothing - and by Europeans as well! It is interference by do-gooders. The fact that, according to the newspapers, rights seem mainly to benefit undeserving people underlines this.
And yet as individuals we each want most, if not all, of the protections on which these ‘rights' are based. The history of communism amply demonstrates that without them my life would be intolerable, if I actually still had a life. It is then a simple exercise of pragmatism to realise that if I want that protection then, unless I happen already to be the supreme ruler, it will have to be part of a package giving everyone-else in the same position as me the same rights as me.
But it is an emotional thing as well. I and my fellow liberals could never be instrumental in sending anyone living here back to suffer what goes on in a repressive regime. My mirror neurons wouldn't let me. This is perhaps where the great divide exists in society. We liberals are obviously too soft - or the others are too hard. But then I shed a tear when I watch ‘the Railway Children'.


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