Thursday, October 25, 2007

Reinventing the State Chapter 7: Rights and Responsibilities

As I read through Reinventing the State, I use a pencil to highlight points I disagree with and want to write about here. With Elspeth Attwooll's chapter on rights and responsibilities I had no use for the pencil, until about halfway through, when I decided to highlight a few good points as well, or I might have nothing to say.

Attwooll brings a refreshing clarity to what is generally a muddled debate and I heartily recommend this chapter to everyone. She clarifies the relationships between rights and duties, between claims (something we might want to be a right) and responsibilities, and between different claims: liberties, opportunities (claims to do or achieve something such as vote or work, that may require the active support of other people), and benefits (claims upon the actions or resources of others).
So if claims, as social concepts, are - unlike desires and demands - conditioned by his morality [referring to Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments], then it must also provide us with some idea of their limits, their relative weight and importance and the extent to which and the manner in which, their fulfilment should be secured. None of this can be adequately achieved without a parallel consideration of responsibilities.
This is contrasted on the one hand with fascists and communists who ignore claims and consider only responsibilities to the monolithic society; and on the other hand with supporters of the minimal state who arbitrarily grant liberties and reject opportunities and benefits as if this were a natural law.


Better still, Attwooll has read her brief, and discusses chapter 1 of the Orange Book, in some detail. I struggle with one of her points:
David Laws, though correct in wishing to marry economic and social liberalism, is mistaken in the manner in which he does so. This is because the four different types of liberalism cannot be treated as operating at the same level. ... The tenets of political and economic liberalism are, accordingly, about the conditions for the achievement of their respective goals. By contrast, personal and social liberalism are expressed as goals in their own right.
Perhaps I have misunderstood, but I am not clear why Laws' marriage requires economic and social liberalism to be on the same level. Indeed, if economic liberalism is to be a means to serve social liberalism as an end, it would appear that the difference of "levels" is exactly right.

Nor am I entirely convinced by this distinction between means and ends.
Yet, arguably wealth is unlike other social goods. All these are worth having both in themselves and because they contribute to one another. ... [but] the value of wealth lies in what else it makes achievable.
Yes, it is arguable. But I would argue that the value of all social goods is, like wealth, not intrinsic, but instrumental, that is they are not good eternally in a vacuum, but immediately and to people, according to how people enjoy them.


The chapter concludes with a response to Nick Clegg's suggestion in his chapter of the Orange Book that the appropriate level for social policy is the member state rather than the EU. Attwooll makes some good points against this position - largely points that were anticipated by Clegg, and concludes, a little weakly, that there is a "measure of disagreement about what decisions are best made where", and that it arguable that Clegg has got this wrong. Arguable, yes, you just argued it.

This slight fizzling out of a strong chapter brings us to the end of the Principles section of the book.

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