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Libertarianism  

Bas Van Der Vossen

Libertarianism is a theory in political philosophy that strongly values individual freedom and is skeptical about the justified scope of government in our lives. Libertarians see individuals as sovereign, as people who have a right to control their bodies and work, who are free to decide how to interact with willing others, and who cannot be forced to do things against their will without very strong justification. For some, the argument in support of this view hinges on the principle of self-ownership. To them, individual rights are morally foundational, the basic building blocks of their theory. Many others, however, take a broader view, arguing that societies flourish when they offer people large degrees of freedom in both personal and economic matters. As a result, libertarianism sees the state as playing at most only a very limited role in matters concerning distributive justice. Libertarians are skeptical about calls to reduce material inequality for its own sake, strongly favor free trade, and defend opening borders for migrants. They see policies that violate these commitments as inevitably involving wrongs against free and equal persons.

Article

Constitutionalism  

Emily Zackin

The study of constitutionalism often begins with the question of what a constitution is. Sometimes the term refers to a single legal document with that name, but the term “constitution” may also refer to something unwritten, such as important political traditions or established customs. As a result, scholars sometimes distinguish between the “Big-C” constitution, that is, the constitutional document, and the “small-c” constitution, the set of unwritten practices and understandings that structure political life. Constitutionalism is typically associated with documents and practices that restrict the arbitrary exercise of power. Most constitutions contain guarantees of rights and outline the structures of government. Constitutions are often enforced in court, but nonjudicial actors, like legislatures or popular movements, may also enforce constitutional provisions. The relationship between democracy and constitutionalism is not at all straightforward, and it has received an enormous amount of scholarly attention. Constitutionalism seems to both undergird and restrain democracy. On the one hand, constitutions establish the institutions that allow for self-government. On the other, they are often said to restrict majoritarian decision-making. Related to this question of the relationship between constitutionalism and democracy are questions about how constitutions change and how they ought to change. Can written constitutions change without changes to the text, and can judges bring about these changes? Do extratextual changes threaten or promote democracy? Finally, not only do individual constitutions change, but the practice of writing constitutions and governing with them has also changed over time. In general, constitutions have grown more specific and flexible over time, arguably, allowing for a different kind of constitutional politics.

Article

Property and Territorial Rights in Political Philosophy  

Kim Angell

To have property rights over X is to have rights to determine, in some respect, what shall happen to X, for example a piece of land. To have territorial rights is to have rights to make, enforce, and adjudicate the law within a geographical area. Property and territorial rights thus seem closely related, and philosophical accounts reveal various interesting connections between these bundles of rights—both in their nature and justification. A significant division, which we find in both old and new accounts—of property as well as territory—originates in the diverging political philosophies of John Locke and Immanuel Kant. Lockean accounts regard property and territorial rights as natural. People may acquire both without the prior existence of an adjudicating political authority. Kantian accounts, however, regard property rights as pure legal conventions. Non-existent outside civil society, they must be fully constructed by a state with territorial (jurisdictional) rights. Further divisions exist within Lockean and Kantian theories, and all the most prominent theories—of property as well as territorial rights—face significant unresolved philosophical challenges.

Article

Civil Disobedience and Conscientious Objection  

William Smith and Kimberley Brownlee

Civil disobedience and conscientious objection are distinct but related social practices that display people’s opposition to specific laws, policies, directives, or schemes. In general, these two practices arise from people’s deeply held commitments. Civil disobedience is more overtly communicative and political than conscientious objection. Civil disobedience is also, almost by definition, a breach of law, which people engage in to push for changes in either governmental or nongovernmental practices. Conscientious objection, by contrast, does not always break the law: sometimes it is a legally protected form of nonconformity. It is also less overtly political than civil disobedience, stemming as it does from people’s desire not to participate in practices they oppose, rather than from their ambition to change those practices. Both practices can be morally justified under specific conditions that, among other things, include doing only limited harm to other people. Moreover, under even more specific conditions, both practices could be said to be protected by moral rights. Civil disobedience and conscientious objection generate pressing normative and political challenges concerning the nature of the rule of law, respect for the rule of law, conditions for deliberative democracy, equality before the law, policing, adjudication, and punishment.

Article

Multiculturalism and Political Philosophy  

Annamari Vitikainen

Multiculturalism has been used both as a descriptive and a normative term, as well as a term referring to particular types of state policies. As a descriptive term, multiculturalism refers to the state of affairs present in contemporary societies: that of cultural diversity. As a normative term, multiculturalism affirms cultural diversity as an acceptable state of affairs, and provides normative grounds for accommodating this diversity. As a policy-oriented term, multiculturalism refers to a variety of state policies that aim to accommodate people’s cultural differences—most notably, different types of culturally differentiated rights. The main focus of the debates on multiculturalism within political philosophy has been on normative multiculturalism, and the broader normative questions relating to the appropriate grounds for responding to people’s cultural differences. The debates on descriptive multiculturalism and on particular multicultural policies, however, feed into the debates on normative multiculturalism. One’s views on the nature of culture, the value of culture, and the appropriate means of demarcating group boundaries have implications on the ways in which one understands the proper objects of cultural accommodation, as well as the extent to which such accommodation should be applied. The different types of multicultural policies—including rights of indigenous groups, immigrants, and national minorities—incorporate slightly different sets of normative considerations that must be independently assessed and that also feed into the more general debates on the normative foundations for cultural accommodation. Equality-based and identity-based arguments for cultural concern provide strong grounds for the state to be concerned about people’s cultural differences and to aim to alleviate culturally induced disadvantages. The case for (or against) culturally differentiated rights as a means for responding to these disadvantages may, however, come from several sources, including approaches to cultural diversity based on equality, autonomy, toleration, and state neutrality. While there is relative (albeit not full) agreement among normative theorists of multiculturalism that differentiated rights may be acceptable, though not always required or even desired, responses to cultural diversity, disagreements about the normative bases, and extents of application, remain.

Article

Solidarity and European Union Politics  

Andreas Grimmel

Solidarity is one of most contentious and contested concepts in European Union (EU) politics. At the same time, it was, and remains, a central value of European integration that has been more and more institutionalized over time. The numerous codifications in the EU treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, along with the increasingly frequent references to the value in political declarations and decisions, prove the value’s growing significance. Yet, there also exists a fundamental divide between rhetorical commitments to solidarity and the practice of the EU and its member states. The most recent crises of the EU have shown the instrumentality and strategic use of the concept in order to promote particular political positions rather than work toward a more common understanding of European solidarity. This makes the application of solidarity in the EU a question not just of arriving at definitional clarity, but also of developing practices that reflect solidarity in concrete cases. Such practices are inextricably linked with three grounds for action: voluntariness, selflessness, and identification. Despite, or precisely because of, these difficulties in defining, concertizing, and implementing solidarity as a European value, there is a rising interest in solidarity in various fields of studies, such as political science, sociology, philosophy, law, and history, making it an interdisciplinary and multidimensional subject matter.

Article

Women, Equality, and Citizenship in Contemporary Africa  

Robtel Neajai Pailey

Though deeply contested, citizenship has come to be defined in gender-inclusive terms both as a status anchored in law, with attendant rights and resources, and as agency manifested in active political participation and representation. Scholars have argued that gender often determines how citizenship rights are distributed at household, community, national, and institutional levels, thereby leaving women with many responsibilities but few resources and little representation. Citizenship laws in different parts of Africa explicitly discriminate based on ethnicity, race, gender and religion, with women bearing the brunt of these inequities. In particular, African women have faced structural, institutional, and cultural barriers to ensuring full citizenship in policy and praxis, with contestations in the post-independence era centering around the fulfillment of citizenship rights embedded in law, practice, and lived experience. While African women’s concerns about their subjective roles as equal citizens were often sidelined during nationalist liberation movements, the post-independence era has presented more meaningful opportunities for women in the continent to demand equality of access to citizenship rights, resources, and representation. In contemporary times, a number of local, national, continental, and transnational developments have shaped the contours of the battle for women’s citizenship equality, including the prominence of domestic women’s movements; national constitutional reviews and revisions processes; electoral quotas; female labor force participation; and feminism as a unifying principle of gender justice. African women have had to overcome constraints imposed on them not only by patriarchy, but also by histories of slavery, colonialism, structural adjustment, land dispossession, militarism, and neoliberalism. They have often been subordinated in the domestic or private sphere, with gendered values and norms then undermining their agency in the public sphere. Although African women have managed to secure some political, socio-economic, and cultural rights, resources, and representation, this has certainly not been the panacea for achieving full equality of citizenship or gender justice.

Article

LGBT Rights and Theoretical Perspectives  

Francis Kuriakose and Deepa Kylasam Iyer

The question of LGBT rights was first examined as part of gender and sexuality studies in the 1980s, predominantly in the United States. This was a result of the LGBT movement that had articulated the demand for equal rights and freedom of sexual and gender minorities a decade before. Since then, the examination of LGBT rights has traversed multiple theoretical and methodological approaches and breached many disciplinary frontiers. Initially, gay and lesbian studies (GLS) emerged as an approach to understand the notion of LGBT identity using historical evidence. GLS emphasized the objectives of the LGBT movement in articulating its identity as an issue of minority rights within the ambit of litigation and case law. However, the definition of LGBT identity as a homogeneous and fixed category, and the conceptualization of equality rights as the ultimate project of emancipation, was critiqued on grounds of its normative and assimilationist tendencies. Queer theory emerged in the 1990s as a counter-discourse to GLS, using the individual-centric postmodern technique of deconstruction as the method of analysis. This approach opened up scope for multiple identities within the LGBT community to articulate their positionality, and reclaim the possibilities of sexual liberation that GLS had previously obscured. Subsequent scholarship has critiqued GLS and queer theory for incomplete theorization and inadequate representation, based on four types of counter-argument. The first argument is that queer theory, with its emphasis on self as an alternative for wider social interaction, concealed constitutive macrostructures such as neoliberal capitalism, as well as the social basis of identity and power relations. The second argument highlights the incomplete theorization of bisexual and transgender identities within the LGBT community. For example, understanding bisexuality involves questioning the universalism of monosexuality and postmodern notions of linear sexuality, and acknowledging the possibility of an integrated axis of gender and sexuality. Theorization of transgender and transsexual rights requires a grounded approach incorporating new variables such as work and violence in the historiography of transgender life. The third critique comes from decolonial scholarship that argues that intersectionality of race, gender, class, caste, and nationality brings out multiple concerns of social justice that have been rendered invisible by existing theory. The fourth critique emerged from family studies and clinical psychology, that used queer theory to ask questions about definitions of all family structures outside the couple norm, including non-reproductive heterosexuality, polyamorous relationships, and non-marital sexual unions. These critiques have allowed new questions to emerge as part of LGBT rights within the existing traditions, and enabled the question of LGBT rights to be considered across new disciplinary fronts. For example, the incorporation of the “queer” variable in hitherto technical disciplines such as economics, finance, and management is a development of the early-21st-century scholarship. In particular, the introduction of LGBT rights in economics to expand human capabilities has policy implications as it widens and mainstreams access of opportunities for LGBT communities through consumption, trade, education, employment, and social benefits, thereby expanding the actualization of LGBT rights.